Fresh Start - Building Furniture, Rebuilding Lives

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Fresh Start - Building Furniture, Rebuilding Lives
Fresh Start - Building Furniture, Rebuilding Lives
Fresh Start - Building Furniture, Rebuilding Lives
Fresh Start - Building Furniture, Rebuilding Lives
Fresh Start - Building Furniture, Rebuilding Lives
Fresh Start - Building Furniture, Rebuilding Lives
Fresh Start - Building Furniture, Rebuilding Lives
Fresh Start - Building Furniture, Rebuilding Lives
Fresh Start - Building Furniture, Rebuilding Lives

Fresh Start Pallet Products Names Jenna B. Columbus as President and CEO

The Board of Directors of Fresh Start Pallet Products is pleased to announce Jenna B. Columbus as their next President and CEO. Columbus will assume leadership of the organization effective July 1, 2023 from Board Member Vice Chair Rich Carman who served in that role since 2018.

Columbus attended Asnuntuck Community College and the University of Connecticut and joins Fresh Start Pallet Products after a 15 year career with AT&T, most recently as a Lead Marketing Manager in the Global Business and Healthcare sector. Jenna has supported various nonprofits during her time through employee culture groups at AT&T and led the New England Chapter of Oxygen, a volunteer group devoted to career development.

"I am honored and humbled to join Fresh Start Pallet Products as its new President and CEO”, says Columbus. “I look forward to building upon its legacy to expand its business model and services to reach more members of the community. I am grateful to the board of directors for this opportunity to work and move our organization forward together."

Fresh Start Pallet Products Board Chair, Warren Boley, stated, “We recognized Jenna’s talent, commitment, and inclusive approach to our work and mission. Together with our Board, Community Partners, and our Richard P. Garmany Fresh Start Academy program participants, we look forward to expanding our work and impact under Jenna’s leadership.” Boley added, “We are grateful to Rich Carman who served as CEO and President for five years. His leadership and unwavering commitment to the organization was and will continue to be a significant reason for our success.”

Fresh Start Pallet Products, established eight years ago, “Builds Furniture and Rebuilds Lives” is dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated individuals, those recovering from addiction, refugees and those looking to rebuild their lives through on the job training. Using reclaimed and repurposed wood, Fresh Start Pallet Products has built and installed custom furniture for homes, offices, restaurants, and community gardens throughout the Greater Hartford area.

The Richard P. Garmany Fresh Start Academy, founded in 2021, trains students in woodworking, carpentry, sheet-rocking and other related skills through an intensive eight-week program. Conducted at the Fresh Start Pallet Products workshop, 44 individuals received hands-on training and have successfully graduated, with many gaining employment with their newly acquired skills.

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Dear Friends,

As many of you know, Fresh Start Pallet Products tested and launched a new program initiative called the Fresh Start Academy about 18 months ago. With assistance from Capital Workforce Partners (a state funded program focusing on assisting non-profits who train second chance individuals in the construction trades) Fresh Start is currently finishing its sixth class. During December of 2022 we were fortunate enough to receive additional funding from the Richard P. Garmany Fund. In conjunction with the Fund, we decided to formally name our academy after Richard P. Garmany. In essence we rebranded the Fresh Start Academy in his honor. To further the goals of the Academy as our dedicated teaching arm, we have produced a new short mission film directed and produced by Steve Havira, who is a member of our GlobalGiving team here in Hartford, CT.

With continued support from Capital Workforce Partners, donors like you, and the Richard P. Garmany Foundation, we are striving to ensure the long term sustainability of what we now proudly refer to as the RICHARD P. GARMANY FRESH START ACADEMY.

We anticipate for the remainder of 2023 the Academy will train another 42 individuals in learning new carpentry skills!

Please scroll down the page to view this brief but informative video of our shop and Academy Students in action.


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Our work during the late summer and fall has demonstrated further growth, new opportunities and exciting developments. Many of our activities have focused on acquiring new staff, and furthering the progress of training five more individuals who have entered the Fresh Start Academy (FSA). We are also evaluating off-site carpentry experiences which include: volunteers, FSA students and existing staff.

