Reflections of a Retiring Executive Director

Marla Cohen, Executive Director of the Calgary Police Foundation

She announced her retirement four years ago – from a different organization.  That lasted less than a year when another youth-based not-for-profit caught her attention.  But now, she really is trading in her office, desk, and computer – for travel, volunteer work, golf, photography lessons, and her interests in wildlife.

Marla Cohen, Executive Director of the Calgary Police Foundation (CPF) has officially announced her retirement, and this time we think she means it! 

A friend of Marla’s serving on the CPF Board of Directors introduced Marla to the Foundation by asking her to assist in fundraising in 2015.  Marla jumped into her volunteer role with two feet to develop a robust resource development program.  It wasn’t much later that Marla was asked to join as a staff member.

“A few meetings and I was hooked,” says Marla.  “I saw an organization that was giving kids a voice, helping them in critical times in their young lives.  I saw Calgary Police Officers dedicating their expertise and compassion to helping young kids under the age of 18.  Helping them to make better life choices to stay out of a life of criminality, and to better protect themselves from becoming a young victim.” 

When Marla joined as the Director, Resource Development at CPF, the organization was under the expert leadership of Tara Robinson.  Tara had the dual role of Executive Director for both CPF and YouthLink Calgary.

“Working with Tara is a highlight of my nearly four years with the Foundation – we worked extremely hard, but also took time to celebrate our successes – large and small.”

Eventually the role and expectations of CPF grew and the Board recognized that the two organizations had outgrown a single leader.  “I was honoured to be asked to take the reigns at CPF in July 2017,” says Marla.  “I continued building our small but dynamic staff team, and we grew exponentially alongside our exclusive partner, the Calgary Police Service, to achieve the Foundation’s goal of safe kids.”

Marla officially kicks off the Paws for Compassion campaign at Jelly Modern Doughnuts with Cali at her side

Marla’s leadership has seen many new campaigns and fundraisers developed and executed, and it is fair to say that the awareness of CPF both within the CPS family, as well as with Calgarians in general, has grown significantly. 

“What has me jumping out of bed every morning has been the opportunity to work with a team of professionals including Police Officers, social workers, teachers, health care professionals, and those who came to us simply because they wanted to help,” says Marla.  People like James Neal of the Calgary Flames, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Cindy Klassen, and Akeem Haynes – all Canadian Olympic medalists, media celebrities like Leslie Horton, Eric Francis, Hot Rod Harriet, and Phoenix.

But if you asked Marla what her very favourite memory is, she will tell you it has been the opportunity to increase the positive impact in children’s lives with all the special opportunities that CPF was able to introduce.  Those included making it possible for presentations to young students with a police tradition – a challenge coin for their accomplishments in school.  Supporting yoga classes led by a CPS officer with mats and supplies for the two Integrated School Support Program (ISSP) schools.  Developing the CPF youth and family ambassador program.  Giving kids the opportunity to dream big when they met Canadian Olympic athletes or local sport heroes like Bo Levi Mitchell of the Calgary Stampeders.  Developing and launching the successful Paws for Compassion campaign with CPS Victim Assistance Support Team and Justice Facility Dogs this past May.

“Every time we could do something special for the kids, it would make me so proud of the Foundation, and all that we have been able to accomplish in three short years,” says a proud Executive Director.  “The entire team feels the tug at their heart strings every time we get to interact with the kids and the Officers.  To personally see the difference we are making – that is what I will take with me for the rest of my life,” says Marla.

Some of Marla’s favourite CPF moments include spending time with youth ambassadors like Phil Luu, Matthew Zelaya, and Bronwyn Matthews.  Interacting with supporters that sincerely care and make a difference to our community like the staff at the Shaw Charity Classic and its Patrons Group.  “They put so much work and passion into what they do, and their effort has resulted in millions of dollars being donated to Alberta charities – our Foundation being one of them,” exclaims Marla.

Marla has also been moved to tears when program participants like Mom Jacqui and son Jeff (names have been changed) come forward to share their story – to see what they had to endure and happily, where they are now.   When parents send in beautifully written letters to share what a difference CPF has made in rebuilding a strong and healthy family that would never have been possible without funding from CPF.

“We all work with a shared vision – and that is to keep our kids safe.  When I get to meet the families that have been helped by our funding and all the program professionals, my heart surges.  There is no other reward than seeing a hurting family be supported back to health, with CPF being one of the organizations to help make that happen.”

Marla also thoroughly enjoyed working with CPS units such as Canine and Public Affairs Media Relations to create, market and sell the annual K9 Hero wall calendars.  Working with new partners such as the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society, and the CPS Victim Assistance Support Team to create a brand new campaign called “Paws For Compassion.  Because We Care”. The campaign has partnered with Jelly Modern Doughnuts in creating a special “Hawk and Calibri” (Justice Facility Dogs) custom doughnut.  The wonderful feedback from the community on the vital work these two dogs are doing, along with our two organizations, has been overwhelming” says Marla.

“I am also humbled at the tremendous growth CPF has seen from the public.  When I started with the organization, there was not a single third party event held by citizens or organizations to financially benefit the Foundation.  Now there are at least 25 such events,” says Marla.  “Our role as a fundraising organization means we work tirelessly to raise $2M annually.  Cracking open new industries, meeting new people and organizations, and having the opportunity to share the CPF story with new sponsors and donors is also high on my list of favourite memories,” shares Marla.

I asked Marla what her final message would be to the public about why one might want to consider supporting the CPF.  Her answer makes a lot of sense. 

Having chartered the course for CPF since 2017, Marla feels CPF’s greatest opportunity is continued growth in people hearing about, knowing about, and understanding the true impact of CPF.  “We reach 9,000 kids every year, so you know we are already making a difference.”

And the question that everyone asks a friend who is retiring – “how do you plan to fill your time?”  Marla gives a little chuckle and it makes me think she’s not totally bought into this retirement plan of personal pursuits yet.  “Well, I think how much fun it would be to develop and organize an annual iconic third party fundraising event for CPF.”

Somehow I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Marla – she promises to keep in touch with CPF through her volunteer work.   “I have made many friends at CPF and within the entire CPS family – you won’t see the end of me anytime soon,” says Marla.  “I am completely confident that CPF will continue to grow and be successful.  If there’s a role for me to stay involved as a volunteer, well, you don’t have to ask me twice,” states a smiling Marla.

On behalf of the entire police family, from the Calgary Police Foundation staff and Board, the Calgary Police Service, the youth programs and their leads and participants, the families and kids, the Calgary Police Association, Back the Blue, the Calgary Police Commission and everyone who Marla has touched with her warm heart and endless generosity, we all say a huge thank you.

“Thank you Marla for your dedication and sincerity, your leadership and empathy.  For your meticulous attention to building strong relationships and taking care of people.  We all wish you the best of life to come as you open a new chapter in your life.”

“We are stronger together.  Collectively, we can achieve the unthinkable – we CAN change more lives and save more lives of youth in Calgary.”Marla Cohen


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s