Just the right fit for Claremont’s community development

Kathleen Trepa first stepped foot in Claremont about 2 years ago, scouting out the city as a potential fit for her college-age daughter. At the time, she didn’t know that Claremont would become her own perfect fit.

“I thought, ‘This is a community like home to me,’” said the New England native. “‘I would really like to live and work for this town’…and the stars just aligned for me.”

Ms. Trepa has finally made the move to Claremont as she steps into her post as the city’s new director of community and human services, taking up residence in a Claremont apartment as she settles into her new hometown. Ms. Trepa replaces former director Michele McNeill, who vacated the position last February.

In her second week of work, Ms. Trepa—a local government guru for more than 20 years— has hardly relaxed as she finds herself with a full workload, but she insists it’s her natural element. Despite her eagerness and expertise, the community services and management aficionado insists she is delving into her new position with a blank slate.

“I’m coming in with no preconceived notions,” Ms. Trepa said. “I want to come in here and really get to know the issues—get to know the staff and the community.”

Though impassioned by her industry, working with community development on a local level wasn’t the vision she initially had for herself. Ms. Trepa graduated from Boston University with a history degree and every intention of pursuing foreign affairs in Spain. Preparing to take her state department exam, she stumbled into local government work as an intern with the city of San Juan Capistrano.

“I started to realize that, for most people, their communities, schools, parks and crime rates is really what is most important,” Ms. Trepa said. “Most people don’t think about international or foreign policy.”

An internship at Capitol Hill following her work in San Juan Capistrano made up her mind for good.

“I thought, ‘These people [at the state and federal level] are so far removed that they really don’t understand what concerns most Americans.’ That’s how I landed into local government and began working in a lot of different program areas.”

Ms. Trepa takes up her post in Claremont following a long career with the city of San Marcos. She began working in the San Marcos city manager’s office in 1989, dabbling in a little bit of everything, from waste management to cable franchise and affordable housing. There was little Ms. Trepa didn’t do in terms of community development and community services.

“San Marcos has really been my unofficial home off and on for about 23 years,” she said.

Among her numerous posts within the city of San Marcos, it was her work in helping to write block grants and assisting a group of mobile home renters toward ownership in the late 1990s that left her the most satisfied. In order to access about $1 million in block grant funding from the state, she was required to have 50 percent of those park residents lined up and able to purchase their spaces by midnight on Halloween.

“I set up shop in their ping-pong room, which served as my loan office for 3 months,” Ms. Trepa said. “I was working full-time as a single parent, bringing work home, getting the kids in bed, sitting up at the kitchen table. I wasn’t even home for Halloween.”

It was all worth it, she concedes.

“It was a tremendous effort, but we made the goal and I think I went over by maybe 2 loans…and then I took a 2-week vacation,” she laughed. “That was probably the biggest push I have ever had to make on behalf of my community.”

Instead of feeling cramped in an old ping-pong room and bogged down by the stress, Ms. Trepa says she found an outlet for new opportunity.

“I began to really know these people,” Ms. Trepa said. “I got invited to potlucks and barbecues and got to know their families. You are processing their loans for them so you are getting into financials, who lives in their homes and what their issues are, and you really become a part of the fabric of that community. For me, that was the most fulfilling.”

Ms. Trepa was forced to leave her work with San Marcos for a brief period of time to take over the family business after the sudden passing of her father in 2000. Six years in the private sector proved her passion remained in working with the public.

“I really liked working with the factory people, but I really wasn’t fulfilled by the type of work—being driven by making a profit and staying alive,” she said. “I really missed my community-based work and ended up returning to San Marcos.”

Ms. Trepa was given the opportunity to return to work with San Marcos and jumped at the chance before making the move to Claremont 6 years later. While brand-new to her post in Claremont, Ms. Trepa has lost no time getting up to date on the issues. She is already diving right into the city’s Wilderness Loop parking issues, and eagerly anticipates much more to come.

“I look forward to becoming really well-versed in the community’s issues and the history,” Ms. Trepa said.

—Beth Hartnett



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