Sometimes life deals a less than fair hand. In those situations, organizations like Fresh Start for Children and Families offer a reprieve from uncertainty and encouragement to find a more positive course.
Tracey Williams serves as executive director of the organization, which has deep roots in the area. “We have been here for 30 years,” she says. “We used to be the Okaloosa Coalition on the Homeless. We were helping people with a hot shower and a hot meal, and over those 30 years we evolved to include services that you don’t always think of. We have become a transitional housing program.”
The primary goal is to provide a safe housing option so residents are able to grow their skill sets and work toward permanent solutions for a better life.
“We want to get a family in here for nine months, and during those nine months we find out what barriers, what obstacles they have to be able to (overcome),” says Williams. “Sometimes those things get covered up in a hurry when you have a kid with childcare needs, had a divorce, or any number of things that can happen and they can’t seem to get their way back out. We help them sit down and figure out their goals and how to get to those goals—to make sure they accomplish them.”
Fresh Start serves families of all sizes, from single parents to new parents, and the organization does its best to meet each family’s needs. Participating families have access to services like adult GED tutoring, child tutoring, financial classes and more.
Much of the organization is funded directly through their thrift store, Repeat Street, located in Fort Walton Beach. They are always seeking donated items, volunteers and shoppers. They also host a yearly fundraiser event, “Unmasking the Face of Homelessness.” The next one happens Sept. 23 at the Ramada Plaza Beach Resort on Okaloosa Island and will include live music from The Mulligans, food, auctions and more.
First Start still cares for the current homeless population by operating a small food bank and mail service.
“We are one-on-one to make sure that we help take them down the road that they need,” says Williams. “Everyone feels like family here, and it is that feeling that helps people get out of their comfort zone (to take on new challenges).
“We started this year with scholarships. A lot of people will get close to achieving their goals, and when they leave here we are hopeful.” The scholarships cover occupational supplies, uniforms, books and certifications.
Find out more at freshstartfl.com.
– Nikki Hedrick