Three County employees were named among The Tribune's Top 20 Under 40 in 2017.
Three County employees were named among The Tribune's Top 20 Under 40 in 2017.

Q&A: 3 County Employees Named Among Top 20 Under 40

Administrative Office
Date: 12/27/2017 9:17:24 AM

We caught up with the three County employees who were named among The Tribune's Top 20 Under 40 this year and asked them a few questions about work, life and the award they’re about to receive. Here's what they had to say.

Every year, The Tribune selects 20 of San Luis Obispo County’s top young men and women under the age of 40 “who have demonstrated excellence in their professions and a profound commitment to community service.” Individuals are nominated by friends, family and colleagues and must live and work in the county year-round. This year, The Tribune selected three County government employees as well as 17 other outstanding SLO County residents for the honor.

The County workers included Homeless Services Program Review Specialist and M.A.S.H Event Coordinator Jessica Lorance, MBA; Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program Manager Elizabeth Merson; and UC Cooperative Extension Director Katherine Soule, Ph.D. We caught up with them and asked them a few questions about work, life and the award they’re about to receive. Here’s what they had to say.

Question: Let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from?

Jessica Lorance: I am from Maryland. However, I moved to the area from Rostock, Germany in October of 2012.

Elizabeth Merson: I was born and raised in Manhattan Beach. I came to San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly have been fortunate to be able to stay since graduating.

Katherine Soule: I grew up in Ojai and moved to San Luis Obispo when I was a sophomore in high school.

Q: How long have you worked for the County and what first brought you here?

Lorance: I have worked for the County almost five years. I have family here, that’s what brought me: winter-bird parents. They live in one place six months out of the year and another the other six months, like migrating birds … they get out of winter that way.

Merson: I have worked for the County for six years. Before that, I worked for the Red Cross for six years and partnered with the County Public Health Department on many projects. I always enjoyed working with County Public Health staff and was inspired by their mission to promote the public’s health. I went back to get my master’s degree in an effort to work in the field of public health. While I was pursuing my master’s degree, I started working in the County Public Health Department as a student intern. A few months later, I applied for a permanent position that opened and I was extremely excited when I was offered the position and became a fixed member of the Public Health team. 

Soule: I have worked for the University of California Cooperative Extension (in partnership with San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties) since June 2013. After finishing a Ph.D. program at the University of Georgia, I was thrilled to be hired as the first Cooperative Extension Advisor for Youth, Families, and Communities on the Central Coast. This position was an opportunity to bring my passion for equity and inclusion to my hometown by directing programs that focus on helping all residents of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties to enjoy a high quality of life.

Q: How would you describe your role here at the County?

Lorance: My role is helping to assist our most vulnerable population in our community and supporting groups and other agencies in ending homelessness in our area. My official title is Homeless Services Program Review Specialist and M.A.S.H. Event Coordinator.

Merson: I manage the County's Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program. I work with County Health Agency staff and healthcare partners to ensure our community is able to meet the medical and health needs that arise during an emergency. I am fortunate that my role allows me to work with a variety of people and agencies, which all play a role in emergency preparedness and response. Further, my day-to-day is full of variety. I handle administrative and budgetary tasks, facilitate partner trainings and meetings, and coordinate disaster drills and exercises.

Soule: In July 2017, I was appointed Director of Cooperative Extension in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, in addition to my advisor position. This role includes serving as the Department Head for the Cooperative Extension Department in San Luis Obispo County. In this capacity, I provide administrative leadership and vision for our department, allowing me to learn about other academic programs and needs in our community, as well as to work in partnership with other County departments.

Q: What surprises you most about our community?

Lorance: What surprises me most about our community are the wonderful, generous, big-hearted people that live here. Every year working with the warming centers in the winter time in the different parts of the county, I see groups of people donate food, supplies, and other much needed items to help keep the centers running. I see amazing people in city and county governments, public sector employees, and other full-time employees give time out of their already busy schedules to support such great organizations, like the food bank and our events, just to name a few. I’m always in awe of these amazing people in our community.

Merson: I’m surprised by all that we achieve in our community, despite our relatively small size. San Luis Obispo County is a very special community that many of us take for granted. SLO County leverages kindness and relationships to achieve positive outcomes. We accomplish more than communities with four times the amount of resources we have because of the power of partnerships in this community. 

