Kate Sundstrom at her desk
Kate Sundstrom became Philomath Community Service’s first-ever full-time employee on Jan. 4 when she started as the organization’s executive director. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

For the first time in its 30-year history, Philomath Community Services has hired a full-time employee as part of an effort to move forward with an improved level of service and notoriety.

Kate Sundstrom, who worked for 25 years at Samaritan Health Services and most recently served as a regional philanthropic officer for the American Red Cross in Texas, brings a strong background to help the local social services organization reach new heights. Sundstrom started as the PCS executive director on Jan. 4.

“Her enthusiasm, her energy, her experience — those are just three things that have shined a light on the future of PCS,” said Jean Goul, board of directors president. “She’s just right on the ball, very energetic and has a great many plans. She’ll be making herself known in our community using best practices and so many things we haven’t even thought about.”

Philomath Community Services, founded in 1991, oversees five programs — Food Bank, June’s Kids Kloset, Gleaners, Lupe’s Community Garden and Holiday Cheer — that provide food, clothing, firewood, garden education, seasonal gift baskets and various other items to individuals and families in need.

“They are absolutely the pillar of the community — they truly are — and our volunteers are as well as evidenced when I come in and I see them working on providing the basic needs to our clients,” Sundstrom said. “Even though we’re only open Tuesdays and Thursdays to the public, we’re in here and the volunteers are doing the background work, preparing the foods, and the gleaners are in here helping.”

Philomath Community Services operated without a director during one of the busiest and most challenging stretches in its history. Mark McGuire came on board in a part-time capacity as the organization’s first-ever executive director in early 2019 and left in March 2020.

“We realized we needed a full-time person and now that we have the funding, we decided to go with that,” Goul said. “With so many changes and then with the COVID decisions, the board was just swamped with things to do with running our programs, running the facilities. Hiring somebody was very important.”

Sundstrom said she sees a great opportunity with PCS and embraces the challenges of identifying needs and moving toward the desired end result. The board of directors and overall organizational strengths attracted her to the job.

“Knowing that the board is extremely strong, I think we’ll be able to implement some changes that will help us with our strategic plans, so all of these things are being redeveloped as we speak,” she said. “I was attracted as well because it’s a very solvent organization and I just loved the idea that we’re providing those basic needs to individuals regardless of whether it’s during a pandemic or not — everyone needs clothing, everyone needs food. Those two alone really appealed to me.”

Identifying gaps in the organization’s services will be a priority.

“What is it that we’re not providing for our clients?” Sundstrom said. “First on my horizon is really to do a client survey. What do our clients really need? Are we meeting those needs or is that a perceived need?”

Sundstrom also brings a spirited approach to other facets of the operation.

“Being more proactive in terms of implementing policies and procedures and making sure that is up and running,” she said. “Training our program managers, perhaps in some safety and health trainings … I’m always looking at ways we can be more proactive.”

Sundstrom worked for Samaritan Health Services for 25 years — 10 as a medical transcriptionist and the last 15 as a major fundraising officer. Her work during those years led to a long and noteworthy list of accomplishments involving the securing of gifts for the medical community’s needs.

Overseeing high-profile donor events that involved extensive volunteer management added another layer to her professional background. She has been active through service on various boards that included the United Way of Benton County, Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis and the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence. And she’s also been involved with Kiwanis and Rotary Club of Corvallis After Five organizations.

Most recently, Sundstrom moved back to this area after working as the regional philanthropic officer for the American Red Cross that served central and south Texas.

“I left Samaritan to go help my family in 2014 and found my way to Arizona and then back up to Oregon for a couple of years and then I had an offer to work for the American Red Cross as a major fundraiser and didn’t want to pass that one up,” she said.

Sundstrom earned a bachelor of arts degree in human studies and a master’s degree in business administration — both from Merylhurst University.

Circumstances, including a son and daughter-in-law who live in Corvallis and are expecting their first child in the coming weeks, led her back to Oregon.

Following a period of advertising the job, PCS received less than a dozen applications. Goul said that five candidates rose to the top and they were interviewed for the first time via Zoom in November. An in-person series of interviews followed in early December, a step that really started to narrow down the top candidates. One applicant opted out because of virus-related concerns, Goul added.

“I think the biggest thing was fundraising skills and that’s where Kate rose to the top,” Goul said. “We had a really nice selection and it was really hard but Kate was one of the top two for quite some time. … Kate had some really good experience and her fundraising was a primary part of it.”

Sundstrom had a more functional office upon her start date thanks to Eagle Scout candidate Chris Ludington, who with a team of volunteers refurbished the space in December. Sundstrom then added her own touch to complete the new look.