The Helias Foundation is proud to present this Alumni Spotlight as we feature our own first-term Foundation board member Melissa Kleffner-Wansing!
Melissa graduated from Helias in 1997 and currently serves as the Director of Grants & Performance Management at the Missouri Coalition for Oral Health.
She and her husband Dale Wansing - who have been married for almost 18 years - currently live in Wardsville and are parishioners of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church. They have three sons: Joseph (a Helias sophomore), along with Jonathon and Parker, both of whom attend St. Stanislaus School. Prior to joining the Foundation board, Melissa served as a Home & School Officer for St. Stanislaus School from 2017-2020.
After graduating from Helias, Melissa attended Lincoln University, where she graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology (Social Work minor, emphasis in Psychology). She then went on to earn her Masters in Social Work (MSW) from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2002.
We'll let Melissa tell you the rest in her own words!
MKW: Listening to music of all genres on the radio and live bands; playing/singing to music (piano); attending concerts (from Ronnie Milsap, Alabama, and Guns N' Roses to Michael Jackson and The Eagles tribute bands); spending time with family; baking; playing card games and board games; attending my sons' MANY sporting events (baseball, basketball, football and archery); watching movies and mystery series; traveling; reading and watching documentaries and movies about American History; attending Civil War-era events; attending trivia nights and dueling piano events; and enjoying any day on a body of water (ocean, lake, or river). I love going to Hermann and other old towns and learning about their history, along with going to wineries and antique shops. I also love pretty much anything 80s and 90s-related - movies, television shows, music, etc...
Professional/Personal Achievements or Goals
MKW: I was nominated for and attended the "Next Step Leadership" program while working at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which is a program for promising employees to be prepared for higher management positions. In 2010, my family was the Ambassador Family for the Mid-Missouri March of Dimes. My son, Joseph, was born at 27 weeks gestation weighing 1 pound, 7 ounces and was 13 inches long. Because of the work of March of Dimes, he received surfactant treatment which helped mature his lungs. I became gravely ill with HELLP Syndrome and the only option to save my life and Joseph's life was for an emergency c-section. We are forever grateful to the March of Dimes and Boone Hospital doctors and staff. I am proud to say that all three of my boys are "Boone Babies."
What are some of your fondest memories of your time at Helias?
MKW: My fondest memories of Helias were making friends with so many new people. I am happy to say I am still friends and stay connected with many of them today. Coming from the small Wardsville community of the 1990s, there were only about 13 kids from my 8th grade class that attended Helias. I initially felt like a little fish in a big pond. My favorite times at Helias were homecoming weeks when there were so many fun activities planned that led to the big game and fun dance. I also really enjoyed and remember fondly my Christian Development class when students got to volunteer somewhere locally. I chose a nursery just down the hill from Helias. I loved playing with and holding the sweet babies!
What impact did Helias and/or your teachers/coaches/etc. make on you? Any specific examples?
MKW: My time at Helias helped strengthen my love for and relationship with Jesus and further taught me how to be respectful of all people. The teachers and administration were wonderful examples of leading the youth toward a positive and impactful path to do great things for and through Him.
Favorite Helias class or teacher, and why?
MKW: My favorite teacher was Coach Cooper. My favorite classes were Psychology I and II. Coach Cooper was an excellent teacher who brought passion and enthusiasm to the classroom each day. He opened my eyes to this subject and I loved every minute of it. The Psychology classes helped me choose my professional career of social work. My favorite class was the day we were able to bring a small child with us to play games with and do exercises with to see how their personality was developing. I brought a 2-year-old girl I had babysat since birth.
Were you known for anything as a student at Helias? If so, what?
MKW: No - at least I don't think so. Maybe I don't want to know. :)
How do you feel Helias personally prepared you academically and/or socially for your future (school, career, etc.)?
MKW: Academically, I was well prepared for Lincoln University and the University of Missouri-Columbia. The study and organizational skills I developed during my time at Helias helped me greatly during college and even now through my career. My Catholic faith and education helped form my passion for helping others, especially vulnerable and under-served populations. After graduating with my master's degree, I worked at St. Mary's Hospital and SSM Hospice for 8 years. There were days filled with great joy and great sadness, but being in the presence of my patients and their families, it was a blessing and a privilege to see Christ working in and through them. During my time at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, I was the Assistant Bureau Chief of Genetics and Healthy Childhood and was Project Director for the Missouri Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. The home visiting programs were in place to help and support at-risk young and impoverished mothers and their children. Today, my organization works to advocate for policies that expand health insurance coverage and improve access to oral health care. My organization is dedicated to improving the oral health of all Missourians, including the uninsured and under-served. The health and well-being of low-income Missourians and members of under-served and rural communities cannot be fully achieved without access to quality dental care.