As most of you know, we have been working with three refugees for a number of years. These three individuals (two from Syria and one from the Sudan) have grown and assimilated into the american workforce in truly inspirational ways. Not only have they honed their furniture building skills, they have increased their mastery of english, steadily increased their wages, and are celebrating the fact they have now become U.S. citizens. 

Three months ago we hired our first refugee from Afghanistan. Khan was employed by the United States military as a carpenter. His military unit assisted in processing his move to the Hartford, CT area. He and his wife have seven children who are now attending school and settling into their new neighborhood. Khan has quickly demostrated his carpentry skills and is learning how to master our machinery and tools also while making new friends within our workforce. His 90-day review was outstanding! We are looking forward to supporting him as he learns new skills and advancing his opportunity for a new career in Hartford. Kahn is supported by a West Hartford community volunteer group (JSSFS) associated with IRIS located in New Haven.

The current class attending the Fresh Start Academy has finished all classroom curriculum and modules. They have been working on the shop floor getting experience by applying what they learned in the classroom. Each student has focused on reading blueprints to build a product that includes custom dovetail joinery. Next week they will be a part of a team that will demolish and replace a porch and roof at a neighborhood victorian home as part of their field experience. 

Have a great Holiday season!   

From the Crew at Fresh Start Pallet Products

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Fesh Start Highlights

Fresh Academy

  • We are proud to share that five new Fresh Start Academy Students graduted the last week in June. Their curriculum covered carpentry and furniture building. In addition, the class project included the building of children's outdoor playhouse. 
  • For the first time, part of their experience included off-site training in furniture refinishing at Parkville Market, Hartford's first restored Food Hall. 

Historic Preservation

  • Fresh Start is proud to be chosen as a contractor for the Plimpton Mansion in Hartford. Our first project is to restore over 110 windows covering three floors. The house is listed on the National Registery of Historic Homes. The scope of work will provide new skills for our work force and thereby strengthen their skill sets. NINA, a non-profit community based housing developer focusing on the Asylym Hill neighborhood in Harftford, has been a corporate partner for over four years.

Looking forward 

  • With the growing workload for the remainder of the year we anticipate the hiring of additional workers on and off the shop floor. We celebrate this opportunity and anticipate finishing the year in a strong position with more classes for the Fresh Start Academy, while conquering new challenges and opportunities to learn new skills.
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Fresh Start teams up with Community Solutions To Create Furnishings for the Swift Factory

It certainly was exciting when Patrick McKenna, Senior Project Manager for Community Solutions and licensed architect reached out to Anne O’Brien and Rich Carman from Fresh Start to build furnishings for this exciting, landmark project, the Swift Factory property conversion.

Working closely with Patrick’s team, the Fresh Start crew designed custom conference tables, dining tables, coffee tables and an impressive reception desk. These furniture designs incorporated the old wooden timbers found during the factory’s renovation as well as parts from the gold plating machinery. This afforded a creative way to have the history of the building to be usefully on display, a story that The Swift Factory intended to preserve. When the exterior courtyard was being built, McKenna ordered some Fresh Start comfort chairs and benches for its delightful atrium garden that allows tenants to relax & enjoy a meal in comfort. 

The Swift Factory, once the largest gold leafing manufacturer in the country and part of the City’s economic heart employing over 300 residents, fell to the late 20th century industrial decline. Closing in 2005, the 100 plus-year-old site sat vacant, facing demolition. The local NRZ community group with Hartford Preservation Alliance rallied to save the buildings. The Swift Family donated the entire campus to Community Solutions in 2010, which was later added to the National Register of Historic Places.

After an extensive community engagement, Community Solutions has now achieved its goal of transforming the Swift Factory into a multi-purpose community and entrepreneurial hub. 

Given our strategic goal to find community based human service partners we are proud to find another organization in our neighborhood that exemplifies how working together can make a difference in changing lives and improving disadvantaged communities.

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Organization Information


Location: Hartford, CT - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Richard Carman
Hartford , CT United States
$129,966 raised of $150,000 goal
637 donations
$20,034 to go
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