(CNN) — Walk down many city streets in America, and it’s not hard to see that homelessness is one of our country’s biggest problems.
Women’s Empowerment is trying to change that. The Sacramento, California, nonprofit serves 1,300 women and more than 3,000 children. Its mission is to not only help homeless women get off the streets, but empower them to stay off.
Founder Lisa Culp started the organization after time abroad in Nicaragua helping the needy. When she returned, she was shocked.
“I was completely dismayed that there was so much poverty and so much homelessness, and so few resources,” she said.
Culp had a unique approach to creating Women’s Empowerment. She took to the streets herself. She asked homeless women what they needed.
“Women closest to the problem are the ones that are going to come up with the best solutions,” she said.
The needs were big and small, from alarm clocks to help with domestic violence.
She enlisted churches, Rotary Clubs and even sororities and fraternities to help her cause, asking them to volunteer to teach classes based on their skill sets. Why community members?
“These women have felt isolated from community. Then, you bring in community members who believe in them,” she said.
Women’s Empowerment now uses an eight-week curriculum to help homeless women learn job readiness, building on the skills they already have.
Culp recalls one woman who told her that she had been working steadily since she was 14 but wanted to change careers. Culp asked what industry the woman was in, and she finally admitted that she had been “sold” into prostitution as a child. Culp worked with the woman to figure out what transferable skills she could use in her job search.
“I said to her, ‘OK. You have people skills. Time management skills. Money management skills.’ And she said, ‘I never thought of it that way!’ ”
In addition to job readiness, the program also emphasizes the importance of self-confidence.
“Homelessness is such a degrading … experience,” Culp said. At Women’s Empowerment, women learn that “their identity is not homeless.”
Additionally, Women’s Empowerment is unique in that it employs women while teaching them. The organization manages “Get A Job Kit,” a small manufacturing company donated by a supporter that creates packages to help any job search. Women assemble the products, work in customer service and even do marketing. They learn valuable job skills.
In 2015, 83% of Women’s Empowerment graduates got a job or found paid training, and 93% were able to find housing.
Some graduates have even become so successful, they are able to give back to the organization. In fact, one graduate found so much success that she now sits on the board.
But even the little things are appreciated. Culp recalls that she opened the mail the other day to find a letter from a graduate. Inside was a thank-you card and a donation.
“She wanted to make sure this continues,” she said.