Dover’s Kleimo honored for lifetime devoted to less fortunate

Jeanine Kleimo talks with guest Teddy Scaggs at the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing. Mrs. Kleimo founded the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing in 2008, bringing religious institutions from across the board together to provide food, shelter, job training and counseling for homeless men in the city. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — It’s easy to see in the vast collection of selfless actions of Jeanine Kleimo that she doesn’t set out to gain personal recognition.

Rather, Mrs. Kleimo’s story has always been about helping others. She has been an advocate for affordable housing and the homeless almost her entire life.

So even though she doesn’t seek out the spotlight, sometimes the accumulation of a lifetime’s worth of hard work for the underprivileged can’t be ignored.

That’s why the Association of Fundraising Professionals presented Mrs. Kleimo with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon at the Chase Center on Wilmington’s Riverfront Nov. 15.

“A lady from NCALL (in Dover) called me and wanted me to apply for the award,” Mrs. Kleimo said. “Well, I thought about it and figured if it could help promote NCALL and the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing that it might be a good thing.

“They don’t usually do this Lifetime Achievement Award every year, but they decided this year they were going to give it to me. I’m not very big on winning awards, but this one was quite an honor.”

Mrs. Kleimo’s resume for being recognized for a lifetime of achievement is obviously worthy of the distinction.

She began NCALL Research’s work in affordable housing and community development programs in Dover back in 1976. She has served on the organization’s board of directors for 30 years.

NCALL Research provides homeownership education and counseling, financial coaching, financial education and foreclosure prevention services to Delawareans across the state.

Most recently, Mrs. Kleimo founded the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing in 2008, bringing religious institutions from across the board together to provide food, shelter, job training and counseling for homeless men in the city.

Concern for others has always gone hand in hand with her life’s pursuits.

“I think that I’ve always been concerned about poverty and particularly the housing that people have or don’t have,” Mrs. Kleimo said. “I was with NCALL 40 years ago and before that I was in and out of migrant labor camps and I saw a lot of really horrible housing conditions on the Delmarva Peninsula.

“I felt that I could do something about it. Some of us have the skill set and the resources to do something about it and to get other people on board to participate in doing something about it.”

Mrs. Kleimo gained some eye-opening experience while serving as an international consulting economist (1986-2006), working with underserved communities in India, Poland, Chile, Morocco and the Pacific Islands on the issues of housing, homelessness, finances and infrastructure.

Mrs. Kleimo said there are a lot more homeless people in Dover now than when she opened the Interfaith Mission nearly 10 years ago. It’s been estimated there are 300 to 400 throughout the Dover area. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Somehow her travels always brought her back to Dover.

“First it was NCALL,” Mrs. Kleimo said. “I came here because I wanted a town that I used to say had the amenities of civilization and wasn’t so small that I would be an easy target for criticism.

“I had a couple of organizational connections here, so it gave me a good base and I liked it and I stayed. I bought a house here and this was home. Even when I moved around, Dover was always home.

“I’ve said to many people all over the world when they say, ‘Why do you live in Dover, Delaware?’ I say, ‘Because I can.’”

Mrs. Kleimo is currently the chairwoman for the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness in Dover.

She is the one tasked with bringing in leaders from organizations throughout the state that, with a little bit of communication and cooperation, might be able to come together and help solve the city’s homeless crisis.

“Jeanine is a most compassionate individual. She has a very inventive mind when it comes to working with the homeless in Central Delaware area. We are so fortunate to have her expertise at Dover Interfaith Mission,” said Herb Konowitz, who works alongside Mrs. Kleimo at Dover Interfaith Housing.

Mrs. Kleimo said there are a lot more homeless people in Dover now than when she opened the Interfaith Mission nearly 10 years ago. It’s been estimated there are 300 to 400 throughout the Dover area.

“I think that there are more homeless and it’s not because Dover is attractive to the homeless,” she said. “It’s because there are fewer affordable places to live. That’s why we’re trying to not only operate as a shelter, but create some avenues for them to have access to affordable housing.

“There are more people on disability income, more people who just can’t make it on their own and more families have fallen apart. We also have more people who have been imprisoned and released and so all of those populations are here struggling and there’s not a way for them to easily acquire housing on their own.”

When most people pass the homeless on the street they choose to avoid eye contact and walk past them without a word.

Mrs. Kleimo has never been one of those people. She believes there are many stereotypes that the homeless are forced to overcome.

“People think that homeless people are lazy and not working, but many of them are working,” said Mrs. Kleimo, who pointed out that nearly 75 percent of the homeless people in Dover are employed. “I think that people need to respect that there aren’t enough opportunities for them and for housing in particular.

“Consider if there’s any blemish on anybody’s record, if they’ve ever been evicted, been in prison, they’ve had a period of joblessness, then no one wants to rent to them even when there are units available. There’s also a tremendous shortage of assisted housing or public housing.”

Mrs. Kleimo isn’t resting on her Lifetime Achievement Award.

She is actively working to find housing solutions for those in need in Dover.

“I think that it will take a number of different coordinated activities and it will take more of the leadership of the community, business leaders and so on to become engaged,” she said. “We have some opportunities for some projects to be developed and to reutilize the dilapidated or deteriorated housing stock of the city for some houses that people could share.

“We would have overall management and some training and guidance for the residents, so they’re not just dropped and ‘See you, have a nice life,’ but to realize that many people at the bottom of the socio-economic scale need access to guidance.

“We want to set that up so they don’t become homeless again once they get housing. That’s our goal for downtown Dover.”

It’s just the latest in a lifetime of goals for Mrs. Kleimo to help the underprivileged — and no matter where that journey lies, it’s never about her, but about improving the conditions of others.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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