18 North Bay human resources leaders you need to know

In this report

Merrilee Alvarado & Natalie Haddix, Hansel Auto Group

Arnie Barragan, Epicenter Sports & Entertainment

Karen Belanger, EAH Housing

Kristina L. Derkos, Redwood Credit Union

Karen Furukawa-Schlereth, Santa Rosa Junior College

Brenda Gilchrist, The HR Matrix, LLC

Cindy Gillespie, Amy's Kitchen, Inc.

Cami Kahl, Ceres Community Project

Ryan Keyt, Novato Community Hospital

Erin Hargarten, Bear Republic Brewing Company

Rosanna Hayden, Artizen Staffing

Sarah Ross, Becoming Independent

Lisa Lichty & Nicole Smartt, Star Staffing

Maria Solarez, Catholic Charities, of the Diocese of Santa Rosa

Isis Suarez, Kavaliro

Melissa Von Bima, Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital

Here are some of the human resources managers working in a wide range of industries in the North Bay. They provided North Bay Business Journal their biographical information and discussed how the October wildfires affected their companies.

Their submitted material is listed in alphabetical order.

Merrilee Alvarado and Natalie Haddix

Employee Relations Manager; Human Resource Assistant

Hansel Auto Group

PO Box 750069, Petaluma, CA 94975


Alvarado partners with Benefits and Compliance Manager Bernie Gibb, in managing the Human Resources Department. Although she finds herself at meetings with the top executives of the company, she didn't start her career there. In fact, she started as a front desk receptionist.

After graduating from California State University of Sacramento with a bachelor's degree in communications, Alvarado started her search for employment during the downturn of the economy. She was eager to find a job that was close to home and that could pay the bills while she concentrated on her next move - and an opportunity at Hansel Honda in Petaluma for a receptionist seemed like exactly what she needed. Little did she know that she was falling right into the perfect opportunity with the perfect company. After working a few months at Hansel Honda, there was an opening in the corporate office, working side by side with the executive administrative team. She quickly learned about the organization's long-time history in Sonoma County and with their employees. Alvarado's growing company knowledge allowed her to also assist in the human resources department.

After a brief period of time splitting her role between administration and human resources, she found that her passion was in HR. Diving into pre-employment applications, backgrounds, and new hire orientations; Alvarado was convinced she had found a long-term career with the Hansel Auto Group. As part of her dedication to this new direction in her career, Alvarado went back to school - this time, at Santa Rosa Junior College - to expand her knowledge and qualifications while still working full-time. Even so, Alvarado was able to obtain a business certificate in human resources, in one short year- an accomplishment that usually takes two.

Shortly after achieving her certificate, the Hansel Auto Group had nearly doubled in employees and saw an opportunity to expand their Human Resources Department. Alvarado was offered the position as employee relations manager, responsible for handling employee situations with a focus on conflict resolution in a fast-paced environment. She knows what truly drives the people of the organization and says, “It's how well you connect with the heart-beating people you're trying to help, and understanding the ‘Vision and Values' that drive the organization,” that really leads to success in an HR role.

Haddix began her career with the Hansel Auto Group at Henry Curtis Ford. From receptionist, to finance assistant, to consumer experience manager - she feels very fortunate to work under leaders who have given her a wide variety of training and experience. Haddix was recently given the opportunity to work with Alvarado in the human resources department as the human resource assistant. What's to love about the Hansel Auto Group? According to Haddix, it's that Hansel employees feel connected and appreciated: “We are a team that is devoted to seeing each other succeed.” She is excited about where Hansel is headed and how the Human Resources Department can help drive the company's success!

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

Russ Oertel, Hansel's recruiting manager: “The aftermath of the wildfires – combined with historically low unemployment numbers - appears to have reduced the number of people actively looking for work. Now that there are fewer homes available in Sonoma County, candidates from outside the area seem much less likely to consider relocation. I feel a responsibility to look locally, we're working harder than ever to attract talent to our group.”

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

“The number of candidates for all jobs has sharply declined.”

Arnie Barragan

Human Resources Director

Epicenter Sports & Entertainment

3215 Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa


Epicenter is a new company, entering our 18th month of business and are a large employer with 340 employees. Barragan started at Epicenter just over a year ago and gave shape and structure to the HR Department. He wrote and put policies and procedures into effect and developed our best practices for the recruitment, hiring and onboarding processes.

In this report

Merrilee Alvarado & Natalie Haddix, Hansel Auto Group

Arnie Barragan, Epicenter Sports & Entertainment

Karen Belanger, EAH Housing

Kristina L. Derkos, Redwood Credit Union

Karen Furukawa-Schlereth, Santa Rosa Junior College

Brenda Gilchrist, The HR Matrix, LLC

Cindy Gillespie, Amy's Kitchen, Inc.

Cami Kahl, Ceres Community Project

Ryan Keyt, Novato Community Hospital

Erin Hargarten, Bear Republic Brewing Company

Rosanna Hayden, Artizen Staffing

Sarah Ross, Becoming Independent

Lisa Lichty & Nicole Smartt, Star Staffing

Maria Solarez, Catholic Charities, of the Diocese of Santa Rosa

Isis Suarez, Kavaliro

Melissa Von Bima, Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital

Barragan oversees the ethical and social consciences of business and is instrumental in the development of what is our culture. Barragan is gentle mannered, approachable, thoughtful of others and extremely committed to his role as HR Director, has a wonderful sense of humor and is quick to share a laugh or a hug when needed. He has a large role and interfaces with each and every employee. He is quick to role up his sleeves and help out when needed well beyond the context of his own job.