How does the Helias of today compare to the Helias of your high school years?
MKW: Although physical changes have been made to the building, Helias still feels the same to me with great teaching staff and administration. For years, I have advocated for our Catholic schools to be inclusive of all God's children, including those with learning disabilities and other learning challenges. I am very proud to see the accommodations program that is now offered at Helias. Many students are benefiting from this worthwhile program that otherwise would not be able to attend. Awesome job, Helias!
Thus far in your life, what do you feel are your greatest achievements/accomplishments (personally and/or professionally?
MKW: Without a doubt, my biggest achievement is being a wife to my husband of almost 18 years and a mom to my three sons. I knew as a young child that I wanted to be married and have lots of babies!
What does "Helias Community" mean to you?
MKW: I have made meaningful and life-long connections with those inside the Helias Community. I do believe in the motto, "Once a Crusader, always a Crusader". It is always a treat to run into an old classmate or teacher. Also, I am pleased to see how many teaching staff from the 1990s are still at Helias today. My husband and I recently had a date night at Canterbury Hill Winery for dinner and listened to the music of Al Jolly. I had Mr. Jolly as my teacher for World History and really enjoyed him! Like Coach Cooper, he brought enthusiasm and uplifting vibes to class each day. Since I hadn't seen Mr. Jolly since my Helias days, I went up to him and introduced myself and shockingly, he had recognized me in the crowd and remembered me. His memory is quite impressive. World History was many moons ago. I took that moment to let him know how much I enjoyed having him as a teacher and I think he appreciated it.
What was your motivation for joining the Foundation board?
MKW: I like being involved and giving my time to the schools in which my children attend. I like knowing that through the work of the Foundation, we are providing financial support to Helias Catholic High School by raising funds for capital improvement projects and school operations, and building the endowment for future Helias students. It is important for me to teach my children to always appreciate the blessings we have been given and to know what it looks like to give back. It is a blessing to get to work and help at church, school and community events. I pray my boys will do the same one day.
What makes you proud to say you're a Crusader?
MKW: Helias is known for offering an excellent Catholic education and supportive school environment. Because of this and the many lifelong friends I have made during my time at Helias and still today, I am proud to be a Crusader.
Pandemic & Social Distancing
How has daily life for you and your family changed during the COVID-19 health crisis and this age of social distancing?
MKW: Because we are so active in our community and through sports, the pandemic has been a big change for us. Since March, while working full-time from home, I also became a full-time teacher for my three boys. That was quite the adjustment and I am very thankful they are all in school right now... not only for academic reasons, but for the socialization.
What are some positives and negatives you personally and/or your family have experienced during this time?
MKW: We have experienced many positives. Thankfully, neither my husband's or my employment have been affected. We have enjoyed so much more quality time with our children because we haven't been running around every night to attend some sports practice or game. Since March, we have had more game nights and movie nights than I can count. We have thoroughly enjoyed the simple things in life. Unfortunately, one negative is our family vacation was cancelled. We were scheduled to go on a Western Caribbean cruise this summer to Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. This would have been the boys' first cruise. We are hopeful to schedule it again in 2021.
What have you and your family learned from this experience?
MKW: We have learned that by slowing down and not being involved in so many extracurricular activities, we have more meaningful family time and more time to have fun together. My husband and I have so much fun with our boys. They make us laugh all the time! Our time with them is fleeting and we are striving to have a less complicated life and enjoy our time with them for as long as we have.
What are some of the things you miss the most from the pre-pandemic days?
MKW: We love to entertain and have friends over. We take turns hosting and getting together with lots of friends and family. We have a group of multiple families we get together with on a regular basis and that has slowed down drastically since the pandemic. We have occasionally planned outside get-togethers this summer and have thoroughly enjoyed that. I am also a hugger, so I am ready for the day to hug freely and not worry about infection. :)
How will you and/or your family celebrate the eventual end of the pandemic and the lifting of all restrictions?
MKW: We will schedule some parties to host at our house and we will quickly book our cruise again and enjoy every minute of it!
Do you know a graduate of Helias who deserves to be featured in an upcoming Alumni Spotlight? It doesn't matter whether they still live here in this community, or if they're doing big things somewhere far away. If we can reach them, we'd love to feature them. Please feel free to send us a name, contact information, and a brief description of why you feel they deserve to be recognized to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (573) 635-3808. We want everyone to know what our Crusaders are doing, regardless of when they graduated or where they live. If they're an example to you, they can be an example to many, and we'd love to tell their story!
To nominate someone for the Alumni Spotlight, email email@example.com.