California JPIA logoIn today’s world, networking is essential for building connections, sharing resources, expanding knowledge and gaining new perspectives. Recognizing this, human resource (HR) professionals in the Imperial Valley organically formed a small networking group.

In 2022, a few months after joining the City of Imperial, Human Resources Manager Kristen Smith attended the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority’s (California JPIA) Human Resources Academy. There, she met Brawley’s City Manager Tyler Salcido, and they discussed the benefits of a regional training approach for Imperial Valley Authority members. Smith then connected with Brawley’s Human Resources Administrator, Shirley Bonillas and El Centro’s Human Resources Director, Dulce Bedolla, to collaborate on joint training for Imperial County, sparking the formation of a new network.

The trio reconnected at the Authority’s 2023 Risk Management Educational Forum in Carlsbad, and soon after a monthly lunch blossomed. They expanded their group to include Calexico’s Human Resources / Risk Management Manager, Denise Garcia. Each month, they rotate hosting duties, sharing stories, tips and resources within the HR field.

“These lunches have become much more than just information sharing – they’ve fostered genuine friendships,” said Smith. “But the most valuable aspect is the combined expertise we offer. Each of us brings different strengths and knowledge to the table, allowing us to learn from each other and develop a well-rounded knowledge base.”

Although each participant is also a member of the larger Imperial Valley Human Resources Association, they face different challenges than their counterparts in the non-profit and private sectors. The small four-agency network offers a platform for the group to share local government best practices and lessons from their agencies’ operations.

“Mostly it is a group of professionals that bring compassion and experience to the table. They are a resource I tap into regularly to make sure my thought process is right on,” said Bonillas. “We share a job description or two, a policy here and there and sometimes it is just a sanity check when it gets crazy in HR.”

For professionals and government agencies, when an employee participates in a networking group, it can be transformative. If you’re wondering how starting a small professional network can help you, Smith provided some insights:

How Can This Benefit You?

This experience is a testament to the power of collaboration. By reaching out and connecting with colleagues, you can build a valuable support system, strengthen your professional development and gain access to a wider range of knowledge.

Thinking of Starting Your Own Group? Here are Some Tips!

  • Identify Your Network: Look for colleagues within your field, perhaps from neighboring cities or organizations within your region.
  • Start Small: Begin by connecting with a few individuals who share your interests.
  • Find Common Ground: Look for opportunities to collaborate, such as attending trainings or workshops together.
  • Schedule Regular Meetings: Establish a regular meeting schedule, whether virtual or in-person, to nurture your network.

Providing innovative risk management solutions for its public agency partners for more than 45 years, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) is one of the largest municipal self-insurance pools in the state, with more than 125 member cities and other governmental agencies. Members actively participate in shaping the organization to provide important coverage for their operations. The California JPIA provides innovative risk management solutions through a comprehensive portfolio of programs and services, including liability, workers’ compensation, pollution, property and earthquake coverage, as well as extensive training and loss control services. For more information, please visit the California JPIA’s website at