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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Single Dad, Veteran And Cancer Patient Gets A Home To Call His Own

Courtney Collins
Anaijah and her Dad, Ben Anderson, in front of the house they'll soon occupy.

Two North Texas nonprofits are teaming up to make the dream of home ownership a reality for a local veteran.

For this 55-year-old and his young daughter, a new house is the high point in a decade that’s been marked with despair.

As workers smooth over gaps in brand new sheetrock, Dennis Luellen is already admiring how the place looks. He’s with the nonprofit Rebuilding Together Greater Dallas.

“It’s not very often that we’re given a three-bedroom, two-bath brick home with a two-car garage. And this one is in a nice little neighborhood,” he says.

On a quiet street a few blocks from South Oak Cliff High School, Luellen’s nonprofit is working on a project called “Homes for Heroes.” The group makes over dilapidated homes for veterans. Luellan says the project has taken off.

“I guess within one calendar year we’ll go from one to doing five is what it looks like,” he says.

A Total Home Makeover

Remaking a house in the middle of a Texas summer can be brutal.

Because it’s the future home of former Marine Ben Anderson and his daughter Anaijah, nobody seems to mind.

“Before we met Ben he was living in a homeless shelter with his little 7-year-old little girl,” Luellen says.

“Where we were staying in the apartment complex, I couldn’t let her outside over there, it was too dangerous,” Anderson says.

Being homeless isn’t the worst of what Anderson’s survived. In 2011, a work injury left him with a broken back -- he hasn’t been able to work since.

And in the hospital, he found out he had bone cancer.

Then, a year later, he lost Anaijah’s mother and older sister.

“Early one morning I got the call that both of them had been killed on 35 and Illinois there,” Anderson says.

Hitting Bottom

That drunk driving accident was the low point.

“That sucked the life out of me too. But I knew I had to fight back because of Anaijah,” he says.

So he did. Anderson fought for custody of his daughter, even when they were staying in homeless shelters. He’s kept up with his chemo every week at the VA hospital. He can hardly believe that Friday, he’ll be a homeowner.

“A lot of things I can’t do because Daddy can’t go outside, because of the sun. But with this house, she’s got a big backyard and a front yard that I can look out the window even on a hot day,” Anderson says. “And that means the world to me.”

From Empty To Full

Once the sheetrock is up, the kitchen appliances in and the walls painted, the nonprofit Dwell with Dignity will get to work.

“From all of their furniture, draperies, rugs, accessories, to everything they need in their kitchen,” Founder Lisa Robison said. “So basically this family can walk into their home with a key and they have everything they need to start living their life right now.”

Robison says all too often families who have finally saved enough for a house or apartment don’t have money left over to buy a sofa or pots and pans. An empty house has an impact.

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA news
KERA news
Ben Anderson and his daughter will move into this south Dallas home on Aug. 7.

“This doesn’t really create an environment where they will celebrate birthdays, for example, or holidays together,” Robison says. “A lot of times these kids, they don’t want to go home.”

Anaijah won’t feel that way. Her dad knows just how important this home will be.

“It means a lot that even when I go, that she will have a house that she can call her own,” Anderson says.

She’ll turn 8 three weeks after they move in. This tidy little ranch house will be birthday-party ready. 

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.