Written by The Business Journal Staff
Ellen Knapp, Executive Director
EPU Children’s Center
What you do:
As the executive director of the EPU Children’s Center, I am responsible for upholding the mission, vision and values of our organization, which is committed to making impactful change in the Central Valley.
Since 1976, the EPU Children’s Center has strengthened and empowered children and families facing extraordinary medical, developmental and parenting challenges.
I’m honored to oversee a staff of over 100 dedicated employees who run six specialized programs tailored to the changing needs of families in the Fresno area. The EPU Children’s Center is a critical support system available at no cost for families throughout Fresno County. I’m proud to be a part of this thriving organization, said Ellen.
I earned my B.S. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1979 in political economy of natural resources.
My husband Rick and I have four adult children. Our oldest son William and his wife Jubilee live in Forest Falls, Calif., and own a marketing company. Our son Matthew works in software app development in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Our daughter Christina works in nutrition at Fresno Unified. Our daughter Stephanie is in the process of earning her B.A. at Fresno State. I am so proud of my family!
How did you come to work for EPU?
Upon our founder’s retirement in 2014, EPU’s Board of Directors conducted a yearlong search, interviewing members of our community, in search of a successor. I am honored to serve as the EPU Children’s Center’s executive director and continue to do the work we have grown to be known for in this community.
How did you transition from the retail management industry to the nonprofit industry? How has your experience in retail aided you as a nonprofit leader?
I wore many hats while working as the VP of inventory control at Gottschalks. I learned many skills necessary to manage a large-scale business with over 80 stores.
One of the key lessons I took away from my tenure at Gottschalks is that the success of a company relies on the strength of its employees, which is also true at EPU. Our team of therapists, specialists, interventionists and care coordinators are the heartbeat of our organization. We are united in serving 950 children and families each week.
What are your responsibilities as EPU’s executive director?
As executive director of the EPU Children’s Center, I am responsible for overseeing six critical programs focused on empowering children and families facing extraordinary medical, developmental and parenting challenges.
I also oversee EPU’s funding streams comprised of grants, state and federal funding and unrestricted donations. I report to our dedicated board of local leaders, which includes parents of children who have graduated from our programs.
Lastly, I uphold the EPU Children’s Center’s vision, where children grow up in families in which their individuals needs are met, their parents have confidence in themselves and their ability to meet the needs of all family members and have a sense of comfort with their personal situations that brings forth an internal sense of empowerment.
How has EPU evolved since you came aboard in 2015?
The EPU Children’s Center is evolving each and every day. We are always growing and expanding our programs to meet the changing needs of our community. It’s been a blessing to observe the agility of our staff. EPU’s staff is what makes our organization so special. We always say, children graduate from our program at age 3, but they stay with us for life. That strong connection is due to the talent, compassion and dedication of our staff. The EPU Children’s Center evolves with the growing needs of our community, but the lifelong connections remain a constant.
What is EPU’s mission and how does it resonate with you on a personal level, Ellen?
The EPU Children’s Center’s mission is to strengthen and empower children and families facing extraordinary medical, developmental and parenting challenges. As a mother of two children facing developmental delays, I am so inspired by the support and compassion families receive here at EPU. It is my mission to continue providing that precious support for our community.
What are your current goals for EPU as the organization continues to serve children with disabilities and their parents, Ellen?
My goal is to continue to make the EPU Children’s Center a sustainable entity. We just celebrated our 40th anniversary, and we can’t wait for the next 40 years of serving our community. I am working to secure additional funding for our center, strengthen our programs, and continue to support my staff with what they need to make impactful change in our community.
What are the biggest obstacles families that go through EPU are facing, Ellen?
The needs of families in our community are becoming more critical, more multi-faceted, and more complex. The EPU Children’s Center is committed to equipping families with the skills necessary to build brighter futures for children and their families.
Do you see any additional needs in the community that EPU could address in the future, Ellen?
Most recently, we’ve observed the need for infant mental health clinicians. We’re growing our programs and staff to meet this specialized need, and look forward to becoming a pillar of support for families in need. We believe that early intervention is critical to children’s future successes, and we want to do everything we can to provide children and families with the support they need.
What was the best advice you ever received and who did it come from?
A trusted mentor once told me to always make time for my family — to attend the early Saturday morning wrestling tournaments, help in my kids’ classrooms, etc. I’ve learned that business life and family life have to be in balance.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career, Ellen?
My mother, Marieann, was the most inspiring woman I’ve ever known. She always encouraged me to pursue my education and be confident in my abilities. My mom’s encouragement is the reason why I am here today, and fuels my leadership at the EPU Children’s Center.
What are your roots in the Central Valley, Ellen?
I moved to Visalia after graduating from UC Berkeley in 1979, and I moved to Fresno in 1984. After working for Gottschalks, I served as the executive director of the American Red Cross Central Valley. I’m very proud to work in nonprofit management in the Central Valley, and look forward to expanding EPU’s footprint in our community.
What was your first job? Describe something you learned from that first job.
I worked as a salesperson at Capwell’s—a Carter, Holly and Hale store. At Capwell’s, I learned to always be on time, to dress appropriately, and to save money. Those lessons still resonate with me today, and I’ve passed them along to my children.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to keep busy. My husband and I love to travel, antiquing and garden. I love taking different workshops— I most recently took a glassblowing class and made festive, holiday décor. I’m looking for a pottery class next!