An opportunity to interview CSDA Directors in each issue of ONE VOICE.
Kari Gilbert, Director, Fresno County DCSS
One Voice (OV): I understand that you were raised in the Central Valley – tell us a little about your background.
Kari (K): Yes, I was raised in a very small community East of Exeter, CA with a population of only 300 people. Anxious to escape the Central Valley in 1988 I moved to Rancho Santa Margarita (Orange County) and worked in Irvine. This is where I met my husband who was a Laguna Beach Police Officer – and strange as it would seem, he was also from the Central Valley. We agreed to move back to the Valley where we lived in Visalia.
OV: Did you always work in child support?
K: No, I was studying to be a paralegal with my goal of getting a law degree and eventually working as the Deputy District Attorney in the Criminal Division. However, through casual conversation with a Tulare County Judge I found out about The Family Support Division in Tulare County and began working as an extra help employee. I intended to stay a very short period of time to finish my internship, however wound up having 2 children in 19 months and decided to stay in the Child Support Program, and finish my degree while the kids were toddlers. I wound up going back to school and got my Bachelor’s Degree in Business and Organizational Development from Fresno Pacific University.
OV: How did you come to work for Fresno?
K: I worked my way through many positions within my 10 years in Tulare County DCSS. In 2004 I had the opportunity to become Division Manager with Fresno DCSS. The next year I was promoted to Deputy Director where I served until 2012, when I became the Director.
OV: Have you seen a lot of change since being with Fresno?
K: Absolutely! Within the first four years of arriving in Fresno we experienced organizational and cultural change coupled with three system conversions, four system implementations, consortia changes and ultimately a more State-directed program.
OV: What helped you handle all these changes?
K: It is hard enough to handle change by yourself, but if you are in charge of an organization or group of people, it makes implementing the change that much more difficult. Because you are dealing with so many different personalities and attitudes, you have to be “on your toes.” For me, change fuels me – I like the challenge of the complexity, diversity and daily trials associated with the child support program. We’re no different than any other county – we all have our challenges.
OV: Tell us about your involvement in CSDA.
K: Like all LCSA’s, Fresno has been involved in CSDA. I really enjoy the friendships I have made and enjoy being around those commitment to making this industry better. Most of all I enjoy the committee work and have served on the Policy and Regulations and Leadership Committees. This year I agreed to step in and help with the Training Committee accepting the role of Training Committee Chair.
OV: What is your vision for CSDA and the training component?
K: I would like to see CSDA reestablish a strong foundation, strengthen collaboration with the state and ultimately be a major player in helping to enhance and move the child support program forward. CSDA has an excellent reputation and tradition of training. However, I would like to expand our training by offering innovative and collaborative professional development for all the Directors and their management teams build on our good reputation
OV: What are you most proud of?
K: That’s easy – my children. At 20 & 21 both of them are finding their own paths as adults, becoming productive members of society. I am also proud that although my husband and I are divorced, we co-parented our children and avoided the negativity usually associated with divorce. Finally, I am proud of my entire team at Fresno DCSS, especially my management team. Although we are challenged by funding, we do not use that as an excuse and work hard to create innovative programs to help our customers. What started off as a desire to be in child support for a short period of time has turned into 22 years child support service, two children and a few grey hairs.