CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nearly 3,000 people are experiencing homelessness in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County area, according to the housing data.
A local teen made it her mission to help homeless single moms get back on their feet. Her name is Sahana Mantha. The 15-year-old is the co-founder of Foundation for Girls.
“My parents always encouraged my sister and me to learn more about our community and to give back,” Mantha said.
She was inspired to start the organization after visiting a home for trafficking survivors and volunteering at a homeless shelter.
“We were seeing these 14- to 15-year-old mothers who didn’t have a support system around them," she said. "My sister Shreya and I immediately wanted to help."
Mantha is one of 25 high school students across the U.S. recognized as Prudential’s Emerging Visionaries for the impact her foundation has on improving financial and societal challenges in the community. She was also one of five grand prize winners.
The organization empowers the mothers by guiding them through financial independence -- mothers like Samora Morrow, who found herself homeless with two kids after going through a divorce.
“It was a domino effect,” Morrow explained. “Once we lost our place, I got let go from my job, and then my car died, and then it was just this big mess.”
Morrow and her kids shared a room in a transitional home for nearly eight months. During her stay, she was connected with the foundation. Although she was hesitant at first, it turned out to be a blessing.
"They literally gave me a sense of family because when I was going through this I became kind of like a recluse," Morrow said.
For the past six years, the foundation has helped more than 2,500 single mothers and their children through coaching, workshops and care packages.
"We give them a team of coaches, one who works with them on financial well-being, career journey, circle of care and digital forward,” Mantha said.
Mantha said it's her goal to help as many families as possible.
Erika Perry is another one of their participants and now has her own apartment.
“Now I pay my bills a week ahead of when they are due,” Perry said. “It helped me balance out my money. Every now and then I will spend some on myself…but it just helped me focus on my priorities first.”
She is also in a better position to care for her son.
“It makes me want to keep grinding and it makes me not want to stop,” Perry added. “It makes me think of the nights when I was alone. I didn’t have a penny to my name and I didn’t have food to eat. I never want to ever go back down to that level.”
Then there's Ashley, a domestic abuse survivor.
Note: WCNC Charlotte is using the name Ashley to protect her identity.
She said her daughter keeps her going and the foundation helped her move forward at a time when she had nowhere to turn.
“The classes really taught me how to manage my finances, how to get bank accounts and save," she said. "They even went into CDs and IRAs and things that would make me proficient. I had a coach all the way through.”
Morrow learned to power on having money stashed away.
“I had given up on the idea of savings because I felt like I was not in a situation to save,” Morrow said. “I needed every dollar to go towards finding a place and getting another car… and to have someone say well let’s look at your budget. Where can we save? It’s like every dollar matters and it really adds up.”
She is giving back, helping other single moms like her and focusing on her education.
"They actually connected me with the job that I love so much," Morrow shared. "So much so that I'm working on getting my degree to be a behavioral analyst."
For anyone who finds themselves in a tough time, Ashley has this message.
“Don’t give up. Things can be hard sometimes... and I know sometimes it feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel but it is coming," she said. "And just try to stay positive. It's not easy but just find something to give you strength and use it as a tool to guide you."
With every success story, Mantha is empowered to do more work and help more women in her community.