Arizona-based nonprofit offers women in need a ‘fresh start’

Fresh Start Women's Foundation offers women the opportunity to better themselves and their future through classes, counseling and job training. (Evie Carpenter/DD)

Beverly Stewart wanted to give women a “hand up and not a hand out,” with Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, a project she formed with her sister Pat almost 20 years ago.

An Arizona-based nonprofit resource center for women with humble beginnings, Fresh Start offers services to more than 30,000 women a year who are combating a variety of personal and financial challenges.

“We have just about anything a woman needs to improve her life,” Stewart said. “It’s women who have no agenda and want to help other women.”

Fresh Start offers classes, counseling and job training for women coming from domestically abusive environments, single mothers, and women unable to find employment.

The organization’s conception occurred in the most unlikely place — an upscale hair salon and spa in Scottsdale called Rolf’s, of which Stewart was a co-partner.

Rolf’s began accepting women struggling personally or financially to come into the salon and receive a free makeover, Stewart said.

“It was a two-fold purpose,” Stewart said, adding that employees and assistants would get practice while the women could get manicures and their hair and makeup done for free.

Listening to the women’s stories during the free makeover sessions paved the way for Fresh Start, Stewart said.

“There was just such a need for the women in the community,” she said.

What began with 20 women a month in a salon has grown into a national resource center helping 30,000 a year, Stewart said.

Fresh Start’s resource center, named after Jewell McFarland, the first woman to donate $1 million, is located at 1130 E. McDowell St. The center includes classrooms, a library, computer commons and a childcare center where women can drop their children off while taking classes.

Classes cost $5 for most, but any woman seeking help will not be refused, Stewart said.

In addition to the variety of classes and resources provided at the center, Fresh Start also matches “empowerment specialists” with women individually to help set and achieve goals and guide them through rocky life or career transitions, said Kerry McKinney, one such specialist at the center.

“The beauty of the work that we do is that we focus on meeting each individual wherever she is, whether that’s re-entering the workforce after a long absence, dealing with divorce, being laid off, wanting to increase her self-esteem, or desiring to have a connection with a community of women,” McKinney said.

McKinney has worked at the center for over four years and has seen the devastating effects of the recession on the lives of women in the community, she said.

“Luckily at Fresh Start we’ve been able to remain a consistent provider of services to women while many other nonprofits have struggled.”

Besides the staff of professionals at Fresh Start, they also take on student interns from ASU’s School of Social Work, as well as other professionals who are interested in volunteering.

Many women who go through the Fresh Start program have personal and unique stories, Stewart said, but she fondly remembers some of the program’s most proud extraordinary moments.

“We had one woman go all the way through on our scholarship program and she had a son that was completely disabled and dependent on her,” Stewart said. The woman “went all the way through to get her master’s degree while making A’s and B’s with the help we had given her.”

Another woman in an abusive relationship ran away from her husband with her three children, Stewart said.

“She changed all their names to avoid being found by her husband. That girl got through school and ended up being able to buy a house of her own all through Fresh Start.”

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  1. I’d like to know why there isn’t a similar organization to support divorced men. Divorced men commit suicide more than twice as often as married men. Women generally report being happier after divorce. I think a good addition or perhaps followup to this story would be to report on the resources available specifically for male survivors of divorce. If there are no such resources, I’d like to know that, and a few comments from experts about why there aren’t would also be good. Finally, a few interviews with male survivors of divorce would certainly add a pleasing balance, while interesting and informing readers.