By Mary Maloney, Founder and Past President
I remember vividly our first Fresh Start scholarship recipient, Delia.
We had only a few thousand dollars, and weren’t sure how to get started, so we just jumped in and sorted through the applications. Delia’s rose to the top. Not only was it clear that she was a very bright, amazing young woman, but she had a compelling story to tell.
Her parents didn’t think a woman needed an education. So, as a high school graduate, she didn’t have the opportunity to go to college. Instead, she married a man who was in the military. At some point, she realized that as the spouse of a soldier she could have her education paid for, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Worse than that, he abused her.
She gathered up her courage and left him. When we met her, she was homeless and living in a car with her two children, and thankfully, she had access to social services that helped a little.
Delia had such chutzpah! She fought for the custody of her children without a lawyer, and won. Then, she applied for a Fresh Start Scholarship, because she felt that having an education was the key to transforming her life. When I called her to tell her she’d won a scholarship, she was elated.
We invited her to dinner at the Blue and Gold Restaurant in Newark. We “Fresh Start” gals wanted to take our first scholar to dinner and give her the check in person. Delia was horrified by this.
“Mary,” she said, “I can’t go. I’m afraid. I can’t imagine sitting around a table with a group of professional women. I won’t fit in! What will I say? What will I talk about?” When the evening ended, she confided in me that she had such a good time and felt like one of the girls!!
Delia went on to complete her associate’s degree in accounting, and took a job at Delaware Charter Guarantee & Trust. Getting an education made a huge impact on Delia’s life. “For the first time, I’m living in a safe neighborhood, and have a yard for my children to play in.”
We were all so touched by her joy and transformation, and we knew we were onto something important. We helped her break the cycle of poverty and launch her career as a professional. Delia and I became friends, and I fell into being her mentor. (We didn’t have a formal mentorship program at that time.) Again, I found more opportunities to take her to gatherings of other professional women and she was in awe.
Then, the next scholar came along, and the next, and Fresh Start kept growing. This year, we are celebrating twenty years of “fresh starts.” We’ve awarded nearly three quarters of a million dollars to 174 women. Like Delia, they have overcome adversity and used education as a strategic lever to transform their lives through education. They have shaped Fresh Start and helped us to become a force for improving the lives of women and their families and positively impacting our community. What a wonderful journey it has been for all of us and all of them. They have taught us so much!!