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Christina Gilbert: Stay, Commit, Give, Grow

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There’s a talent to bringing people together, whether it’s for family functions, parties or community events. Gathering people takes much time and synchronization. For Christina Gilbert, the ability to bring people together is something of an art form.

As the San Joaquin County director of HealthForce Partners Northern San Joaquin Valley, she works to link all the various organizations and agencies that collectively deliver healthcare to our community. Her job is simple yet complicated; it’s to be the piece of the puzzle that links all the essential players together to solve healthcare-related challenges collaboratively.

Discovering Her Calling
Raised in the Stockton area, Christina and her husband, Jeff, who’s a third-generation Stocktonian, recognized their hometown was the place to raise their family. Initially, Christina’s career path looked like the route toward education. A graduate of San Joaquin Delta College and Stanislaus State, she worked at Quail Lakes Baptist Church at the preschool and directed programs for elementary school-aged kids. It was here that she first discovered her talent for connecting communities, linking families in the after-school program with tutoring support for their children. However, her plans of community coordinating were redirected to motherhood when it soon became evident the Gilberts would begin their family. With four sons all about a year apart from each other, Christina admits the early years were busy and required her full attention. She humorously recalls that with four babies, four years old and under, she had only enough time to choose between brushing her teeth or brushing her hair each day. Joking aside, it was important for her to make family the priority. “I knew I had to be home,” she said resolutely. While her vocation as a mother was first and foremost, she didn’t consider a career outside the home until her youngest son, Chase, started kindergarten. Jeff’s IT business continued to support the family, but Christina began her ventures in volunteer work.

Christina’s friend, Lindy Turner Harden, got her involved with the Child Abuse Prevention Council, or CAPC, where she joined the auxiliary. There she helped with different projects and co-chaired the Ducky Derby, an annual event that releases rubber ducks into the Delta as part of their fundraising efforts. As Christina became more involved, connecting with other agencies and alliances, she began to love her work with the community, learning about various programs in San Joaquin County. In 2015, an opportunity to get further involved presented itself when a group of local leaders from multiple agencies came together to form the San Joaquin Children’s Alliance, or SJCA, whose focus is to advocate for more resources to be directed upstream to preventive programming for children and families.

Game Changer
SJCA received a grant for a part-time director to spearhead how they could expand funding to better serve San Joaquin children. Because of her involvement with CAPC, Christina was the ideal candidate for the job and was hired to lead the grant. It soon became evident that her talents used during her days at Quail Lakes would be useful to connect various agencies. Christina continued to work for the organization and found the work incredibly rewarding. It was here that she saw her job was about providing that link to tie all the different groups together. “It’s less about doing it all and really about bringing together all the pieces,” she said. “I’m not doing the work, but I have a bullhorn and a spotlight,” she joked. But in reality, Christina was doing a great deal, as she helped local agencies collaborate and advocate for more resources for children. “I think that’s what I love so much, is I get to sit with those organizations. Listen and learn and see how we can work together to align services and work more collaboratively. There are not many people who get paid to do this backbone type of work and I’ve seen firsthand how impactful it can be,” she said proudly.

Through SJCA, Christina began to consult for HealthForce Partners, connecting healthcare agencies, educational entities and community-based organizations to solve healthcare workforce-related challenges to better serve the community. The organization’s principle of “grow your own” expands healthcare educational pathways for residents to expand the workforce and diversify those serving in healthcare positions. In February 2023, she began her work with HealthForce Partners full time while remaining involved with SJCA as a consultant.

Advocating for Mental Health
During the pandemic, as the community wrestled with how to invest state and federal funds to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, the SJCA worked with the Children and Youth Task Force convened by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors to bring funding proposals forward. The aftermath of the pandemic brought about a great deal of mental health concerns. San Joaquin County, like the rest of the world, saw a rise in mental health cases in need of support services. With Christina’s participation, the Children and Youth Task Force proposed five grants to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.

A successful grant allotted the task force a $5.2 million to expand the behavioral health workforce pipeline, including the money to hire a field supervisor. This position would increase mores services, allowing graduate students from the University of Pacific and CSU Stanislaus to do their field hours locally in social work, licensed marriage and family therapy, professional clinical counseling, instead of accumulating hours outside San Joaquin County. “My position is really about advocacy,” Christina admitted. “It’s another opportunity to connect ourselves and our resources. While coordinating may seem simple on the surface, often broad collaborations don’t happen because we expect leaders to find the time in their busy schedules to move that collective work forward. Many problems don’t get solved in a systemic way because coordinating requires allocating time and listening. It’s a lot of relationship building and trust building.”

By hiring a field supervisor, Christina’s team provided a breakthrough so that interns would stay on to create viable mental health support. The grant provided scholarships for the graduate students and incentive to work locally. In the first graduating group alone, nine of ten of the interns continued their career in San Joaquin County. “This opened up a flood gate and expanded placements for local students to live, learn and work right here,” she enthused, which in turn created more opportunities for much-needed resources not easily accessible. Seeing her ability to link the field supervisor to the colleges and mental health agencies became the steppingstone that the San Joaquin Valley had needed. “We are trying to increase collaborations that change systems. You need someone who can bring that time and energy.”

Staying Connected
Outside of her time coordinating and connecting, Christina loves spending time with family and enjoying local activities. These days, her two older sons, Caden, 19, and Nicholas, 18, are starting and exploring careers while the two younger sons, Tyler, 16, and Chase, 15, are busy with high school activities. While her family has grown and she finds her busy time is now redirected to community alliances, the Gilberts still make time to spend quality time. Christina finds that the link that brings the whole family together is poker, a favorite pastime that Jeff taught their boys and keeps their circle connected.

Whether she’s at home with family or connecting agencies, one thing is certain. Christina Gilbert is sharing her talents and bringing people together.