SALT LAKE CITY — Not long ago, Marcie Bainson was married, living in a nice home in the suburbs, raising three children.

Then came a life-altering reversal of fortune. Her husband left her and her children. It's been six years since they heard from him.

Overnight, Bainson went from a life with a husband who had a six-figure income to being the sole breadwinner.

"I had worked little jobs to amuse myself. I didn't really have a career. I really didn't expect to be in a position to have to support me and my kids completely on my own," she said.

Bainson worked three jobs to make ends meet. "I was burning out really fast. I still was not able to pay my bills."

The Salt Lake nonprofit People Helping People changed all of that. The organization works to strengthen families through successful employment in jobs that have the potential for advancement and educational opportunities.

Bainson, who is a college graduate, attended a single mothers seminar sponsored by PHP that "literally changed my life."

"I heard some of their success stories and thought, 'I can do that,'" she said.

So Bainson enrolled in the program. She's now one of its success stories. She works for the Bureau of Reclamation as a purchasing agent. "I've already had one promotion, so I feel I'm on my way."

In many respects, PHP is an employment boot camp for women who have toiled in dead end jobs or have not been in the workforce for many years.

Dani Cardona, PHP's program director, said the four-phase program winnows out people who are serious about improving their station in life and people who just want to get another job.

In the first phase, participants go through a rigorous process of self-discovery, during which they assess their educational attainment and explore career options they may have not considered in the past. For instance, women who have organized volunteer programs through their churches or PTA "don't realize that's a skill. Those are managerial skills," Cardona said.

The second phase involves intensive preparation to search for work. Volunteers who work in the human resources field conduct mock interviews and give clients feedback.

Once clients obtain employment, advisers call them periodically to offer support and steer them from red flags.

Finally, successful "graduates," women who have been employed two years, become part of PHP's Women's Professional Network.

"They've done so much on the front part they're not going to give up," Cardona said.

Bainson said the program not only helped her get past a difficult divorce, it helped to place a higher value on her ability to contribute to the world of work.

PHP taught her, "If you're going to play the game of work, then make it pay."

People Helping People was founded 17 years ago by Kayleen Simmons to help employ women affected by federal welfare reform legislation that limited cash assistance to three years. Since then, hundreds of women have been helped to find work and professional wardrobes, thanks to a partnership with the Junior League of Salt Lake, and to learn work habits that employers want, Cardona said.

The program is primarily funded through private dollars. Clients, who must meet a means test, are not charged for the services.

Employers like PHP's clients because they know, after the rigorous coursework the program requires, that the people they hire are prepared to work.

Recently, People Helping People was recognized in a national report by The Philanthropic Collaborative. The report summarizes the positive impact foundations and nonprofits support have on local economies.

According to the report, 81 percent of program's graduates report they are self-sufficient.

"What we try to do is benefit everyone," Cardona said. "Our clients benefit. Their children benefit. Our volunteers benefit. The companies benefit from the training our clients receive."

Single mothers job fair tonight

People Helping People will provide single mothers an opportunity to meet with nearly 50 private and public sector employers and community resource agencies.

When: Today from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Where: LDS Church Offices, 3740 Market Center Drive, Riverton

To register: At the door or go to