MLF Academy grad lands paid internship with Multnomah County

By Tom Unger, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA

PORTLAND – Participating in the Maurice Lucas Foundation (MLF) Academy since Grade Six has led Jada Manns, now age 20, to a solid path of career success. Her latest step along that path: landing a full-time, paid internship with Multnomah County.

“I’m really excited to work with them,” said Jada.

About 250 students from under-represented communities applied for the College to County program this year. The county selected Jada and 49 others for the mentorship program, which exposes participants from diverse backgrounds to county careers.

Jada is currently attending Prairie View A&M University, an HBCU in Texas where she is a sophomore. She has been living on campus there while taking classes online.

Jada’s immediate objective after college is to work as a teacher with a long-term goal of becoming a school superintendent. The MLF provided her a $1,200 college scholarship.

Jada had heard about the internship program from Karen Barker, MLF’s High School Program manager. Jada submitted a resume and a cover letter. Three county employees then interviewed Jada virtually.

“Her energy was definitely felt by all the interviewers,” said Soumary Vongrassamy, an Equity & Conflict Resolution Specialist in the county’s Central HR Organizational Learning Department.

The county called Jada a few days later to tell her she was chosen for the position. The 12-week internship started May 24.

“Overall, we know she’s built a very solid ground and is very communal. We’re very excited to be able to work with her,” said Soumary, who served on the hiring panel and will mentor Jada this summer.

Jada’s different experiences growing up in Portland, her interest in learning and her new experiences in Texas were among the other reasons the panelists selected Jada, said Soumary.

“For her to bring in a different perspective will be very welcome,” said Soumary, adding she was impressed with the commitment Jada has shown to everything she had done in the past.

During her internship, Jada and another intern will need such a commitment to:

1)    Help design an inclusion and equity course for all 6,000 county employees,

2)    Research best practices about learning, technology and equity, and,

3)    Update the equity and inclusion content on the county’s employee web site and contribute other materials for self-directed learning.

Her Start With MLF

Jada joined the free MLF Academy shortly after moving to Portland with her mother.

“My mom wanted me to get more involved in extracurricular activities and play sports. When I found out that the MLF did all that, I said sign me up,” said Jada.

She stuck with the academy through the years because of the care shown by Karen and the other MLF staff members.

“They always gave back to me and my friends,” said Jada.

When Jada grew older, Karen asked her to volunteer as a tutor to younger students. Jada credited that experience and the foundation’s seven pillars (personal responsibility, respect, integrity, leadership, hard work, goal setting, and positivity) for helping her land the internship.

More About The Program

The College to County program started 10 years ago with four students. Since then, more than 200 have served as interns, said Cole Whitehurst. He works in the county’s Central Human Resources Department and coordinates the program.

The organizers’ hope is the interns will consider Multnomah County for employment after they graduate, said Cole.

More than 28 former interns have become regular status employees at the county, said Cole.  More than double that number have extended their internship and worked for a longer period at the county, he added.

The program seeks interns who are curious and willing to learn, said Cole. The program provides work experience to residents who serve as the voice of the community and share their perspective.

The program seeks students of color from low-income families. It aligns with the county’s efforts to diversify its workforce and better meet the needs of the community, he said.

“We know how difficult it is to be a new person, and a young person, in the workforce. We help them navigate the professional work environment,” said Cole. “We understand the importance of internships and how it can be life-changing,”

The summer interns will be exposed to other departments within the county and learn about the variety of career opportunities there, he said. They will also undergo professional development as a group in topics such as networking, social capital and landing a county job.

The mentors will work to build up the interns’ confidence so they can be successful either working at the county or somewhere else, Cole said.

“We at Multnomah County believe it is our mission to serve the residents of the county. If we can invest in our local youth, then we’re absolutely going to do that,” said Cole.


Tom Unger volunteers on the Maurice Lucas Foundation board. He blogs about writing on his web site at

About the Maurice Lucas Foundation

The Foundation is named in honor of the late Maurice Lucas (1952-2010), the leading scorer on the 1977 NBA champion Trail Blazers team. Besides his outstanding achievements on the court, Lucas also selflessly gave his time and energy to Portland youth. Since its formation in 2010, the Maurice Lucas Foundation has served thousands of students and families through its Academy program, basketball camps and teams.

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