Empathy comes naturally for Melissa Marts.

“In my heart, there’s always been this piece dedicated to educating and empowering people,” she said.

Formerly the chief programs officer at Care and Share Food Bank, her last position as executive director at Women’s Resource Agency came about organically.

“I met staff from Women’s Resource Agency through a grant program while I was at Care and Share,” Marts said. “We hired five of the women — mothers recently released from prison — and tried to help them transition back into the real world and being a mom. Then when a position at WRA opened up, I applied and got it.”

A large part of Marts’ role as executive director, a position she held for nearly five years, was to guide the vision and maintain the relevancy of the WRA, which exists to empower women and teen girls to be self-sufficient and financially independent.

She’s found her instinct to jump on innovative ideas and current trends both a blessing and a curse.

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“I do like change. I tend to jump on new ideas and new trends and I’ve learned to balance that a little bit because it can drive people crazy,” she said. “Oftentimes things are working just fine and they don’t need to be changed. Finding the balance between trends that need to be explored, but also reflecting and respecting where the team is and honoring the things that are working and people are doing well — it’s been a challenge, but I deeply respect my team and I always want them to see that from me.”

That doesn’t mean there’s no room for novelty. She helped create new programs in her role at the WRA and, this year, she focused on the income gap for agency clients and laid the groundwork for other outreach initiatives.

“Women come in and never thought they could work in STEM, so we introduce that to them, and businesses and industries in town that are doing that kind of work,” Marts said of her job at the WRA. “Last year for our teens we focused on suicide prevention and this year we’re talking about bullying, so we do our best to stay relevant and keep those conversations alive, and those resources and connections current.”

Marts has dipped more than a few toes in the community initiatives pool, and has devoted herself to growing as a leader to better serve the community.

“My community involvement initiatives have led to supporting different organizations in all kinds of ways, and I just picked up the connections and skills I needed along the way,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to different leadership programs, as well, through El Pomar and groups up in Denver. I’ve teased out the lessons that were shared through those programs. It’s been an organic evolution and I take time to reflect on what’s working, what’s not, and make adjustments.

“I’m really inspired by our community, our region and our history. All of the influential women in this town who led the charge early on to change Colorado Springs politics, they just absolutely amaze me. I think it’s time to write another book to honor them.”

And since leaving the agency earlier this month, Marts said she wants to be part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city.

“I’m examining my options,” she said. “I want to do something entrepreneurial, but I’m also looking for other work while I make that transition. I’m interested in trying some new things.”

In the meantime, she’ll spend some time recharging after years at the WRA.

“I love to read and learn about the history of our community and region,” she said. “I have a cabin in the mountains and I live downtown, and what inspires me is immersing myself into a natural setting where there’s all kinds of different textures and colors and smells. It touches on all the senses and helps me feel recharged and alive.”

—  Hannah Caproon