Bench on Winona Campus

Erin Kloepping ’19 | Called to Serve Nonprofits and Missions

Student from Brodhead, WI
Communications Major, Leadership & Advocacy Option; Plans to Minor in Mass Communications and Training & Development


“I have a heart for nonprofits. I say a heart for nonprofits, but really it’s a heart for people.”

Since elementary school, Erin Kloepping has been searching for ways to give back to her community and make a difference in the lives of others. From running nursing home bake sales, to raising more than $1,100 for One Meal One Day, to passing out food and drinks to people in hospital lines, Erin’s passions for nonprofits have taken her as far as Ecuador – twice.

In her most recent trip to Ecuador, Erin and her best friend McKenna Cook filmed videos, took photos and launched social media sites for a woman’s jewelry business whose sales bring hope and dignity to Ecuadorian women in need. McKenna and Erin met through WSU Chi Alpha, a campus ministry where Erin now serves as the media ministry team leader, allowing her to continue developing her videography skills.

McKenna Cook (left) and Erin Kloepping (right) in Quito, Ecuador. Here they worked to promote Sandy Youngren's jewelry business that benefits Ecuadorian women in need.

McKenna Cook (left) and Erin Kloepping (right) in Quito, Ecuador. Here they worked to promote Sandy Youngren’s jewelry business that benefits Ecuadorian women in need.

When Erin speaks of her nonprofit and mission work, she does so without showmanship or self-congratulation. On the contrary, she views her work as a calling and emphasizes the importance of those she serves. This ambitious sophomore plans to continue this work beyond her college years as she hopes to work for a nonprofit organization and eventually start her own. She already has plans to return to Ecuador for two months this summer working with Compassion Connection as their communications intern.

The impact her experience serving others has had on her shines through her storytelling, as she finds blessings in everything she has done and where she is today. Erin continues to put others’ needs before her own, and this selfless path will lead her to more nonprofit and mission work that will continue to change others’ lives and her own.


What drew you to Winona State?

I was a three-sport athlete in high school, and what originally drew me to Winona State was the softball team here. However, I just felt like sports were something that would keep me from pursuing the passions that I have now. I decided to give up sports, but my eyes were already on Winona. I got very excited when I started looking at the majors here and saw the Leadership & Advocacy option within Communications – a unique combination that I couldn’t find at any other schools I was looking at.


Once I started looking more into Winona, I loved how many campus ministries were connected with Winona State. My first day on campus, I met McKenna Cook – who is still my best friend today – and she was already involved with Chi Alpha, a Christian campus ministry at WSU. Today I am very involved in Chi Alpha and I would go as far to say that the community and people within Chi Alpha have become my second family.

When and how did you first get involved in giving back to others?

In fifth grade my best friend’s mom and my mom realized there was a need in our community when they visited a nursing home during Christmas and saw that residents rarely receive presents or visitors. Because of this, we started an annual bake sale fundraiser to purchase the residents Christmas gifts. Over eight years we raised $8,950 total. It grew a ton which was really exciting to see, and not only did our project grow, but our hearts were completely changed by it. We became so passionate about helping others and giving back, especially in our own community. Four of those nursing homes were in our hometown, and then it spread to other communities. It was truly an amazing experience, and now my little sister and her best friend are carrying it on.

What did you do on your first trip to Ecuador?

In the summer of 2014, I went on a 12-day mission trip with my youth group. We went to three different locations: capitol city of Quito, then in the mountains near Lasso and then to a village in the jungle. In Lasso, we stayed with two missionaries, Steve and Sandi Youngren, who are from the United States and run a non-profit organization called Compassion Connection that puts on events for Ecuadorian pastors to train and encourage them. The Youngrens were living in the mountains at that time so we built a house for them in the mountains on that trip. Then we went to the jungle for three days, two nights and stayed in a two-story hut and helped build a church there.


After that, we spent a few days in Quito and did a hospital outreach at a government-run hospital. People from all over the city would take the bus to this hospital early in the morning and wait in long lines to receive medical care. This was an extremely heart-wrenching sight to see. We made 400 sandwiches the night before, and took jugs of juice to pass out to the people who had been standing in line all day. Almost all of the people waiting were either sick or injured, but they couldn’t get out of line to get food because they would lose their spot. That trip forever changed me. It opened my eyes to so many things, and made me extremely grateful for the things I so often take for granted here in the United States.

Why did you go to Ecuador a second time in December 2015?

McKenna and I felt a strong calling to Ecuador, although we weren’t sure why. Steve and Sandi were my only connections in Ecuador, so I decided to message Sandi quick and it turned out they needed some videographers to come down and film for their nonprofit. Coincidence? I think not. Sandi has a jewelry business that she runs on the side to benefit Ecuadorian women, and so promoting her work was our area of emphasis this time. My first trip was more so serving Steve and Sandi’s organization, Compassion Connection, but this trip was more about partnering with Sandi and her jewelry business.

What did you do during this eight-day trip?

McKenna and I left the U.S. with really no itinerary for what we were going to be doing for the eight days. Although that was a little crazy, the whole intent of the trip was to follow the missionaries around for a week and whenever they needed help, we were there for them. McKenna and I are both on the media team at Chi Alpha and while on this trip, we were able to put to use many of the skills we have acquired. We were able to film for almost the entire trip, acquiring enough footage for about six videos altogether. We also were able to teach Sandi how to use Instagram and Facebook to better promote her jewelry business and we did photo shoots of her jewelry for her Etsy site. When we returned home, we brought back a bunch of her jewelry and sent her the profits.

How has all of the nonprofit work you have done influenced your choice in major and career?

I believe that using my creative skill sets to promote nonprofit causes is what I am supposed to do. While I plan to work for a nonprofit organization after graduation, I really want to start my own. My dream is to start a nonprofit that offers communication services to other organizations and missionaries. The hope is that my organization would help missionaries share and communicate their amazing stories more effectively and to larger audiences, and in return, gain more support. Another dream job of mine is to work as a communications advocate. This job could include an array of things from speaking in front of church congregations to developing social media content to leading short-term mission trips.

If you could invite anyone to sit on this bench and have a conversation, who would it be and what would you talk about?

I would sit and have a conversation with Sandi Youngren. I have a lot of respect for Sandi and the way she lives out her faith in her everyday life. I value many of the conversations we have had in the past, many of which I will never forget. I would love to ask her more about her experience in starting a nonprofit organization, faith and life in general, relationships and raising a family, and choosing a career path that requires you to raise support instead of earning a steady income.

Interviewed and Edited by Allison Mueller ’17 and photographed by Ka Vang ’16

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