Op-Ed: Sonoma Job counselor with a pioneering journalist past Special

Posted May 29, 2014 by Jonathan Farrell
Ah the wine country! Beautiful vineyards, charming boutiques, with fine restaurants this region is a weekend get-a-away. And, what more perfect example than in the Old Mission town of Sonoma,
For job listings in the Sonoma County area  The Santa Rosa Press Democrat remains as a reliable reso...
For job listings in the Sonoma County area, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat remains as a reliable resource.
visitors can enjoy delightful leisurely strolls around the main square on a warm summer evening, especially for a vacation.
But for those who must live in Sonoma and the surrounding areas, landing a job is essential. Just because the wine country is blessed with a touch of paradise, does not exclude it entirely from the outside world. The economy in today's world impacts everyone, everywhere in some way.
With local publications in hand like the Sonoma Index-Tribune and Santa Rosa Press Democrat, job counselor Kathy Ostram understands the dilemma locals and (relocated) transplants must face regarding employment.
“It is not just this current economy, said Ostram, it is the pace and way of life here in the wine country,” she said. “Without a car, transportation to job sites is limited.” Ever since Golden Gate Transit (serving Marin, Santa Rosa and San Francisco) stopped its bus line to and from Sonoma, the local bus system, Sonoma County Transit stays only within the county lines. “For job seekers this is a major set-back.”
“As charming and quaint as Sonoma is, the place is rather isolated for those residents who do not have a car,” she said. Ostram speaks from experience because long before she became a job counselor and job developer, she was among the ranks of transit commuters who scrambled each morning to get to work and return back home each night.
“A commute by bus with multiple transfers can be exhausting, I know because I have done that.” Ostram hopes that once the new train system gets built that will help locals get to and from work in the surrounding areas like Napa, Santa Rosa, Marin and San Francisco more easily, efficiently and economically. “Filling the gas tank for the car can cost anywhere from $50 to $80.00 round trip,” she said, having a reliable train system would make a world of difference,” she added.
Still, she hopes while preserving its Old Mission town charm and agricultural heritage, Sonoma can also provide sustainable jobs apart from the tourist industry. “I still feel sad that the Sonoma State Hospital closed,” she said. Now referred to as Sonoma Developmental Center, the century-old, State-managed facility struggles to serve the needs of people with disabilities and challenged circumstances. Funding to help sustain it and its future hangs in the balance.
“My father was a doctor there,” she said. “That was when it was still operating as a State Hospital.” Ostram who's maiden name was Bramwell, was a teenager when her father Dr. Bramwell, moved the family from Arizona to Sonoma to take the position. “That was back in the 1960’s.” Ostram also mentioned that the care and outreach the hospital provided was important. “All that changed during the Regan-Bush Administration, during the 1980’s Regan closed facilities, dismantling the mental health care system,” said Ostram.
As reported by as soon as Ronald Regan took office as President of the United States, he and his administration undermined what The Carter Administration had tried to continue, by signing the Mental Health Systems Act. This legislation had proposed to continue the federal community mental health centers program, (CMHC). As the article from Sept. 2013 noted, with President Reagan and the Republicans taking over, the Mental Health Systems Act was discarded before the ink had dried. And, the CMHC funds were simply blocked, not granted to the states. The CMHC program had not only died but been buried as well.
“The mental health care system and the over-all health of our nation has not been the same since,” said Ostram. She hopes the State of California will realize that places like Sonoma Development Center must not fall into the hands of real estate developers and such. “There are many other uses that could be realized, without taking away from its historical and even pastoral attributes. It is like a little town within itself.”
"Kathy is an amazing, caring, giving person who cares deeply about Sonoma Valley," said long-time friend Sandi Hansen. She noted that no matter what other places Ostram has lived, (be it San Francisco, Oregon, or Wisconsin) "Kathy has always returned home to Sonoma. (Foremost, she said) to raise her two children and then later to care for her mother."
As curator of the Depot Park Museum, Hansen, like Ostram also has a great appreciation of local history. While Hansen can understand the frustration some job-seekers might have in securing jobs in and around Sonoma, Hansen pointed out the obvious. "Sonoma will likely always be known as the Wine Country." She agrees with Ostram that Sonoma must establish other viable industries. "Yes, relying simply on tourism and grapes does eliminate other possibilities."
Surmising the current trends compared to what Sonoma has been, Hansen said, "perhaps more of an interest on agritourism and sustainable farming of healthy crops will thrive here." Yet, like Ostram she fears too much development or a short-sighted decision by town planners might permanently alter the beauty and quality of life that makes Sonoma a gem. "Let 'Silicon Valley' stay where it is, said Hansen. "We don't have the infrastructure to support long commutes, she said, every artery in and out of Sonoma Valley is two-lane." To add more lanes to the roads and highways would take way from the agricultural beauty and integrity which Sonoma is fighting very hard to maintain through the Sonoma Land Trust and other groups.
