Nonprofit raising funds to help women aging out of foster care
Published 4:12 pm Tuesday, December 27, 2022
By JOYANNA LOVE | Managing Editor
Homegirl Industry has kicked off a campaign raising funds to establish housing and employment training for women who have aged out of the foster care system.
Founder Sallie Juliet Higgins said the organization is working to raise $15,000 in matching funds for a grant from The Daniel Foundation of Alabama.
“The beginning aspect of the Homegirl mission is to repurpose Hotel Wilson (on the edge of downtown Clanton) into a beneficial hub for young women to live and work in,” Higgins said.
When someone reaches the age where they are no longer considered a foster child, they age out of the system.
“One day they have a roof over their heads … and the next day, their bags are packed and out on the street they go,” Higgins said. “When this happens the risk for the safety of teenage girls is very high and any hope of lifelong self-sufficiency (is) increasingly low.”
The plan is to provide these women with employment opportunities and training, while giving them a place to live. The goal is for each woman to be able to establish stable employment and secure their own housing to have a successful future after completing the program.
Higgins is a graduate of Chilton County High School and Auburn University. Although she currently lives in California, she is often in Chilton County.
“The Hotel Wilson has been in my family’s possession for nearly 70 years, but in April of 2021, I became the sole owner … rather than sell the property, I wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream, which is to leave behind a legacy of support and help for some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” Higgins said.
Two floors of the former hotel will be upgraded and remodeled to provide efficiency apartments for women in the program. Higgins said the hope is to have 15 apartments on each floor and a room for a floor manager and an intern. The bottom floor will be converted into two restaurants, which will be open to the public.
“One will be casual,” Higgins said. “The other one a little more upscale for special dinners out.”
The restaurants will create job opportunities for women in the program while they pursue their education goals.
“They are going to learn valuable skills that they can use throughout life with any career,” Higgins said.
She said the restaurants will also create funding for the program.
A longer-term goal would be to create a separate special events and therapy space.
By helping these women, the organization hopes to also preventively decrease the number of children in foster care.
Each woman in the program will be required to have “a strong attitude of wanting to help herself … pursue an educational goal and then to maintain a volunteer commitment” and commit to helping others.
Partnerships are being established to provide GED test prep and developing career skills. Higgins said the volunteer component can also help the women develop things to put on their resumes.
Homegirl Industry secured its 501c3 tax status in July 2022, after organizing in August 2021. The organization became a member of the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce in December 2021.