‘One woman at a time’

Women’s Empowerment has helped hundreds of families back on their feet

For more information, go to www.womens-empowerment.org.

Amber Seibel, 31, holds down the busy front desk at the Women’s Empowerment offices on North C Street like an old pro—directing walk-in traffic, handling outgoing appointments and requests for child care, and juggling a multiline phone with humor and aplomb.

You’d never know that just three months ago, Seibel was in a 10-month stretch of homelessness and hadn’t held a job in more than a year, situations fueled by long bouts of deep depression.

Like more than 700 women before her, Seibel sought out a spot in the Women’s Empowerment program—an intensive eight-week job-readiness program that has helped 798 women and their 900 children move from homelessness and joblessness toward self-sufficiency.

In addition to the core curriculum of résumés, mock interviews and computer training, there are voluntary courses in anger management (recognizing that 88 percent of participants are victims of domestic violence), as well as parenting and nutrition classes. A cheerful infant and toddler room is staffed by volunteers to care for participants’ children when they are in class.

The sometimes harsh realities of these women’s lives don’t stop when they walk through the doors, however. Support staff at Women’s Empowerment have had to help women file restraining orders against abusive boyfriends and fathers of their children. They’ve also helped reunite mother and child when mom has secured stable housing.

At the outset of the program, women are paired with a master-level social worker and a volunteer mentor from the community—something that Seibel says has helped increase her confidence.

“My social worker helped me identify my ‘inner saboteur’—how I would be so highly critical of myself in interacting with others, at work, in social situations. I’m learning how to redirect my thoughts now,” she explained.

She graduated with the 41st class in December 2010 (the 44th class just started in July), and has secured housing at Sister Nora’s Place, which provides long-term shelter and case management for women with a history of homelessness, trauma and serious mental and physical illness.

She says she is happy there for now, does not consider herself homeless any longer and can breathe for the moment.

After graduating from the program, she applied for and was accepted to the advanced-placement receptionist training program at Women’s Empowerment, which is run like a part-time job, and where at the end of 100 hours, she will receive a certificate of training that she can show prospective employers.

As of December 2010, 94 percent of graduates from the program had stable housing upon graduation, and 84 percent had jobs, according to Lisa Culp, executive director of Women’s Empowerment.

Not bad for a program that started out 10 years ago with 10 women and the most straightforward of purposes: to “end homelessness, one woman at a time.”

Area employers are taking note of the women’s story.

ParaTransit, part of Sacramento’s Regional Transit system, has agreed to partner with W.E., offering spots for 25-30 graduates to train to become class B drivers. For the women who successfully complete the 10-week training, ParaTransit will offer them full-time positions with its organization, according to Tonya Tyus, Women’s Empowerment employment specialist.

Likewise, Party City, a party-supply house, has contracted with the group to provide two dozen seasonal employees through Halloween and Christmas—graduates who have received special customer-service training from the program.

“With 13 percent unemployment, to have employers step forward and help women who have nothing, who are trying to better themselves—it’s very heartfelt for them to offer these opportunities,” said Tyus. “When they employ a woman, they really employ a family by making it possible for her to do for them.”

A nonprofit, Women’s Empowerment has an operating budget for 2011 of $591,570, raised entirely through community donations, grants and fundraisers.