Master of Messaging: Carla Schoof, SMC Parks Communications Manager

Women’s History Month this year gave us an opportunity to shine a spotlight on three women who were instrumental in the development of the San Mateo County Parks Foundation, to help mark our 25th anniversary! We also featured two Parks Directors who were particularly consequential for advancing the programs and properties of the San Mateo County Park system as we know it today. Take a look at our Facebook or Instagram to read about these amazing five women!

Here, we are shining another spotlight on a female leader currently working in the San Mateo County Parks Department, doing important behind-the-scenes and public-facing work as Parks’ Communications Manager. Carla Schoof started with the Department in 2008, and you probably hear from her more than you realize – if you ever check the website for parks news, attend a public meeting or follow their social media. We asked Carla some questions to help us learn more about her and her expertise.

Can you describe what attracted you to your line of work and your path to the position you hold now?

I’ve been an avid reader since childhood and became interested in current events, locally and nationally, as I became active in high school.  I learned so much from reading newspapers and watching the news. That is how my interest in journalism developed and what led me to earn a degree in journalism at San Francisco State University. 

Journalism can provide numerous career options beyond being a reporter. My willingness to try something different and develop new skills has led me on a career path that wasn’t mapped out but provided wonderful opportunities. Most of my career has been in the non-profit or public sectors holding communications roles at two professional associations, a Bay Area hospital, and as a senior public affairs representative for Kaiser Permanente.  After a stint as a part-time consultant working from home while caring for my son, I took my first government role with the City of Palo Alto in community programs. Seven years later, I came to San Mateo County. 

Tell us some things about your job that most people don’t know. 

Communication is a science. To be effective, we need to consider the conditions under which people best receive, process and act on the information provided. All major park projects are supported by communication strategies and plans that identify the key audiences we want to reach. We plan for messages that will inform and resonate with those recipients in whatever way we think will most likely reach them – letters, meetings, web content, social media, newsletters, etc. 

To provide timely and relevant information, we “touch” our website nearly every day, creating or updating information about park conditions, programs, and projects. Often, we further amplify our content through social media posts, digital newsletters and even videos.

In my role, it’s critical that you’re comfortable speaking in front of a crowd and with individuals and that you’re a great listener. This position also requires you to be adaptable and ready to pivot. Your plans can easily evaporate when an unusual event, emergency, or phone call from a reporter comes your way. It can be fun, at times challenging, but rarely dull. 

Which women from history (in parks or related fields) inspire you and why? 

I’m not sure if Judge Anne Burke is known on the west coast. She was an employee of the Chicago Park District, and a trailblazer in developing recreational programs for children and adults with intellectual disabilities in the 1960s. She pitched an idea to her boss to offer a competition in a variety of sports for adults and children with special needs. By securing funding through a grant from the Kennedy Foundation, she was able to host an event that brought more than 1,000 participants from 26 states and Canada to Chicago. This was the birth of what we know today as the Special Olympics. Eunice Kennedy Shriver went on to develop the Special Olympics as a national and international program. Because I have family members with intellectual disabilities, I’m aware of the impact the Special Olympics has had on many individuals and families and I’m so thankful for Judge Anne Burke. 

Are there other women in your life that have been role models for you and why? 

The most influential woman in my life was my mother who was a single mom during most of my childhood. Her strong work ethic influenced all three of her children. She worked full time while also providing us with a variety of experiences, including art and history museum visits and outdoor adventures from cave exploring (not a favorite of mine) to tent camping up and down California. 

Share with us some advice you’d have for young women looking at careers in your field.

Throughout your career continue to hone existing skills and develop new talents.  I encourage everyone to be open to and look for new opportunities and challenges; you’ll learn so much about yourself and continue to evolve. Finally, don’t be too self-critical. Realize that missteps happen and give yourself credit for what you do, what you’ve tried and accomplished, and keep moving forward. 

 What are you happiest doing, when you’re not working?

There are so many ways to spend a day off in the Bay Area – art, entertainment, outdoors, and great food.  My husband and I are fans of Check, Please! Bay Area and recently discovered Top Hatters Kitchen & Bar in San Leandro. Sharing any of the abundant Bay Area treasures with family and friends is a great way to leave work behind, as is travel! We try to go to New York each fall to see a family friend who is a dancer, and it’s such a treat to catch a performance, visit a museum and walk in Central Park. Yet, there is nothing better than relaxing at home and reading a good book. I recently read Nightcrawling, a great novel by a young Bay Area writer named Leila Mottle, and reread the timeless Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather.

 What is one of your favorite nature spots in the Bay Area and why?

I’ve always been drawn to the beauty and serenity the ocean and redwoods provide.  The Chinquapin Trail at Huddart Park is a great place to get a full dose of the earthy scent and shade a redwood grove offers without going too far.  While it’s not set to open until 2024, the long stretch of beach at Tunitas Creek Beach is stunning and a special place to enjoy the sounds and views.

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