Before retiring as executive director of the Marjaree Mason Center, Pam Kallsen left her successor one of her most trusted possessions: a drawing from a 4-year-old boy.
When he drew it, the boy was staying at the center in Fresno, which offers emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence.
The boy drew his mother and siblings trapped in a "cage." In the picture, he stands outside, holding a rock.
Also in the drawing is a path, leading from the cage to a house above.
The boy told Kallsen he was glad his mom got strong enough to go to the house, so he didn't have to use his rock to break them out. When she asked whose house it was, he looked dumbfounded.
"It's here, of course," he said.
The drawing was her ultimate instrument of workplace inspiration. She'd often show it to others, to illustrate why the Marjaree Mason Center is important, and why the nonprofit can always use more support.
As of last month, and after a decade as executive director, the place she's loved "like a child" is under new leadership. Kallsen passed the torch to Genelle Taylor Kumpe, who's worked at Fresno State for the past 10 years as associate director for the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
"Anytime you are a mom, you grow something to the point you know you are eventually going to let it fly on its own," Kallsen said of the center. "I felt it was the right time to let it fly. Am I going to grieve? Absolutely."
Kallsen, who previously was a vice president at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, has garnered deep respect and admiration from community leaders and colleagues over the years.
Clovis Police Chief Janet Davis put it succinctly: she's "compassionate, smart, intelligent, has a big heart."
Preston Prince, executive director of the Fresno Housing Authority, was more playful.
"I'm going to use the word 'mischievous,' " Prince said with a laugh. "She knows where things need to go, but she doesn't just want to say, 'You need to do X.' So she kind of tricks you to getting to the answer she wants you to get to all along. She's very smart and very compassionate. I've never seen her wield power in a bad way. Actually, I've never seen her wield power. She's very conscientious, soft-spoken. She really is, to me, just a powerful person."
When Prince took the authority's top job six years ago, Kallsen told him she didn't think it was doing "quite enough" to address homelessness in the city.
"You don't even realize that she's pushed you far outside your comfort zone," Prince said. "She pushes you, and it's like, 'Wow, I didn't know I'd be doing this.' "
Up against an epidemic
Kallsen's accomplishments at the center are vast, including spearheading a major construction project completed this summer: a two-story shelter in Clovis that houses 18 people, largely funded by Granville Homes President Darius Assemi. The project was 10 years in the making, spurred in 2003 when Clovis was rocked with seven murders — all domestic violence cases.
Kallsen once asked police for a map showing where domestic violence was happening, unaware in the beginning that it was an "epidemic." The map showed the violence in all parts of town.
"Domestic violence doesn't discriminate," she said.
The center is named after Marjaree Mason, a Fresno native who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1978 by her ex-boyfriend.
Statewide, per capita, Fresno County has the highest number of calls to police regarding domestic disputes: more than 8,000 a year, on average, Kallsen said.
And the numbers appear to be growing, she said.
There were 2,303 requests for protective orders in 2012 in Fresno County — a 70% increase from the year before, she said.
Walk-ins can come to the center anytime, and a crisis hotline is available 24 hours a day. There are 120 beds in the downtown Fresno shelter and another 18 in Reedley.
Monica Andrade stayed at the Fresno shelter for a year and a half with her three children. She said the words "kindness, humanity, loving, protective, always with a smile and encouragement" embody Kallsen.
"She and all the staff made us feel we were not alone and that they had a family," Andrade said. "Pam has always been willing to support us, even after we left more than seven years ago. She says she is very proud of us, and I'm the best mom in the world … We love her very much."
At the Fresno shelter, Kallsen has led several renovation projects, including a campaign that raised $350,000 to refurbish the old kitchen.
She also bolstered the center's legal services, with lawyers available to accompany victims in court and help them get restraining orders.
"We're trying to level the playing field," she said.
The center also provides therapy, safety planning, support groups and life skills classes — even for abusers. Additionally, Kallsen has helped with a number of community outreach programs, including an affiliated club, "kNOw," in 12 high schools where teens talk about nonviolence and healthy relationships.
She's also sat on many advisory boards in the community, including one for Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.
