Fresh Start Women’s Foundation: High Fashion for Self-sufficiency

by RaeAnne Marsh

Fresh Start Women’s Foundation brings Phoenix some of the glamour and excitement of New York’s Fashion Week with its annual Fashion Gala fundraiser, this year’s event on February 2 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa with Pamella Roland the featured designer. Roland will premiere her spring collection that she’ll be showing in New York. The gala’s attendees “see designers who normally don’t make it to Phoenix,” says Susan Berman, Fresh Start’s executive director. Pat Petznick, one of the organization’s founders, is connected in the fashion world, and it’s through her personal contacts that Fresh Start secures the name designers, Berman explains. Club Jewell — a DJ-hosted dance party — will follow the fashion show.

Expecting between 800 and 900 guests again this year, Fresh Start grosses about $1.2 million at this fundraiser — a hefty 30 percent of its annual budget for offering a comprehensive service delivery to help empower women to become self-sufficient. Nearly half of the 6,500 women the organization serves each year are victims of domestic violence, and almost one-fifth are homeless or have experienced homelessness. “They’re reaching out to make a better life for themselves and their children,” Berman says.


  • Founded in 1982, Fresh Start Women’s Foundation provides programs that include workshops to help in preparing to look for a job (job readiness, skills development and more), financial fitness topics and self-esteem (yoga and nutrition, among others). Wardrobing assistance includes an actual shopping outing for appropriate clothing and accessories.
  • Assistance also includes job fairs, health fairs, legal seminars, computer and ESL classes, a robust mentoring program tailoring a 12- to 18-month mentorship to the individual’s specific needs, and scholarships for short-term certificates as well as help toward a degree program.
  • Fresh Start operates Treasures, a second-hand boutique, to not only generate revenue but to offer on-the-job training. “We try to give as many transferrable skills as possible,” says Berman.
  • An on-site day-care facility is available, for infants through 12 years old, to clients while on-site using the services.
  • A full-time staff of 27 is augmented by several hundred carefully vetted volunteers who include experienced career and technology coaches and experts who present the workshops.

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