Phoenix Volunteer Develops Women’s Economic Self Sufficiency and Personal Empowerment

Daily Point of Light # 7783 Apr 4, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Shawnda Dawson. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

In both her professional career and volunteerism, Shawnda Dawson makes it a priority to uplift women to reach independence and self-sufficiency. Outside of working a demanding leadership job for JP Morgan and owning her own business, Dawson dedicates her time and expertise to the Fresh Start Women’s Foundation. There, she supports women and girls along their journey of transforming their lives for the better through training, career readiness workshops, certification programs and more.

Dawson truly believes in the power that community holds to make a difference in not only the lives of individuals in need, but the world. For the past six years at Fresh Start, she’s helped make that belief contagious and has helped impact the lives of more than 4,200 women.

What inspires you to volunteer?

In my role, I have the privilege and opportunity to work directly with women who are receiving benefits and services from Fresh Start. They tell me the impact that Fresh Start has on their lives. I can see their confidence growing and I can see their courage growing as they set goals for themselves that they never thought were possible. I see them taking ownership and holding themselves accountable, which is not always easy as it seems. So, the Fresh Start model to empower women with the tools and resources necessary for them to obtain economic independence is really what drives me. I’m only a small part in their journey. What I love and appreciate about seeing them is that they’re willing to do the work. So, for me, watching them go through their journey is really the greatest inspiration for me.

Learning and development professional Shawnda Dawson provides education and resources to support women across her Phoenix, Arizona community with the Fresh Start Women’s Foundation.

Tell us about your volunteer role with Fresh Start (FS) Women’s Foundation?

I joined Fresh Start eight years ago, and it has been a pillar in the Phoenix community for over 30 years. Its mission is to provide education and resources in support for women. Everything that the organization does is centered around five pillars: family stability, health and wellbeing, financial management, education and training, and, finally, careers. The incredible staff and leadership at Fresh Start have a primary focus on creating programs to help develop women’s economic self-sufficiency for their personal empowerment. As a community volunteer, I play a small role in all of the inspiring work that they’re doing for our community.

As a learning and development professional, I contribute to Fresh Start’s mission by sharing my expertise in training, education, human resources and project management. I’ve designed and developed training programs and workshops for Fresh Start that I facilitate along with some other volunteers. I also act as a keynote speaker for their special programs and events, like our project management certifications. Other responsibilities that I hold include holding mock interview events, resume writing workshops and then I also offer career coaching.

I was recently selected by Fresh Start staff to create and present what’s called the Personal Empower Series Program, which focuses on values, setting healthy boundaries, goal setting and creating healthy habits. That’s one of the reasons why I love Fresh Start, because when it comes to their volunteers, they want to make sure that they understand our areas of expertise and what we’re passionate about. Then they kind of align us to support their cause and their mission in that way. I’m really lucky that what I get to do professionally, I can also share with this amazing organization.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

The most rewarding part of my work has been what I’ve learned as a volunteer with Fresh Start, just giving back over the last eight years. I really have learned that most people, they really want to learn, they really want to work hard. They want to be contributing members of our society and they really do want to be self- sufficient. So I’ve learned just not to assume that people are in tough, unfavorable unhealthy circumstances because they want to be. Oftentimes, people just don’t know how to get started or they don’t have the support, or maybe they have never been told that they can do or expect more for themselves. So sometimes people just need to be heard and seen. That’s all the motivation that they need. This is what makes Fresh Start and the work that I do for them so special. They have every resource and service available to help empower, educate and support women. I really do understand where these women come from. I relate to them in their story on so many levels. I’m really just there to offer my guidance and expertise without any judgment.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

From a very young age, I’ve always known that my purpose was to help inspire, uplift and empower girls and women. Every day, I just try to live that purpose in some way and empower girls and women. So really, I just try to live that purpose in some shape or form, whether it’s big or small, because people really do just appreciate you just giving back and caring. I will continue my work with Fresh Start as long as they will have me and our values align. I also believe that the better I am as a human, the more I grow — this includes me having more knowledge, more experiences — the more I can really help other people. I’m always challenging myself and looking for ways to improve and develop. I might go back to school, I may learn more about nonprofit work and I may just start my own nonprofit one day. But really, I think my point is that I really am still learning and I’m still growing. I just really want to just live my purpose and be a member of my community that people can be proud of. And that’s the lesson that I’m learning.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Volunteering and getting involved are really the key to our country and our world being a better place. I know that sounds super cliche, but I absolutely believe that from my heart. Whatever you can do to help someone, why not do it? I understand that we’re all busy. I understand that we all have other responsibilities. But I also know probably for a fact that either someone has helped you, or you just wish that someone had helped you. I’m sure the answer to one of those questions is yes. There are so many negative, sad things happening around us that we cannot control, so my whole thought is like, let’s just balance things out a little bit. We should be the light, we should be kind and we should be helpful. We can lend a hand and we should spread positivity — it’s something that we can control. However you do that, big or small, just help make the world a better place. I really do believe in that.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

I want people to really understand that they are in control of their lives, their spaces, their goals and their journey and to own it. Stop making excuses because I guarantee, I see it with these women — these amazing women — that there are people out there that have it light and don’t expect anyone to do the work for you. However, there are so many people, organizations, professional services, maybe even family and friends that are willing to help you if you just ask.

Do you have a favorite memory from volunteering with Fresh Start Women’s Foundation?

There’s really too many to count; I get way more from them than what they get from me honestly. Every time I work directly with them, I walk away with a new memory, but at the end of a workshop that I facilitated last month, one of my participants actually asked me to come to her graduation. We only spent two hours together, but my heart exploded. At the same time, I couldn’t believe that she really wanted me there, but she was serious. She went on to share that she really loved the work we shared and appreciated my compassion, my relatability and my transparency. It meant a lot to her that someone cared so much. And she just wanted me to see her complete a milestone. I just can’t put into words how it made me feel. I promised her that if she sent her graduation information to the program, the program coordinator would pass it along to me and then I would absolutely attend and celebrate with her.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

On March 27, Fresh Start is having a women in power education event. It’s a part of their leadership series. During your lunch hour, you’re invited to hear from amazing speakers and the topic is women and the power of education. It starts at 12 p.m. I’m looking forward to that public event in our community.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Shawnda? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Madi Donham