This is the second of a 12-part series featuring young professionals in the Blue Water Area. Each
month two to three individuals from different industries will be spotlighted.
Written by Audrey Sochor
Starting a career can be difficult, but having the support of the people around you makes it
easier. The three young professionals featured this month – all having moved back after
experiencing the hustle and bustle of a bigger city – agree the sense of community in the Blue
Water Area is unparalleled, especially when it comes to their work in the nonprofit sector.
“What I like about the community here is that it’s very personable, where in a big city it’s you’re
working through email, you’re working through different avenues,” said Kelly Klemmer,
development coordinator at Lelito’s Legacy Foundation. “In this community it’s very one-on-
one, and you go to different events and meet people.”
After film school, the St. Clair native moved to the booming mountain metropolis of Denver,
where she stayed for six years. Her love of sports and friendship with former NFL player and
schoolmate Tim Lelito, founder of Lelito’s Legacy Foundation, brought her home two years ago.
“It was great out there, but I also knew that I always wanted to come back home because the
mountains are beautiful but the water is where I belong,” she said. “I knew that this would
always be home for me.”
Lelito’s Legacy Foundation betters the lives of children through sports by promoting skill
development, sportsmanship and positive self-growth. Playing sports also creates healthy
lifestyle habits and can lead higher learning, Klemmer said. Nowadays it can also come with a
huffy price tag not everyone can afford, so the organization helps students with things like pay-
to-play fees and equipment.
“We’re not creating the next NFL player, but we think it’s important to have something that
you’re proud of and can push you forward,” Klemmer said.
As development coordinator, she works closely with her board members and Lelito to build
relationships with local schools, teachers and coaches. As a new nonprofit building relationships
is key, and Klemmer said it wouldn’t be possible without the receptiveness of the Blue Water
Area’s communities and the residents’ willingness to create personal connections.
Often she will go to a game, and it’s the welcoming and supportive interacts with the other
spectators that lead to future donors and partners.
“To me sports create a community,” Klemmer said. “People will always come together for
sporting events – small town, college or professional level. You can be anywhere in the world
and find people that support the same teams as you. It’s an amazing thing.”
Her path to nonprofit work wasn’t a traditional route. Out in Denver she was still immersed in
the film world and also worked as a nanny while she returned to school at Colorado Technical
University. She took on an internship at Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation and decided to
stick with nonprofits after graduation.
It was the different experiences she had throughout high school, college and her jobs, and the
skills she gained from all, that lead her to where she is today.
“It kind of just all worked out, you know what I mean?” Klemmer said. “Everything I’ve learned
I’ve always taken it with me to do something bigger, and I’m glad it’s led me here. I think I’ve
always had a nonprofit heart.”
Like Klemmer, Lindsay Chopp, prevention coordinator at Child Abuse and Neglect Council, also
fell into nonprofit work instead of seeking it out.
She went off to Michigan State University to study criminal justice and thought she would end
up in that field, although she hoped to work with children in some way.
“I’m so, so thankful to be working somewhere that I love and doing what I truly love,” she said.
“Working with kids and being with kids has always been a passion of mine.”
The guiding principal of CAN Council is it shouldn’t hurt to be a child, and for 10 years Chopp
has tirelessly worked alongside her coworkers to prevent children from having to experience
pain and neglect.
There’s the old adage it takes a village to raise a child, and in Chopp’s career it takes a village to
keep one safe. Community is important and she draws on her criminal justice and employment
background for her current role. She previously worked at a daycare, the Council on Aging and
the county jail.
“In my job I’m very fortunate to work with a lot of people,” she said. “I’m going into every
school in the county and I’m meeting teachers, the administrative staff, working with them on a
day-to-day basis, but also fortunate to have a close working relationship with the prosecuting
attorney’s office, sheriff’s department, all the police stations.”
As a nonprofit, CAN Council also relies on the general public. The same sense of community
and the openness of the people to support a great cause that Klemmer experienced since her
return has also been witnessed by Chopp.
“Without a doubt we have amazing support in this community for nonprofits,” Chopp said. “We
are so blessed at the Child Abuse and Neglect Council to be able to provide the services we do at
no cost and that is because of our community.”
One of seven siblings, Chopp always knew she wanted to return home, especially when she
started having kids of her own. “I think family is number one and really important to have,
especially once you start growing a family,” she said. “You look at this beautiful river and the
area, and how can you not want to come back and raise your kids here, and have them grow up in
these warm communities that are family orientated?
“And also they’re growing,” she added. “So it’s really exciting to see that and the growth that’s
going on in each of the towns.”
Chopp and her family live close to Marine City, so have gotten to see the town’s redevelopment
first hand – she and her husband often go down there for dinner and enjoy the shops. They also
like seeing the revitalization of the St. Clair Inn, which was a cornerstone in their childhood town
and will soon be again.
“It’s nice to see that people are coming to our communities, seeing the value of the community,
the growth and the young talent,” she said.
Unlike Klemmer and Chopp, Ken Steele always knew he wanted to work in the nonprofit sector
as a church pastor. After graduating from Marysville High School he took off for the windy city
to attend Moody Bible Institute.
“I enjoyed Chicago,” Steele said. “It’s an awesome city. It’s a great place to be, but I wanted to
have a place where I could have an impact. And somewhere like Chicago you kind of get lost
among the so many churches and all the different places and things. In Port Huron it’s coming
back, it’s growing and I really wanted to be a part of that.”
So after graduating from Moody he took a position as pastor at Northgate Bible Church.
Nonprofits are here to help people, Steele said, and that’s the goal at Northgate. Many people
who attend their services need someone to walk beside them as they face life’s challenges.
And Northgate doesn’t do it alone, he added. There are plenty of collaboration opportunities
between churches and other nonprofits with the help of groups like Operation Transformation
and Blue Water Area Churches.
“I love the nonprofit community here,” he said. “So many of us are able to connect and do good
work together, which is awesome, and it gives us the opportunity to do more than our small
circles that we have. We can have an impact on the entire city because we have this one big
Many people have been supportive of Steele’s return home and his new role as pastor, but it’s
not without its challenges. As a 23 year old, the biggest is people questioning his age and
Some dismiss him as the young guy trying to prove himself, others doubt he has enough life
experience to provide the answers they seek.
“I feel like no matter what profession that can be an issue,” he said. “You don’t have the
experience, so you may not know what you need to know to get there. But when it comes to
getting the job done and actually fulfilling the role that you have been given it’s not about
knowing, it’s about learning what you need to be able to accomplish what the goal is.
“I have had the incredible opportunity of having a church that is supportive of me, and is willing
to give me room to make mistakes and come alongside me as I work those things out,” he added.
Not only do the Blue Water communities gather around nonprofits, Steele, Chopp and Klemmer
all said there is room for growth here, as well as support systems for younger professionals with
groups like Blue Water Young Professionals and older professionals willing to act as mentors.
All three felt young talent just has to be willing to embrace change and the opportunities found in
the area, as well as be open to constructive criticism.
“Your community is what you make it,” Steele said. “You are a huge part of your community,
and so when you come back you shouldn’t come back thinking of what it was. Instead come
back thinking, ‘what can I make this place?’”