Riverbend students build La Grande shed with Habitat for Humanity

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Students at Riverbend Youth Correctional Facility in Hilgard are learning how getting your hands a little dirty can make a world of a difference. Several students between the ages of 17 and 22 are working with Habitat for Humanity to build a 12x16-foot shed behind a home in La Grande, and are not only learning construction skills but also finding confidence and a boost in self-esteem.

The InterMountain Education Service District (IMESD) provides the educational programming for youth housed at Riverbend, which is run by the Oregon Youth Authority. Riverbend staff do their best each year to provide students opportunities to become involved in real vocational training relating to the subject areas they’re being taught at Riverbend. Mitch Posey, the vocational teacher at Riverbend and an IMESD employee, contacted Larry Knowles at the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity to find out if there were any projects Riverbend students could assist with to learn more about the construction field, as well as to give back to their community.

Throughout December and now through January, Posey takes four to five students at a time to work on building a 12x16-foot shed behind a home recently built by Habitat for Humanity. Individual students who participate change all the time, Posey said, in an effort to provide all of Riverbend’s construction students the chance to work on the project, get hands-on training and give back to the community.

So far, students have framed the entire project, and are now hard at work on roofing, siding, trim work and setting doors and windows. Painting could also become part of the project. Posey said all of the vocational hands-on training is supported in the classroom by a previously college-accredited curriculum he taught over a decade ago at Chemeketa Community College.

“I strongly believe that the biggest reward for the kids is that they learn a legitimate trade or vocation through hands-on repetition,” Posey said. “They also get a lot of fulfillment out of knowning that the project they are working on is for a family that would otherwise never be able to own a home like the one they’re working on. Most of these kids have good intentions, but have been raised in a dysfunctional environment and have not had a lot of direction in life. In many cases, they have never had anyone take the time to teach them a trade or skill that will help them survive and flourish in the real world.”

Posey expects the students to complete the shed project by the end of January, and looks forward to the students having an opportunity to help with another Habitat for Humanity project – this time a house – in the spring.

“Because of the young ages of most of my students, they are still easily influenced with positive training and positive reinforcement,” Posey said. “It is my opinion tha the best way to eliminate the recidivism rate (the likelihood of reoffending) with youth is to give them the education and vocational training skills to earn a legitimate wage. This instills confidence in the kids and boosts their self-esteem tremendously. It is the philosophy and belief of the local OYA (Oregon Youth Authority) and InterMountain Education Service District administrators to provide this invaluable training to the students at Riverbend.”


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