Fresh Start takes to Zoom, implements new strategies to support women making big changes

Fresh Start takes to Zoom, implements new strategies to support women making big changes

Jump Start

Fresh Start Women’s Foundation gathers for their Jump Start program, a week-long intensive program that focuses on personal development, virtually in April 2021. The foundation in Maricopa County, Ariz., faced COVID-19 struggles but remained deep-rooted in serving women through their theme of adversity and resiliency.

by Zoe Isaac, Fresh Start Women's Foundation

April 8, 2021

“Fresh Start has opened up my eyes to a whole new world the past couple months. I see myself again, after years in an abusive relationship I feel as though I am getting stronger for myself and my children. Thank you for removing barriers and offering virtual services so that I am able to attend and get the hand up for myself and my kids.”

Fresh Start Women’s Foundation walks hand-in-hand with women making big changes: searching for new employment, rebuilding their lives after divorce or domestic violence, or seeking new career and life skills. Fresh Start commits to helping women each step of the way, offering family law support, career coaching, connections to apprenticeship programs and employers, and a host of workshops that foster personal and professional development.

Threaded throughout every unique path and experience at Fresh Start is a consistent theme: Fresh Start women succeed by meeting adversity with resiliency.

When Fresh Start made the difficult choice to shut down the center in March because of COVID-19, staff faced the challenge before them head-on: How do we keep serving women? How can we continue to support those struggling? Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen major increases in domestic violence survivors, low income women and mothers in need of support.

Two weeks after closing down the center, with a combination of teamwork, determination and ingenuity, Fresh Start took to Zoom, offering all core programs and services virtually. Within those two weeks, staff had to adjust to working virtually and shape 107 workshops to accommodate virtual learning while implementing new strategies for engagement and support.

Kelsey Evans, programs and community engagement senior manager, shares, “I was lucky to play a part in the initial launch of transitioning our offerings to a virtual format. I can honestly say that we did not possess the knowledge or skillset to deliver right away and it took an exploration of learning and development of new skills in order to achieve our goals. In a true test of resiliency we dove headfirst into the unknown waters of virtual services with Fresh Start's mission and vision at the forefront of our minds.”

Fresh Start staff had to come together as a team. Check-in chats via Google Teams and bi-weekly staff meetings with positive updates, funny stories and even breathing exercises led by programs staff kept us close. We had to keep each other motivated, doing our best to remind each other of our “why.” Virtually, it’s harder to see and feel the everyday impact Fresh Start makes. But frequent emails from staff with client quotes and powerful stories helped to show us our impact when we felt like we couldn’t see it.

Our team quickly adapted to the new and pressing needs of women in our community. For example, more women need help meeting their basic needs amidst COVID. In response, we increased our Resource Coaching team who have since served 841 women. Career, Social Work and Family Law Support Services have seen an 18% increase in attendance compared to last year, and have supported a total of 2,584 women since launching virtually. Highly interactive Zoom sessions, a virtual catalog for clients and consistent client needs assessments have been essential Fresh Start tools during this time.

We also had to navigate how we would stay connected to our volunteers, each of whom is a critical part of our community. Despite the challenges, they stuck with us virtually, and right now we have 212 active volunteers serving as career coaches and webinar hosts. We have also been determined to stay just as connected, if not more, to our partner organizations. To ensure we could continue supporting each other, we decided to hold a virtual Community Partner Breakfast for organizations to connect and learn how other organizations are navigating this difficult time. The event was such a success that it has since become a monthly virtual event with 20 to 40 organizations in attendance. Fresh Start continues to act as a bridge not just for our clients, but our community partners as well.

COVID has been a true test of what walking hand-in-hand with the women we serve truly means: meeting adversity with resiliency right alongside them. Our mission of serving all women with the support, resources, and education needed to strengthen their lives has proudly been maintained through the bravery that each of us on the Fresh Start staff committed to during this time.

Zoe Isaac is the data and research specialist for Fresh Start Women's Foundation.

Innovation hub

Nonprofit Innovation Hub

We want to hear your success stories. Organizations are invited to contribute to the ASU Lodestar Center's Nonprofit Innovation Hub and share how they are adapting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Submissions will contribute to an indispensable resource and help lift up the nonprofit community during this time of need.