Victoria Rocha’s past drug addiction and criminal record made it hard for her to find a job after getting her life back on track with help from Evangel Home in Fresno.
She’s not alone. Gerre Brenneman, director of the shelter for homeless women and children, has heard the struggle for the last 27 years. It inspired an idea to create a business arm of the nonprofit to employ women whose backgrounds create roadblocks to employment.
“We weren’t going to cook and we weren’t going to clean,” Brenneman joked from her office in the Lowell neighborhood, north of downtown Fresno. “That’s too stereotypical.”
But the women knew how to clean, Brenneman said, leading to the start of 5 Gals Cleaning service for vacant homes and churches.
The name 5 Gals was inspired by Galatians 5:22-23 in the Bible about “the fruit of the spirit” including love, joy and peace that the women want to leave behind with every job they take.
Brenneman presented the idea at Fresno Pacific University’s Spark Tank business contest last year and was one of three first-place winners receiving $3,000 in startup money. After spending this year planning, training and conducting test runs, 5 Gals is ramping up for an official start in 2016.
“I’ll never forget getting together about 10 of our program women last year and saying ‘If you guys can start your own business, how would that make you feel?’ ” Brenneman said. “They were thrilled. They want to see it succeed.”
Evangel Home graduates who complete a nine-month residential program can be hired by 5 Gals. The business started out cleaning only vacant homes. Churches were later added when an employee’s pastor asked about the women and what they do.
Vacant homes and churches are “pretty safe,” Brenneman said. “There’s always a danger of being accused that one might steal something or someone being tempted. This way that is all taken out.”
The name 5 Gals was inspired by Galatians 5:22-23 in the Bible about “the fruit of the spirit” including love, joy and peace that the women want to leave behind with every job they take, Brenneman said. It has nothing to do with the number of women employed. There are currently three employees.
The cleaning fee is used to pay the women – $10 an hour. Through 5 Gals, the women also are taught about job preparation and business management. Donations made to the business, which is a nonprofit, go toward the education component.
Rocha, 32, the Evangel Home graduate and single mother to five children, jumped at the chance for a cleaning job with 5 Gals. She manages the business, which includes scheduling and marketing its services to potential clients.
We’re giving it our best and giving it our all. All these people are supporting us and believe in us.
Victoria Rocha, 5 Gals employee
“I really love going to meetings with people and when we’re done (cleaning) it’s just really fulfilling,” Rocha said. “We’re giving it our best and giving it our all. All these people are supporting us and believe in us.”
Rocha was instrumental in securing a contract with Cornelia Avenue Baptist Church, west of Highway 99, where she is a parishioner. Every Sunday for weeks, Rocha would ask the congregation to pray for the business. Pastor David Peugh asked about it one day and signed the gals up for a 90-day trial run. The business is now contracted to clean every Thursday for three hours.
“We need to keep the place clean and that’s a major chore,” Peugh said. “Because we’re a church and don’t keep a lot of valuables around, it makes sense to try and help the girls. We have been absolutely amazed at the incredible job they’ve done keeping the place clean.”
5 Gals deep cleans the kitchen, the bathrooms (which have multiple stalls), sanitizes toys in the children’s building and cleans all floors and glass on doors.
It feels really good to have a job and work.
Corina Hernandez, 5 Gals employee
“I like it a lot,” said employee Corina Hernandez. “It feels really good to have a job and work.”
Guarantee Realtor Andrea Mead hopes to have Brenneman present the business to her office at West and Herndon avenues. Mead helped Brenneman brainstorm the business idea, but has not used the service yet. The business has cleaned about 10 vacant homes so far.
The service is needed when “somebody moves out or a home needs (cleaning) before somebody moves in,” said Mead, who added “we are creating jobs for people.”
Pride bursts from Rocha’s face when she talks about 5 Gals. Once she got the job, Rocha also enrolled at Fresno City College, where she is taking classes to become an alcohol and drug counselor.
“We really just want to show that we are able,” Rocha said, “and we’re willing and we’re going to take this opportunity and do our best.”
Find out more
For more information, visit www.evangelhome.org or call Ruby Cox at 559-264-4714