Appreciating Ostram's connectedness to the local community and its history, Hansen said "so few people really care about the incredibly rich and varied history of this area." Many of the 'old timers' and those who have come from past generations are dying," said Hansen. "And along with them go precious memories and stories of their ancestors and the ways Sonoma Valley evolved." This aspect of life in Sonoma is something Hansen believes is critical as future growth and expansion of the area changes. While cautiously observing the increase of high end 'boutique' shops and 'tasting rooms' popping up in town, Hansen mentioned that "water is becoming a massive issue in the Valley."
That is something that must be addressed more seriously as life continues to change in Sonoma. "How will water distribution be developed and sustained in the future?" "There is only so much development - both of housing, (jobs/industry) and land that can be done here without changing the character of Sonoma Valley very drastically," said Hansen.
Ostram agrees with Hansen. But she then gently moved the interview-conversation of this reporter, back to job counseling. “I became a job counselor sort of at short-notice and unexpectedly.” Laid off from a job, more than 30 years ago, she stopped in at the Employment Development Department and was offered a job “on the spot,” she said because they needed a job coordinator/counselor and I had interviewing and workshop skills.”
It was a job that became a career and in a way as Ostram sees it, “a vocation.” “I enjoy helping people and believe me, she added, I know what it is to be out there looking for jobs.”
Ostram credits the landing of that job with the EDD to her journalism work. “My father insisted that I was to go to college and stay and complete college. So, when I had difficulty finding a major, he told me just to enroll and whatever class I liked the most, make that the major." "Classes were filling up fast. He insisted I just take whatever class I could get into, she said because he did not want me to be idle and miss out, fearing I might drop out.”
This was a time she explained when dropping out of school was a trend. Many parents across the nation viewed the trend as a menace, causing grief and confusion. Drug culture was on the rise and college campuses were becoming battle grounds of social discontent, unrest concerning the war in Vietnam and civil rights issues.
One of the classes that had spaces available for Ostram was a journalism class. Much to her surprise and good fortune, she loved it and learned much. And, following her dad’s advice, she made Journalism her major. That turned out to be the best decision. “I am so glad I took that class and made Journalism my major” she said.
“That was in the late 1960's and early 1970’s." "The ‘60’s and all the change that occurred was very much alive, I was at San Francisco State University and student protests were going on,” she said. "In some ways, now that I think of it, I was sort of a pioneer." "Few women did those things back then, especially, she pointed out. “That was a scary and exciting time because as a reporter for the university newspaper I had a press pass to get through the protest lines." Certainly she was a bit frightened. "But, I remember recognizing how important the issues were then," she said.
"I remember interviewing (the now well-known) Terrance Hallinan; he had been beaten up in a clash between students and police. Terrance Hallinan later became an attorney and went on to serve as District Attorney for San Francisco. He has since retired and his son now carries on the law practice of Hallinan and Hallinan.
“Journalism gave me many of the skills I use to this day,” said Ostram. “Understanding complexities, being tenacious, learning how systems work, taking the time to really examine issues and to be objective when two or more sides are at odds with one another, these are some of the skills journalism gave to me,” said Ostram. “Being diplomatic when budgets are cut or when a job suddenly disappears, journalism has taught me that too,” she said.
Journalism helped her in the social work she did, another career accomplishment in her life-journey. Journalism also gave her courage to face the difficult if not unpleasant aspects of life.
Recollecting her time as a journalist  job counselor Kathy Ostram said. “That was a scary and exci...
Recollecting her time as a journalist, job counselor Kathy Ostram said. “That was a scary and exciting time because as a reporter for the university newspaper I had a press pass to get through the protest lines." Certainly she was a bit frightened. "But, I remember recognizing how important the issues were then," she said.
Yet she did note that her most memorable job right out of J-school upon graduation from SF State University was at University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, "in one of the medical center's many PR Depts." “I loved that job,” she said. But again, she pointed out "how different things were then compared to now."
“in those days, married women were not expected to be working as much.” “I love my husband Steve, she said, in those days the husband was the breadwinner.” “He did not want me to keep working after we got married so I quit.” “That would not be possible for a young couple today, both husband and wife must work, just to pay everyday bills.” “And if trying to own a home, a two-income household is a must,” she said.
Kathy is a great resource for job information and her work with us has been helpful   said Margaret ...
Kathy is a great resource for job information and her work with us has been helpful," said Margaret Panely, senior job/career counselor-coordinator at the Santa Rosa office of the California Dept. of Rehab.
Ostram over the years has been through many career transitions, working in many other places, and in many other types of jobs. “I used to think that when one finds the career, that’s it.” “But not these days, she said, a person must be prepared to make transitions and at times compromises.”
The digital revolution not only changed newspapers and publishing, “ the digital revolution and the Internet age changed many industries,” she said. Yet, even with today’s challenges and uncertainties, being a job counselor/job developer provides her with the most joy. Among her clients are The State of California, Sonoma County Job Link program, just to name a few. “These are interesting times we are living in, not just economically, but socially and technologically,” she said.