The Charles Foundation - I AM THE CHANGE article
Bettsy McKlaine of Upper Darby, PA
“‘SNEHAM’ MEANS ‘LOVE’ IN MALAYALAM,” BETTSY MCKLAINE TRANSLATED.
For McKlaine, love has been the driving force in her quest to help others. Born in India, she moved to Upper Darby, PA as a toddler. Despite growing up in the United States, McKlaine struggled in her teen years to assimilate with the dominant culture. After graduating from Henderson High, McKlaine attended Neumann University to study Secondary English and Special Education. The original plan was to become a teacher.
After a brief stint in teaching, Bettsy McKlaine returned to Neumann University to obtain her Master’s degree. “People told me my whole life that I had leadership skills,” recalled McKlaine who is also a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership organization. McKlaine enrolled in an Organizational and Strategic Leadership program to further her innate capabilities. The young scholar was challenged to think bigger and reflect inwards for her Master’s thesis. “I originally had a different thesis,” she explained, “but my advisor told me to think of my culture and ways to be a leader within my community.” The end result, Sneham, an outreach program that helped young girls who faced the same obstacles McKlaine overcame herself.
Bettsy McKlaine turned to schools, churches, and other organizations, looking for young people to help. Her goal was to find youth who were struggling and create a safe space for them. “[I found out] young people lacked confidence because there was a lack of love within themselves.” After the completion of graduate school, McKlaine took her thesis, Sneham, and turned it into action, creating a social group centered around service.
“Life is about helping people and giving back to the community,” declared McKlaine. Sneham, the organization, quickly expanded. Just a few weeks after its inception, McKlaine began to host regular meetings and community service efforts. “It was originally a women's group, but we have opened it up to everyone,” she says after learning a wide variety of men and women wanted to participate. Sneham’s next move includes more community service, meetings, and leadership conferences.