Sharon Wardale-Trejo

Director, Merced/Mariposa Regional DCSS

One Voice: Hi, Sharon – most of your peers know you from your active involvement in CSDA, including your recent service as President. However, many may not be aware of your background. Can you give us a glimpse?

Sharon: I grew up in a very small rural community. My parents emigrated from England and set their home up on 68 acres of old woods outside Corning, New York, so my father could work as an engineer at Corning Glassworks. Our nearest neighbors were over a mile away. I have fond memories of running around in the woods, swimming in natural ponds, and exploring nature with my older sister.

Corning was one of those one industry towns; you either worked at Corning Glassworks or you really didn’t work. So, when the factory shut down my father’s department, we didn’t have a lot of options, but fortunately he had skills and wasn’t afraid to move. Next thing you know, the whole family, including cat and dog, were uprooted and we travelled across country to Merced, California. After seeing the Pacific Ocean (and numerous episodes of Jacques Cousteau), I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a park ranger or an oceanographer, deciding that I would never work in an office… Yes, well funny how life changes as we grow up, plus I really wasn’t good at math or science!

In high school I played trumpet in marching band and credit that experience for many of my characteristics regarding discipline, leadership, and focus. While still in high school, I was known to rather practice the trumpet than crack a school book, any school book. In college I lettered in tennis and although that was a long time ago, I still love to play.

One Voice: What about post-secondary education?

Sharon: I was not a particularly dedicated student while in high school or even for my undergraduate degree. In fact, there’s a six year gap between when I should have graduated and when I finally did graduate, earning a BA in Political Science, so I will say if you’ve started, it’s never too late to finish. A little unknown trivia is that my first vehicle was a motorcycle and I rode that for two years – rain or shine!

While working at Stanislaus County, I decided to return to school to earn a Master’s degree and set a personal goal of graduating with distinction (3.89 or higher GPA). After three years of night classes, while working full-time, I happily walked across that stage, with the yellow braid of distinction around my neck. Considering my academic track record, this was a significant achievement for me. My husband was a huge part of my success, giving me the time and space to knuckle down and get the work done. I’ve been married for 20 years to my high school sweetheart. We do not have children, but I baby my niece and nephew whenever I can, adore the children of friends, and definitely pamper pets.

One Voice: Can you tell us about how you got started in the child support profession?

Sharon: I started in the spring of 1998, having transitioned as a legal assistant from private sector estate planning, Medi-Cal planning, and probate law. I joined the Merced County District Attorney, Family Support Division as a part-time extra-help Investigative Assistant.

One Voice: What appealed to you about the profession?

Sharon: Knowing next to nothing about child support, I envisioned much of my time would be spent on stakeouts, serving parties, and being out in the field interviewing participants. Instead, my past experience actually helped me with the work required of this position. My experience as a legal assistant was maximized as I assisted the division’s attorneys with drafting points and authorities, developing solutions for interstate property liens, and tapping into Qualified Domestic Relations Orders. I found the work fascinating as each day brought something new – each case was unique. I was hooked and quickly realized this was a career-making opportunity. By that fall, I had accepted a full-time position as a Staff Services Analyst, completing compliance reviews and providing recommendations to the division’s executive staff on implementation of policy changes.

One Voice: How has the profession changed over the years?

Sharon: For 19+ years I have held a variety of positions working for both Merced and Stanislaus Counties. I have seen and participated in the evolution of the program at the local level moving from compliance-based format to the data-driven, evidence-based performance management program we have today. I even had the privilege of being on assignment to the former CASES vendor, Informatix, Inc., for one year on their state disbursement unit project, RAPID. This experience gave me a great appreciation for the complexity and volume of work vendors do.

One Voice: Tell us about your involvement and activity within child support.

Sharon: I have provided trainings at annual conferences for the Child Support Directors Association of California (CSDA) and Western Interstate Child Support Enforcement Council (WICSEC) on critical thinking in decision making and at the CSDA and California Welfare Director’s Association (CWDA) conferences on building effective partnerships to serve shared customers. In addition, I have been a co-presenter at the CSDA Leadership Institute for several years on the topic of business analysis/process improvement. I am the Immediate Past President of the CSDA Board of Directors and currently serving as chair of the Emerging Issues Committee.

“Serving with the wonderful people in the child support profession has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I believe in the work we do and find the comradery and likeness of purpose with other Directors and professionals extremely rewarding.”