Youth improve futures with new equipment

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Youth improve futures with new equipment

11:01 a.m. PDT September 25, 2015

The young men at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility can now utilize the new Industrial Arts Complex to take part in programs that will help their futures.

The Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) and Willamette Education Service District held an open house Thursday to celebrate the new Industrial Arts Complex in the Moody Building at the facility, which is complete with new state-of-the-art equipment and technology.

The Moody Building is where MacLaren’s at-risk youth approximately 18 to 25 years of age can learn vocational skills to become productive, crime-free members of society.

The new equipment includes a CNC router, automotive machinery including lifts and new tools and a virtual welding training system. Leaders from the facility said access to this new equipment increases youths’ marketable skills when they are released from OYA care.

Last year, the building underwent a comprehensive renovation to create a better environment for youth and staff to work together. The equipment was not donated. Instead, it was bought via business partnerships and grants.

MacLaren is Oregon’s largest youth correctional facility, located on 80 acres in Woodburn, and serves more than 100 youths.

The youth involved are gaining invaluable experience.

Brandon, 24, is one of the youth at the facility. State officials asked that last names of the youth not be used. Brandon is participating in the programs for the first time and said he is already enjoying working on machinery.

“I wanted to learn about all kinds of machines,” he said. “The building is awesome.”

With the new equipment, Brandon is able to do many things, such as cutting wood, multiple times faster than before, chopping hours of work into just minutes.

Another student, Pavel, 23, is one of the advanced students. He has been designing and welding projects and art for a few years. He recently completed a large piece of welding art that depicts the Portland skyline. Projects such as this can be purchased by businesses and organizations outside of the facility.

His skyline piece was requested and purchased by the State of Oregon Real Estate Agency.

Jon, 21, has taken part in the programs for four years, but has had a completely different emphasis on his work. He works with the Fences for Fido program, a partnership with the local nonprofit of the same name, which works to build houses and fenced yards for dogs who are otherwise being chained.

In the program, Jon works to build dog houses fit for different-sized dogs, all complete with a protective layer on the outside and insulation inside for the dogs in the winter.

“I wasn’t too excited about it at first,” he said. “But I was when I found out it was with a nonprofit and was going to help dogs.”

Jon is a big dog lover. This program allows him to become certified in the machinery he operates, giving him a leg up when he leaves the facility, but it also allows him to give back.

“We don’t get any money from this,” he said. “This is all for the dogs.”

He is able to build three times as many dog houses a day with the new machinery. Leaders at the facility agreed this is an opportunity for the youth to be part of something bigger than themselves.

The certifications the youth earn as students can be applied for work outside of the facility. They are offering four courses this term, such as intro to career tech and small engines.

Additionally, many youths are earning college credit by participating in programs that are aligned with local community college curriculum, tools and goals. These students are working toward an Associate degree via online courses and on-site classes taught by visiting professors.

According to MacLaren Principal Michael Conn, the programs are for older youth who have already earned their GED or high school diploma. However, he said youth at other facilities can earn their GED or diploma and transfer to the facility.

Though the collegiate classes only had 20 students last year, the classes now have 80 students.

Conn and others said this allows the youths to be strong competitors when out of the facility and have the chance to get a job and earn a living wage. The youth are also given classes on employment soft-skills, such as how to interview and write a resume.

Aaron, 21, was released from the facility in July. He was able to earn a machinery job before he was out.

He now works for a machining company in Albany.

He said he was definitely able to apply what he learned in the program to his new position. Aaron added that his dad is a welder and after seeing some of Aaron’s art, his father said, “You have to show me how to do that!”

Chris, 23, is another example of a youth taking advantage of the opportunity presented at the facility.

Chris went through all the research and training needed to not only be certified in welding and other things, but to now serve as a teaching assistant to the program classes.

At the open house, Chris demonstrated the new virtual welding device the complex has to help students practice the basics of welding before dealing with the real tools.

Dan Berger is the superintendent of MacLaren. He said that while one might assume there to be security risks with all the state-of-the-art equipment, such as the auto tools, there has never been a problem. He attributed this to the youths’ strong desire to work.

“We wanted to create a safe space for the students to (focus) on the program,” he said. “They have a high level of respect (for the opportunity) to better their lives and concentrate on their trade.”

npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745 or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate

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