Delaware’s Fresh Start Scholarship Foundation is offering women just what it says: a fresh start to pursue an education that will prepare them for personal and professional success.
Started in 1996 by then-president of the Wilmington Women in Business board of directors Mary Maloney, the foundation has distributed more than $1.2 million in scholarship aid to more than 580 women in Delaware over the last 25 years. All of the program’s scholars have faced personal, family or financial challenges. They come from upstate and downstate and different backgrounds.
“Each of our scholars are unique in terms of their goals, skills and dreams, but what they have in common is the determination to use an education as a strategic lever to transform their lives,” Maloney says.
The scholarship program has also evolved into much more than financial support. Every scholar is paired with a mentor working in the student’s desired field of study. This leader helps guide them through their time as a scholar and with employment networking upon graduation.
“It became obvious early on that although our scholars needed financial help, what they also needed was a mentoring relationship—someone to talk to, someone in their corner,” Maloney explains.
The scholar-mentor relationship lasts throughout a student’s time in the program, and often for many years beyond that. Fresh Start scholars maintain an average 3.4 GPA, and 72 percent go on to graduate with degrees ranging from nursing and education to business.
Maloney recalls one woman she mentored—a single mother named Bonita—who was struggling to find the means to return to school. With Fresh Start’s support, Bonita was able to get her degree in nursing, and then—on her own—earned a master’s degree and became a nurse practitioner. During Bonita’s studies, Maloney met her young son. A decade later, Bonita sent her former mentor a picture of that same son, now smiling in front of New York University, where they were making college visits.
“The importance of this story is the fact that we aren’t just transforming women’s lives,” Maloney says, “but also positively impacting the lives of their children, family and the community.
Ralandre’ Lacy, of Wilmington, is one of many Delaware women whose life was transformed by the program. “Receiving a scholarship [from Fresh Start] paved the way for me to be able to better myself and have a career that I am proud of, help people in their time of need and help support my family,” she says.
Lacy earned a degree in elementary education from Wilmington University and is now a kindergarten teacher at Kuumba Academy Charter School downtown. She also serves as a Fresh Start mentor and is on the board of directors.
Fresh Start’s success is dependent on community support. Entirely volunteer run, 92 cents of every dollar raised goes back into the scholarship program. “More than anything, Fresh Start needs champions in the community,” explains board president Betty Sweeny. “Volunteer to be a mentor if you have the time and resources. Donate. Learn about us and talk about us in the community.”