Multnomah Youth Commission celebrates 25 years serving the community

November 29, 2021

This year, the Multnomah Youth Commission is celebrating 25 years of serving the community. Founded in 1996, the Youth Commission started with 28 members, and has since welcomed more than 475 young people as past and present members.

Through the years, Multnomah Youth Commissioners ranging from 13 to 21 years old have pushed for changes in policies affecting youth, including: 

  • Advocating for an expansion of Portland Public Schools’ YouthPass program so it would serve all youth in the tri-county region by providing them with free year-round transit passes 
  • Asking to push back high school start times 
  • Funding more than 47 youth-led anti-violence projects
  • Engaging thousands of young people in Multnomah County and the City of Portland through youth-led participatory action research efforts, candidate forums, focus groups, and listening sessions

The efforts listed above have informed the work of the Multnomah Youth Commission over time, and helped the group decide which issues need the highest level of advocacy.

1998-1999 MYC Members
To recognize the young people who have participated in the Commission, the County caught up with alumni and captured how the Youth Commission has led them to where they are today. Some alumni reflected on the skills they gained while others talked about how their tenures helped them explore their careers.

LaShawn McCarthy Jr. (he/him)

LaShawn McCarthy Jr. first joined in 2012 as a 13-year-old. McCarthy continued to participate through high school and his first years in college, which allowed him to learn about policy advocacy and social change. In the end, the Multnomah Youth Commission was one of the driving factors that led him to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in social science from Warner Pacific University. Soon after graduation, McCarthy landed an internship as a project coordinator at a small consulting firm in Portland. McCarthy said one of the many things he learned at the Youth Commission is “being able to remain confident in front of stakeholders,” a skill he still uses today.

Gabriel Kjos (he/him)

As a junior at Reynolds High School, Gabriel Kjos joined in 1999 and completed his last year in 2001. Kjos then attended the University of Oregon and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in planning, public policy and management. Following his graduation, Kjos took a ground-level job at a renewable energy company based in Portland. “MYC encouraged me to communicate with other people, build those relationships, and then come together with goals to build a project.” Today, Kjos is the national sales manager for that same company.

Daisy Quiñonez (she/her)

Daisy Quiñonez was a student at David Douglas High School when she joined in 2009. Quiñonez later attended the University of Oregon, and remained involved with the Youth Commission until 2012. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in planning, public policy and management in 2015. Quiñonez made her way back to Portland and recently graduated with a master’s degree in urban planning from Portland State University. Today, Quiñonez works as a consultant at a small urban planning firm. She said the Multnomah Youth Commission impacts the work she does every day. “I am always thinking about ways I can bring youth voices and engage young people in my work today.”

Jacqueline Altamirano Marin (she/her)

In 2010, Jacqueline Altamirano Marin joined as a recent Gresham High School graduate who was attending Mt. Hood Community College. Marin completed her two years at Mt. Hood while she was a part of the Youth Commission. She then enrolled at Portland State University and majored in political science with a minor in gender studies. Following this, she decided to pursue her master’s degree and attended Columbia University in New York. Now, Marin is a program associate at the Vera Institute of Justice. “MYC allowed me to step into my voice and gave me the resources to find my power, and now I am able to do that work with other people who have justice involvement, and help them step into their voice.”

Jason Franklin (he/him)

At 15, Jason Franklin, co-founder of the Multnomah Youth Commission, spent nine months helping to plan and develop the new organization. Franklin was involved from 1996-99. After graduating from Lincoln High School, he moved to Washington, D.C., and studied political communication at George Washington University. Today, Franklin is the founder and principal of Ktisis Capital, an advisory firm that helps move money toward racial, social, economic and environmental justice. Franklin said the Multnomah Youth Commission was the start of his own journey. “I was the one that was pushing the Mayor or pushing the County Commission to be more bold. And now, 25 years later, I find that youth are pushing me to be more bold.”

Blanca Gaytan Farfan (she/her)

Blanca Gaytan Farfan joined in 2014 as she was entering her senior year of high school. After her first year with the Youth Commission, Farfan enrolled at Warner Pacific University. For two years, until 2017, she participated in the Commission while pursuing her studies. Farfan graduated from Warner Pacific with a bachelor’s degree in history, and with minors in political science and sociology. Farfan is now the director of programs for East County Rising Community Projects, a nonprofit organization. Farfan also serves on the New Portlanders Policy Commission and finds herself using what she learned from the Multnomah Youth Commission in her current role. “Knowing how a commission works, and the structure and details, allows me to bring in those aspects and utilize them in this commission.”

Perla Alvarez (she/her)

Perla Alvarez was 13 when she joined in 2008 and participated throughout her four years at Catlin Gabel School. Alvarez’s last year participating was 2013. She attended the University of Oregon, where she majored in ethnic studies and minored in planning, public policy and management, and Spanish. Today, Alvarez is the executive director of Oregon Voice. When asked how the Multnomah Youth Commission helped Alvarez, she said, “The involvement, networking and meeting new people at MYC really helped with my career path and being involved in policy development and civic engagement.”

Charity Dunlevy-Todd (she/her)

Charity Dunlevy-Todd joined in 2013 when she was 13  and continued participating while attending Franklin High School. After graduating, Dunlevy-Todd went out-of-state for college and stepped away from the Youth Commission in 2018. Currently, Dunlevy-Todd is completing her senior year at Illinois’ Aurora University, majoring in social work with a specialization in child welfare, with minors in criminal justice and psychology. Dunlevy-Todd said the Multnomah Youth Commission was a unique experience that allowed her to grow as an individual and explore her interests.

Isaura Ascensio (she/her)

In 2005, Isaura Ascensio was 15 and had recently given birth. That same year, she applied for the Youth Commission and was accepted. After graduating from high school and participating for three years, Ascencio attended Portland State University. There, Ascencio majored in community development with a focus in international studies. Today, Ascensio works at Multnomah County, in the Department of County Assets. Asencio helps businesses and companies navigate contracting and other work with the County. When thinking back on her years in the Multnomah Youth Commission, Ascencio said, “I wouldn’t have learned how to navigate policies, systems and government in general, had I not started that early.”

Kaia Range (she/her)

In 2001, Kaia Range was a middle schooler who was drawn to apply to the Youth Commission. Once accepted, Range stayed for six years, until her high school graduation. Range attended American University in Washington, D.C., and majored in international studies, with a focus on Latin America, and minored in Spanish. Today, Range lives in Chile, where she teaches English online. Range said she incorporates empowerment when teaching her students, something she learned from the Multnomah Youth Commission.

Linh Oliver (they/them) 

After being recruited by several participants, Linh Oliver joined the Multnomah Youth Commission in 2018 while in high school. Two years later, after graduating from Franklin High School, Oliver enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, where they are currently a sophomore and majoring in political science, with minors in public policy and poverty studies. “I see myself returning to Portland and getting involved in the local government in one way or another.”

Sarah Reich (she/her) 

After seeing an advertisement in the newspaper, Sarah Reich, a sophomore at the Metropolitan Learning Center, applied and became part of the first Multnomah Youth Commission group in 1996. Reich went on to attend Oregon State University, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in environmental economics and geography. She then pursued her master’s degree in urban and environmental policy and planning. Reich now works as a senior project manager at ECONorthwest, an applied economics consulting firm. Reich said the Multnomah Youth Commission set her up for success: “I came into college with public speaking experience and a better understanding of how government actually works for people.”