Starting July 15, there will be a new woman at the helm of the Center for Family Resources, the Cobb-based organization that helps families who have become homeless or are in danger of becoming homeless.
Melanie Kagan, whose most recent role was Northwest Regional Director for the United Way of Greater Atlanta, is set to assume the title of CEO. She will be the fifth CEO in the organization’s 60-year history, taking the mantle from Jeri Barr, who has headed up the CFR since 1984. Barr is set to stay on through Aug. 16 to help with the transition.
“Jeri’s legacy is a very strong one,” Kagan said, “and I’m very excited to take over what she’s created. … (The Center for Family Resources) is such a great brand, and it’s been around for so long that they deserve to have somebody take over that wants to continue that legacy and really help them continue to be that bright star in Cobb County.”
Barr said as far as she’s concerned, Kagan is the right person to do that.
“I am thrilled with the board’s selection of Melanie as my successor,” she said. “The timing is right for a leadership change and my retirement. I am proud to pass the baton to Melanie to continue our philosophy of moving people to self-sufficiency through financial stabilization, housing and education.”
Kagan, who was born and raised in New Mexico, has previously held leadership positions with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central New Mexico and the United Way of Central New Mexico.
Kagan said she originally hoped to go into social work and worked at a locked treatment facility for adolescents while studying at college.
“I quickly realized that it was very hard and very sad,” she said. “Most of the time, we had a little bit of good news, but there’s a lot of bad stuff. And social workers don’t make a lot of money. So I quickly realized in college that probably was not going to be something I could do long-term.”
For a while, Kagan worked in the health care field for insurance companies, where she quickly rose in the ranks.
“But I was also a young mom, and I was going through a divorce,” she said. “And I was working 60 hours a week, and I was missing every field trip to the zoo and school production that little kids did. And I didn’t like that. So I decided I needed to do something else that made me happier, I guess, something I felt passionate about, something that could make me excited to go to work every day.”
That’s when she got hired at United Way and fell in love with the nonprofit business. Unlike in social work, she said she now gets to see more positive results.
“Being in the nonprofit sector, you get to work with a different part of that world, you get to see the success stories, you get to see the people that are working in a different way to address some of those needs and do more early intervention with families and communities and really try to be there before kids end up where I saw them,” she said. “It’s almost always good news when you’re in that sector, like you usually have a lot more positive, a lot of good stories, a lot of happy endings.”
But Kagan said succeeding in the world of nonprofits requires more than just empathy and hard work. She said you need a head for business and the know-how to pitch your services to potential donors.
“It’s all well and good to start something and have passion, but passion doesn’t pay payroll,” she said “Nonprofit is an IRS designation, not a business plan. So you don’t just get to start a nonprofit and pretend like you don’t have to make money. It’s still a business, and you still have to pay salaries, and you still have to keep the lights on.”
Kagan said she’s the type who enjoys all the aspects of nonprofit work, from working with clients to raising money, advocating for change, keeping on top of changes to legal and tax code and managing the finances.
“That’s all part of the puzzle,” she said. “And that’s kind of how I view it, it’s like putting together this really big, great, puzzle and getting all the pieces to fit so that you you’re doing it in a way that is most effective. So I do enjoy that part. Because I feel like if you can be really good at some of those technical things, it makes the rest of it a lot easier. You’re not struggling as much to make ends meet when you have a better understanding or expertise of the business aspects or the numbers part of what you’re doing.”
Kagan is hoping her business acumen will help her continue the major growth that occurred under Barr’s leadership.
She saw the group grow from a staff of 11 and a budget of $350,000 to a staff of 25 and a budget of nearly $3.5 million. Back in 1984, the center rented a 3,000-square-foot facility from Kennestone Hospital. It now owns and operates the Mansour Center, a $10 million, 60,000-square-foot facility near the Big Chicken that offers office space to nonprofits and conference spaces for the general public, with revenue benefiting the center’s mission.
Kagan said her first goal is to learn from the staff who have already been serving with the CFR, and she does not want to run around making changes willy-nilly.
But she said two items she wants to work toward are keeping the center nimble and encouraging collaboration with other local agencies.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration in Cobb County, there’s a lot of agencies that I think offer such great programs and do great work here. But I think there’s a way for all work a little better together and to really understand the needs of the community a little better. … You have to continue to modify what you do and change for the sake of what’s happening around you as well. And if you’re not flexible, then you can very quickly become irrelevant. So that’s part of what I want to look at, too, is where can we be flexible with our services and with our programs?”
Kagan lives in Cobb County with her husband Maxwell and their five children.
She currently serves on the boards of the Cobb Collaborative and Georgia Metro Dance Company, and she recently completed the Cobb Chamber’s Leadership Cobb 2019.