Of the Baker City Herald

A park rejuvenation project could lead to better social and academic success for Baker County youth.

Survey results from a cross section of 300 middle school, high school and alternative school youth showed they felt they were not empowered or valued by adults in their communities.

Dorothy Wooters, a representative from the community organization Hand in Hand, Youth and Community, used a list created by the Search Institute to make the survey that identified the areas of conflict in the community.

The Search Institute is a research organization based out of Minneapolis, Minn., which focuses on adolescent development and has established a list of 40 developmental assets that help young people to grow up healthy, caring, and responsible.

The assets include the perception among young people that they are valued by adults, given useful roles in the community and able to serve the community for one hour or more per week.

Also included in the survey was an opportunity for youth to meet with Wooters to express their concerns and suggest what could be done in the community to help them be successful in life.

A group of high school students including Nathan Hellberg and Matt Jager spoke with Wooters. She said they were ready, not with complaints but with a plan, sketches and questions about possible grants for a project to clean up and expand the old skateboard, bike, volleyball and basketball facilities located behind the Sam-O Swim Center.

When they met with me they had such enthusiasm and were so willing to do whatever it would take that I knew I needed to do something about this. We as a community need to get behind and support these kids, Dorothy Wooters said. They are the ones that have the power to change the image of what goes on out there.

Wooters then took the students request for renovations to Baker County Commission Chair Brian Cole. Cole connected Wooters with Mary Tomlinson, Baker Partnership Leader of the Department of Human Services and co-convener of the Governors Sustainability and Youth Employment Project team, which happened to be looking for a way to employ youth in Baker County.

Dorothy Wooters had a great idea and our team liked it because youth would directly benefit from the work they did, Tomlinson said.

Now, a coalition of state and local agencies, schools, private businesses and other adults are working with youth who are involved by court mandate or their own volunterrism to improve the skatepark while enhancing those developmental assets at the same time.

Essentially the idea, the project and the funding all came together in just six weeks, Tomlinson said. Thats unbelievable and unprecedented, and its because of the trust that has developed between the partners. At first I was nervous but I knew if there was one place in Oregon that it could happen, it would be in Baker City.

Youth get involved

Youth representative Matt Jager said he wanted to get involved in the project because the existing skate park was dangerous, not much fun and in need of improvements.

The hardest part is figuring out all the grants and stuff, but weve got a lot of kids involved already, close to 30 or 40, Jager said.

Jager said he wants to help replace the skate apparatus called the fun box this summer and find as much money as possible for improvements to be made next summer. He said he hopes the changes to the facilities will create a place for entire families to enjoy.

Jager said he and his friends will prove they are dedicated to the project by leading fund-raising activities and cleanups like the one that took place two weeks ago, when a group of volunteer and court-involved youth pulled weeds and removed rocks from the park area.

This isnt part of a class or anything, it is just a bunch of kids that want to see it happen, Jager said.

Youth representative Nathan Hellberg said he would like to see the community get involved and work together with youth to build a place for skateboarding.

It will give us a place to go besides out behind local stores, Hellberg said. He is currently working on drawing a design for the new skateboard stunt area.

Support from adults

Carmen Ott teaches U.S. History, World Geography and Economics at the Baker High School and has volunteered to serve as an advocate for the youth involved in the park rejuvenation project. Ott said when the first park was originally put in, the youth came up with the major plan and then the adults took over.

She wants the youth to be able to come to her for help and have a voice throughout the project.

I teach a large number of students who like to use the skate park, she explained. Just because they dress different, or look different than the students that play baseball or football does not mean that the community should not have interest in this population.

Ott said the motivation for the project is the opportunity for adults and youth to work together to build a new park and create a positive, safe atmosphere.

The kids will have to prove to themselves and their community that they can control, maintain and monitor this project. If they dont, it will go no further, Ott said. I hope it continues, Im going to keep working with them.

Dave Daffer, owner of Flagstaff Sports, volunteered to help the youth. Daffer said he got involved to serve as a means of communication between the youth that buy skate and bike equipment from his shop and adult community members who have the power to fund their project.

Daffer said the park project is a learning experience on a local scale that will help youth by teaching them a work ethic and showing them the community does care.

We want the kids to see that with a vision, a goal and hard work anything can be achieved, Daffer said. If the kids know that the community cares, they will be more respectful.

Both Daffer and Wooters said there are no female youth involved in the project, but there are plenty of opportunities for their participation.

Beth Jager is helping her son Matt with the project. She said skateboarding can be hard on city curbs, steps and streets, and the new park will benefit Baker City youth by giving them a place to go where they are welcome.

This is going to help people see that skaters are good kids and that they are involved in safe alternative activities, Jager said.

Jager said youth like to see that parents are interested in their activities. She said there is a need for an adult interest to add a mentoring process to the project.

Other groups sign on

Rick Taylor, the new Baker City Lions Club president, said youth representatives have the opportunity to present their improvement ideas to the club and possibly receive funding. Taylor said nothing is official until the groups meet in July. Taylor said ideas might be benches or garbage cans with the Lions Club name and logo on them.

As long as it is something for youth in the community, we should support it, Taylor said. It is to the point now where it is everybodys responsibility to care.

Rex Hoopes supervises juvenile work crews for the Baker County Juvenile Departments Restorative Justice Program. He said goals for park rejuvenation with his crew this summer include rebuilding the fun box, fixing frost heaved concrete and handrail bars, adding drains, benches, garbage cans, a foot bridge and a fence. Next summer he hopes to arrange new parking facilities, bathrooms, landscaping, a water feature and access to electricity.

Hoopes said the program is good for court involved youth to serve community service hours, earn money to pay restitution to their victims as well as for their own needs and keep busy.

I hope to see it grow to where 30 kids can be working all summer long, Hoopes said. The project will be good for the neighborhood, the community and the kids, if the volunteer spirit is kept high, if the entire community gets involved and if all agencies and partners get something done. Without a solid partnership, its like bumping your head against a wall.

Hoopes said that working with so many different individuals and agencies has not been a barrier to progress. There has been 100 percent cooperation between the groups. Nothing negative has been said. Its been 100 percent wonderful, Hoopes said.

A $15,000 grant has been secured from the Baker Morrow Partnership, and Hoopes estimated the cost for the park rejuvenation project to be $34,100. Tomlinson said another $10,000 grant has been approved by the Adult and Family Services division of the Department of Human Services. Tomlinson hopes the project will receive another grant for $8,860 from the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department in mid-July.

In the long run, were going to save a lot of money. Keeping kids out of detention saves $150 dollars a day, Hoopes said.

Hoopes said there is a possible part-time job opening for a crew supervisor with concrete and construction experience if all of the funding is received.

So far there has been no conflict between youth volunteers and youth offenders working together.

If anything, theyre a little competitive, Hoopes said.

Youth, parents or volunteers that want to get involved can contact Beth or Matt Jager at 523-7898 or Dorothy Wooters at 523-4130.