(Above) Ten high school students from Santiam Canyon Volleyball Club, founded by OYA employees Lori Ramsay (second from left) and Julie Summers (second from right), were hosted by eight youth from Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility and their group life coordinators/coaches Kacie Nelson (far left) and Emily Cox (far right) for a day-long volleyball camp in early April.
Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility is getting a bump in support from OYA for its volleyball program, the latest being a volleyball camp with student-athletes from the community.
The Santiam Canyon Volleyball Club brought in a team of high school juniors and seniors to offer a full-day volleyball camp to eight Oak Creek youth earlier this month. The partnership with the club is a long time in the making, as its two leaders are both OYA employees.
“This was always something we wanted to do,” said SCVC director Lori Ramsay, who has worked 23 years for OYA, most recently as an electronic health records analyst.
She and Julie Summers, who works in OYA contracts, started SCVC four years ago. The club is for youth ages 7-18 in southern Marion County who are interested in volleyball.
Oregon State University and Linn-Benton Community College have provided clinics at Oak Creek before, said Rod Martin, OYA athletics and recreation coordinator, but this was the first time the youth had a visit from other high school students.
“To have a clinic where you let girls from the community come in and interact with our girls, it’s a win-win,” Martin said. “It’s that community building piece — they’re here, but they’re still part of the community.”
Walking into the gymnasium at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility — the camp was moved there for the facility’s regulation-size court — one wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the athletes from the community and those from Oak Creek. They intermingled easily, laughing and talking on the sidelines, and exhibiting teamwork on the court.
“By being here, they get to see and experience their peers who have made bad choices,” Ramsay said about her team. “This is their day off school, but to still be here saying, ‘Yes, I want to come,’ that speaks so much to how incredible these kids are.”
That’s part of the club’s mission, to not only play volleyball, but to use the sport as an impetus for serving the community.
“Our mission is we do things to enrich our community,” Ramsay said. “We use sports as the vehicle to raise empathetic and respectful adults.”
And the Oak Creek youth were thrilled at the opportunity.
“I loved today; it’s one of my favorite days in a long time,” Ashanti M., 16, said. “I’m just happy meeting new people. I haven’t done that in a long time. It makes me feel like a real person, makes me feel like I’m back at school. This is the longest I’ve been smiling since I got (to OYA). I’m just so happy.”
She admitted she had misgivings coming into the activity.
“I judged them; I thought they would be stuck up, but they’ve actually been welcoming and nice,” Ashanti said.
Madison T., 16, said she played volleyball against SCVC teams when she was in club sports before entering OYA.
“My dad made me do volleyball — that was the condition before, but now I like it,” she said. “It keeps me busy. It teaches you to learn to accept people’s mistakes, to cheer them on instead of tear them down, and it teaches you to be driven, and (to have) teamwork.”
She said she tries to play volleyball every day, but this activity with youth from the community was a pleasant addition to the daily volleyball regimen.
“It’s been so fun, it made me forget I was ever incarcerated,” she said.
Youth like Madison and Ashanti might be able to have these interactions more often, as Martin plans to organize a competitive volleyball team out of Oak Creek that plays other community teams by fall 2020. He established something similar recently with the MacLaren basketball team.
“The goal today is to set a foundation and let them know we’re working toward building those opportunities,” Martin said. “I hope we continue to do stuff like this so we can schedule games.”
Because multiple OYA facilities house male youth, it’s been comparably easier to set up tournaments and competitive activities. In fact, MacLaren hosted the all-facilities volleyball tournament just two weeks after the girls’ clinic. At that event, six teams from five facilities competed in a two-day tournament, with Camp Tillamook Youth Transitional Facility coming out triumphant.
While youth have to fulfill a physical education requirement for high school, it’s an especially important feature to an incarcerated youth’s livelihood, Martin said.
“It’s a huge stress reliever, it helps them to be around people, to take their mind off things — everybody needs that,” he said. “Athletic teams offer things that you don’t get anywhere else: teamwork, (the chance) to be coached, (the chance) to learn how to coach. You can’t duplicate that in any other environment.”