Sometimes our most important work doesn’t happen while we’re at work.
Since joining the CWU faculty in 2001, Stefanie Wickstrom (’88) has been advocating for underrepresented members of the Ellensburg community as a volunteer with APOYO (Allied People Offering Year Round Outreach), Central’s on-campus food bank.
The political science and environmental studies professor took her commitment to a new level last summer when she became executive director of the nonprofit. With support from her faculty colleagues, Wickstrom helped APOYO establish a new organizational structure and negotiated with the university to allow the food bank to continue operating out of its on-campus location on East 18th Avenue for two more years.
As APOYO begins its search for a new off-campus location by October 2022, the volunteer network is trying to get back to what it does best: helping people.
“I think what people need right now, even more than food or housing, is love,” said Wickstrom, the executive director of APOYO (which translates to “support” in Spanish). “Even if we can’t help them find housing or money to pay rent, at least we can show them love.”
What drew Wickstrom to APOYO two decades ago was the promise of having more opportunities to help her neighbors in need, specifically Spanish-speaking residents on campus and in the community.
When immigrant families come to a new community like Ellensburg—as a group of Honduran refugees did last winter—they need reliable support networks to connect them with food, housing, and other essentials.
Providing a crucial bridge for people in need makes Wickstrom and her colleagues feel like they are making a tangible difference.
“Understanding other people’s cultures, and being able to communicate with them because you understand their culture, is what really motivates me,” she said. “To come into the APOYO office and have someone say, ‘tell me what you’re going through,’ and ‘let me see what I can do to help you’—that’s just tremendous for them.”
After putting so much effort into her nonprofit work at Central, Wickstrom feels an obligation to continue her outreach. Over the past year, she has helped the organization expand its services to offer housing assistance to vulnerable community members.
She believes the organization has the power to do even more.
“As a university, we have an opportunity to educate people about food security, and APOYO offers a direct means of providing food security to the community,” Wickstrom said. “But we can also be a center for cultural education. Understanding our cultural differences is crucial to a lot of the problems society is facing today, and I am glad I can contribute to that effort here at CWU.”