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 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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It has been a busy mid-summer and Fall at Fresh Start.

In this report we want to share with friends, customers and donors our recent work on behalf of those we support in our production carpentry shop and the outcomes of our new effort to scale up our training initiative; Fresh Start Academy.

We are pleased to report that we have been working steadily in the production of furniture in all three areas of sales and production (core products, custom and contract work.) see pictures in the report. 

Fresh Start was fortunate to receive a contract for over thirty items from Grace Lutheran Church on Woodland Street in the Asylum Hill neighborhood of Hartford. Pastor Rick Kremer has been involved in a year long project to update their historic church, from solar energy to mechanicals as well as outdoor furniture to provide seating for the many guests who use the church in their community ministry.  

Soul de Cuba Cafe partnered with Fresh Start to update their interior seating with custom benches for their restaurant one block from the Yale campus.

In addition, we were chosen by a design group to provide new furniture and other amenities for the lobby in a midcentury condominium at The Woodland in Hartford. 

Fresh Start Academy graduated six who have returned to the community after incarceration. Instruction is provided by by Colin Green of our staff. Five of the six now have employment. The next class starts on December 1. Our goal is to provide training for 24 additional individuals in 2022.

We have also added a permanent new employee/trainee from Youth Challenge. 

It is important to remember that these outcomes could not be achieved without our dedicated core of volunteers, customers, and donors. As a Social Business Fresh Starts depends on these heroes. We applaud them.

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We referenced the start up of a new formalized training program in the last report. We are excited to report that we have been approved for funding of a newe initiative called the Fresh Start Academy. This program will dramatically increase our capacity to train an addtional 24 individuals a year, with an opportunity to increase that number in 2022. The Academy will be launched in August. 

Given the need in the community to find trained individuals with carpentry skills this program is consitant with creating opportunities for a trained workforce who will be available for community employment as the economy recovers from the pandemic and futher our goal of "Building Furniture / Rebuilding Lives". We will continue to keep our friends, donors and volunteers updated on the growth and outcomes of the new Fresh Start Academy.

Trends on the workshop floor: Over time sales of our furniture has evolved to building more custom products. Two contracts are significant in a couple of ways, one size and design and secondly, design and buyer. Below there are pictures of two products that illustrate the growing skills of our team and how the addition of more sophisticated equipment plays a role the outcomes. These products also illustrate the importance of grants to support specific needs.

Building large projects can be expensive, but improving the sophisitcation of our equipment not only widens our training capacity but also allows us to be more efficient and price competitive in the market place. The bookcase pictured (unpainted at the time of the photo) is the largest custom piece we've produced and one of the most complicated. A generous grant provided the funds to purchase and install a new sliding table saw that insures we are cutting large pieces of wood within close tolerances. (see pic of new saw) We want thank NINA, a local noprofit focusing on affordable housing, and a corporate partner to Fresh Start for their generous donation. 

Second is a newly designed and robust set of Arbors for another corporate partner, Cape Cod Fence Company located in Avon, Ct. We have been under contract with Cape Cod for several years and this year we have been able to expand this relationship by providing a variety of backyard furniture like wooden benches, chairs, and tables. We are excited to expanded into selling them this new product pictured below.

We want to close with a thank you to our donors who supported us during GlobalGiving's most recent on-line giving event, the July Bonus Day. The generosity of our donors is a conorstone to our continued work.

In our next report we will share the story of a current project with Grace Lutheran Church located in Hartford, Ct as they pursue a large restoration of the grounds of the Church including a large variety of our outdoor furniture as they pursue an effort to create a new look and inviting space for the community.

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Fresh Start Pallet Products, Inc. had a great year in 2020 in spite of the pandemic. Our team stayed healthy, productive and made advances in their personal lives and individual carpentry skill levels.

This has set the stage for our Social Business to expand in three areas:

  • Adding a highly trained and skilled professional Shop Supervisor/lead trainer. Colin came to us with significant skills in carpentry, furniture restoration and design. This is an opportunity for us to increase the quality of our finished products and broaden our capacity.
  • We now have a well trained core team of craftsmen to support our ever-growing orders for core products, custom work and contract work. 
  • Due to our success in doubling our sales over 2019, we have also doubled our fundraising income due to our many donors with assistance from GlobalGiving. As a result, we are in the process of preparing to open the Fresh Start Academy. This program will support our goal of scaling up the number of trainees we can support and help - while assisting workforce storages in the building trades of Connecticut. Watch for future communications as this new initiaive takes shape. 

Our future success is tied directly to our sustainability goals for 2021. We want to thank our customers, donors, and all of our volunteers for their combined comittment to Fresh Start where we "Build Furniture, while Rebuilding Lives" .

- From the Fresh Start Team

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The tagline for our organization, “Building Furniture, Rebuilding Lives,”describes our mission, our passion, and the outcome of our work at Fresh Start Pallet Products, Inc. This summer was a period of growth for producing new furniture and for increasing sales of our Core, Custom, and Contract work. That growth has enabled us to add additional employment trainees and to increase our capacity.

Balancing our growth with COVID-19 has been challenging. But, thus far, we’ve succeeded in keeping the virus from entering our doors. Training is particularly challenging because of the nature of our work because social distancing and wearing masks make it difficult to train people to operate machines and power tools that require diligent focus on safety and precision.

Our internal metrics are very encouraging. Thanks to our partnership with GlobalGiving and the generous donations of our other contributors, we’ve been able to double our sales income this calendar year and to increase the number of people we’re able to train to meet that sales demand. That’s helping us shift the balance of our income sources from gift dollars to dramatic increases in earned income; therefore,our year-end projections drive us closer to becoming more self-sustaining. We’re excited about new training opportunities for 2021 and remain resolute in maintaining a healthy and safe environment until all the COVID-19 challenges start to recede.

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Organization Information


Location: Hartford, CT - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Richard Carman
Hartford, CT United States
$90,693 raised of $100,000 goal
477 donations
$9,307 to go
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