After the fires, Barragan spent a couple of nights here at Epicenter making sure the building was secure, and as we became a designated donation site, Barragan volunteered over many days to make sure that those in need were provided the essentials they needed. Barragan also developed our Adopt an Employee program after the fires, matching those who lost their homes with employees who were able to donate and purchase items for them. He works with school programs to bring students into Epicenter to teach the basics of how to get a job, and mentor students on career choices.

Barragan is a human resource and change management professional with a combined 25 years of organizational development, project management and HR experience. His career started as a community organizer helping residents of Santa Rosa address quality of life issues and was instrumental in the development of Roseland Cinco de Mayo Festival. He co-founded and served on the Roseland Cinco de Mayo Committee provided program development and facilitation in the coordination with law enforcement, business and the Latino Community to create a peaceful celebration of Cinco de Mayo from 2006-2013.

Barragan's facilitative style leadership is effective in advancing efforts, promoting leadership development and group sustainability. He has also served on the board of Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, SR Community Advisory Board and Santa Rosa Together. Barragan lives in Santa Rosa with his wife and has four boys.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

The fires had the potential to greatly impact recruiting and retention, since we were in the evacuation zone, just two blocks away from the Coffey Park fire line and we had 17 employees and their families displaced due to losing their homes. Although, overall the impact was minimal, we were concerned whether our staff would be able to come back to work as a result.

But, our primary concern was to make sure our employees and their families felt they were taken care of. Ultimately, the fires provided the opportunity for Epicenter to meet community needs and fortunately, we were in a position to be able to hire more people. We became a donation site and a gathering point for families impacted and we held three in-house hiring fairs that brought in 20+ new hires, the majority of which had lost their employment due to the fires.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

From an organizational development point of reference, having to explore various areas as to best respond to the HR needs of a new company; I found tremendous advancements and changes when it comes to Human Resource Management Systems. Specifically, technology used to assist in the hiring process, ATS systems, and all other HR functions that can be managed with a good HRIS system, but normally underutilized. Conventionally, HR transactions can be paper-intensive, a bit primitive and lacking in innovation. But now available, you can find HRIS systems that will cater to your specific HR needs and are able to securely process and manage day to day transactions, that can virtually eliminate the amount of “paper pushing” typically required in the business of Human Resources Management.

Karen Belanger

Vice President of Human Resources

EAH Housing

22 Pelican Way, San Rafael 94901


Belanger has more than 15 years of experience in human resources, predominantly in the affordable housing industry. Previously, she was a fire and casualty broker-agent licensed by the California Department of Insurance, specializing in assisting clients with workers' compensation claims management and return-to-work programs.

As a National Merit Scholar, Belanger graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts in English literature from Villanova University. In 2001, she was certified as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) by the Human Resources Certification Institute. PHR certification requires completion of an experience evaluation and a rigorous examination of comprehensive knowledge in the field of human resource management.

During her tenure at EAH Housing, Belanger has headed the team responsible for developing and implementing human resources policies and programs encompassing compensation, benefits, performance management, training, employee relations, payroll, recruiting and retention. She works closely with management to foster excellence, inclusion, productivity and fairness throughout EAH Housing.

Some of Belanger's most significant contributions to EAH have included launching its leadership training program, automating HR, timekeeping and recruiting systems, working with the operations department to cut workers' compensation incurred losses in half over a two-year period, and staffing a 172 unit building in 48 hours. However, she's most proud of EAH's record of promoting from within the company, and the large percentage of long-term staff that has grown as it has expanded into new communities.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

We'd already been seeing the increasing commute and traffic pressures on our employees throughout the Bay Area, including the North Bay. In a tight labor market, commute time has become a significant hurdle in recruiting and retaining employees, as they have to travel further and further to find housing they can afford. Losing thousands of homes in the North Bay only added to this issue.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

In more and more companies, the human resources role is shifting from a transactional focus to being involved in developing and executing strategy. There's a more consistent recognition that people are vital to business performance and that HR is leading initiatives to source, develop and retain talent, to drive engagement and a high performing culture.

According to the organization, “At EAH Housing, we couldn't make a difference in the communities we serve without the dedicated, talented people on our team. We are always looking ahead to where our team needs to grow and develop and to be sure that what we offer to our employees a company culture that brings out the best in them and allows them to thrive.”

Kristina L. Derkos

Senior Vice President of People

Redwood Credit Union

3033 Cleveland Avenue, Santa Rosa

(707) 545-4000

Derkos has more than 20 years of experience in human resources/training and development in the private and public sectors in both union and non-union environments.

Prior to joining Redwood Credit Union, Derkos was the Northern California Human Resource Manager for Waste Management, Inc., which had a workforce of approximately 4,000 employees. She earned her bachelor's in public administration from the University of San Francisco, and her master's of professional studies in human resources and employee relations at Penn State. Additionally, she holds a certificate in human resources management from Sonoma State University and is certified as a senior professional in human resources with SHRM and HRCI.

Derkos has served on numerous boards including the Santa Rosa Junior College Business Office Technology, Northern California Human Resources, PASCO HR, and the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County Board. In her role at Redwood Credit Union, she is responsible for strategically leading all aspects of the HR function including employee relations and employee development, with a current emphasis on leadership development, employee engagement, and employee wellness.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

The fires created unique challenges for many employers in the region.

RCU has provided support to our employees in many ways following the fires, and we continue to work closely with those who lost homes. Some of these efforts included:

Provided temporary lodging for employees and officials who were displaced.

Provided temporary child care for employees – many local schools were closed – and some of its board members even volunteered to help with the kids.