Soule: We have such an array of communities within our county. While there are many uniting features, each community also has unique needs and challenges, as well as their own special atmosphere. It is always exciting to explore the variety of cultures, activities, and community characteristics across our county.

Q: What do you love most about working for the County of SLO government?

Lorance: I love working for the County because our focus is on making our community a great place to live and assisting those that live here.

Merson: I love the County’s mission and particularly Public Health’s mission. I appreciate the scope and scale of our mission and our ability to have real and positive impacts on our community. At the county level, we are small enough to truly connect with our community, yet large enough to affect real change in outcomes. I am proud of the work the County, and particularly Public Health, does for our community and I enjoy being part of the team that has a positive impact on our community.

Soule: The relationships and friendships! The County offers wonderful leadership programs, which have allowed me to build relationships with amazing people across many different departments.

Q: How do you feel about receiving this award?

Lorance: I am incredibly honored to be receiving this award. This award was very unexpected. I’m extremely humbled and honored to have been recognized by many organizations that I’ve assisted in one way or another. As an ‘award-winning’ professional, I am committed to upholding the standards to which I have grown accustomed to with my career at Social Services, my craft, customer service, and in developing my relationships with organizations I work with. There are so many wonderful examples of people doing great work in Social Services, from social workers, managers and administration, all of whom deserve recognition. I accept this award and dedicate it to my amazing co-workers and all the great work they do that inspire me to continue my work.

Merson: I was extremely flattered that (County Public Health Officer) Dr. (Penny) Borenstein nominated me and that my colleagues worked covertly to gather information for my nomination submission. I am honored that people I highly respect and admire nominated me. I am grateful for their efforts to nominate me and for their recognition. 

Soule: I feel both honored and grateful to all of the individuals who support the success of our programs. This award is a reflection of the hard work of each of the members of youth, families, and communities team, as well as the passionate volunteers that make up the heart of the 4-H, Master Food Preserver, and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education programs. I appreciate all of their contributions, innovations, and dedication.

Q: This award is given to people who are determined to help "make their corner of the world better for all". How do you strive to accomplish this, both professionally and personally?

Lorance: I strive to accomplish the goal of making our corner of the world a better place personally and professionally by continuing my current work to end homelessness in our community. I currently run the Mobile Assistance and Services Addressing Homelessness (M.A.S.H.) events. M.A.S.H. Outreach excels in connecting the most vulnerable population of San Luis Obispo County to vital resources. At the one-stop shop event, participants are linked to difficult-to-obtain services including medical, behavioral health, dental and employment assistance, to name a few. I put on four of these a year regionally on behalf of my department. Outside of work, I am a district award-winning cub scout leader in Arroyo Grande, where I serve as the committee chair; an active member of the Harloe Elementary PTO; an avid SLO GLEANer; a volunteer at local warming shelters in the winter season; and a volunteer for habitat for humanity projects. I serve as a board member for the Veterans Collaborative SLO County and as a board member on Eckerd’s Founder Advisory Committee, just to name a few. I will likely be adding to this list over the next few years.

Merson: I deeply care about the mission of public health in our community and across the nation. I work daily to ensure our community is prepared to respond to public health emergencies, but I truly enjoy the more broadly focused public health work that I am privileged to be a part of, including accreditation for our department, quality improvement and staff development. I enjoy making connections across County of SLO Public Health Department programs to better the community’s health on many levels.

Soule: In all areas of my life, I seek to build meaningful connection with others. While I am always growing, I strive to bring a spirit of inquiry, a desire to solve problems, and a heart to serve.

Q: What would you like to say to the person(s) who nominated you for this award?

Lorance: I would like to say thank you so much to the person that nominated me for this award. It was very kind of them to think of me. My work is to help our community and I love it.

Merson: I am truly touched and honored that Dr. Borenstein nominated me for this award. I’m glad I am making a positive impact from her perspective on our community’s public health. 

Soule: To Mary Bianchi: You have been both a mentor and companion on the journey of my early career. I appreciate your continual support, lessons in leadership, and friendship. Thank you!