Longtime meetings industry career advisor—and former Meetings Today columnist—Sheryl Sookman has always been keen to dispense advice on how meeting planners can land that dream job. Now she’s lending her expertise to helping homeless women get back on their feet by striving for employment.

Since January 2018, Sookman has volunteered her time to Women’s Empowerment, a Sacramento, Calif.-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has helped more than 1,300 homeless women secure housing, a job or enroll in school or training programs.

This is done outside of her full-time job as a career strategist for meeting and event professionals with The Meeting Connection.

“For me [volunteering] has been incredibly rewarding because of the work I’ve done over the years career coaching—helping them achieve self-confidence,” Sookman said. “A lot of the women have not been in the workforce for a year or two, but some not for 10 years.

“It really gives them an opportunity to get their skills up and get fully prepared,” she added.

According to statistics from Women’s Empowerment, 93 percent of women enrolled in the program have regained a safe home for themselves and their children and 83 percent have secured a job or training.

The women commit to a nine-week program and are assigned a social worker and employment specialist. They must complete a resume-writing workshop and participate in a mock-interview day to engage in one-on-one panel interviews.

The organization also offers a clothing closet where the women can select an outfit for interviews, and choose a different one every month.

A primary funding source of the privately supported organization is its annual gala event, which features silent and live auction items. This year’s gala will be held May 23, 2018.

Sookman said Women’s Empowerment is actively accepting donations of gowns or cocktail dresses for the occasion, with a particular emphasis on large sizes.

Those interested in donating can email her at sheryl@themeetingconnection.com.

“The women who are able to attend have a separate gala clothing closet,” Sookman said. “About two weeks before the event they get to pick out their full-on ball gown, jewelry, and they get to keep that.

“It’s theirs at the end of the evening,” she said.

Like others who discover a deep pool of inner reward by helping others, Sookman said the experience has opened her eyes.

“Every time I go in there I’m reminded of how fortunate I am,” she said. “And it also strikes you as to how easy it would be for your circumstances to suddenly snowball downward.

“It’s really been an eye-opener for me just to see these women blossom as they go through this.”

Paying It Forward: Organizations Making a Difference

Delta Hotels by Marriott unveiled a new partnership with Soapbox Soaps.

All Delta Hotels will feature Soapbox’s bath products, which furthers Soapbox’s mission to serving in-need communities with a buy-one-give-one model.

It is estimated that Delta Hotels and Soapbox will provide roughly 1.4 million bars of soap this year.

Westin Hotels is now upcycling its bed linens into pajamas for children in need.

Discarded bed sheets are sent to S.C.-based company Divergent Energy, where they are broken down then reconstructed into fabric that can be made into pajamas. A quarter of all Westin Hotels participated, submitting more than 30,000 pounds of bed linens and towels over the course of five months.

This waste has been diverted from landfills and turned into 1,500 of pairs of pajamas.

[Related Content: Read more about those giving back in our industry].