Kalunda-Rae Iwamizu had it all: a degree from USC, a job teaching at Riverside City College and a happy family.
But in 2010, she lost her job, her marriage fell apart and her home went into foreclosure.
"We ended up homeless in a homeless shelter," Iwamizu said.
Pregnant with her third child, Iwamizu had no family close by and nowhere to turn.
"I remember my first night at the shelter. I put my head in the pillow and cried and cried," Iwamizu said. "My eldest daughter was the most upset about it. She felt I’d failed her. There was that spark that had gone out in me that said 'let’s reignite this fire because you have to do something about this.'"
Eventually, Iwamizu found the helping hand she needed. She discovered a program called Dress for Success Worldwide-West. The nonprofit, run for and by women, started in 1997 and is now in 139 cities and 18 countries. It has helped more than 775,000 women become self-sufficient. The program is best known for outfitting women for job interviews. All the clothing and accessories are donated.
But Dress for Success is much more than a clothing shop. The program also helps women re-write their resumes, find jobs, handle their finances and most importantly, connect them with other empowering women.
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Iwamizu believes that connection was most helpful to her.
"Pairing me with other women who are inspirational... a sisterhood of women who support each other," she said.
The organization helped Iwamizu find a new teaching job and get back into a home of her own.
"Because they were able to pull me out of that shell, I was able to move forward," Iwamizu said.
Dress for Success is run by Executive Director Reena DeAsis. She immigrated from the Philippines when she was a child.
"Growing up without a lot... I suppose gives me more fuel to the fire to make me want to make an impact," DeAsis said. "Our key focus is really to help women go from surviving to thriving."
Now that Iwazimu is back on her feet, she volunteers at Dress for Success. It’s her way of saying thank you.
"I feel like giving back is a big part of this for me and I want to see other women empowered," Iwazimu said.
Even more significant is the lesson she’s been able to teach her daughter.
"I want her to know there’s no struggle that’s too great that can truly defeat her if she’s willing to stand up and find the resources," she said.
If you would like to learn more about Dress for Success Worldwide-West by visiting its website. To contact the organization through social media search @DFSWest on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
This Life Connected broadcast report originally aired Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. The online article was first published Feb. 24, 2015.