Kind donation buys new gym floor for incarcerated youth: 'A message of hope for the kids'

The new new hardwood floor at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility replaces the concrete floor incarcerated youth played on for decades, thanks to an unprecedented $110,000 donation from Salem Evangelical Church.

Rarely does a private organization donate money to a public institution. Even rarer are donations to the Oregon Youth Authority, the agency that oversees Oregon's youth prisons.

But when Senior Pastor Randy R. Butler told his congregation at Salem Evangelical Church that MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn needed a new gym floor, they didn't hesitate.

"I mentioned it one Sunday," says Butler.

And now, MacLaren is celebrating its new hardwood floor, courtesy of an unprecedented $110,000 donation from those parishioners.

The new floor replaces the concrete gym floor that incarcerated boys and young men have been playing on for decades. It was badly needed, but the Oregon Youth Authority couldn't afford it.

Butler knew they needed the floor. He's been coming to MacLaren every week since an emotionally poignant meeting in 2015, when he first addressed a group of incarcerated youth at MacLaren and realized something important.

"They're no different from my son, who passed away and went to heaven in 2003," says Butler. "He was 16 years old. And I realized those kids were much like my son."

His weekly visits have become part of his weekend sermons.

"It just seemed like the right thing to do, and it was actually not that difficult to present to my congregation," says Butler. "I talk about the kids most weeks, so they were well versed what I was doing with the kids, and since then have 23 volunteers who are officially trained with the state of Oregon and they come in and volunteer as well."

Butler says the OYA has a model of "positive human development" that it follows. And as Butler says, "You can't have positive human development without recreation."

MacLaren's youth inmates say the gym is their respite from months or years of incarceration, and they see Salem Evangelical's gift, and Pastor Butler's presence, as a sign that people care and are invested in their growth, rehabilitation, and renaissance.

"He understood a need was here at MacLaren to better the youth," says Johnathan, who's serving a sentence at MacLaren. (OYA asked we not share the incarcerated youths' last names.) "And him and his church have affected everyone within the community here."

"Every time I come out here, it shows me people do care," says Chris, another youth at MacLaren. "It makes me work harder."

And Butler himself has also had a big impact, even without the shiny new floor.

"Pastor Randy? That's my state dad," says Chris. "He instills in us to have faith and respect who we are."

"We want our kids to have the best that we can give to them. The other kids in our state have nice basketball courts, and these are part of the Oregon family," says Pastor Butler. "And this gym is symbolic of the redemption I see in them. We took a facility that was less than adequate, and probably would never have made the news, the condition it was in, just like these kids. Just as this gym has been changed, so are the kids' lives. It's actually a message of hope for the kids."

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