Above: Cutting the ribbon at the Industrial Arts Building dedication event, left to right: Monroe School principal Megan Hunter, Eastern Oregon YCF superintendent Doug Smith, Harney County Judge Pete Runnels, OYA director Joe O’Leary.
When Eastern Oregon Youth Correctional Facility superintendent Doug Smith looks at the facility’s new industrial arts building, he sees a productive space that will train youth for future jobs.
But, as he told over 50 Oregon Youth Authority staff and community supporters at a Sept. 24 dedication event for the building, Smith also sees it as a place to share some of the lessons he learned from his father.
“He taught us how to get up in the morning, get a pair of boots on and go to work, whether you felt like it or not,” Smith said.
“We’re teaching (the youth) work ethic. This shop that you see behind you that we’re here to dedicate today is part of that — teaching these young men skills that will help them to get a job, to take care of their family, to keep themselves out of trouble.”
The 2,757-square-foot building doubles the amount of vocational education space at Eastern. The Oregon State Legislature funded the $2.1 million project.
Previously, the facility crammed its robust trades-related programs into one small building.
The new building allows Eastern to separate its woodshop from its metal and engine shop, providing better spaces for both.
The new shop houses equipment and training areas for welding, auto mechanics, metal fabrication, diesel and gasoline engine work, a John Deere tractor training program, auto body work and plasma cutting.
These programs are run by Harney County School District as part of Eastern’s Monroe School. The school also offers high school diploma, GED and college programs; construction and woodworking training; and a variety of other job-related certifications.
A 2013 study sponsored by the RAND Corporation showed that incarcerated people who participate in educational and vocational training programs are 43 percent less likely to be arrested for another crime than those who do not.
“We have a statutory mission of keeping communities safe, and our vision is that kids leave our care not only crime free, but productive,” said Joe O’Leary, director of the Oregon Youth Authority.
“We know from study after study that education and vocational training reduces recidivism. That means that the programs that happen in spaces like this make our communities safer across Oregon.”
Johnathan, a youth who attended the dedication, is a good example of that idea.
In the facility’s woodshop, he proudly showed guests a piece of furniture he had built, sounding like a professional carpenter as he described each detail of his work.
When a guest asked him what he’d be doing if he didn’t have these programs, his answer came quickly.
“I wouldn’t be nearly as busy as I am, and when you’re not busy in a place like this, you tend to do things that get you into trouble,” he said. “Having these opportunities helps keep guys out of trouble and gives us a healthy outlet.”
William, a youth who works as a teacher’s aide in the new industrial arts building, agreed that his work kept him busy and out of trouble.
William has fond childhood memories of working on cars with his father, and dreams of becoming a diesel mechanic.
“The building is wonderful,” he said. “We don’t have the sawdust getting into the engines and causing problems anymore, and it gives us a lot more room for new youth to get into mechanics.”
Helping more students find potential careers is one of the goals of Megan Hunter, Monroe School’s principal.
“Our goal is to have them walk out and be marketable to people who are employing young men,” she said. “We want them to have as many tools in their toolbelt as possible so that they can be successful.”