Brought in lunches, snacks and other necessities for employees throughout the fires. Many were without power, gas and other services that would allow for even the most basic of things, so we provided all we could – particularly during the first week – to relieve our staff of these burdens.

Provided free on-site counseling and expanded services through its Employee Assistance Program, to include staff and their extended families.

Staff pooled their surplus PTO to offer it to co-workers who lost homes and needed additional time off.

Created a central hub of resources, spanning all communities impacted by the fires, and updated these resources regularly through email and company intranet communications.

Identified long-term housing options for staff should they require additional support.

Gifted all staff additional paid time off, allowing them to spend time with their families during those critical moments, both during and following the fires.

The credit union states that it has heard from many candidates that they became interested in applying after seeing how RCU responded to the fires by helping to support fire survivors and the community through the North Bay Fire Relief Fund, and in other ways.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

Karen Furukawa-Schlereth

Millennial culture – teaching more seasoned workers how to motivate/inspire millennials

Managing organizational change/succession planning (Boomers retiring/preparing to retire)

Integrating technology and online platforms for recruitment, hiring, and onboarding new hires – social media's role in the hiring process (Twitter, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, etc.)

Technology moving work beyond the office (and how to deal with security issues relating to that) - use of personal phones, etc.

Vice President, Human Resources / Title IX Coordinator

Santa Rosa Junior College

1501 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95401


The human resources department at Santa Rosa Junior College serves approximately 3,000 employees at five different sites, including two campuses, in Sonoma County. The college stated that Santa Rosa Junior College aspires to be an inclusive, diverse and sustainable learning community that engages the whole person. To that end, it also values diversity that supports:

Equal access for all students;

Multi-ethnic global perspectives and cultural competencies;

Employees who reflect the communities it serves; and

Honesty and integrity in an environment of collegiality and mutual respect.

The department is supervised by Furukawa-Schlereth. She was hired in 1997 as the director of personnel. In 2010, she was promoted to the vice president of human resources/Title IX coordinator. She began her career in human resources management over 30 years ago working at the University of California (UC) system, the California State University (CSU) system, and finally in the California Community Colleges, where she says she has been most fulfilled because “her own personal values have aligned themselves with the values and mission of her work place.”

Furukawa-Schlereth is supported by 13 fulltime employees.

In 2018, two programs sponsored by human resources were recipients of awards. SRJC's “Embracing a Culture of Inclusion” program was the recipient of the Outstanding Program award by the California Community College Council for Staff and Organizational Development (4CSD), which recognizes excellence and innovation at the institutional level.

Over 200 employees and a small group of SRJC students have participated in the trainings offered by this program (an introduction to the programs is available here:

The second program that received recognition was SRJC's adoption and implementation of “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men's March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence.” Approximately 350 students participated in a mile-long walk and then broke into discussion groups to have difficult conversations about how to identify warning signs of sexual assault and how to be more active in preventing this type of crime. Staff members were honored as education heroes at the 15th Annual Real Heroes Breakfast presented by the American Red Cross of the California Northwest.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

The firestorms that hit Sonoma County in October 2017 have been declared the most deadly and costly fires in the history of the United States.

At SRJC, we suffered the following losses:

900 students lost their homes

64 faculty, staff and administrators lost their homes

26 retirees of the college lost their homes

203 students dropped classes after the fire

Immediately after the fire, the college rallied together to support students and staff who had lost their homes. The college quickly assessed the situation and made decisions to help both students and employees in their time of need by:

Paying all employees in full during two weeks when it was closed

Raising funds (ultimately totaling over $440,000) through the SRJC Foundation Fire Relief Fund and dispersing those funds to approximately 880 recipients (both employees and students) through $500 awards to help with the purchase of food, clothing, and other personal items lost in the fires

Encouraging employees to take time off of work to tend to their families, homes and individual situations and finding creative and legal strategies to enable employees to take time off without losing pay

The human resources department took the lead in establishing a process to identify who needed housing and who had a room or home to rent. Many of the affected employees were not displaced for long because they were directed to available housing opportunities throughout the county. Employees were also offered services through the College's Employee Assistance Program (EAP), including bringing counselors and other trained professionals on campus to talk to distressed employees. These strategies helped in the retention of the employees affected by the wildfires.

As we continue to heal as a community and give support to those who were impacted by the fires, we also need to look forward to what this means for SRJC, including recruiting new employees. An obvious challenge to hiring new employees, however, would be where they would live should they come from outside of Sonoma County, given the extraordinary low inventory of available housing. The college is cognizant of this need and has already commissioned a study to examine the feasibility of building both student and faculty housing, which if successful, would be an incentive to hire new faculty who would relocate into this county.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

One of the most substantive changes here at the college, and one that I believe has affected other human resources departments in the past five years, is a record turnover of current staff, and the hiring of many new employees.

At Santa Rosa Junior College, we have hired approximately 394 new faculty, staff, and managers in the last five years, many of whom are millennials, defined as people born roughly between 1981 and 1997. These employees have also come into the workplace with a set of values and expectations that often are different from employees who have worked here at the college for most of their careers.

Research has indicated that a significant portion of millennials are not seeking the same things from jobs that a more traditional workforce has sought. In a recent article posted by Silver Swan Recruitment in February 2018, some key insights in successfully hiring and keeping millennial employees included:

Setting up a clear career path for employees so that they know what the next steps are and how to progress within the organization. Professional development opportunities are also important and employees are expecting ongoing training and development opportunities provided by the employer.

Expecting a workplace far-removed from the traditional corporate office. This can mean many things from a workplace expecting to be social and fun, to having an open office environment with open work spaces.

Maintaining a work/life balance is important. These employees seek work/life balance and paid time off. Flexible hours and working remotely may be an incentive and more of a trade-off to more competitive salaries and benefits.