"She always has a smile on her face, even when times are extremely challenging," Dyer said, "and that says a lot about her as a person and her character."
The center works closely with police, who send most of the center's referrals of women and children needing a safe place to stay. Marjaree Mason Center staffers often accompany police to homes where domestic abuse is reported, to let victims know shelter and help is available.
"Most of the time with domestic violence, these victims really don't know where to turn," Dyer said. "And if we did not have the Marjaree Mason Center, all of these women would either be left in the environment where they would continue to be victims of violence, or placed in another environment where they could be vulnerable."
The center "rescues them for the moment," Dyer said, and its staff helps them find a long-term solution — "an opportunity to get back on their feet and become more self-reliant."
Those who know Kallsen also credit her financial savvy and business sense.
"Pam took over for the Marjaree Mason Center when everyone was going through very difficult financial times," said Clovis Police Chief Davis. "It was under her leadership that the nonprofit was not only able to exist, but thrive."
Donations come to the center because of the social service work done by Kallsen and the center's staff, said Doug Morgan, treasurer for the center. "It's the reputation that actually funds that organization, and she is in charge of the reputation," he said.
It's still hard, though, to find dollars in a downturned economy with fluctuating and vanishing grants. Many only fund organizations that provide permanent housing, Morgan said.
But the Marjaree Mason Center "is not about a permanent solution," he said. "It's empowering people to become their own permanent solution."
Even with unpredictable funding, Kallsen managed to keep the center financially strong. Kallsen said community-supported fundraising has, and continues to be, incredibly important to its survival.
Most of all, colleagues say, Kallsen's flair for leading is what helped the center weather many storms.
"She lets others do what they do best, and I think that is a better sign of a leader than someone who might just come in and take control — not that she's not good at it," Morgan said.
And she's a go-getter, he said.
"You find these kind of leaders who see what they have to do and they just go do it, and she's one of those," Morgan said. "And you have the leaders that wait to be told — they aren't really leaders, they are managers, but she's anything but that."
The Children's Enrichment Center is Kallsen's favorite part of the downtown Fresno shelter building. On bad days when she's feeling overwhelmed with pressures like funding, she walks into the sun-filled room. Children's artwork lines the walls that open to a playground, where children are playing.
"It reconnects you with the purpose of the mission," Kallsen said. "It rejuvenates you."
The new director
Marjaree Mason Center's new executive director has the skills and talents that the job requires, Kallsen said.
"She's perfect," Kallsen said of Kumpe. "She's warm, genuine, caring. She's just got the package as far as I'm concerned. I feel really, really good about retiring knowing she's at the helm …
"And, she also knows she's got my cellphone number," Kallsen added with a smile.
Prior to working at Fresno State, Kumpe graduated from the university with a bachelor's degree in business administration. She's also a founding member of the La Visionaria Guild, a nonprofit organization that helps raise funds for Children's Hospital Central California. Kumpe, who is married and is a mother, is also a partner in a restaurant and business in the River Park shopping center in northeast Fresno.
"I have always been inspired with the important work of the Marjaree Mason Center," Kumpe said. "My entire career has been about empowerment, and enabling people to manage their own destinies … (At the center) we will continue to provide shelter and support services, and I am hopeful we can do more to encourage self-sufficiency to further reduce the revolving door of abuse and escape."
Morgan, the center's treasurer, said Kumpe wants to "spring-board from the position, instead of creating something new.
"That's important to us," he said. "We don't want to lose what we've got, but we don't want someone who isn't creative either. That position needs creative thinking and someone who is their own leader."
Dyer said Kumpe has "very big shoes to fill," but she seems ready for the challenge.
"I'm confident she's going to continue to take the Marjaree Mason Center to higher levels," Dyer said, "and Pam has created the foundation for that to occur."
"Anytime you are a mom, you grow something to the point you know you are eventually going to let it fly on its own." — Pam Kallsen "It reconnects you with the purpose of the mission. It rejuvenates you." — Pam Kallsen, of the Marjaree Mason Center's Children's Enrichment Center
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, firstname.lastname@example.org or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.