About Us Renewing Hope - Rebuilding Lives


Fresh Start's primary focus is helping families achieve long-term self-sufficiency through a nine-month residential and educational program. Our Mission is: To share love and compassion through a comprehensive educational, vocational, and economic housing program to help homeless families achieve self-sufficiency.


Fresh Start is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has been serving the area's homeless population for more than 30 years. The organization was formed in 1986 by local clergy, lay people, and citizens in response to the growing homeless population. Originally known as "Okaloosa Coalition on the Homeless," the mission was operated entirely by volunteer staff until 1998, when we became a United Way Agency, which helped pay for staff and operations. In 2005, we changed our name to "FRESH Start for Children and Families" (FRESH = Freedom, Respect, Education, Safety, and Hope) to more accurately reflect our program focus on families.


The organization is funded in part by United Way, the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC # 70424) area churches, contributors of our "Friends of Fresh Start," clubs, and through the Repeat Street Thrift Store.


Mary Wilson Executive Director
850.243.5648 x 204

Sharron Stephens Property Manager
850.243.5648 x 202

Cindy Fowler Education & Life Skills
850.243.5648 x 203


Fresh Start operates three major programs: two are housing and education programs for homeless families; the third is open to the public, and is our primary funding source for the housing and education programs. The three Fresh Start programs are: Transitional Housing, Affordable (Step-up) Housing, and Repeat Street Thrift Store.

Transitional Housing (Nine Months)

Our Transitional Housing Program is a nine-month educational program that includes housing. We have ten (10) two and three bedroom units available in the program. To qualify, residents must be:

  • A family (one or more adults with custody of children)
  • Drug and Alcohol free (tested upon entry and randomly)
  • Employed or employable upon entry. Employed Full time once entered.
  • Able to pay monthly utilities for their apartment
The program requires residents to participate in three mandatory weekly activities to facilitate financial independence:

  • Wednesday night group classes (1 Hour)
  • Investment to the family savings plan (10% of household income) and program fees (20% of income)
  • Weekly appointments with Life Skills & Education staff, to work on Individual (family) Development Plans, and the goals established therein

Affordable Housing (One Year)

Our Affordable Housing program is a one-year step-up housing program. The program is geared towards graduates of our transitional housing program who are ready to be self-sufficient, but may require reduced rent while they recover and build their financial and rental credit history.

We have ten (10) two and three bedroom units available in this program. The only requirement for this program is to pay your rent each month on-time! Renters in this program are still able to access to the "perks" they received in our Transitional Housing Program (staff assistance, referrals, classes, food pantry, tutors, etc.,) but they no longer have the rules from the transitional program (curfews, no visitors, etc.). This year gives them time to build a rental history with us, while they continue to improve credit score, save money, etc.

Repeat Street Thrift Store

The Thrift Store was opened in 2014 as a revenue source for Fresh Start's housing and education programs. The store inventory is donated by generous citizens and businesses. Once inventory is received, it is cleaned, repaired, priced and sold by volunteers in the store.

Pick-up is available for some donations, as long as the donations are in good condition and suitable for re-sale. Please do not ask us to pick up your trash. Deliveries are also available in limited locations for a fee. Call the store at 200-m-4006 for details, schedules, and fees.

We are always seeking donations, shoppers, and smiling volunteers to help us run the store!