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People who make a difference: McKenzie Clemons

Volunteer, co-chair, founder, board member

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August 10, 2023

APPLETON – When McKenzie Clemons graduated from Appleton North High School a little more than a decade ago, the plan was to pursue a degree in education and become a teacher.

“I have always loved working with kids and giving back to the community – so, I thought, ‘oh, I should be a teacher, that would be awesome,’” she said.

Clemons attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies.

After graduation, she got her first teaching position in a 4K classroom at Little Red Preschool in Middleton.

“Then, one thing led to another and I found my way back to Appleton and on a completely different career path,” she said. “Life throws you curveballs.”

Clemons said she realized she would still be able to give back to the community, “even if I wasn’t a teacher.”

“That’s how I got into a different career,” she said. “My job allows me the flexibility to volunteer more in the community.”

Today, Clemons – a regional sales manager for U.S. Lubricants in Appleton – volunteers in more than a half dozen organizations, each of which she said holds a special place in her heart.

How it all started
Clemons said the organization that got her started volunteering in the community was the Red Smith Sports Awards – a long-standing nonprofit that raises funds to help support the Appleton Foxes minor league baseball team and other local youth sports organizations. 

“The organization raises money for kiddoes from families that don’t have a means for their child to be able to play sports – whether that be getting equipment or paying the dues,” she said. “It ranges all the way from the two and three-year-olds to helping high schoolers get scholarships for college.”

The 29-year-old said she’s been fortunate in life to have the opportunity to participate in sports and other activities but recognizes not everyone has those opportunities.

McKenzie Clemons, second from right, said her employer, U.S. Lubricants, is very supportive when it comes to giving back to the community. Submitted Photo

“I have never taken that for granted,” she said. “What drives me is that everyone has their basic needs – and I want to continue to give back to the community and make this a place where I want to raise a family as well.”

Clemons’ work with children-focused organizations doesn’t stop there.

She serves as a board member for CASA of the Fox Cities and on the event committee for the Children’s Cancer Family Foundation.

Most recently, Clemons has joined the Campaign Volunteer Committee for the United Way Fox Cities.

“I’ve heard of the United Way, but now seeing everything they do is unreal,” she said. “They are involved in so many things throughout the community, whether that’s diapers for families or whether that’s helping people who aren’t getting to work. Their presence in the community leaves me speechless.”

Young professionals
Some of Clemons’ volunteer work also centers around the young professionals community throughout Northeast Wisconsin – especially women professionals.

As a member of the event committee – serving as its co-chair for the luncheon next year – Women’s Fund for the Fox Valley Region, Clemons said the excitement is contagious.

“At last year’s luncheon, we had 1,000 people attend and the energy in that room was electric,” she said. “You leave and you feel so excited about the future of the community in the Fox Valley area and feel inspired by all these powerful women who didn’t take no for an answer. It’s amazing all the things the Women’s Fund does, to make sure women are continuing to excel in not only careers but in life.”

About a year ago, sparked by a continued desire to support other women professionals, Clemons said she started Business Minded Women – a networking group for like-minded women in the Fox Valley.

“I was having wine with a friend of mine and we were spitballing around some ideas, and I said, ‘it would be great if there was a happy hour or networking group for the young professional women,’” she said.

In a relatively male-dominated field, Clemons said it’s nice to have a “core group of women” to reach out to for support.

“For example, we can reach out and say, ‘hey, I have this event coming up, does anyone else want to go?’” she said. “Or, ‘hey, I dealt with this weird situation at work, has anyone else seen this or how would you respond to this?’”

Clemons said the group started out with five or six women and is now up to about 70 women professionals in the Fox Valley area.

McKenzie Clemons

“It started through a conversation over wine and now every month it keeps growing,” she said.

The group – which is organized through a Facebook page – meets once a month.

“There is a different nonprofit that presents every time – which gives us a chance to see what other amazing things the community has to offer,” she said. “I’m shocked at how much it’s taken off. I thought it would be maybe 10 or so women meeting once a month, but the interest is amazing.”

Clemons is also a member of Pulse Young Professionals Network – program of the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce – and serves as co-chair of the organization’s Professional Development Committee.

“The committee helps provide opportunities for young professionals to meet with more seasoned staff CEOs, presidents, etc. – talking to the younger generation about what they thought and what they encountered,” she said. “It shows young professionals they’re not on an island. They’re not the only ones going through this. They have a community they can reach out to and continue to build the Fox Valley community with young professionals because, at some point, we are going to be the ones in the CEO chair.”

Part of the success she’s been able to find with volunteering, Clemons said has been a direct result of supportive employers.

“My employer is amazing – they truly practice what they preach,” she said. “They want (employees) to be out in the community. They know it’s important we’re giving back to things that are true to us.”

Clemons said she knows not all employers provide the same support as hers does when it comes to volunteering – but it’s something she said she highly encourages.

“When you’re hiring a person for a role – you’re not just hiring them to come sit there, you’re hiring who they are as a person,” she said. “If somebody’s giving back to the community and cares about their community, they’re going to go a million times farther than the person who just comes in, works and clocks out, because they care about what’s happening around them as well.”

Recently, Clemons was named a Pulse Young Professionals Network Future 15, which recognizes young professionals (age 40 and under) for their professional achievement, volunteer involvement, community impact, leadership and character.

Clemons said there are many “amazing organizations” in Northeast Wisconsin, and “I am so thankful to be involved in some of them.”

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