MacLaren Artists Use Their Talents to Brighten Community Space

The youth painted a mural for AWARE Food Bank in Woodburn as part of an ongoing partnership.

“It shows appreciation to them and the things they do for the community, and lets that not go unrecognized.”

Damon, MacLaren youth who helped paint a mural for the AWARE Food Pantry

The AWARE Food Pantry in Woodburn, part of the Marion Polk Food Share, has been donating snacks for the youth who are participating in treatment and enrichment groups at OYA’s MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility for some time. Recently, a group of MacLaren youth had a chance to pay back this generosity by painting a mural to hang in the pantry’s entry room.

The youth spent several months working on the mural with help from Javier Perfecto of OYA’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations (OIIR); Christina Puentes, OYA’s statewide youth conflict resolution coordinator; and Carlos Chavez of Morpheus Youth Project, which provides numerous creative growth programs for MacLaren youth.

The youth started the mural by finding a picture of a heart surrounded by fruit and vegetables, from which they drew their inspiration. Then, using paints and brushes, they began their work on several large canvases.

Five youth contributed to the project: Marco A., Reynaldo C., Agustin E. V., Damon K., and Brett P.

At one of the painting sessions, Marco held a small artist’s palette and applied green paint to an apple in the corner of the mural. The mural contained numerous fruits and vegetables, but also other items that are important to the youths’ diets, including tortilla chips, tacos, jalapeños and avocados.

“Not everybody is just gonna want to see fruit and vegetables, so we put a couple of other dishes in,” Marco said.

Inside the heart in the middle of the mural, the word “Welcome” is written in nine languages.

Marco went on to say, “Painting is not my strong suit. I’m still learning.” His favorite media to use are paint markers and pencil; however, in the end, he just loves art.

Marco wrote some remarks about the impact of the project, which Perfecto shared during a mural unveiling event at the food pantry in July.

“It has been an honor to be a part of this mural for the AWARE Bank,” Marco wrote. “It is great to know that I was able to collaborate with a great organization that does great work for the community. A helping hand is what many people are afraid to ask for due to judgement but it’s comforting to know that an organization like this food bank is around to provide unconditional support to the citizens in need. It is a blessing that I was able to contribute to the community from the inside. If possible, I will continue to participate in future projects that continue to bring joy to the community.”

Several community dignitaries attended the unveiling, including Oregon State Rep. Teresa Alonso León.

“I have visited MacLaren several times and have spoken to our youth there, and one of the things they have said to me that I remember is the importance of being involved with community,” she told the audience. “What a beautiful way to engage our youth and have them leave a legacy and do something that really inspires community. We all know that we make mistakes, and what they are gifting us is something we can display proudly.”

Gabby Peña, AWARE Food Bank manager, said that they wanted the mural to represent the Woodburn community, the foods they eat, and the languages they speak.

“One of the things we realized as a food bank is that oftentimes there might be stigmas people are trying to overcome, or them feeling like they are not being able to relate to the people who are here,” she said. “It will be great to have our community walk in and see a sign that represents all who are here, all who we are serving, a space that is going to be uplifting and bright.”

In celebration of the mural being unveiled, Pena went to MacLaren and had dinner with all the youth artists who worked on the mural.

“The energy … and the hope I walked out with just from speaking to these youth was incredible,” she said. “I saw the dreams, the aspirations, and the way they were able to relate to this artwork. So many of them were sitting there saying, ‘We’ve been to a food bank … and there were all these cool people there.’ It was so beautiful to know they could relate in that aspect as well.”

Thank you to the AWARE Food Pantry for their donations and for giving our youth the opportunity to participate in this project. And thank you to Javier Perfecto, multicultural services coordinator OIIR, for maintaining MacLaren’s relationship with the food pantry and for helping to make this project possible.

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