Shegitu has provided jobs for 38 women since starting her own cleaning business in 2003. In addition, she runs a one-woman non-profit organization that helps women, many of them immigrants, like herself.
Shegitu’s office is a converted apartment, stacked to the ceiling with sewing fabric and school supplies donated to support her community work. On most afternoons, it is filled with the children of immigrant or low-income families who come to Shegitu for help with their homework, computer skills and learning English. At other times, the soft whir of sewing machines fills the room as women of all backgrounds gather for sewing classes, tea and fellowship.
Shegitu received a sponsorship to America in 1990 after fleeing the war and violence in Ethiopia and the dire straits life of a refugee camp in Kenya. Upon her arrival and like so many immigrants, she faced culture shock and the cultural barriers that fall along the path towards being self-sufficient. But Shegitu was determined to overcome her hurdles by learning English and the area of which she lived. She got a factory job, then worked through non-profit organizations to help single mothers apply for work, where she discovered that most women applying for work lacked basic skills and were not qualified. This is when Shegitu decided to open her own small cleaning business to help and train such women. She started her business without any money, location or supplies.
Shegitu applied and received a $1,000 MicroGrant to help pay for vacuum cleaners, mops and cleaning supplies. She created partnerships with Augsburg College, Fairview Medical Centers, and the University of Minnesota. She also started an after-school program for the children of the single mothers she employs and with the help from college interns and volunteer support, it serves more than 50 students and runs a school supply drive each fall. Her latest project, a sewing class for immigrant women, has become a support network that helps women help each other with issues of parenting, employment and domestic abuse.
Shegitu, now 38, won a second minigrant in 2007.