CalSWEC Workforce Development Coordinator Donna Thoreson to Retire in May

Job coach extraordinaire has traveled the state many times over offering IV-E students at all 22 consortium schools inspired and inspiring advice 

CalSWEC Workforce Development Coordinator Donna Thoreson has the distinction of having met almost every student who has been in the Title IV-E Stipend Program during the past seven years. That’s because she has visited CalSWEC’s consortium schools statewide each spring since she joined CalSWEC in November 2010  to offer these fortunate students her insightful and inspiring job prep workshops. But her visits are coming to an end.

After what she calls her "farewell tour" of the schools, Ms.Thoreson will be retiring in May and is looking forward to "travel with my husband across the U.S. and visiting some of the Presidential libraries, lots of books to read, and fun with friends."

As she prepares to depart, this job coach extraordinaire paused to share some thoughts about her CalSWEC experience. 

What made you decide to seek employment at CalSWEC?  

When I saw the CalSWEC job posting, it seemed like the position was a "dream job" for me. I was ready to retire from the county but loved the idea of continuing my work with helping students prepare for working in child welfare. I had 23 years as a social worker in county child welfare, had been a field instructor for 95 Title IV-E students and a field liaison/lecturer for CSU East Bay, had 8 years doing job prep workshops, and was a Title IV-E grad myself. This seemed like a great opportunity for me!

RELATED: Read IV-E grad Donna Thoreson's story

What were the challenges of your position as CalSWEC’s Workforce Development Coordinator? 

Challenges, wow! The biggest was that the organizational culture was so different in the academic setting from the agency setting. At the county, it's non-stop people coming at you—clients, colleagues, administrators, etc.. The phone, voice mail, emails, and visits don't take a break! At CalSWEC, there is still a lot to do, but you are the one reaching out and figuring out what, when, and how to manage the work that needs to get done. Another was the travel and learning to drive in new places, especially southern California! The third challenge was learning more advanced technology than I was used to, something I am still working on!

During your 6-plus years at CalSWEC, how did your work change, if at all?  

The biggest changes for me were the people changes—CalSWEC Central, the schools, and the counties have all seen lots of personnel changes, and new people bring new ideas and their own visions of the work. I love that we now have a full-time on-site Executive Director [Virginia Rondero Hernandez] and are moving forward on the strategic plan for CalSWEC! Working directly for [former and current Title IV-E Stipend Program Directors, respectively,] Chris Mathias and Carolyn Shin has been wonderful. Each has taught me and encouraged me in so many ways!  

What accomplishments are you proudest of in your work at CalSWEC? 

First, this is the seventh spring I have had the honor and pleasure of meeting most of the Title IV-E students throughout the state and talking with them about how to get a job in the county child welfare system. The process of applying and interviewing can be so stressful, and it feels great to encourage them and try to lower their anxiety about the process. They are prepared and ready to enter the child welfare field and have the chance to help children and families at risk. I like telling them, "You are the number 1 draft picks!" for county child welfare. I have also had the chance to see some of our students graduate and go on to become supervisors in agencies.

Second, I am proud of the relationships that I have developed and the effort to help the smallest and most rural communities in our state as they try to develop their workforce. Their needs are often overlooked in our field, and these agencies and communities are so important to the families who live in the rural communities.  

What will you miss most about CalSWEC? 

Getting to visit the schools and the communities throughout the state. The 22 schools and the 58 California counties are so diverse in their geography, but their child welfare values to help the most vulnerable in their communities is the same. I will miss seeing everyone.

What advice do you leave your colleagues? 

The work we do to improve the quality and quantity of the workforce is so very important; it always has been and will continue to be.  However, many of the plans and policies that we develop are not new; competent social workers have been doing these basic things—identifying and addressing neglect and abuse of children, building families, improving the well-being of children and families—for many years. We "stand on the shoulders" of those who have been laboring to do this work with insufficient resources and support for years and have helped families "break the cycle of abuse and neglect." Second, in our support roles, we must care for ourselves and our families so that we can continue to do the work.

Anything else you'd like to add?  

For the past 29 years I have had the support of my wonderful husband, Carl Thoreson, and my BFF, Jamie Holmes. Both were key in getting me through the challenging times, and both were there to encourage me to apply and take the job at CalSWEC, so thank you to them! I also want to thank the CalSWEC Admin staff who have helped and supported me—Barbara [Stewart Anderson], Shifra [Gaman], Mavis [Njoo-Lau], Karen [Ringuette], Jane [Turbiner], Gloria [Balderas], and Nancy [Nelson].