Central Valley native Karen Warner has found her way back to her roots. The Oakdale High School graduate currently serves as freshman Congressman Josh Harder’s District Director for the US House of Representatives.
It will be 13 years this May since Warner exited the Corral as an Oakdale High School graduate. It is an achievement, she recently shared helped shape her for the many opportunities which followed.
“I still think about how lucky I am,” Warner, a 2006 OHS graduate as well as Leo Volz Scholarship recipient, stated.
Warner continued her education at Stanford University where she earned her undergraduate degree in Human Biology in 2010.
“I was very lucky to graduate (college) debt free,” she continued. “I think many times about the Oakdale community and the many ways it supported me in doing what I wanted to do.”
Upon graduating from Stanford, the OHS alum found herself in New York helping build the non-profit organization Global Health Corps. An experience which then led her to work with Emerson Collective, a social change organization founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, with a focus on education, immigration reform and health.
“I wanted a different perspective on social change so I moved over to the funding side,” she said of joining the Emerson team.
“Through my non-profit work, I realized I was really hungry to be able to tackle challenges at scale, that would reach large numbers of people with the solutions that I was trying to be a part of,” Warner said. “I realized to be able to do that we needed to look at business and we needed to look at government.”
In 2015, Warner began her journey through grad school, spending a year and a half at Stanford where she earned her MBA and a year and a half at Harvard for her MPA (Masters in Public Administration) and then – she came home.
In the summer of 2018 the Central Valley girl shared she felt both inspired and motivated to join forces with Josh Harder’s team as a volunteer, knocking on doors and spreading the word of his Congressional campaign.
“It felt like an opportunity to be a part of something bigger and be back home,” she said of returning to the Central Valley last summer.
“I went to school knowing that I wanted to do something in public service,” Warner added of her early education. “Going back to high school, I was very interested in careers and opportunities that helped others.”
When Harder won the election, Warner was offered the opportunity to lead the district and co-lead the team with the Chief of Staff who is based out of Washington, DC. Warner herself reports to the Modesto office working with local constituents and stepping in when Harder himself is unavailable. The freshman congressman represents the 10th Congressional district, covering Oakdale, Riverbank and Escalon among many other Valley communities.
“Being really active in the community and showing up and listening,” the OHS alum said of her primary role in the lead position. “Listening to people and trying to find out, what are the priorities. What are people worried about. Both organizing our own events to bring people in, as well as showing up and going to existing events and meetings in the community.”
The former Mustang shared she was never targeting a career in politics, yet through her own family experiences and personal connection to issues she found herself drawn to a proactive position.
“What I love about this job is I don’t have to do the political stuff,” she said. “I get to do that really basic effort of giving people representation in government and serving them. Making government work better for them.”
Warner noted there is no place better for such representation, than the Central Valley, noting healthcare, career pathways and water as three key areas of interest for the congressman and his team.
“I don’t think you can be from this region and not be talking every single day about water and what we’re going to do to make sure we have a sustainable water future here,” she said. “The congressman’s been very clear that we’re concerned about shortages here. The short simple version is that we need to be making sure we’re meeting the needs of our agricultural community and our community as a whole. This isn’t a farmer issue. This is an everybody issue.”
With more than a decade behind her since her high school days, Warner said coming back home was the right step to take.
“I’m so grateful for every opportunity I’ve had,” she added. “It feels like this is what I’ve been working toward.”