Whitman Internship Stories – Jackie Bonilla ’16

photo 1From the very beginning of spring semester I was already getting the dreaded question, “What are your summer plans?” Some already knew exactly how they were spending their summer. I felt so behind, and it was barely January.

Initially, I had applied to a summer congressional program. However, as I waited to hear back from this program I decided to create a plan B just in case. I contacted a law firm and I talked to an immigration lawyer who was more than happy to share his journey on becoming a lawyer as well as his latest victory in the court. After a two hour informational interview, he said he would talk to his boss about possibly interning with them and get back to me. I emailed him my resume and waited. I was so excited but little did I know I would need a plan C.

With the last days of March just around the corner, I was so concerned because I knew if I came back home without an internship, I would struggle to find a job. Time went on and the only thing I had set was my participation in the US/Mexico Border Studies Program, which was only two weeks of my summer.

I walked into the Student Engagement Center (SEC) and shared how all my initial plans had fallen through and I had absolutely no idea how I was going spend my summer productively. Given my marketing experience as one of the SEC executive office assistants they recommended a marketing internship in Milton-Freewater, Oregon with the Milton-Freewater Downtown Alliance (MFDA). I hadn’t even considered anything outside of law/policy as an option because I’ve been dead set on becoming an immigration lawyer since the 7th grade. But I’ve spent quite some time dabbling with design and communications so I thought why not?

I went on iEngage to check out the position and it sounded interesting, but I wasn’t really sure what it entailed. I cleaned up my resume and emailed it to Randy Grant. He emailed me back and asked to see some of my work and we set up an informal interview for the end of the week. After meeting Randy, I learned that MFDA has taken on a larger mission than it gives itself credit for. Their website gives the sense that MFDA’s goal is business orientated, which in part is true, but it’s not the overall goal. After my interview I realized that it was more than just creating a few fliers and posting Facebook statuses.

However, after my interview I still didn’t really know what I was going to be doing because marketing can be done in various ways. But the general theme was community building through marketing which caught my attention. After learning MFDA’s real mission is to improve the overall quality of life of its community members, working with people like Randy, who are so invested in bettering their community, as well as working remotely from campus when needed, I was sold.

July 23 collage

July 23 collage: Day 1 of Gathering Place construction.

Once I got back from my US/Mexico Border Trip, I hit the ground, FAST. For those who know me through Facebook, know I was terrified when I came to the cruel realization I might not be qualified to do any of it. It just seemed so difficult, I juggled various tasks at a time from grant writing, looking for donations, creating bilingual brochures, bilingual online forms, tracking volunteer activity, networking with important community leaders, video editing and photo documentation.

I spent my summer working specifically on the Pomegranate Project; a project to kick off MFDA’s revitalization of Milton-Freewater. MFDA was founded back in 2012, and all of its work is volunteer-based, with 1 paid full-time staff member. The Pomegranate Project was our first biggest community project. Along with the help of other organizations like the Pomegranate Center, Sherwood Trust, Milton-Freewater Unified School District, Blue Mountain Action Council and others we were able to build a Community Gathering Place from scratch in the McLoughlin High (Mac-Hi) School parking lot. Which is essentially a small park within the span of four days.

Pome Brochure

Promotional material I created to recruit volunteers.


Of course a lot of the planning was done ahead of time, but most of the work was done in the spring and summer. We had community meetings, art workshops, leadership trainings, you name it. I quickly caught myself becoming a part of the community; Milton-Freewater accepted me with open arms and allowed me to participate in such a memorable journey.

After two months, my internship came to an end, and it was so astonishing to see the immediate result of all my work. The various late nights, edits, technical difficulties and working with more than 428 volunteers within four days, the space was finally completed (click here for the video to “the space was finally completed”).

It was inspiring to see many different generations of Milton-Freewater come together and take ownership of their community. Needless to say, it was an amazing experience, I learned so much but most importantly I realized it’s okay if things don’t go as planned because in the end, things work out, one way or another, the important thing is not to give up.


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