Achieving dreams: Participants praise Nevada County internship program
Special to the Sierra Sun
It’s a highly successful jobs program in which participants not only help operate it, they helped design it.
The innovative “Achieve More” program hires people to work in various internship capacities within Nevada County government. The county has employed 36 interns since the program began in January 2019. Those interns have worked 9,322 hours and contributed $187,400.21 worth of labor to local government — and other agencies pick up the tab.
“We are creating a sustainable internship program with the aim to build talent pipelines from within our community, from colleges and universities, and from across the nation to ensure we are developing and attracting the brightest candidates to Nevada County,” said Steve Rose, director of Human Resources.
The county’s internship program originally focused on options for veterans and active military personnel, because that’s where the money is. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other military-related agencies fund several programs that help pay interns. Sometimes, full salaries and benefits are paid for. A tax-free housing stipend is available in one program. Other internship positions receive no reimbursement.
The idea of county government internships was conceived by CEO Alison Lehman, who asked Rose to execute the plan. Rose worked with Lead Internship Coordinator Danny Newlon, who was the principle architect of the program. Newlon was immediately hands on and hands down the perfect fit: he started his career with the county as one of its first interns in May 2019.
“I am proud to be connected with a program that is changing lives,” Newlon said. “We help people develop their talents so they can achieve more in their careers. I can’t describe the pride I feel as I watch people develop new talents, challenge themselves, increase their self-confidence, pursue lofty goals, and contribute to their community.”
KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
In addition to partnering with the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Department of the Army, the county has created internship opportunities by joining forces with the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, Sierra College, CSU Sacramento, CSU Chico, Golden Gate University, CalWORKs, the Alliance for Workforce Development, and Connecting Point.
The program is a win-win.
Interns gain knowledge and job skills while their work enhances county services. Non-supervisory county staff members develop their own additional skillsets through mentoring interns. Currently, 14 active interns are serving in a variety of paid and non-paid positions.
“We threw out the rulebook,” Rose said. “The uniqueness of the program is in its architecture and management. Utilizing available funding from federal, state and local sources, interns are recruited to create and then run the program. It’s almost like having a start-up within county government.”
The county’s Internship Coordination Team reaches out to interns at least weekly, gathering information and answering questions. In turn, interns grow personally and professionally. At the conclusion of their internships, workers are connected to future jobs within Nevada County government, local businesses, or positions within government in other counties.
Of the 18 people who have completed their internships, 10 have been hired by the county or local businesses.
The sleek, streamlined process of identifying, interviewing, and hiring interns is another benefit. The Achieve More Internship Program was instrumental in the county’s ability to fill four positions within four hours, enabling the county to quickly establish a COVID-19 testing center at the Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Building.
Under normal circumstances, it can take up to 100 days for a potential employee to be hired at the county.
Paul Cummings is a retired military officer who interned at Nevada County for five months before he was hired as the county’s Office of Emergency Services program manager. Cummings was a career U.S. Air Force officer for 22 years. He donned the flight suit and served as a weapons system officer on B-1 bombers before retiring at the rank of major.
How did Cummings handle the transition to an internship position that many people think does little more than fetch coffee?
“My co-workers didn’t make me feel like an intern,” said Cummings. “They always let me know I was a contributing member of the team. This career field is tough to break into and requires timing, luck, contacts, and perseverance. The internship opened doors for me.”
Beverly Minser shares a similar story. She’s a single mom who attended Sierra College and studied business and accounting. Minser worked hard as a waitress, but struggled financially and applied for food stamps and cash aid. She was steered toward a county internship by staff at Connecting Point, a public agency that offers employment services.
“I was a lifelong waitress until the restaurant closed, so I decided to go back to school,” Minser said. “I started my internship at the county in January and worked in human resources under brilliant people. It was overwhelming but also empowering.
“When the county needed to quickly open a COVID-19 testing site, I became the site coordinator. The waitress in me is a problem solver and I like to think quickly and critically. I feel grateful and so supported by incredible people who I now consider family. The internship helped me achieve my dreams.”
Minser’s internship ended in June and the county hired her as a public health technician in a grant-funded position.
“The list of internship contributions is long and growing,” Rose said, “and they have become an integral part of the Nevada County team.”
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
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