An Interview with Stephen Dunk
Community Outreach Program Manager, Department of Commerce
Stephen Dunk works for the Washington State Department of Commerce as the Community Outreach Program Manager. The Outreach Program is charged with creating a presence and ongoing relationship with rural, disadvantaged communities throughout Washington State. Stephen has been working for the Department of Commerce since 2007. Prior to Community Outreach, Stephen worked for the Public Works Board as a Regional Services Coordinator helping local governments build and retain local capacity and coordinating with state, federal and local funders to assist in financing critical infrastructure needs.
From 2001 to 2007 Stephen worked for the Skokomish Indian Tribe as the Manager for Housing & Infrastructure Development. He has a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the University of Colorado. Stephen was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay, South America and has a passion for travel, culture, rural communities and fly fishing!
The Community Outreach Program is new to the Department of Commerce. Can you tell me why Director Brian Bonlender thought it was important to create this program?
The Department of Commerce has more than 100 programs that provide services, grants, loans and technical assistance throughout the entire State of Washington. Often times our rural, disadvantaged and Tribal partners misunderstand that Commerce is specific to economic development. In reality, Commerce is also about energy efficiency, crime victims advocacy, housing, homelessness, domestic violence, infrastructure and much more. Our job is to create a relationship with communities and tribes and help them “connect” to eligible programs in order to take advantage of the resources that are available to them. There are really committed people here at Commerce that are making a difference when they are able to work in these small communities.
This leads me to the second reason Brian came up with the Outreach program and that is to help promote a collaborative culture within the Department of Commerce. While Commerce has such a diverse set of programs with different missions and cultures, it’s easy for folks to feel like they are removed or separate from each other. Brian has done a lot of work trying to create a culture with a sense that our programs are a part of a whole. For example, a healthy vibrant community cannot exist when you have homelessness, housing shortages, domestic violence, poor water and other challenges. Addressing these challenges provides for local assets that create a safe, healthy and positive environment to our communities. In turn, our communities have greater capacity and opportunity to be creative, entrepreneurial and successful in starting and operating businesses. I think as we engage rural, disadvantaged and Tribal people we see and feel the work that everyone does here at Commerce. And with that shared experience, we engage Commerce and staff in the hallways and meetings and hopefully strengthen our common bond as an agency.
Who makes up the Outreach team?
I work with two other colleagues Emily Grossman and Terry Lawhead, both outstanding individuals that are funny, eclectic and staunch advocates for rural disadvantaged folks. Terry was a farrier (rancher & horseshoer), a journalist, a reader of well… everything, and an economic developer in rural Washington for the past 16 years. He has the ability to walk into a town hall meeting, listen, ask questions and advocate on a citizen’s behalf in a manner that can empower the locals. I really respect Terry and this aspect of his character. Emily is a force of nature, brilliant yet understated. She was the first person in her family to go to college. Emily received her undergraduate degree from the University of Washington and her law degree from Seattle University. For the past six Emily has worked on homelessness, housing and Workforce Development issues. Emily can comprehend the most difficult contracts and policies and lay them out so even Terry and I can understand them! She is a results-oriented person that has been creating credibility for the Department of Commerce since the day she started. I was a Peace Corps volunteer, worked with the homeless, was a housing planner for the Skokomish Indian Tribe, and spent eight years with the Public Works Board focusing on water and sewer infrastructure. I love the underdog. I feel really fortunate to be working with Terry, Emily and the Outreach program. We’ve received nothing but support and encouragement from our colleagues here at Commerce.