Promoting a culture of social responsibility. Millennials tend to be attracted to companies or organizations with a community service fo cus where employees have the opportunity to give back to charities, or raise money or donate volunteer hours to causes.

The greatest challenge and opportunity for human resources leaders in the next few years will be helping to influence their workplaces so that they may be attractive to the new employees who will be seeking jobs. Strategies will need to be developed that will rely on these leaders to have creativity and innovation in recruiting and retaining these new employees so that they will become an integral, motivated, and valued part of the organization.

Brenda Gilchrist

Co-founder and partner

The HR Matrix, LLC

528 B Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

707-526-0877 x11

Gilchrist moved to Santa Rosa in 2004 to start her own HR consulting practice. In 2006, she co-founded The HR Matrix with Gary Hochman. “My goal was to establish a firm that focused on quality and strategic HR solutions to help companies and their employees succeed and thrive. Over the past 12 years, the HR Matrix has become a premier provider of HR/OD services in the North Bay and beyond.”

With over 20 years of human resource management experience, Gilchrist is recognized as a top North Bay business leader, innovator, and visionary. She has been awarded the North Bay Business Journal's Women in Business “Entrepreneur” award and also its Forty under 40 award. Gilchrist's business partner, Gary, comments, “Brenda uses a deeply collaborative style and knowledge of company culture and strategy to develop effective solutions and advance her clients' long-term goals.”

In addition to leading The HR Matrix, Gilchrist was a founding faculty member at Sonoma State University's Executive MBA (EMBA) program. With a bachelor's degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, a master's degree in organizational dynamics from University of Pennsylvania, Gilchrist has held senior HR positions at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, VFDA-Management Service Organization (a pre-IPO, multi-state, startup), Miltenyi Biotec, and Sutter Health.

When she's not working, Gilchrist enjoys training to compete in triathlons. Her favorite pastimes are trail running, road biking, and mountain biking. As a Fountaingrove resident who lost her home in the Tubbs Fire, Gilchrist has worked to rally her community and find ways to support her fellow survivors while recovering and rebuilding. “Sonoma County has become my home and I appreciate having the opportunity to live here, to have such an amazing business partner and team, and to work with so many wonderful companies,” says Brenda.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

We find the labor market is tighter than it has been in years due to an improved economy combined with people moving out of the area due to housing costs. Despite that, we find that many clients have the same struggles as they did before the fire with recruitment and retention efforts. Although we have a smaller candidate pool than the Bay Area, we most often see clients struggle with recruitment due to lack of time or expertise.

It is similar with retention -- failures stem more from unclear job representation or ineffective screening than anything to do with the fires. We also find that many employers do not apply engagement principles to retain employees, such as giving them opportunities to develop and apply their strengths, providing meaningful work, and recognizing and rewarding efforts.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

At the program level, we see more companies developing competitive compensation strategies and state-of-the-art performance management systems as well as investing in staff training and management development.

At the staff level, we see a stronger focus on assessing and improving employee engagement and retention, through surveys, facilitated follow-up sessions and action plans. An increase in regulations and litigation has made even small companies have to invest more in HR compliance.

Going forward, we believe more companies will be making succession planning a business priority, as we see more of the workforce population moving closer to retirement, and the need to implement internships, mentoring programs, and creative solutions to transfer skills and knowledge. It's an exciting time for many businesses, including The HR Matrix, as we work to restore and grow the overall economic vitality of our beautiful wine country.

Cindy Gillespie

Vice President, Human Resources

Amy's Kitchen, Inc.

1650 Corporate Circle,

Petaluma 94954


Amy's Kitchen, Inc. offers natural and organic convenience foods in the U.S. Amy's is a family-owned business committed and employs over 2,700 employees in three main facilities. In the summer of 2015, Amy's opened their first drive-thru restaurant.

Gillespie has been with Amy's for the past 16 years and oversees the human resources functions for 3 manufacturing plants, corporate headquarters, the new restaurant and a growing international team. Her HR team is responsible for talent acquisition, learning and development, total rewards, HR technology, payroll and all of the HR business partner teams.

Prior to Amy's, Gillespie was the vice president of Human Resources for New Zealand Milk Products, Inc. a foreign owned marketing and importing company for 14 years. She earned her bachelor's degree in business administration and industrial relations from California State East Bay.

In addition to her work at Amy's, Gillespie is a member of the Northwest Regional Board for Canine Companions, a board member of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber and a graduate of Leadership Santa Rosa, Class XXIV. Gillespie is also an active member of Santa Rosa Sunrise Rotary and a board member for Westminster Woods.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

The major challenge that we were facing prior to the fires was housing. After the fires the situation has become significantly more difficult. We have changed our recruiting strategies to focus mainly on local candidates (Bay Area) and offering flexible schedules for individuals with long commutes. So far we have seen some turnover of people relocating out of the community, but not a lot.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

I think the focus on the employee experience. At Amy's we work very hard at creating an engaging workplace that is focused on each employee and their unique contributions and needs. We are having more forward looking performance conversations and are eliminating traditional reviews. Individual growth and development is an important part of these conversations. We seek out candidates that are passionate about our purpose and values, so they are excited to be part of our success. All of this is focused on providing a great employee experience so that individuals want to join, stay and grow with us!

Cami Kahl

Chief Operating Officer

Ceres Community Project

7351 Bodega Avenue, Sebastopol


Cami Kahl is a seasoned nonprofit leader with a background in civil rights and human services. She says, “I can't remember a time when I wasn't drawn to people and the human experience.” As the child of Special Educators, Kahl understood at an early age that all humans have worth and deserve to belong. She describes her passion as seeking to understand the power of human potential and watching people soar.

