Marjaree Mason opens domestic violence shelter in Clovis

The Fresno BeeJuly 8, 2013 

In 2003, Clovis was rocked with seven murders -- all domestic violence cases. Since then, there have been other domestic-violence killings.

On Monday, community leaders and supporters dedicated a 4,000-square-foot Marjaree Mason Center in Clovis that will allow women and children to escape abuse before they become homicide victims.

It was standing-room-only at a ceremony that turned into a tribute to Pam Kallsen, the center's executive director, who worked for the past 10 years to bring the safe haven for battered women and their children to Clovis. Kallsen plans to retire this year.

Also honored was Darius Assemi, president of Granville Homes, which built the two-story, $280,000 home and donated it to Marjaree Mason Center.

In an emotional speech, Assemi dedicated the center to his 83-year-old mother, Bibi Fatima Assemi, who attended the ceremony. Assemi said his mother instilled in her children that women should be treated kindly and have equal rights in the work place and in education.

His words touched everyone, including Brooke Ashjian, past president and current board member of the Marjaree Mason Center. "He is a great man who has done a great thing for his community," Ashjian said.

The center at Sunnyside Avenue and Fourth Street has 28 beds, seven bedrooms and four bathrooms. It also has a kitchen, several offices, a place where children can do homework and an area to relax in front of a big-screen television.

The center is next to the main Clovis police and fire station, and is fortified with a 6-foot-tall concrete-block fence. In case of emergencies, staff can press a "panic button" that allows police to monitor the center's security cameras.

It will be staffed 24 hours a day, starting this week, Kallsen said.

At the ceremony, Kallsen and others recalled that the Marjaree Mason Center in Fresno was founded in 1979 after the murder of Marjaree Mason, 36, of Fresno. Mason's ex-boyfriend, Fresno County sheriff's bailiff Robert Tillman, shot her three times in the head inside his home in November 1978 and then committed suicide.

At the time of her death, Mason was finishing her degree in business administration at California State University, Fresno, and was a member of several organizations, including Big Sisters of Fresno, said her brother, Louis Mason, 65, who also attended Monday's ceremony.

"I think my sister would be extremely proud of this community," Mason said. "I believe she is looking down from heaven and saying, 'Thank you.' "

The Clovis site is the center's third shelter in Fresno County. The others are in Fresno and in Reedley.

Kallsen said the Clovis center is needed because there has been an uptick of domestic violence cases in the past three years.

In 2012, the two centers served about 850 women and children. The Reedley center is operating at or near capacity while the Fresno center is at capacity, Kallsen said. Just last week, staff had to put mattresses on the floor of the Fresno shelter because the beds were filled, she said.

"More victims are reporting the crime and law enforcement has a better understanding of it," she said.

Kallsen said the Clovis City Council deserves credit because it voted unanimously in February 2011 to allow the Marjaree Mason Center to be built, making it the first homeless shelter of any kind in the city.

Through a partnership with the city, the center will lease the property for $100 per year for the next 55 years, Kallsen said. The Clovis Soroptimists have donated furnishings such as rocking chairs, sofas and bunk beds. A $180,000 grant from the Domus Mitis Foundation helped pay for an outdoor playground.

Funding for the around-the-clock staffing and on-site counseling comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

After the ceremony ended, Clovis Mayor Lynne Ashbeck thanked Kallsen and kissed her on the cheek. But Kallsen said it was Assemi who made the center a reality.

She recalled a time two years ago when she was having trouble getting donations and turned to Assemi for help.

"What do you need?" Assemi asked her.

"I need the center built," Kallsen replied.

"Done," Assemi said.

He then asked: "What else do you need?"

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, plopez@fresnobee.com or @beecourts on Twitter.

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