On clear days, an older, bearded man wearing a vintage JMU sports jacket sits on the stone wall by Carrier Library. This man, who can also be found riding his bike around campus, is Mike Klein: a well-known figure, and yet many students and faculty still don’t know his story.
Klein found himself in Harrisonburg when one of his good friends moved back to the area with him to make amends with her father. Even after his friend left, Klein stayed in the area because of his love for the region. In addition to this, Klein wished to finish his schooling.
Klein made a promise to his friend since kindergarten, Karen, who passed away of brain cancer, that he would go back to school. Klein went to school to study philosophy and psychology with a minor in women’s studies.
“I promised her I would pick up her dream of working with women — to empower women, not to depend on the man’s world and to help change the man’s world for the betterment of people,” Klein said. “Each young lady I talk to, I try to help them see what and where their strengths are, what they can do better than the man can and that they can outperform the man in any aspect of life. That’s one reason I sit here and have been for almost seven years.”
Klein lived an exciting life full of transitions before coming to Harrisonburg.
Klein said he was born in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was the youngest of nine older sisters and six older brothers. After three marriages and three divorces, he traveled to Arizona in an effort to find peace but spiraled into alcoholism and drug abuse.
“I came to from a major blackout and said, ‘Well, it’s time for me to give drugs and alcohol up,” Klein said. “During the incident, I thought I saw a cloud shape of Jesus on the cross. I thought that it was a sign, and said, ‘Take me God, I’m yours.’”
After the experience, he became drug- and alcohol-free and has been for 23 years. He claims to have traveled around to different areas of the United States and even to different countries. Klein worked in a variety of different job environments, from carnivals to fixing machinery for various companies.
When Klein came to the area on behalf of his good friend, it was an instant match.
Aside from JMU, Klein advises and speaks to Eastern Mennonite University students, Bridgewater College students and even locals downtown. He is well known throughout the community and especially in Christian programs for young adults and students, such as Catholic Campus Ministry, Campus Crusade and Young Life.
Klein has also helped with various programs to help the homeless around Harrisonburg, such as Open Doors, a program that gives shelter to the homeless in the winter. Klein is beginning to form a program to provide education for the homeless.
Klein works as a voice of the homeless, both helping them and himself.
“A lot of students come to me and wonder, ‘You know all of this and you’re still working with the homeless and you’re still homeless yourself?’ I associate with a lot of good Christian people that let me crash on their porch,” Klein said. “God has given me a lot of things to have at my disposal when I need them and has given me the courage and obligation to help other people.”
Rev. Amanda Garber, a pastor at R.I.S.E., has spoken with Klein many times.
“It’s so easy to stereotype people that are homeless. Mike challenges us to see beyond the labels and assumptions,” Garber said. “He adds a lot to the community; he would be very much missed if he left the Harrisonburg area. There’s a warmth about him that is remarkable. He is a gifted listener. He genuinely cares about people.”
Klein reaches out to the complete community: students and youth, adults and those who are not always thought of in the community. He strives to not only make a difference in women but in everyone.
“People often get stuck in only loving people who are like them,” Jennifer Reamer, the director of development at CCM, said. “I think Mike brings a wider perspective of who God asks us to get to know and love and who are our neighbors. Mike gives a lot of interesting perspectives, and, in return, gets a community who really cares for him.”
Klein does not plan to stay in the Harrisonburg area forever. He said he has applied for a job in New York in various Christian outreach programs to benefit the community. Klein has had eight interviews already and is waiting for the opportunity to travel to New York to take the job. He hopes someday to further his education in psychology, philosophy and women’s studies at NYU.
It is no surprise that Klein will be missed upon his departure; his influence on the Harrisonburg community will continue to thrive and grow throughout any new areas he may travel to.
“God has given me a lot of things to work with and have at my disposal when I need them. God also gives me the courage and obligation to help other people when they need it,” Klein said. “I love the education I have. I love the people that I’m around. I love to see and meet new people — I see a bright future for a lot of people.”
Contact Joanna Morelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.