Kahl believes in ability of the nonprofit sector to affect personal and community-wide change and engagement. Known for seeing the best in people and for being of service, she was drawn to Ceres' impact on health, food, youth and volunteer engagement. Ceres' holistic model combines a powerful youth development program with an organic meal delivery program tailored to meet the needs of people in treatment for cancer, serious heart disease and other ailments.

It operates three commercial kitchens and two organic gardens, and offer community nutrition education, serving Sonoma and Marin counties. Nationally, Ceres works to influence food and healthcare policy by demonstrating the high-impact, low-cost role of healthy food in treating and preventing illness. Ceres has trained 12 communities from around the country to replicate their model.

In addition to overseeing all HR functions for Ceres' staff of thirty, Kahl leads and manages finance and accounting, IT, facilities, fund-raising and communications.

She led two successful nonprofit organizations in Sonoma County before joining Ceres in May, 2018. After graduating from Sonoma State University with a bachelor of arts in liberal studies, Kahl began her 21-year career with Becoming Independent. Rising through the ranks, Kahl was named CEO in 2007 and led the organization until 2012. With her sights set on broadening her scope of impact, she joined the Sonoma County Volunteer Center in 2013 as the executive director.

The phrase “Energizer Bunny” has been used a few times when referring to Kahl's enthusiasm for life, social justice and her work. Her attitude blends into family life as well raising two sons who are now teenagers. She said, “Yes, I am that mom who wll pull over and pick up some trash dumped along a beautiful country road, or let a stranger share our meal if they are hungry.”

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

Everyone at work has been impacted by the fires and it is manifesting in several ways. In terms of recruitment, the job market is tighter than before adding increased pressure for solid starting wages and benefit packages. This increased leverage changes the dynamic. When money cannot lead the way in this environment, our recruiting relies on providing individualized and flexible work agreements.

In terms of retention, we have seen turnover in the past couple of months that was not identified as “fire-related”, but the general “unsettling” of the fires, may be causing people to re-evaluate their life and work goals. Our organization is working to ensure the team has the resiliency tools and support to stay inspired by the work they are doing for the community.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the HR field in the past five years?

The human resources technology has made a big impact on both the employer and the employee. With new abilities to put benefit decisions, paid time off requests, etc. into the hands of employees, there is more time for HR to devote to broader vision and strategic work. And, employees seem to appreciate the direct experience and convenience of navigating the systems independently. With this change in technology, the younger workforce has a chance to inspire older employees and show their co-workers how to take full advantage of these “self-serve” tools.

Ryan Keyt

HR Manager

Novato Community Hospital

180 Rowland Way, Novato, CA 94945


As the senior HR leader for Novato Community Hospital (NCH), a Sutter Health affiliate, Ryan Keyt directly supports the leadership team and more than 300 patient-centered employees. He designs and sets the strategic direction to shape the employee experience and leads the Hospital's volunteer program.

Sutter Health Novato Community Hospital is an acute care Hospital that provides 24-hour emergency care, inpatient and outpatient surgery, critical care, imaging services, laboratory services, and a physical therapy and sports fitness center.

In addition to general surgery, Novato Community Hospital specializes in orthopedic surgery and total joint replacement, including hands, hips, shoulders and knees. The hospital houses three surgery suites, with one specifically designed for minimally invasive procedures. Human Resources plays a key role in realizing our short and long-term objectives. It's an exciting role and has been personally rewarding. Keyt has been overseeing the revitalization of the Volunteer Program at NCH. Dedicated local residents have given back to Novato Community Hospital since 1961, with some volunteers having contributed more than 20,000 hours of service.

The Volunteer Program, which is comprised of local residents from college students to retirees, supports the experience of patients, families and employees. Volunteers manage the local gift shop, assist in nursing departments, oversee the orchid program which places 15 orchids throughout the hospital, and volunteers support key employee engagement events.

Keyt has more than 15 years of human resources experience across several industries, including aviation, aerospace, defense, and healthcare. Prior to joining Sutter Health in 2015, he spent 12 years in progressively responsible HR positions with Lockheed Martin. Keyt has a bachelor of arts, political science from Arizona State University and a master's in dispute resolution from Pepperdine University School of Law.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

The leadership team stayed true to its mission, to be the best servant leadership team for our employees and patients, through their actions and behaviors during this wildfire crisis. Leaders set a professional, calm and welcoming tone when working with patients and staff.

The hospital said, “The team performed with excellence and senior leaders frequently provided support to their teams and positive recognition of their support to these tragic events. While we have not been able to attribute a significant impact on recruitment as a result of the wildfires, two travel nurses who were on assignment with NCH at the time of the wildfires and were impressed with how our employees responded to the crisis and their experience with NCH and took full-time roles with the hospital.”

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

Larger companies, such as Sutter Health and others, have centralized many of their HR functions to off-site facilities. Clearly and effectively communicating this systemic shift in how we support our employees is critical to ensuring employees are able to take advantage of the opportunities and benefits that this new model offers.

For employees, dedicated call centers mean much faster, and effective, responses to a variety of personal questions. human resources continues to evolve and it's important that HR leaders support their client areas by providing strategic thinking, multiple options and scenarios to resolve challenges and demonstrate a willingness to take on additional opportunities to support the organization.

Erin Hargarten

Human Resources Manager

Bear Republic Brewing Company

110 Sandholm Lane, Cloverdale, CA 95425


Erin Hargarten has over 10 years of practice as a Certified Human Resources Professional. She has comprehensive experience in recruitment and retention, conflict resolution, change management, and benefits administration.

