Kathryn S. is pictured during her certified recovery mentor training last year. In addition to becoming a CRM, she has interned with the OYA research team for two and a half years.
One way for a youth to work toward living a productive, crime-free life is through employment.
While different Oregon Youth Authority sites have positions working in the kitchen, training dogs, or running coffee carts, one youth has the opportunity to get into the nuts and bolts of the research behind what OYA does.
Kathryn S., who is a resident at Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility, has been interning as a research assistant for OYA for two and a half years. Her job consists of editing and formatting reports and data, making sure surveys are filled out correctly, and helping put together information for OYA performance measures. Most of these reports and surveys are published online.
As time has gone by, OYA’s research team members have done more to include Kathryn in their work. They often hold meetings at Oak Creek to ensure that Kathryn can attend, and she even got to sit in on interviews for a new research department head.
“They’re involving me a lot more,” she said. “I’m part of the team. I was kind of surprised. To have higher-ups or people from [OYA’s] Central Office involve me is flattering in and of itself. I feel they don’t treat me like I am a youth.”
Even when there are no team meetings, lead research analyst Lance Schnacker, who serves as Kathryn’s mentor, stops by Oak Creek to check in with her every week, if possible.
The research team is now rolling out a pilot for a survey Kathryn created to measure OYA youth satisfaction.
“For me, I just know so much can be changed and it can fall on deaf ears,” Kathryn said. “I thought that if I put it out there, then maybe they’ll be heard.”
It was Schnacker who suggested Kathryn write her own survey.
“I put it out there and she jumped on it,” he said. “We’ve done these types of surveys before, but not one that is youth-generated. We weren’t asking tough enough questions, none that would get at what she’s asking.”
Kathryn landed the job by chance. She gave a tour of Oak Creek to members of the research unit, and they were so impressed with her that they thought she would make a great addition to their team.
“A lot of (the work) can be really grueling,” Schnacker said. “It’s an opportunity we don’t normally offer because there aren’t a lot of youth who can do it.”
Although a few MacLaren youth helped the research team in the past, Kathryn is the only OYA youth who has done it long-term.
Research job aside, Kathryn, who is 21, stands out at Oak Creek as a leader. She is working on her associate degree, she is a certified recovery mentor, and she serves as an informal counselor to her peers.
“Kathryn has always been a leader,” said Nick Pearce, Kathryn’s case coordinator. “I think her sense of empathy makes her especially effective.”
Kathryn said she is grateful for the opportunity to work with OYA’s research team, even if, she admitted, “I’m not in love with editing.”
“Even though I do feel behind in so many ways in life, I’ve got job experiences from OYA, and that’s really valuable,” she said. “And I know I can use them as a reference when I get out.”
While the research job has taught her things she hasn’t known, like the ins and outs of the legal system, she’s also learned a lot about the agency and people she’s working with.
“You come to a place like this and you don’t think people care about the number of times you recidivate,” she said, citing one set of research statistics she’s helped with. “But they actually help and try to make a difference. It’s something I never thought was important to anybody.”