Kasia King is inspired and motivated by the bravest people in her life — her parents.

“We came here in 1981 as martial law was going into Poland,” she said. “My parents escaped and took me with them. … I can’t imagine the courage it took to leave your family, to take a 6-year-old and a suitcase and leave everything, to not have a ton of money because you didn’t want to alert them that you were leaving, so you pack up a car and you leave.”

Today, King is executive director of human resources at GE Johnson Construction Co. and a mentor to people all over the country.

“I think every day is a little bit of trying to make them feel proud of me,” she said.

When King’s parents fled, her father owned an auto body shop — a rarity in Communist Poland — and her mother was a materials scientist with five master’s degrees. They spent about nine months in a refugee camp in Austria before being sponsored to move to South Carolina.

King’s parents, who didn’t speak English, started over in minimum wage jobs and spent years working their way back to their previous careers. King, who didn’t speak English either, started first grade in America and only later realized the magnitude of what they’d been through.

“As a 7-year-old, your parents protect you from everything that’s bad, or they try to — and my parents did a great job,” she said. “So when I think of those times [in the refugee camp] I’m like, ‘It was so much fun! There were other kids, and we played!’ Hearing their perspective of it, years later, is very different. It was a terrible experience.”

Relationships, thoughtfulness, problem-solving and integrity are tremendously important to King, and mentorship — giving and receiving — is central to her career.

“I’ve come to realize — and this just gives me such joy — that I have people who want to work with me today, who have worked for me in the past,” she said. “To me that is the greatest compliment. Mentorship is one of my proudest things… I think I see the best in people, their talent, what they’re really good at.”

In a nomination letter, Carrie McKee, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado, wrote:  “As a board member for JA SoCo, we’ve seen first-hand [Kasia’s] leadership skills and passion for the community. Kasia serves on the JA executive committee and is the nominating [chairwoman].

“In her role as the executive director of human resources for GE Johnson, her reach and influence are significant throughout the construction industry and into the companies and entities they service.”

King and her husband, Steven, a certified financial planner, have lived in Colorado Springs for 12 years. These days, she’s tackling work-life balance.

“My dad passed away about two years ago, and one of the things he shared a couple of weeks before he died was, ‘It wasn’t supposed to be like this,’” she said. “He worked really hard, he retired, went down to Florida … he was there for a year and then he was diagnosed with cancer, and he died a year later.

“He said, ‘That wasn’t the plan, that’s not how it’s supposed to be. I worked my butt off because I wanted to enjoy it — I wanted to do stuff and travel.’ And that did leave its mark on me, so I think my next set of goals is finding that balance with my husband’s schedule and mine, so that we can do those things earlier. … Take the time and make the most of the moments that you have. That’s a big goal.”

— Helen Robinson