Hargarten joined Bear Republic in December 2016. She was instrumental to the success of the opening of Bear Republic's newest brewpub location in Rohnert Park, automating recruitment and onboarding systems. She researched, planned, and managed recruitment for the hiring and onboarding of 120 new employees.

Currently, she manages Human Resources for Bear Republic's four locations, building relationships with over 250 employees. She has additionally take on a safety role for the company, making sure Bear Republic is compliant with all employee trainings and certifications. Prior to Bear Republic, Hargarten held a variety of human resources positions with CCI | Global Channel Management, successfully managing all human resource functions for multiple states and countries, representing employees as a credible activist and aiding in creating a winning work environment.

Hargarten holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from San Francisco State University and is a certified PHR from the HR Certification Institute.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

Bear Republic has been lucky with recruiting and retention. Most of Bear Republic's hiring has been for our brewpubs and Sonoma County has a good pool of professional hospitality talent. We did have employees affected by the fires who have remained employed and have had our support during this difficult time.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

The biggest change has been HR becoming a Strategic Partner to organizations. A strategic HR leader enables, empowers, and engages employees for the purposes of the business. They understand the business and can help solve problems for the organization instead of being a roadblock. This shift from tactical to strategic earns you a seat at the table and shifts HR from a cost center that is undervalued.

Organizations are no longer looking for administrative, tactical individuals to run HR. They want thought leaders who understand the business needs and can execute to meet the organizations goals, vision and mission. Strategic Leaders are solution oriented, forward thinking, results driven individuals who bring value to the organizations they work with.

Rosanna Hayden


Artizen Staffing

101 Golf Course Drive, Unit 300, Rohnert Park 94928

707 595 5998

Rosanna Hayden is the CEO of Artizen Staffing, a Sonoma County headquartered staffing and recruiting services firm. Hayden is responsible for activities and personnel in the Rohnert Park, Silicon Valley, and Sacramento offices. Prior to her joining Artizen in 2000, Hayden worked exclusively in the field of accounting and finance.

During her 18 years in the field, she progressed from an individual contributor to management, ultimately becoming a CFO. During her last 10 years in the field of accounting and finance, she helped lead companies through rapid growth periods in which they tripled their revenues within a two-year period after her joining their teams.

Hayden has over 25 years of total experience in a leadership capacity in the field of Human Resources and is an active member of CalSHRM and NCHRA. Rosanna is the vice president of Scholarship Outreach on the Board of Directors of PASCO - Professional Association of Sonoma County whose charter it is to provide leadership for the human resources community within Sonoma county and the surrounding north bay area.

Hayden is a student mentor for human resources students at the Santa Rosa Junior College. She serves on the CSP–California Staffing Professionals board of directors as a Northern California Chapter Representative and previously held several positions on both the local and state-level board of directors of CSP.

She earned her CAC (California Accredited Consultant) accreditation from CSP in April 2005 and CSP (Certified Staffing Professional) certification from the American Staffing Association in December 2006. Both the CAC and CSP are essential credentials for staffing professionals, certifying expertise to work with both employees and clients within the bounds of Federal and California state laws and regulations.

Both she and her team at Artizen Staffing participate in fundraising and community activities for PASCO, the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, SAY – Social Advocates for Youth, 20/30 Club, Child Parent Institute, Community Child Care Council, Women United and locally are active in the Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce. Hayden is a native San Franciscan and alumni of San Francisco State University College of Business. She is a working mom and mother of 3 children ages 28, 27 and 20 and resides in Santa Rosa.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

According to the Sonoma County Economic Development Board there were 5,300 housing units lost in the Santa Rosa wildfires. The fires caused the then lack of affordable housing in the area to reach crisis levels. The fires displaced many former workers who opted to leave affected areas verse rebuilding their homes. As employers have tried to replace these workers, they have run into a lack of local available candidates to recruit and when trying to recruit those from out of the area, struggle with finding them affordable housing of any kind. Both rental pricing and real estate purchase pricing has increased as much as 35% pre to post fire making our area much less affordable to people moving into our area than it once had been.

Wages were already on the rise due to increases in the minimum wage but now, in order to support the higher housing costs, wages have been forced to rise even more to bring in ideal workers from other areas.

This has become a major concern for employers who want to recruit and retain a talented workforce. Employee retention has always been a hot button for employers but now, going outside the box to partner with employees to ensure job satisfaction is critical to avoiding the increased costs of hiring talented replacement staff members. Artizen Staffing sees how recruitment from out of the area could pose big problems. After all, it is difficult to recruit top talent if they cannot find an affordable place to live.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

For Artizen Staffing, human relations is currently all about paying attention to and addressing the needs of our workforce from Baby Boomers to Generation X to Millennials and beyond for our mutual satisfaction and success.

The company stated its goal is to get to know team members well enough to provide them, as individuals, the resources and support they need to be successful. Providing training, resources, education, interpersonal workshops or anything that helps improve the person and make them happy, is imperative to creating a sustainable long-term workforce.

Being proactive in asking people what they desire or need on a regular basis and finding ways to meet those needs with management taking an active role in doing so, is key. Five years ago, California had a 9.4% unemployment rate, according to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is more than double what it is today, and lead to less emphasis being put on the field of Human Relations overall as it was much easier to recruit and retain workers. These days most companies have come to realize that Human Relations plays a critical role in their organizations.

In the past the human resources role within companies was that of an arm of a legal department who was more interested in protecting the interests of the employer than being service oriented towards employees.

2018 is all about rethinking the way to think about the function of human resources in an organization. Companies are putting more emphasis on human relations as it puts the “Human” back into human resources and ensures both the employee and employers mutual success and employee long term retention.

