2010 Women of Influence: Kristi Knous
Saturday, July 31, 2010 7:00 AM
Kristi Knous had a skeptical attitude as she headed off for lunch that day. Someone had arranged for her to meet with Johnny Danos, a fellow member of the "Is It Good for the Kids?" board of directors. Knous, who thoroughly loved her job at Blank Children's Hospital, didn't expect the conversation would lead to much.
Danos, then the president of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, saw things differently and made his case. "I had never even thought about leaving Blank," Knous said, "but after that lunch, I phoned my husband and said, 'I've got a new job.'"
And so she left one dream job for another, ending her time as a child advocate to become the director of donor relations and programs at the charity-focused foundation. Eight years later, she's the organization's vice president of donor relations and community investment and says, "I absolutely know I've been led here to do this work."
That's not the only time someone helped her to suddenly rechart her career course.
Knous grew up in the small northwest Iowa town of Merrill, where her early years were a challenge. A premature baby, she remained fragile for several years and spent a lot of time in hospitals. It left her with a special empathy for children in pain.
Later on at Iowa State University, she was walking back to the dormitory one day when a friend mentioned that ISU had something called a "child life specialist" major. The information struck a chord, and "I shifted my path to walk to my adviser's office," Knous said, to start the process of signing up.
After college, she followed her bliss to work with children at the Mayo Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., and then at Blank for 10 years.
"I was making a difference for kids every day," she said. "It felt so good."
But working for the Community Foundation has proved to be a delight for her, too, and the experiences from her first career have carried over into the second. "Things I observed at the hospital heightened my awareness of the needs of the community," she said. "When I'm working on job training programs or dropout prevention, I think about how my experience inspired me to make a difference, and I'm doing it through this work."
Community Foundation President J. Barry Griswell credits Knous with key roles in forming a training series for nonprofit board and staff members, creating a nonprofit technical assistance program and much more.
She added to her skills with a master's degree in public administration from Drake University, which she received last spring.
Knous is on the Community Advisory Board of the Junior League and has volunteered for many groups, such as the Iowa Safe Kids Coalition and Kids Against Hunger.
Next on her professional agenda is participation in a "visioning process" for the Central Iowa community. It will deal with workforce issues, quality of life and so forth; it will involve Iowa State and other communities as well as Greater Des Moines; and it's scheduled to get started this fall.
Knous expects it will be fun, but her goal, as always, will be to help make this a better place.
"I literally pray before work every morning," she said. "God, use me for the benefit of the community today."
Education: Bachelor's degree from Iowa State University; master's degree from Drake University
Hometown: Merrill, Ia.
Family: Husband, Lauren; daughter, Abbey, 14; son, Jonah, 12
Hobbies: Boating and running