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Shellie Layne

Founder and CEO, At Home Foundation Inc./Women Under Construction Network

“Loving what you do and being committed to it is what makes it possible to maintain momentum doing important work and changing lives.”

Many families headed by a single mother face such financial instability, emotional instability, stress, parenting, time management and self-confidence challenges. I was a struggling single mom, and the support networks were not always there for me. In 2020, about a third of single-mother families were poor, food insecure and homeless or at risk for homelessness.

The problem I’m trying to solve

At Home Foundation Inc./Women Under Construction Network (WUCN), with its mission “Repairing Homes, Building Women, Changing Lives,” works with counselors, social workers, contractors and volunteer mentors to improve the lives of underserved single mothers, particularly those who are poor and of color. We teach them home repair, parenting and financial literacy, and provide motivation, resources and a welcoming sisterhood. WUCN bridges the gap and makes women more successful in every area of life. Our blend of home repair, using actual tools along with life lessons, helps women transform their lives.

The moment that sparked my passion

I was a multimillion-dollar real estate broker, but divorce, foreclosure and bankruptcy sent me to the edge of despair. Then one day my central air conditioning had a heart attack and I lacked the money or ability to resuscitate it. In fact, I didn’t know how to do any home repair. At Walmart, I looked at the boxes of room air conditioners, and the Walmart associate waiting on me said, very nicely, “When you get home, the person doing the installation will know what to do.” The realization hit: You’re on your own, Shell. Everything in my life had gone wrong! When the associate went back to the service desk, I broke down and cried, right there in the aisle. And then I decided to pull up my big girl panties and not roll on the floor and feel sorry for myself. Later the same day, a family friend helped me install the right AC, my house got cool and my life changed.

What I wish other people knew

Even though my life had fallen apart, the broken pieces propelled me into what I do now. That’s why it’s important to me to help other women rebuild their lives. Our circumstances and situations will either break us or make us. It’s our choice.

Why my approach is unique

Uniqueness is important to the Women Under Construction Network because every woman we deal with is unique. We recognize that each woman who comes to us has her own struggles and circumstances.

All our programs have a tool component. At the beginning of the course, every participant is presented with an empty toolbox, which will be filled with actual tools and which symbolizes what’s missing in her life. At every session we give her a brand-new tool and the skills to use it. For example, she may learn to hang a curtain rod using a drill — which also represents persistence. A hammer puts a nail in but it can pull it back out — the life lesson there might be that a woman doesn’t have to stay stuck. We’ve given them plungers, with the life parallel to become unstoppable, and LED lights to restore their personal power. They can use their skills at home, but paired with a counselor or motivational speaker, they are tools for repairing lives.

Advice to others who want to make a difference

Your mess is your mission: Whatever you’ve been through, you know it best, and it’s what you’ll be the best at. Loving what you do and being committed to it is what makes it possible to maintain momentum doing important work and changing lives.

I’ve learned that although tools have been male-oriented, if you give a woman a tool and tell her she can use it, it expands her mind, and she can never go back. Like building a house, you take one brick at a time,  use your tools, and eventually it becomes a home. One problem, one situation, one challenge, one miracle — one at a time. If I had done no more than cry at Walmart, I would never have known my purpose.