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‘Birthed out of love.’ Founder of Citrus Heights nonprofit seeks to help at-risk girls

Founder Jackie Guzman stands inside a new commercial kitchen under construction at The Glass Slipper’s “Mariposa House,” where girls will receive life skills training. // CH Sentinel

By Nadezhda Chayka Otterstad–
Jackie Guzman walks through the construction mess of a remodel in progress at her nonprofit organization’s “hospitality house” on Mariposa Avenue in Citrus Heights on a recent Tuesday. A former teacher at Sacramento City Unified School District and the founder of The Glass Slipper, she explains the construction progress as soon coming to completion.

“Here we will have our main entrance into the hall and then here is our dining room,” she says, gesturing with a warm smile during a tour. Walking into a brightly lit room with skylights is a new industrial kitchen where Guzman says life skills classes on nutrition and food prep will be led by local chef volunteers.

Guzman describes her organization’s origins as being “Birthed out of love.” She says the idea to form a women’s empowerment program came about in 1997, which at that time dealt with adult women in recovery or transitioning from situations like abusive relationships or drug abuse.

The women would meet at any school or church that would allow them to gather, and Guzman said the group soon began seeing results: “We began to hear their stories and women who had overcome challenges were encouraging each other and motivating each other.”

She also heard from career counselors at Sac City College and Cosumnes River College, who she said spoke positively about the transformation being observed in the women. “So we learned to never underestimate the simple effort can actually have really lasting impact on these lives.”

The program then morphed into reaching women at a younger age, after Guzman said the women being served were asked what they would say “to your younger self.” The answer from one of the women was a request to help: “can you reach my daughters, I have six, and I have five that have been adopted out, but I can give you their contact information.”

“So in an effort to reach their daughters we began to do a similar girl empowerment, targeting their daughters,” said Guzman.

From then on, she understood she had to start a mentoring program for the daughters of women in recovery, because she saw the biggest changes could be done in the early years of life with a better positive outcome.

The Glass Slipper officially incorporated in 2007, and Guzman said it has operated with zero debt, meaning whatever donations come in is the budget they work with. To drive home the point, Guzman said the remodel project was funded by donations from people who either mowed her lawn and found out about what the organization does, or through word-of-mouth in churches and businesses.

The organization’s mission is to empower and equip girls for life, reaching those considered high-risk for abuse, sexual exploitation and sex-trafficking. Programs are designed to “deliver a message of hope, to restore lost dreams, and inspire a sense of value and purpose to overcome all odds.”

The Glass Slipper currently has two active programs: Club Ella, a mentoring program for girls ages 6-12 who have experienced foster care, and another program, “Ready by 21,” for girls ages 12-13.

Club Ella seeks to teach hands-on entrepreneurship skills and expose the girls to various business enterprises in the community. Speakers come and present on different business topics. A lemonade stand helps the girls put the skills into practice and make a profit.

The girls have a goal to fund a Disneyland trip in the near future through the proceeds made from the lemonade stand. Photos from the latest lemonade stand are posted on The Glass Slipper’s Facebook page, showing the girls offering lemonade behind a decorated table.

Ready by 21 seeks to provide “a circle of support that ensures they are connected socially, civically, and graduate from high school, as well as pursue some form of post-secondary training/education that equips them to succeed in the workplace,” Guzman said. Referrals come mostly from word-of-mouth and social workers.

Also on The Sentinel: Volunteers restore picnic tables at Citrus Heights park

Acquaya Bennett, who was one of the referrals, spoke with the Sentinel in a phone interview Saturday, sharing that she was mentored by Guzman and several other women within the organization beginning at age 16.

Mentors within The Glass Slipper are often not assigned to any of the girls, but instead take a relaxed approach where each mentor functions in different capacities — whether through teaching a sewing class, leading business trainings, or driving the girls from their home to The Glass Slipper headquarters for a meetup.

Some of the mentors check in on the girls through phone calls, shopping trips for clothing and specific needs, or to just take them out to a restaurant or café to chat.

“They would check on me throughout high school,” Bennett said. “Every time I would go see them, whether we would go out to eat or we had a sewing class, whatever it was, they would check in on me: ‘hey how are your grades? How are you doing? Are you talking to any new boys? How are your friends?’ And to have that when you’ve been in foster care your whole life and you live in a group home where a lot of the staff may tell you ‘I only do this for the money so this is a job for me,’ that means so much to someone who’s never had that.”

“I’ve never really experienced an adult wanting to take me out to eat just to have a conversation with me,” she said. “That was so weird to me at first, but that was just because they genuinely cared.”

Bennett currently attends Sacramento State University and has finished her bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and is now pursuing a master’s in Leadership Development and Management. She also serves as a mentor with The Glass Slipper, giving back to the program she was once mentored in.

While a mentor herself, she also maintains relationships with those who helped her along her own journey: “I have a mentor forever. I have someone I can call whenever I need to.”

Those interested in learning more about The Glass Slipper can visit Editor’s note: If you liked this story, help us tell more stories about our community by subscribing to the Citrus Heights Sentinel. Click here to see subscription options.

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