AZ Giving & Leading: Fresh Start Women’s Foundation

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Fresh Start Women’s Foundation is a Phoenix organization formed in 1992 by two women as a tribute to the life of their grandmother, who faced financial and emotional hardships. The mission of the foundation is to empower women to transform their lives through engagement and education. Some of the programs offered include career services, self-esteem and mentoring programs, and education services. Fresh Start President and CEO Susan Berman and a former client, Coleen Rossi, will talk about the organization.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona Giving and Leading focuses on Fresh Start, a local foundation that works to empower women to transform their lives through engagement and education. Joining us now is Fresh Start President and CEO Susan Berman, and also with us is Coleen Rossi, a former client at Fresh Start. Good to have you both here.

Susan Berman: Thank you for having us.

Coleen Rossi: Thank you.

Ted Simons: You betcha, let's talk more about Fresh Start woman's foundation, what are we talking about?

Susan Berman: We're talking about an organization that's been around for 21 years in the Phoenix community. And it is a powerful organization that focuses on women and women's issues. We work with women every year to help empower her and bring her to a level of self-sufficiency. And that might be, mean something different with each woman, and last year we saw 5,000 women in our center, and we have made huge impacts in our community by, by addressing her issues.

Ted Simons: What kind of programs are available?

Susan Berman: Well, you know, a lot of organizations start and end with job placement, and we certainly do job readiness and job placement. But, what sets us apart is we pay attention to the entire woman. What will help her identify what her goals are, help her to overcome her barriers and her self-limitations, and help her to get excited about what is in front of her, no matter what her transition is in life.

Ted Simons: And let's talk about your experiences there at Fresh Start and how did you get started? How did you know about Fresh Start?

Coleen Rossi: I was part of a community volunteering for a long, long time. And when my transition began, and my world of my stability had, had fallen apart, it was when I realized that I kind of looked at the truth and I was living in a one-bedroom home, and I was -- I didn't have access to my funds anymore, and life had changed. And someone said, you know, you need to be at Fresh Started, and it was just one word, one person who said, "Go." And I finally gave up that would have, could have, should have and I went.

Ted Simons: I want to get back to your story in a second there but I'm hearing something that I was going to ask you, about how important is it for folks, I mean, you can only do so much until they decide there is something to do.

Susan Berman: Well, actually, Fresh Start is there for the woman who has decided that she needs something different. Something has got to change, for whatever reason in her world. And we are there to help her learn how to fish. And we don't give to her, she does the work herself but we can motivate her and illuminate her path to move her forward to meet her goals, sometimes she walks in the door and thinks, I just need a resume or something. She does not know that she could set goals. And she could attain those goals moving forward. So, we're really there to help bolster her, move her along, give her some ideas, and mentor her on her process.

Ted Simons: Were you confident that this would work or did you go in saying, let's see what they got?

Coleen Rossi: No, I was really humbled and ashamed that I was there. I was signing under a different name entirely. I didn't want them to know that I was there. But, what was happening was they were building my team. And I didn't know that I needed to have a team. I started thinking about -- I was talking to them, about financials and personal and emotional and all areas and, and they became my team to rebuild me.

Ted Simons: Did they become your team quickly? Could you see that this was going to happen or was it something that the trust and relationship had to build over time?

Coleen Rossi: I could tell from the leaders. I could tell it from the moment that I would walk into a classroom, and the person, that was giving up her time as a volunteer to help me, and I realized that these leaders were generous. They were incredibly generous with their time and their talent, and I realized these were women that were extremely well connected in the valley, and that they were doing it out of their own compassion to help someone else.

Ted Simons: And how long did your transformation take?

Coleen Rossi: I was there for at least 18 months on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, three nights a week. And going in, taking every class that I possibly could.

Ted Simons: Could you feel the transformation happening over time? Could you feel yourself growing?

Coleen Rossi: I could feel that I was becoming stronger. I became confident again. I became no longer the victim and was willing to take the next step.

Ted Simons: And, and that word, empower, we have mentioned it a couple of times here, and I am hearing it, it sounds as though you have all this going for you, let's show you how you have it going for you.

Susan Berman: Exactly. Exactly. And for a woman to understand that she can do it. That she can make a difference in her own life, and therefore, in everybody's lives around her. But not only that she can, but she has an obligation to and there is a way to do it. None of us get anywhere in life without assistance and information and support from others. And our clients are no different. They simply need that guidance and that support, and they are off and running and making big differences. It is such a privilege to work for an organization that makes this kind of impact. Because I know that when we impact her we impact the community and her families, and we impact the fabric in which we live.

Ted Simons: The programs, I see this career services program, self-esteem programs, mentoring programs, education programs. Who is responsible for instructing or leading or guiding those programs?

Susan Berman: Well, we have first, a staff of phenomenal women, full-time staff who work in this arena. Constantly, we have social workers onboard, and a number of staff that do different things within this. And as Coleen Rossi mentioned also, a huge plethora of volunteers who come in, who have expertise in different fields, and they give of their time to come in and teach and instruct and coach our clients one-on-one, or in a classroom setting, and so they get the best of all worlds.

Ted Simons: Was there a program that influenced you the most, do you think?

Coleen Rossi: Absolutely, the finance.

Ted Simons: That's the one?

Coleen Rossi: Absolutely. It was the area where I could finally look at a budget and understand a budget and begin to not focus on -- I had to focus on my own but it was the first time that I really decided to grow up.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, was it the fact that you could now figure out debts and credits and columns or was it that fact that once you figured it out, you figured it out?

Coleen Rossi: I figured it out. Once I could speak the language, I understood what was going on.

Ted Simons: And the confidence therein had to be helpful?

Coleen Rossi: Incredibly helpful.

Ted Simons: Is that a factor? It's one thing to say, you can balance a checkbook and do the mortgage and all of that, but --

Coleen Rossi: It's more than that.

Ted Simons: Yeah, I'm sure it is. But it's another thing to say that you can do it, you did it.

Susan Berman: That's the crux of it. It's the confidence piece. It's the confidence to know that there are things to do and I can do them and I can learn them. And there are people that are going to teach me and help me along the way. I think that is really the crux of what Fresh Start offers.

Ted Simons: So what do you tell people now about your life?

Coleen Rossi: I mean I love to tell the fact that a single mom with a special needs child in the middle of a recession, without any experience in wholesale or retail, I walk into a bank and I ask for a loan and they said yes, it only happened because I had the confidence that Fresh Start had given me. I understood what it was that I needed, so it's completely changed who I am, and how I can help to supported my family and change them, as well, their lives, as well.

Ted Simons: I am sure that you have had a number of those success stories.

Susan Berman: Every day, every day, and it, like I said, it's a privilege to be able to be part of that.

Ted Simons: It's great to have both on the program. Good luck and continued success. Thank you very much for being here.

Susan Berman: Thank you for having us.

Coleen Rossi: Thank you.

Susan Berman:President and CEO, Fresh Start Women's Foundation;Coleen Rossi: Former Client, Fresh Start Women's Foundation;

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