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Individual Success Story


“I didn’t feel confident before and now I feel like I belong in this world. I have my place. I don’t feel like I’m taking space – I have my space here.”

She’s Hired!

Zofia* fled the home she shared with her then-husband in the middle of the night. He had abused her for years and finally, with the help of the police and other agencies, Zofia successfully ran away in 2019.  

Local government agencies helped Zofia move into a domestic violence shelter and they recommended Fresh Start as she looked to rebuild her life and divorce her abuser.  

“I was honestly really lost when I got here. My whole life had fallen apart and I had lost absolutely everything, except my car that I used to flee. Everything else was gone. I had absolutely no way to figure out what should be the next steps,” she remembered. 

“When you lose all of your documents and then you have to think about ‘how I can legally stay here? When is my green card expiring? How do I get my health insurance? How do I plan all of this? It was extremely overwhelming,” she said. 

Zofia explained how she had no support system, and her family and friends turned their backs on her in the marriage and the aftermath of it. 

“My family does not agree with the divorce, and they never approved of my marriage. So, when it ended up this way, they already blamed me and felt it was all my fault since I decided to get married to this person,” Zofia said. 

For several years, including through the Covid-19 pandemic, Zofia continued to take courses and workshops through Fresh Start. She even met new friends through her DV support group. In 2022, her work schedule got so intense, that she didn’t have time for much outside of work and stopped coming to Fresh Start.  

But in Summer 2023, after working as a data analyst for more than 10 years, Zofia lost her job and it caused her to hit another low point. One of the friends she met through the support group at Fresh Start recommended that she get back in touch with Fresh Start’s resources.  

Zofia was excited to apply and get accepted into the Women in Finance cohort in Fall 2023. In the first few days of the course, she realized that she had a very different view on banking in the U.S. than her classmates because, in her experience as an immigrant, she typically felt unwelcome within banks. When she first arrived in the U.S., none of the standard banks would open an account for her because of her immigrant status. It took her six months before she could open her first bank account.  

Zofia learned all about CDs, saving for retirement, and making accounts for children or grandchildren’s educational funds. What surprised her the most was how much she learned about her own way of thinking. 

“It’s not only learning about banking, but it also changed the way I was thinking and seeing my own situation. I feel amazing now. I feel like ‘yes, I can do it. I’m worth the time. I’m worth the money.’ And that mentality was lost before this program. I hadn’t gotten it back after running away from my ex-husband and I know it’s something that I must continuously work on. In every programming I’ve done at Fresh Start, I get some of that back.” 

It wasn’t all easy. Zofia felt challenged when the course instructor asked each of the women to work on their personal budgets as an exercise.  Zofia was dealing with credit card debt because of her abusive relationship and subsequent divorce and establishing a budget caused her to face her daunting financial situation. 

“A traumatic experience for me was doing my personal budget. I tried like three times before completing it, and I had to take a few breaks. That was an emotional part, like really understanding what’s going on in my life and my current situation was very difficult,” she said. 

Zofia recalled how at the beginning of the course, she compared herself and her situation to others. The emotional aspect and knowing she needed to say, ‘I would like some help,” was difficult. 

At the start of the course, Zofia was so lost in despair that she couldn’t figure out what her goals should be.  

“For many years I was just trying to figure out how I can survive all of this. From the very beginning of my life, it was ‘how can I move out of this place?’ then it became ‘how can I complete university?’ then it was ‘how can I find any job that will pay me?’ and then with the situation with my ex-husband, I just wanted to survive until the next day and maybe have enough energy to go through the legal process. At that point, I was not really looking for success, I was just looking to survive. How can I make it to the next day and not fall apart? And that for me has changed a lot in the last few weeks. I joked with Sara and said, ‘This is better than any therapy I’ve ever been to.’ I no longer feel like I am in a survival mode,” Zofia said. 

With the support from Fresh Start, Zofia has been able to set goals that she didn’t even know she needed until the Women in Finance cohort. One of the biggest was improving her resume and cover letter. 

“I am so proud because even though I’m unemployed, I have less anxiety about the future. I’m finally learning to put myself first. I never had that skill or awareness. I’m proud that I’ve finally started saying ‘no’ to toxic things and setting up boundaries,” she said. 

Zofia is working to rewire her thinking that everyone else should come first. She’s setting healthy boundaries and practicing putting herself first on her priority list 

“I still feel guilty and have it in the back of my head – but I’m aware of that now and am consciously taking steps to choose myself,” she said. “I still feel extremely uncomfortable when I don’t put others first, but I’m always proud when I put myself first.” 

As Zofia takes steps to get back into the workforce, her need to feel supported in that endeavor was filled. 

“Building a support system is extremely difficult for me, making connections, having that community, those are things that are extremely difficult for me and I’m very guarded since  I’ve come across a lot of toxic people in my life.” 

But through the Women in Finance cohort, Fresh Start workshops and support from the organization, Zofia feels validated, supported, and cared for knowing that there are people that care and want her to succeed.  

Even if she has moments where she needs support, Zofia knows she can always turn to the community that she found in Fresh Start.  

“I’m much happier. I don’t cry every evening wondering if I’m doing things right. I know I have people that I can ask for help, and I feel less responsible for everyone’s success,” she smiled. “I feel I am supported. I don’t have  family support or a husband, but I still feel supported. Every time I look at Fresh Start’s Sandra, Sara, and Mike, I know that they want me to succeed. They really care. Everyone who checks on us, I can see they are excited for me. So having people believe in me and caring, it’s such a game-changer.” 

While Zofia looks for her next career step, she’s already looking to the women around her who could use a hand up and sharing her experience at Fresh Start. 

“I am recommending Fresh Start already to other women and telling my friends about it. It’s really safe. It’s physically safe and it’s an emotionally safe place. The second part is the quality of the work, education, and support provided here is good,” she shared. 

“I know I deserve good things and I did not feel like that at all before. I deserve good people around me that are supportive, and I deserve to have higher expectations and to hold people accountable,” she said. 

“I didn’t feel confident before and now I feel like I belong in this world. I have my place. I don’t feel like I’m taking space – I have my space here.” 

She’s Hired!

Zofia was hired as a Systems Analyst/Programmer II at the City of Scottsdale.