FRESNO COUNTY – Looking to put down new roots and grow its impact across Fresno County communities, the Marjaree Mason Center (MMC) has launched a fundraising campaign and community challenge for the first two weeks of November.
The MMC kicked off its “Courage Takes Root” capital campaign Nov. 1 with a Community Partner Challenge that will run through Nov. 15. The challenge asks area businesses, organizations and individuals to donate to the MMC to help it with the costs associated with acquiring and renovating a new Community Resource Center; the fundraising goal is $20 million.
“It’s really cool to see that business community come together and support a project like this that impacts the community so significantly,” Ashlee Wolf, MMC director of philanthropy and communication, said.
An organization that provides shelter and support services for survivors of domestic violence, the MMC is open to anyone who needs its assistance and works to serve all of Fresno County. Multiple community organizations have already donated millions to the MMC for the project, and locally, the Greater Reedley Chamber of Commerce and Reedley Chief of Police Jose Garza have sent out messages asking for support from local businesses.
Garza, who is on the board of directors for the MMC and has been an advocate of domestic violence awareness in the community, said donating to the MMC can benefit Reedley businesses in multiple ways, despite the fact that the MMC is not located directly in the city.
“The Marjaree Mason Center provides essential services to individuals and families affected by domestic violence and abuse,” Garza said. “By contributing, people and businesses in Reedley can help support individuals from their own community who may seek assistance from this center.”
By December 2024, the MMC hopes to move its main operations center from 1600 M St. in Fresno to 255 W. Bullard Ave. The MMC purchased the property — which is 5.5 acres and has an existing 37,680 square foot building on it — in December 2022 after first studying MMC facility needs through a planning grant received in 2018.
Wolf said the MMC Board of Directors made the decision that a new facility would be necessary for MMC operations in January 2020, but the process was delayed by the pandemic. The search for a new site began in 2021 and continued through 2022; after locating the site on Bullard Avenue, Wolf said the MMC had to get the area rezoned in order to use it for their operations.
Now in the later stages of the process, the MMC has worked with Paul Halajian Architects to develop renovation plans at the new site and selected BMY Construction Group, Inc. to be the general contractor for the project. According to a Nov. 1 press release from the MMC, renovations to modernize the site and adjust it to the MMC’s needs should begin in early 2024.
A new Community Resource Center
Three core reasons are driving the MMC’s location change: accessibility, capacity and safety. The current location was built as a home in 1913 and “was not meant to be a 24/7 crisis center,” Wolf said. It does not have the space to serve all of the people who come to the MMC for assistance, and the MMC has many satellite offices to handle specific tasks.
Regarding accessibility, Wolf said it was important for the MMC to find a location that would be accessible to all of Fresno County, so the new location is near a freeway and reachable via bus.
The new location will allow the MMC to relocate all of its satellite offices to the one building, making it easier for MMC clients to meet with clinicians and case managers, access legal services and attend classes, Wolf said. Expansion is not possible at the M Street site because the building is on the National Historic Registry, meaning it cannot be significantly altered to preserve its history.
Wolf said the space will also have a child enrichment center that will include a two-way mirror, so parents can keep an eye on their kids while working with their case manager. Because legal services that people can access through the MMC can also take up a lot of time, child care becomes a “substantial barrier for those seeking services,” Wolf said.
“This new center will reduce that barrier and allow the extra support people need,” Wolf said.
Further, the new location will increase the safety and confidentiality the MMC can provide to those accessing its services. With more space on site, Wolf said the MMC will be able to put in multiple entrances and not be as exposed to the public as it is in the current location.
Another benefit to the new location is the community’s familiarity with the building, Wolf said.
Throughout the last 60 years, the building has been home to three different educational entities: Queen of the Valley Academy, a Catholic high school that closed in the 1970s; Heald College, a private for-profit career college that shut down in 2015; and the Milan Institute, an accredited school that trains individuals for careers in health care, beauty and massage that moved locations in 2021.
“I think what’s special about the building in addition to its accessibility is that a lot of people who have been in Fresno for a long time, they’re familiar with the location of the building based on one of those past businesses or institutions that have been there,” Wolf said.
Wolf said that regardless of what reference point community members have for the location, it’s beneficial for them “because when sharing the information with potentially someone in need, that awareness of location is already there.”
MMC Community Partner Challenge
The Community Partner Challenge is the MMC’s way of driving toward their end fundraising goal and “asking the community to be a part of this project,” Wolf said.
Any donations to the cause will be accepted by the MMC, but Community Partner Challenge participants must commit to donating a minimum of $2,500, raised through requests from businesses to customers or directly by a business itself. Lynda and Stewart Resnick, through The Wonderful Company, will match up to $1 million of donations raised through Nov. 15.
According to a press release, the MMC has also received $4.7 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds allocated by Fresno County; the MMC is “the only known organization in Fresno County that meets the 14-service standards as identified in California Penal Code Pen S(ection) 13823.15 and the California Office of Emergency Services.”
Within the community, the Isnardi Foundation donated $3 million, individual Janell Smittcamp-Boldt donated $2 million, the Lyles Foundation donated $1 million and the Carl and Lulu Mitchell Family Foundation donated another $1 million. Altogether, the MMC has received nearly $12 million in donations already.
For local businesses considering participating in the challenge, Greater Reedley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Erik Valencia said that, as businesses play a significant role in every community, “by participating in this campaign it shows that they take a stand against domestic violence and believe that support services should be made readily available to those in need.”
Participating donors receive a variety of marketing support through the MMC based on their donation levels. Businesses that commit to — and deliver on — the $2,500 mark receive a promotional and follow-up toolkit, a listing on the MMC website, social media accounts and promotional email, an invitation for two people to attend the celebration reception, a tax receipt for individuals donating via the MMC and a unique QR code for donation tracking.
The unique QR code is significant because the MMC is also encouraging businesses to compete with each other to see who can raise the most between midnight on Nov. 1 and 5 p.m. Nov. 5. A private meeting room at the MMC’s new location will be named in honor of the winning business.
Garza said that by donating to this cause, Reedley businesses show they have shared values with the community “regardless of their specific locations.” Additionally, he said many businesses emphasize the idea of corporate social responsibility, and participating in this challenge “demonstrates a commitment to giving back to the broader region and can enhance a company’s reputation.
Even though MMC is based in Fresno, its services extend to Reedley residents, and the center’s history has ties to Reedley, Valencia said. MMC currently has a satellite office in Reedley, and Marjaree Mason, for whom the center is named, graduated from Reedley College.
“Helping those in need in neighboring communities can have a positive ripple effect,” Garza said. “It can lead to safer environments, healthier families and a stronger sense of community, which ultimately benefits Reedley as well.”