BUTLER, Pa. - On a sticky June morning in 2021, Jessica Mann climbed two flights of carpeted stairs in search of something. On that particular day, it was a job she was after, and by the time she left Jack Cohen's office nearly two hours later, she had found one.
"I'll give you two years," she told him.
And she did - almost to the day.
Three weeks after submitting her resignation letter, Mann, 25, concedes that she has collected far more than paychecks and health insurance during her eventful tenure as Butler County Tourism's Event Services Coordinator.
At the Bureau, she secured belonging and safety; she found friends; she unearthed a home away from home.
The Kansas City native relocated to Allegheny County in 2021 with just a car and a few suitcases. A stranger to the region and its people, Mann leaned on her job to make friends with the County and its people. She attended Bureau-sponsored events with Cohen, Butler County Tourism's President, and Debbie Crum, the agency's Outreach Director, both of whom acted as her personal tour guides.
"Everyone just took it upon themselves to make me feel safe; and they offered me a community I could rely on," said Mann, whose last day at The Bureau was July 13. "Once they learned I didn't really have anybody, they really took me in. I don't know what I would have done if I didn't work here."
In her spare time, Mann laced up her sneakers and explored local cities, townships, and boroughs on foot. She frequented stops along Butler County Tourism's Coffee, Beer, and Sweet Tooth Trails, and along the way, she picked up the passion and pride of the local communities.
"Everyone's energy rubbed off on me. There is a lot of emphasis on community, and there is a pride that people have in that," Mann asserted. "Here, people want to make Butler County a destination; they want to be inclusive; they want to grow."
While Mann plans to move back to her hometown this month, the Missourian proudly considers herself an honorary Butlerite, boasting that she can navigate the County better than any GPS or Google Map. Community members recognize her as a trusted regular at several of the local antique shops, coffee stops, and grocery stores; and at least twice a month, you'll catch her in Elluinger's Meats, picking up her favorite chicken bacon ranch sandwich and potato salad.
However, if you ask Mann to name her favorite places in Butler County, she'll rattle off the businesses she's been to with her closest friends.
With Casey Hoolahan, the Bureau's Marketing and Media Assistant, she people watches from Shubrew's rooftops, sipping on a “Mama Needs A New Pair of Shus” - a dry Rosé steeped in rose petals, hibiscus flower, and strawberry. The two coworkers also frequent Sips & Sweets by Simply Sarah to grab a pepperoni roll, a strawberry smoothie, or a chocolate whoopie pie during their lunch breaks.
With Megan Gayhart, the Bureau's Office Administrative Assistant, Mann catches a late night showing of The Little Mermaid or The Boogeyman at the Starlight Drive-In Theater. The two tug out folding chairs from their car trunks, wrap themselves in wool blankets, and munch on a burger from the snack stand.
From Prince cover band birthday parties to symphonies, to game nights and dinners with coworkers, Butler County itself has become a warm, welcoming friend - one Mann plans to return to someday.
"Being here for such a short period of time really proves that it doesn't matter how long you've been friends with someone," Mann said. "It's the connection you have. These people will be my friends forever. They will always be important to me.
If you ever lose faith in humanity, I feel like this is a good place to regain it."