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Tualatin grad gets crash course in leadership

Bank of America, Habitat for Humanity offer summer internship


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Recent Tualatin High graduate Mary Ruiz is one of five students in the Portland metro area to land an internship through Bank of Americas Student Leaders program.Mary Ruiz isn’t exactly taking a breather during the summer before she leaves for college.

Instead, the recent Tualatin High School grad has embarked on a two-month internship to familiarize herself with the inner workings of the nonprofit world through Bank of America’s Young Leaders program.

“It is very fast-paced in the best way possible,” Ruiz said. “It goes by fast, and it’s tiring, but it’s really, really awesome.”

Ruiz spoke by telephone from Washington, D.C., during a break at the program’s leadership conference, which offers interns a comprehensive curriculum on service and successful management.

“The message is ‘serve, inspire and change,’ ” she explained.

But for most of her internship, Ruiz can be found in the offices of Habitat for Humanity’s Willamette West chapter in Hillsboro. The teen admits that it’s been a lot of paper-pushing so far. But Ruiz says she’s also been able to sit in on board meetings, as well as one-on-one meetings with families applying to the program, which was founded in 1976 to provide affordable housing to those who are generally priced out of home ownership. The largely volunteer program requires that participating families be involved in the construction process: A single parent family is typically required to commit 300 hours to varying stages of building, while a two-adult family must commit 500 hours.

For more information about the program click here

Once selected, a family buys the finished home from Habitat at a price that is approximately half the house’s assessed market value, and then carries a zero-interest mortgage.

As of February, Ruiz’s chapter of the organization had helped 86 families by constructing single-family homes, and builds five to ten homes a year in the area on average.

A voice for families

Ruiz isn’t content to simply see the administrative side, and makes a point of spending at least one day a week in the field with Habitat volunteers. So far she has helped out with painting, and expects to get a tutorial on sheetrock installation next week.

According to Nicole Frisch, assistant vice president of corporate social responsibility for Bank of America in Oregon and southwest Washington, the program is geared toward giving students a ground-up approach to nonprofit administration.

The program is right up Ruiz’s alley.

“I’m very interested in the community outreach portion of it and just interacting with the people that benefit from the work,” Ruiz explained, adding that her favorite part of the work is the family approval process. To date, she has read 12 applications — which means 12 families’ stories.

“Knowing that Habitat is that voice for them — that is what I find most interesting,” she said.

But she has also been struck by the shoestring nature of a nonprofit with such local and international cache.

“I had this picture of getting to my internship and seeing tons of people working for the organization,” Ruiz said, “but the staff is of seven really dedicated really passionate workers. That was the most surprising to me. They get so much done. It’s really surprising to know that nonprofits work on such a small scale.”

Ruiz is excited to be one of a handful of local students selected for the program, which will bolster an already impressive resume: Before graduating from TuHS, she served as a student ambassador to foreign exchange students, and served as editor of the school’s newspaper, The Wolf.

Ultimately, the Mills College-bound Ruiz aspires to go into journalism, on an international beat.

“My dream job is to travel to war zones and countries in turmoil and interact with the people,” she said. “I’ve also thought of diplomacy as well.”

Fittingly, one of the featured speakers at this week’s leadership conference was Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist David Hume Kennerly, who has chronicled the Vietnam War, eight American presidents and the final days of the television show “Seinfeld.”

Bank of America’s Student Leaders internships are open to high school juniors and senior in the Portland and Vancouver metro areas. Frisch says the program generally receives 75 to 100 applications, which are then reviewed by a panel of local community leaders, business owners and representatives from the media, who agree on the final five.

For more information about the program, visit tualatintimes.com.

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