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Alumni award winner is dedicated to the community, and its pets

September 22nd, 2022

Ashley Klein with her dog Skye

Ashley Klein is this year's recipient of the Young Alumnus Award, given to an alumnus 39 years of age or younger, to recognize character and citizenship, achievement or service rendered, and honors and recognition received.

Klein is dedicated to her community. In fact, it says so, right on her CV: “I hang out with dogs and make my community better.”

Klein will receive the award and speak to students, faculty and staff in Bethel’s weekly convocation on Monday, Oct. 10.

Klein, of Newton, graduated from Bethel College in 2013 with a double major in psychology and natural sciences. As a student, she started her own business, Blue Skies Pet Care, to help pay the bills.

At the time, Klein knew of no other pet-care business in Newton. Twelve years later, Blue Skies has grown by leaps and bounds.

As her degree neared completion, Klein says, she was faced with whether to start applying to graduate programs or stay close to home (she was born and raised in Newton) and keep building the business.

“I decided that rather than taking it out-of-state, out of the community, I would keep it local,” she says. “If you stay in the community, you get to see the benefits – in a small community, you can directly see the difference a person or business makes.”

And Klein started that even before graduation. Early on in her business, she realized Newton really needed a dog park.

Clients told her they would drive all the way to Wichita to use parks that weren’t even free, requiring an annual membership fee.

She began working on the project in 2012. She secured Caring Hands Humane Society in Newton as the fiscal sponsor for tax-deductible donations, found matching grants, and “did a lot of fundraising with individuals.”

The Newton Dog Park, located in Centennial Park and free to the public and their dogs, opened in September 2016.

In 2018, Klein hired her first Blue Skies employee in addition to herself. Today, she has seven – pet caregivers, team leaders and the newest, hired just this month, professional dog trainer Vanessa Hajek.

As a psychology major at Bethel, Klein focused on canines whenever possible – independent study, senior project. She did a 9-month internship at Caring Hands with a dog trainer, and kept honing her skills in that area by volunteering at the shelter.

“I use my psychology major all the time,” she says, “and not only in animal behavior, but working with people, often people of different backgrounds.

“I [wouldn’t call myself] a people person but my communications courses, convocation and other [Bethel experiences] helped me develop my skills working with people.”

Nor was the dog park her last community-focused effort.

She continues to volunteer as a dog trainer at Caring Hands.

She currently serves on the board of trustees of the Newton Public Library. As the board representative to the NPL Foundation, she is currently deeply involved in a major capital campaign to build a new library.

She’s also part of both Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harvey County, serving on the Fundraising Events Committee for three years, and Newton Young Professionals.

She was Events Chair and a council member for NYP from 2019-21. In 2017, she was the Newton Young Professional of the Year.

“I enjoy Newton,” Klein says. “Too often, people become educated or whatever and then move on. I didn’t want to be one of those people.

“I felt like I could stay here and make a difference in the community.”

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel ranks at #14 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges” for 2022-23. Bethel is the only Kansas college or university to be named a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.