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[PHOTO] Stepping Up: Summer 2008

Alumnae Melynne Klaus

The Art of Civic Life

As an athlete, Melynne Klaus had the power — the power of a spike at a volleyball net, or the power to hurl a javelin a record distance for her Franklin & Marshall College track team. These days, she exercises a different sort of power: as director of the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, she oversees grants that help shape the field of arts and culture throughout Indianapolis.

Klaus' place as a key figure in one of the city's leading nonprofit organizations is "a dream job," one she believes she wouldn't have if it weren't for the dual masters degrees she earned from IUPUI in nonprofit management and public administration.

"Those programs, along with the Center on Philanthropy, opened my eyes to a world of possibilities," says the native-born East Coaster, who has found a new home in the Midwest with her husband, David, and their 6-monthold son Carter.

Major change in life

"My first job after graduating was at my alma mater, Franklin & Marshall, working in the development office and being an assistant coach in volleyball," Klaus says.

She enjoyed the work — "I found that unlike a lot of people, I don't mind asking for money if a project is worthwhile," she laughs — but her life took a major turn when fellow F&M graduate Les Lenkowsky, a longtime faculty member at IUPUI and a major figure in the Center on Philanthropy, invited her to attend the center's Summer Institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Service.

Klaus returns to the IUPUI campus and the Center on Philanthropy often, passing along her experiences — both as a student and a practicing philanthropist.

"It's a six-week program, and it was my first experience with IUPUI, with IU and with the Center on Philanthropy," Klaus says. It didn't take long before she realized that foundation work was the career path she wanted. "The seed had been planted, and when I got an unpaid internship with Christel House International, it was a perfect match!"

The organization, which runs several Christel House Learning Centers throughout the world, is a sister of the DeHaan Family Foundation.

By the following year, she was serving as a graduate assistant to Lenkowsky at the Summer Institute, and Indianapolis had gained its newest family. Before long, she was enrolled in the dual-degree program for philanthropy students at IUPUI : the master of public administration program in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) and the master of arts program in the IU School of Liberal Arts.

Lenkowsky isn't a bit surprised by Klaus's success.

"Whatever she puts her mind to, she accomplishes," he says. "When she came for her campus visit (to IUPUI), her mother was with her. By the time her visit was over, her mother wanted to attend, too!"

International opportunity

Internships like the one she enjoyed weren't the only opportunities offered by the Center on Philanthropy to shape Klaus's future.

She leaped at the chance to be one of the first four IUPUI participants in a study abroad opportunity in Bologna, Italy. And the outgoing ex-athlete with a quick smile and a big laugh left an impression on the locals, according to one of her Italian trip cohorts.

"She was engaged to David then, and I can tell you she left many Italian hearts broken," says Ann Harris, now the donor relations manager for The Nature Conservancy in Indianapolis. "Our apartment was a one-mile walk from the center of town, and when we walked we would laugh so hard (and so loud) that people on the street would mock us."

Roberta Knickerbocker Jaggers, now the director of development for the Indianapolis- Marion County Public Library Foundation, also was part of that four-member class. And Jaggers isn't surprised that Klaus found her niche in nonprofit work related to the arts.

"She is always seeking to expand her knowledge and understanding of the world," says Jaggers. "She was so excited about being there, learning Italian . . . and gaining a better understanding of the culture."

Indeed, Klaus finds her Franklin & Marshall bachelor of arts degree in art history a useful tool in conjunction with the nonprofit training she received from SPEA, Liberal Arts and the Center on Philanthropy.

"I find myself using something I learned from each of them almost every day," says Klaus. "The things we learned about how history and culture play a role in nonprofit work, in public policy, in social or religious situations has been crucial."

As a practical matter, she loves the center's proximity and lifelong ties to its graduates.

"It offers a wonderful array of conferences and publications that keep all of us in nonprofits up to speed with what is going on in the field," she says. "So much is changing that we couldn't stay in touch with new ideas and new approaches without the center's help."

Internship becomes job

Klaus spent nearly a year interning at Christel House, then two other stints as a graduate assistant for the organization.

Once her training in philanthropic studies at IUPUI and through the Center on Philanthropy was completed, she became the development officer for the Women's Fund of Central Indiana, staying there for two years. The DeHaan organization kept an eye on her work, though, and when it sought a new director for the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation in May 2006, Klaus was the choice.

As director, Klaus oversees competitive grants, the Summer Youth Program Fund grants, board discretionary grants, sponsorship requests, multi-year grant monitoring, site visits and research, community and nonprofit organizational meetings, and much more.

The DeHaan Family Foundation's focus on Indianapolis arts and culture is intentional; it's intended to help give those of limited means exposure to a world that would otherwise likely be out of reach. The foundation's support not only helps throw open the doors to all, it also dovetails nicely with the city's plans to become an arts-and-culture magnet for the state — and beyond.

The DeHaan family of organizations "is a small group of people who are very team-oriented," Klaus says. "I've always felt like I'm valued there, and a trusted part of the team, even when I was an intern."

It's an approach she favors and a model that works well, whether in the Christel House Learning Centers in Indianapolis or in Mexico, India, South Africa and Venezuela.

Early start on community spirit

Getting involved in community activities was a tradition for Melynne and her family, the Stuffts.

"My parents were always behind-thescenes philanthropists, and I was very involved in community work through my youth group and my church growing up," she says.

Klaus grew up "wanting to be a policewoman or an astronaut — or a volleyball player," she recalls with a chuckle. Mostly, "I knew I wanted to do good for others; I just wasn't sure how."

She came to Indianapolis "expecting to get an advanced education in philanthropy" and then "return to the East Coast," she says. But fate — and the lure of Indiana's capital city — intervened.

"David and I quickly fell in love with the city, with the arts and culture that are here, with the world of philanthropy that plays such a big role here, with everything," she says. "It has all the benefits of a large city, but still has the friendly feel of a small town."

The former college athlete stays active playing flag football and volleyball, though being with her son is her immediate priority. Her husband, a college basketball player, stays active as one of the practice players who works out against the Indiana Fever of the WNBA.

Different kid of philanthropy

Klaus is excited about the DeHaan organizational model for a different kind of philanthropy.

It's one reason she admires her boss, Christel DeHaan, so deeply.

"So much of what we think of as philanthropy is charity — coats for people in winter, food for the hungry, and those needs have to be met!" Klaus says. "But Christel's belief is in the ‘inch-wide, mile-deep' approach. She wants her organizations to break the cycle of poverty and help equip people through education, job training, nutritional support, health care and cultural development."

Klaus calls it "strategic philanthropy. . . that is proactive rather than reactive," she says.

She happily champions philanthropic causes throughout the community.

"Everyone's life is touched in some way by philanthropy," she says. "It could be a park or a hospital or an arts organization; we just don't always define those things as ‘philanthropy in action.' But we all practice it. When you help a neighbor carry in her groceries, or give a friend a ride to a community center, that's philanthropy. And it makes our communities wonderful places to live."

Of all the lessons she learned at IUPUI , there is one that resonates with her still.

"One person cannot change a world or even a community alone," she says. "But the power of philanthropy is that one doesn't HAVE to do it alone."