Dark pasts yield to bright futures

By Chris Collins June 07, 2013 09:44 am

By Chris Collins

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Three Baker High School graduates who, like their classmates, crossed the grass to receive their diplomas Sunday at Baker Bulldog Memorial Stadium, will be heading off to college this fall.

But unlike most of their classmates, the three 18-year-olds arrived at the high school two years ago with more than their share of burdens.

Dan Stinson, Stephen Spenst and Tyson Walton all came to Baker City from Pendleton through the Oregon Youth Authority.

OYA provides custody and supervision of the state’s juvenile offenders. These three all had been housed at the Homestead Youth and Family Treatment Center at Pendleton and attended Pendleton High School before moving to Baker City to live with OYA-certified foster parents.

Walton lives with Woody and Debbie Kellogg, and Stinson and Spenst have made their home with Charlotte Landers.

The OYA foster homes help the young people adjust and have fewer rules than the treatment center they were moved from, said Landers, who returned to the foster care system four years ago. 

Her family provided foster care in the 1970s and then took a  break while her own children were in high school.

 “My home is transitional between where they were and where they’re going,” Landers says.

There were few options for the three young men once they left Pendleton because they all lacked a family support system, said Heidi Meier, OYA juvenile parole and probation officer.

“These are three kids who were pretty down on their luck,” Meier said.

Once they arrived at Baker High School, however, their fortunes took a turn for the better. The three all found their own groups of friends, worked hard in their classes and excelled academically and in sports.

“I think their success is attributable to how welcoming that school is,” Meier said. “And the foster parents have done a really good job.”

The young men credit Baker High School teachers, counselors and coaches with easing their transition from high school to hopes for a brighter future.

Stinson and Spenst especially are grateful to Janie Mahaffey, who coordinates the ASPIRE program aimed at pairing students with mentors and helping them plan for life after graduation whether that be college, vocational training or going directly to a job.

Mahaffey also is the school’s vocational coordinator and works with students in the Youth Transition Program.

“Most of my success with scholarships and getting into college goes to Janie,” Stinson said. “She helped me when I didn’t know what to do.”

Spenst echoes that sentiment.

Mahaffey, though, turns the credit for their success back to Stinson, Spenst and Walton.

“They are fine young men who will be greatly missed at our school,” she said.

Stinson, who earned an Oregon Honors diploma and was a National Honor Society member, says Mahaffey spurred him to apply for scholarships that will pay for most of his first year of college. At the May 23 Honors and Awards program, Stinson received the Nadie Strayer, Baker County Quilt Club, Sanford and Mary Adler, J.W. Stuchell, Col. Harry L. Dale and Leo Adler scholarships. He’s awaiting word on at least two more, Mahaffey said.

Stinson plans to work toward a law degree with the intention of becoming a defense attorney. He looks forward to helping other people. 

Bob Moon, a Baker City attorney, served as a mentor for Stinson, Mahaffey said. And Circuit Court Judge Greg Baxter also encouraged him.

Stinson’s interest in becoming a lawyer was piqued even before his own legal troubles, he says, and now he looks forward to making his dream a reality.

Mahaffey said Stinson was so grateful for the scholarship money he received that he spent five hours writing thank-you letters expressing his appreciation to those responsible for his awards.

Spenst, one of eight children, is moving to Walla Walla, Wash., to live with a brother. He plans to attend Walla Walla Community College to work toward a nursing degree. He also will benefit from financial aid he received through help from the school staff.

And he, too, looks forward to a career of helping others.

Walton has parlayed his success as a track athlete into a scholarship at Treasure Valley Community College where he plans to study business. He also was awarded a Leo Adler Scholarship and was honored in March as a Student of the Month by the Baker City Kiwanis Club.

Walton will continue working full time at Safeway until school begins this fall. In addition to citing the help he received from the school staff, Walton credits his foster parents for their efforts to take him to work and support him through his athletic career.

“And they help me when I get into trouble,” he said.

While at school that usually involved “getting talked to for doing something stupid,” he said.

Walton excelled in track where he threw the shot put and discus, winning the Greater Oregon League shot put championship and finishing ninth in the event at the state meet.

Spenst also participated on the track team, competing in the 400-meter run and as the anchor leg of the 4x400 relay team.

Spenst and Walton both advanced to state their senior years as members of the wrestling team. Spenst finished third in the 182-pound weight division and Walton finished sixth, wrestling at 220.

Spenst won the wrestling team’s BAGUBA award, an honor that includes his name engraved on a plaque that will remain at the school. The award is given to the “Brutally Aggressive Guy Uninhibited By his Adversity.”

Walton was named the team’s Outstanding Wrestler and was honored as a scholar athlete for maintaining a grade-point average of 3.2 or higher.

Stinson and Walton played football for two years and were members of the 2012 Baker Bulldog state championship team. Walton received Greater Oregon League honorable mention recognition as an offensive lineman.

And Stinson played right field as one of four seniors on the Bulldog baseball team. 

Sports helped with the transition to a new high school, Stinson says.

“That made moving to Baker easier —  with football I made friends right away,” he said.

Gwen O’Neal, BHS assistant principal, said the three fit in well with the Class of 2013 and became an integral part of the school.

That doesn’t always happen when OYA students join the high school population, and for all three to do so well is exceptional, O’Neal said.

“This many of this caliber of young men is very unusual,” she said.

Stinson’s participation in National Honor Society is a first for an OYA student in her five years as assistant principal, she added.

“They all three came in and embraced what we had to offer at Baker High School in their different ways and all three took advantage of our programs and excelled,” she said. “I see a positive future for all three of them.”

O’Neal said the high school receives a lot of support from OYA staff members whenever OYA students are enrolled at BHS.

“We have a great relationship with parole people in Ontario and Pendleton,” she said. 

And the boys received excellent support from their foster parents, O’Neal said.

“These foster parents were at events supporting these boys,” she said, and that included attending parent night functions, sporting events and family dinners for athletic teams.

“They are pretty special  foster parents,” O’Neal said.