An acquaintance has described Sandy Cowen as “ Smart and stylish, sophisticated and savvy.” As the Executive Director of Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, she is all this, plus a powerhouse of optimism and enthusiasm. Her philosophy is, “People have the choice in life to be a victim or a fighter. I’m definitely a fighter. Nothing is impossible; if people want to change their lives, they have the power to do it.”
Fresh Start Women’s Foundation is dedicated to the empowerment of women who are facing transitional needs in their lives. The Phoenix Business Journal has named Fresh Start as one of the five most powerful boards in the Valley. Out of these five, Fresh Start was the only nonprofit with human services listed, the other groups being oriented towards the business community.
Sandy Cowen was previously President of The Cowen Agency, Inc, a marketing communications firm she founded in 1973 that specialized in strategic image positioning. Sandy became active in nonprofits during the late 70s.“ Many times I was asked to help with various organizations. Since I can’t do anything halfway, I would find myself deeply involved in the nonprofit. I’ve always strived to do something worthwhile to impact the lives of others.”
She has had many firsts in her life, from being the first woman to head a full service ad agency in Arizona, to serving as the first Chairman of the Board for Fresh Start. As a Founding Chair, she was instrumental in Fresh Start’s vision, and later played a key role in developing the Women’s Resource Center. She oversaw the program and operational development. In 2004 she took the helm as Executive Director.
Sandy Cowen believes “Everything that has happened in my life has led me to the place I am now. I’ve had a ton of life experiences that have prepared me for this position.” She has personally overcome challenges including being adopted, coping as a single mother, being underemployed, experiencing abandonment and emotional abuse by a spouse, and facing life-threatening illnesses. “As a woman, I represent what many of our women have been through. I could have used any of these experiences as an excuse to do nothing, but instead decided to do something productive with my life. What I have endured gives me believability when addressing the needs of women going through tough times.”
Maintaining her health has sometimes been a challenge for Sandy. “Over the years, conventional medicine told me there was no cure for my conditions. I was told to just live with my problems, and accept that I might die from a couple of them. It would be easy to feel trapped and limited, but I researched further and found alternative methods to cure myself.”
A resident of Arizona since the middle of her high school years, what Sandy likes best about Phoenix is “This city is so full of potential!” She is also the proud mother of a son, Jon, and three grandchildren, Charley, Jack, and Lucy. “I’m absolutely the best grandmother on the face of the earth!”
Ultimately, Sandy believes that to run an organization such as Fresh Start, “the variety of my life and its experiences have made me better able to deal with women in their transitional needs.” She totally believes in the Fresh Start mission: “ Helping women help themselves.” “What drives my passion is my belief in the empowerment of people, especially women. I see so much potential in human beings, so much room for personal growth.”
Speaking as the Executive Director of the Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, Sandy Cowen is enthused about its success. “What we have here is a national model, the only comprehensive self-help center for women in the country. We experience over 2,000 visits per month. Potentially other organizations could learn from what we are accomplishing here.”
What are your volunteer activities? Since 1980, I have been involved in numerous civic and charitable organizations: Trends Charitable Fund (President), Phoenix Chamber of Commerce (Executive Committee), Arizona Women’s Employment & Education (Chair and Emeritus Board), Sojourner Center Shower Founder, Fresh Start Founding Chair (2 terms), Co-Chair Women’s Resource Center, Charter Board Member and others. Today I focus solely on Fresh Start.
Which social event is your favorite? Fresh Start's Fashion Gala
Favorite Restaurant? Tarbells
Who is your hero and why? My Aunt Minnie, who recently passed away at 95. She was authentic, independent, eternally optimistic and fun - naturally. Women today strive for those qualities.
Who is the most interesting celebrity you have ever met? Bill Cosby - a great cook, incredible human insight and fun.
If your life were a movie, whom would you want to play your part? Goldie Hawn
What gives a woman/man style? Classic and quality attire, confidence and poise.
When you move, what will your home tell its next owner, about you? She had good taste.
What words describe you best? Passionate and a doer.
What words would you like others to use to describe you? Smart and attractive.
What was your first job? A secretary in an electronic fly-killer manufacturing plant (1 month).
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Impatience
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Dishonesty
What is your greatest indulgence? Clothes shopping.
What is the greatest gift you have ever given and received? Given: An opal ring to my Mom when I was 11 years old (paid 50 cents a week until it was paid for). Received: My son and subsequently, my grandchildren.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? My son, Jon.
What is your current state of mind? Content.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? Overcoming rheumatoid arthritis, leukemia and a couple other incurable conditions using only alternative methods (self- directed).
What is your most treasured possession? Personal family items from my various family members.
What is the quality you most like in a man? Understanding
What is the quality you most like in a woman? Generosity
Favorite books / Writers? Conversations with God - Book I and whatever I am reading currently, usually nonfiction.
What one thing would you change about yourself? I would come back with a stronger immune system.
What is the best advice you have ever received? (1) There is no limit to what man can achieve if he doesn't care who gets the credit. (2) God helps them who help themselves.