“We understand that human relations plays a major role in employee retention and satisfaction. Artizen Staffing is a major advocate for setting up, in addition to other programs, non-work environment team building events and social outings. This helps employees get to know each other better in a relaxed and less formal environment which helps them build better interpersonal connections with each other and a more collaborative work environment overall.”

Sarah Ross

Director of Administration

Becoming Independent

1425 Corporate Center Pkwy, Santa Rosa, CA 95407


After growing up on the Oregon Coast, my active-duty military family adventured throughout the US, and finally permanently transferred to Sonoma County in 2012. The Coast Guard is what brought the family to the area, but the strong sense of community and beautiful Sonoma County landscape kept us wanting to stay. Having already worked in Human Resources for five years, I joined Becoming Independent in October of 2012 overseeing all HR functions, including Payroll oversight for the 275 employees and 200 paid individuals served.

I chose to focus my goals at BI on the workplace culture including employee recognition projects and events, and wellness initiatives including the addition of an onsite Fitness Room. In 2016, BI was recognized as one of the North Bay Business Journal's Healthiest Places to Work. In 2016, I gladly accepted the role of director of administration, which in addition to HR Management, includes oversight of IT, facilities and administrative operations.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

Due to the wildfires, the housing in the area has become more difficult to find and more difficult to afford. Being a nonprofit organization, our wages are already tough to compete with some of our neighbor for profit companies. In the past, we have often looked to recruit from neighboring counties or regions by appealing to the beautiful place that we live in.

Because local housing is so scarce and the prices unaffordable, it makes it very difficult to try to recruit to people looking to relocate to the area. As far as employee retention, we have found that many people in the area are looking to avoid any additional change due to the impact that the devastation of the fires in October had on so many individuals.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

Providing a strong and diverse workplace culture that provides good and regular feedback has become critical in the past five years. Due to rising stars recently graduating from college and entering the workforce, it has become even more important to provide more than just a paycheck as an employer.

It has become essential to provide a workplace that offers an environment with a true purpose, mission and brand that embraces its employees as ambassadors for change rather than just employees.

Nicole Smartt and Lisa Lichty

Vice President; CEO

Star Staffing

3820 Cypress Drive, Ste. 2, Petaluma, CA 94954


Staffing your business can be a real headache. We pride ourselves in making staffing swift, effortless and cost-effective. Since 1998, Star Staffing had been serving Northern California, expanding to seven locations including Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Napa, Fairfield, Sacramento, Lodi and surrounding areas. We offer long-term, flexible staffing solutions with a goal to make a real difference in your business.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

The effects of the fires are constantly evolving and will be with us for some time. We immediately lost about 2% of our workforce due to the need to relocate. However, the effects on new recruiting and retention plans are even more challenging due to the even smaller workforce pool and increasing amount of available jobs. Employers are being forced to be much more competitive with pay and employee engagement in order to recruit and retain employees. In order to stay competitive in our recruitment and retention efforts, we have hired additional recruiters and enhanced engagement and retention programs with benefits such as increased financial performance incentives, implemented more volunteer time off, mentorship program with career planning options, and flexible work schedules.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

While there are many to choose from, new employee recruitment has to be the most substantial due to the thriving economy and low unemployment. The way we attract, engage, onboard, and retain employees has all changed dramatically.

Maria Solarez

Director of People and Culture

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa

987 Airway Court, Santa Rosa 95402


Maria Solarez is a key member of our leadership team and is responsible for making sure that the organization's mission to challenging poverty, caring for seniors, and counseling immigrants is at the heart of all of its efforts, uniting and motivating employees and volunteers.

Many employees at Catholic Charities are drawn to this work because they want to “make a difference,” and Solarez makes sure to support their efforts and remind them regularly the incredible impact of their work. In order to nurture employee engagement and ensure that our staff remains on track to advance our cause, she frequently creates events, trainings and outgoing communications that reflect and support our central mission, goals, and values.

She also works with each department to make sure that they are supported and staffed and that each individual position has goals that are linked to our broader mission so that each employee understands the importance and impact of their role.

Prior to joining Catholic Charities, Solarez worked in a number of other HR departments for employers in both California and Massachusetts, always focusing on HR delivery for employees on the front lines of the nonprofit sector. Thanks to those experiences, Solarez has a passion for supporting and advocating for people and organizations in meaningful, strengths-based, and culturally appropriate ways.

Solarez holds graduate degrees in economics, speech communication and certificates in nonprofit leadership and administration.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

Catholic Charities has always attracted bright, committed, and talented individuals who want to make a lasting impact in their community. It makes for a dedicated and strong workforce with a huge sense of community and spirit. Our staff, while often working in challenging and sometimes emotionally charged circumstances, are able to see the difference they make each day in someone's life.

We are constantly working to improve our amazing system of support for our staff as we continue to grow and change and respond to best practices in our fields of expertise. Only two years ago we went through the long process of becoming the first nonprofit in Sonoma County to be honored with accreditation by the Council on Accreditation. COA sets a high bar in agency integrity, service to constituents, and adherence to best practice performance standards. COA accreditation means Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa is among the best in its field.

The focus and resources that Catholic Charities puts into best practices made us one of the key responders to the wildfires and the long term disaster response. Which means that Catholic Charities is growing!

The wildfires have presented a unique challenge as we are seeing a lot of similar jobs populating the areas for short-term disaster response. To be able to meet the needs of our community and the increase in program work we are constantly searching and competing for qualified applicants.

We have always had to compete with for-profit agencies and in response have developed a strong benefits and compensation package and we continue to work to balance the needs of our employees with the mission of our organizations.

