On a recent Tuesday morning roughly 200 young people, ages 16 to 21, gathered in the Moda Center in North Portland for the annual SummerWorks assembly. Up to 750 youth will work for the program this year.
Multnomah County has been a major participant in the SummerWorks program for five years now. The program made a major leap between the summer of 2014 and now, largely because of joint efforts by Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales — both of whom spoke before the young people at the assembly.
Hillsboro Superintendent Mike Scott and former-Trailblazer Michael Holton also spoke before the crowd to welcome the youth to their internships — most of which will start work on Monday, July 6. Each speaker told the young people of guiding lessons they learned when they were just starting out work. Whether it be to remain honest, punctual or creative — there was plenty of wisdom in the room to be taken in.
Smith — who has been a longtime champion for SummerWorks — started on a light note, smiling and chatting with participants before jumping into her speech. “Today is a good day,” she stated. The county and city created 500 job positions for SummerWorks youth this summer, twice the amount of last year.
Smith spoke about the importance of employment and how meaningful starting from the bottom can be. Smith even recalled when she started out as a front desk clerk at then-U.S. Representative, now U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s office right after graduating from Oregon State University.
Hales urged the youth to value every element of the internships. “I’m here with a simple message,” he said. “Make the most of this opportunity and make the most of the relationships that you’re going to build with the mentors — with the adults, the employers… because you never quite know how they’re going to payoff, but they will.”
Ramon Mercado, 16, has already taken to the challenge. His internship with the city of Portland started in mid-June at the Southwest Community Center. His job is to help supervise younger students while they go on field trips and participate in various other activities. He recently finished his sophomore year in high school and he’s excited to already be gaining real world work experience.
“I want to be a teacher and this is really helping me because it’s giving me the experience that I need to work with kids,” he says. But it’s not all about hard work, he points out that his favorite part of work so far “is just seeing the smiles on the kids.”
This session of SummerWorks will offer a wide range of jobs. Interns will take positions in the private sector as well as the public sector elected officials’ offices and various city bureaus such as water and sustainability.
SummerWorks participants will be placed in elected officials’ staffs at Multnomah County, the City of Portland and Senator Ron Wyden's office, as well as positions in companies such as Boeing or Microchip Technology Inc.
Aside from providing summer opportunities for low-income or at-risk youth to get involved with their local government, Smith is also interested in scouting our future full-time Multnomah County workers.