Engelke works to stamp out poverty

Alum helps others through World Neighbors role

“We knew Erin would succeed when she left here, and the years have only validated our beliefs. Despite her young age, women look up to her as a role model for a woman in the communication field.”

Someday she’ll have a big corner office in a high-rise building. She’ll be on the corporate fast track in charge of big events, big campaigns and big deals. She’ll be on the move. She’ll always be reaching for the next goal.

Such were the dreams of Erin (Richards) Engelke when she came to Oklahoma Christian to pursue a degree in public relations.

Just a few years after her graduation in 2000, the corner office has worked out, as well as the big events, big campaigns and big deals. But instead of a high-rise office building in corporate America, Erin’s office better resembles a grass hut in a third-world village.

And instead of promoting a new product, candidate or event, Erin’s work helps stamp out poverty around the world.

As vice president of marketing and communications for World Neighbors, Erin is responsible for the public image of the international relief organization that was founded in 1951.

World Neighbors works in 18 countries helping people develop, manage and sustain their own programs. World Neighbors does not give away food or material aid. Instead, it provides training so that people gain the skills to work together for change.

If you visit Erin at the World Neighbors headquarters in Oklahoma City, she will expertly and passionately tell the stories of the people of World Neighbors as she winds through the building that is outfitted with straw huts, dirt-colored concrete flooring and bamboo walls.

She tells the story of a Philippine family on the brink of starvation that now thanks World Neighbors for showing them how to contour farm. Now, this family has enough food to eat all year, and has a surplus to sell at the local market.

She tells the story of a woman in Kenya who waited in line for hours to show a visiting World Neighbors executive her chubby healthy baby, a baby that might have been malnourished and ill if his mother hadn’t learned valuable nutrition tips from World Neighbors.

She also tells the stories of women who live in extreme poverty – whether in Burkina Faso, East Timor or Bolivia – who have the opportunity to learn about their own health, food safety, water sanitation, earning income for their families, and other measures that are improving their qualities of life.

Before Erin joined World Neighbors, she enjoyed success in the Oklahoma City PR market working at a bank and then at an advertising firm. She remains busy with organizations such as the Public Relations Society of America, Women in Communications (where she served as president in 2007) and Junior League.

She also serves on a Missions Sunday planning committee at the congregation she attends with her husband and two young kids, Memorial Road Church of Christ.

Erin came to Oklahoma Christian in 1996 from her home state of Idaho as a committed communication major. She jokingly recalls how she wasn’t sure she would make it through the program when she stepped into her first class with Dr. Philip Patterson.

But Erin persevered and progressed through the program, taking advantage of internships in public relations and media sales. She was the editor of the Talon student newspaper. She now calls Dr. Patterson an important mentor and friend. The sentiment is mutual.

“Erin is the model of the student we want to create in the mass communication department. She learns quickly, adapts to a changing environment well, and above all is a wonderful ambassador for Oklahoma Christian University and for the cause of Christ in the way she conducts her life in the professional arena,” said Dr. Patterson, distinguished professor of mass communication. “We knew Erin would succeed when she left here, and the years have only validated our beliefs. Despite her young age, women across the metropolitan area look up to her as a role model for a woman in the communication field.”

By Dawn Shelton (90)