Already our benefit packages match or exceed most medium to large employers. We have low cost health, dental, and vision insurance which we know are important for families and individuals beginning their careers with us. And, we offer a 5.5% contribution to a 403b/401k plan with no match required – which is unprecedented for a nonprofit!

To offset turnover Catholic Charities has built in a series of positions which offer growth opportunities. These positions range from program aides to housing locators to service navigators and resource connectors to case managers. Currently, we are looking for bilingual staff to help us provide support for clients who survived the fires, but did not own homes, lost jobs and had little to no insurance to replace losses and income.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

It's no big secret that the nonprofit sector has historically tended to underinvest in its most valuable assets - its people.

With rising costs and additional grant overhead restrictions this issue has only gotten worse over the years, not better. People who work for nonprofits are typically considered to be making a social choice to invest in making the world a better place.

But lately, in response to political changes which are threatening social programs, we are seeing a change, as talent acquisition becomes a top priority for nonprofits. We are also seeing strong support as nonprofit boards and funders see the need for a strong creative and capable team to be able to deliver results under challenging circumstances. Qualified and well-resourced staff will be the key to a strong organization in the coming years.

As workforce demographics continue to shift Catholic Charities is a leading example of younger, more diverse leaders becoming forces for change. As these younger staff step into our leadership roles, they bring an expectation of purposeful work, ongoing learning and a strong focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion that permeates our entire organization. We are continuing to evolve our internal structure to make more room for new leaders to emerge. Like so many other nonprofits, diversity, equity and inclusion are integral parts of our culture and talent management strategy.

As Catholic Charities has continued to grow we have seen an increased need for staff with deep expertise, independent judgment, and strong problem-solving skills. This need has aligned with the national trend in transforming performance management tools and systems.

We have had to change how we give and receive feedback, rethink how we evaluate our employee's performance outputs and how those outputs relate to our larger agency goals. We are continuing to evolve our systems and incorporating bi-directional feedback to empower our non-management staff to have important conversations about their individual professional development needs with their immediate supervisors.

The other great trend we are seeing in the nonprofit sector is a growing focus on professional development. At Catholic Charities we are constantly working to encourage and support learning at all levels and we use multiple platforms to provide our staff with opportunities to grow. We look at this work, not as an expense, but as an investment.

Nonprofit Human Resources are an existing place to be in 2018!

Isis Suarez

HR and Employee Relations Coordinator


5401 Old Redwood Hwy Suite 104, Petaluma 94954


Suarez started her career in Human Resources over ten years ago. Suarez joined Kavaliro in 2017 as human resource and employee relations coordinator. She is responsible for supporting the Kavaliro staffing and technical services divisions within the Petaluma branch. All while ensuring that candidates are thoroughly advised through the onboarding and separation process. She utilizes and understands relevant employment laws to avoid unlawful employment practices while maintaining the highest levels of empathy and efficiency in her work.

Suarez has extensive knowledge in recruitment, employee relations and takes pride in providing employers with solutions by delivering the most tailored solutions to ensure the ongoing success of all types of businesses.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

After the wildfires, there was a significant amount of displaced families and local businesses. Sonoma County has proven to be a strong community, and the efforts to rebuild have created many jobs and strengthened relationships with the people that we connect with on a daily basis.

We have found that due to the wildfires we have an influx of openings that need to be filled, while some of our local labor force is still healing and not yet in a position to go back to work. The current low unemployment rate has a compounding effect on top of the wildfires and has added a layer of difficulty to filling some of our open roles.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

The most substantive change that we I have seen within the last five years is the shift from a personnel perspective to a more human relations approach. The increased pressure that companies are now facing, due to technology changes, tougher competition, and start-up culture, there is an ever greater need for a more human approach to managing teams.

Our successes as a company have come from our ability to make the pivot from seeing our employees as human capital to real individuals. The more human approach is a change that a lot of companies are currently struggling to master.

Melissa Von Bima

Human Resources Manager

Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital

30 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa 95403


Von Bima has been with Sutter Health for over 16 years, and currently oversees human resources functions for Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. Melissa has led key initiatives, including the move to the new hospital campus and the transition to a centralized HR service model. Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital provides state-of-the-art care in its 84-bed acute care facility.

Opening in 1867 as a small community hospital, it affiliated with Sutter Health in 1996 and eventually opened a modern replacement hospital to meet the needs of the community. Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital is an award-winning facility that provides 24-hour emergency care, inpatient and outpatient robotic surgery, pregnancy and childbirth services, neonatal intensive care, heart and vascular services, advanced orthopedic surgery, imaging services, and a bariatrics weight loss program. Human Resources plays a key role in realizing our short and long-term objectives. It's an exciting role and has been personally rewarding.

How have the wildfires affected your ability to recruit or retain your workforce?

After the wildfires of October 2017, the Von Bima coordinated system Human Resources teams to support employees. After the hospital evacuation, HR teams worked to ensure employees were safe, and to identify resources to assist employees through this disaster.

For example, Von Bima mobilized counseling support for employees, and identified ongoing support needs for the coming year. Sutter Santa Rosa re-populated only eight days after the hospital evacuation. While available housing in the area has increased recruitment challenges, we are still able to recruit and retain key talent. However, those moving to the area are experiencing increased difficulty locating housing.

What is the most substantive change you have seen in the Human Relations field in the past five years?

Over the past five years, the centralization of transactional work has assisted Human Resources in becoming a more strategic partner to operations. Duplication of work has been reduced, and Human Resource partners can work more strategically with corporate resources to improve quality and streamline systems at the local level.

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