By Tony Ends


BRODHEAD – Softball skills that powered Erin Kloepping, 19, to statewide recognition before she graduated high school last spring helped carry her last fall to Winnona State University.

In softball, Winnona’s Warriors are standouts, finishing most recently, with a 46-14 record and making their ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

Something deeper, stronger in Kloepping, however, has grabbed hold of the freshman communications major, and it’s taking her far beyond ball fields to service in other lands.

“I first went to Ecuador in August 2014,” said Kloepping last week, home on Christmas break. “My first trip there was with Living Word’s youth group, with eight others, to three different locations over 12 days.

“In a mission in the mountains, near a volcano and a town called Lasso, we helped build a home for leaders of a Compassion Connection project, Steve and Sandi Youngren,” Kloepping said.

“Then we went to the jungle village of Santa Anna, and helped build a church. We unloaded 2,000 cinder blocks off a truck; we then helped build the church. The last 2 days we spent in the capital city, Quito, doing hospital outreach; we made sandwiches and juice, and distributed them to people who were standing in line, sick, waiting for medical care.”

A South American nation of more than 13 million people, Ecuador lies south of Colombia and north of Peru on the Pacific Ocean.

About a third of Ecuador’s population lives in poverty; another 17 percent are in danger of entering poverty, according to the nonprofit Borgen Project. For more than 1 in 10 people in Ecuador, if they spend all their money on food, they still can’t get the nutrition their bodies need, Borgen says. They have not enough income to live.

Per capita income runs about a fifth in Ecuador what it is in Wisconsin. In rural areas especially, poverty, hunger, lack of health care, unemployment paint a far different landscape from our own.

When you see that, when you feel part of its solution, it takes hold of you. It gives your life meaning. At least, it did for Kloepping.

“I finished my finals at Winnona State on the 10th and left for Ecuador on the 11th,” Kloepping said, speaking with me on New Year’s Eve, her second 8-day mission to Latin America still vivid, still in her heart, in her voice.

“I felt called to go back. I went with one of my best friends at school now, McKenna Cook. We are part of a campus ministry, Chi Alpha (from the Greek for Christ Ambassador).

“McKenna had never flown before, never left the Midwest, and she does not speak Spanish, so it sounds sort of crazy, doesn’t it, for us to be going there together? But we wanted to use our vide-ography skills for Compassion Connection. We produced 5 or 6 videos that we’re editing now,” she said.

These videos will help work in Ecuador by social media and mission trips to hit home significance of what’s being accomplished for Ecuadorans.

One video describes a mission home that helps young girls out of sex trafficking or abusive relationships. Another video is of a home helping young boys off the streets find stability in “love, respect, service” to live honorably and loyally to families and discipleship, Kloepping said.

Those engaged in these missions will be able to use the videos to inform the public about this work on tours and in talks in the United States.

“One video describes Sandi Youngren’s typical day in the mission field,” Kloepping said. “We found out she is a superwoman in all she does; she does so much.

“She’s established a jewelry business to support Ecuadoran women – Encantadora Jewelry, Spanish for enchanted – to bring hope and support to them. She employs the women making tagua jewelry – handcrafted from a tropical rainforest nut.”

One can buy this jewelry at to support Youngren’s work.

“We are called to love God and to love others,” Kloepping said, of her passion to help this work in Ecuador.

Communications at Winnona State has an optional emphasis in “leadership and advocacy.” It helps students like Kloepping hone skills especially to work with nonprofits, such as Compassion Connection and Compassion International, based in Colorado Springs.

With mass media studies, Kloepping is adding Spanish, her eyes set on communications for such organizations full time after university.

Joyful, energetic, focused, she appears to be playing for keeps, playing for others, in another league beyond softball. With this graduate, in service to others, Brodhead High seems to have hit a homerun.