A Fresh Start

Stephanie Kotula gives back to organization that aided her

By Annelise Krafft

Stephanie Kotula was used to making fresh starts.

“As a child, my father’s job moved us around,” says Kotula, who formerly lived in snowy cities across Michigan and Ohio.

“In high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do it somewhere warm.”

But, getting out of the cold took some time.

While still in high school, Kotula entered the workforce, taking an event planning position at a country club in Lake Orion, Michigan.

“That was a turning point. I officially caught the bug and fell in love with event planning and logistics,” Kotula says. “This field also offered me a chance to get out of the snow!”

In 1999, Kotula and moved to San Antonio, where she worked in event planning before transitioning into strategic sports operations and events.

Kotula would excel, moving higher up the ladder with venues nationwide, including Fenway Park, NRG Stadium, Gila River Arena, Ford Field and AT&T Center, where she devised strategic plans for capital improvements to grow revenue and per capita spending.

She also planned and executed major events including NCAA tournaments, Super Bowl XL, NASCAR races, NFL playoff games, NHL All-Star Games, MLB World Series games, NBA All-Star Games, NBA Finals, The Kentucky Derby, The U.S. Open, as well as major festival concerts. During this time, Kotula stopped in Arizona from 2004 to 2006, before returning to the Midwest after she had her first son, Aidan, in 2006.

“When I moved back, I rekindled a romance with a high school boyfriend, whom I later married. After I took a far-less demanding job to mirror his banker’s hours, we were on to the next order of business—moving back to Arizona,” Kotula says. “We were able to do so in early 2008, just before the recession hit.”

Their relationship was challenged during the recession, and the marriage ended when Kotula was pregnant with her second son, Cameron, in 2008.

“I had a 2-year-old at home, was about to see my position at work be eliminated, and was weeks away from another baby. I didn’t know where to turn,” Kotula says. “My OB-GYN gave me a flier for the Fresh Start Women’s Foundation.”

Since 1992, according to Kotula, Fresh Start has been on a mission to provide education, resources and support for women in transitional stages of their lives—divorce or widowed, change in career or loss of job, housing or economic instability, dealing with trauma—to positively transform their future. It is focused on helping support women so they can work toward overall empowerment and financial independence. 

In fact, its motto is, “Helping women help themselves.”

“I never knew how to talk to people about my feelings. I was worried others would judge my situation—especially coming in to Fresh Start’s Phoenix center at eight months pregnant,” Kotula says. “What I got out of it was the opposite experience, and their low- or no-cost services were just what I needed as a newly single mother to two boys.”

Fresh Start helped Kotula file her own divorce papers, join targeted support groups and assigned her a social worker to further assist. With this help, she was able to get back on her feet and moved into the financial services field in 2010.

“I can’t believe that was almost 10 years ago,” says Kotula, who is now chief operating officer for Wilde Wealth Management Group in the North Valley. It provides comprehensive retirement, investment, real estate, insurance, legal and tax-planning services all under one roof.

All these years later, she is paying it forward by volunteering for Fresh Start and assisting in their critical fundraising efforts.

“Fresh Start helped me, and I’m so grateful to be in a position where I can have that same effect on others,” says Kotula, who volunteers for the organization’s annual gala, which will take place on March 21 at The Phoenician. “Through volunteering with Fresh Start, I feel I am able to help other women in transitional stages of their lives find their own positive path.”

Beyond that, Kotula—who is happily married to husband, Kelly, with four sons ranging in age from 10 to 17—also supports Fresh Start via its Wine, Women and Shoes event, which was September 21 at Chateau Luxe and raised thousands of dollars.

“I am also honored to head up our firm’s charitable arm—Wilde for Arizona—where we support causes near and dear to our hearts. Beyond Fresh Start, we are involved with Child Crisis Arizona, the East Valley Boys & Girls Club, UMOM, Cell Phones for Soldiers, Junior Achievement, Toys for Tots and Feed My Starving Children, among others,” Kotula says.

For her work on the job and in the community, she was honored in recent years by AZ Business Magazine as among the “30 in their 30s” winners, an award given to those under 40 working tirelessly to help drive Arizona forward socially and economically.

“Thanks to Fresh Start, I am writing some amazing new chapters in my life. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me, my family, and the Valley we call home,” Kotula says. 

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