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Giving something back
The Art of Christmas Giving - YouTube
RiverBend residents display wooden puzzles they crafted at the transition facility’s shop. From left, are Lupe Diaz, Chris Hanson, Scott Ashbaugh and Brandon Baltzell. The toys are being distributed as Christmas gifts to children from needy families throughout Union County with the help of the Salvation Army. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
RiverBend students brighten Christmas for less fortunate children with wooden toys, puzzles
A team of at-risk youth at the RiverBend Youth Transition Facility is mastering the art of Christmas giving one intricately cut puzzle at a time.
The students have been making wooden toys and blocks to be distributed as Christmas gifts to children from needy families throughout Union County with the help of the Salvation Army.
For students like Christopher Hanson, making the toys is a joy. Hanson is excited about having the opportunity to reach out to the less fortunate.
“Giving back to the community always gives you a good feeling. It is a plus,” Hanson said.
The items the RiverBend team members craft include wooden puzzles of animals, footballs and soccer balls. Most of the puzzle blocks have about six pieces. Assembling the puzzles, once their pieces are complete, is easy; crafting those pieces is not. Sometimes challenges present themselves at the most inopportune times. Branden Baltzell, a RiverBend resident, said that occasionally a piece of wood will break right before a puzzle is completed, forcing him to start a portion of a project over from scratch.
“It can be frustrating,” Baltzell said.
Once the cutting is done, the work is far from complete. Sanding and painting need to be done, requiring more skill and patience — plenty of patience.
“There is no quick gratification. (The final product) comes after painting and painting, sanding and sanding,” said Erin Creech, the program manager at RiverBend.
Scott Ashbaugh, a RiverBend student, agrees that the process of creating the wooden toys for youths is painstaking work.
“It takes a lot of patience. Even when you are painting, it does not dry as fast as you want,” he said.
Still, Ashbaugh said even with the tedious work, none of the students have complained.
“This work always makes my day brighter,” Hanson said.
The RiverBend youths often show their true colors while making the toys, choosing to apply the colors of their favorite university sports teams. Many of the puzzle blocks are the colors of Boise State University, the University of Oregon or Oregon State University.
Brett Dunten, RiverBend’s wood shop instructor, jokes that he prefers the toys all be painted Oregon green and yellow.
“If you make anything painted in anything but Oregon’s colors, you only get half credit,” Dunten told his students with a smile last week.
RiverBend students are earning high school credit for their wood shop work.
Kenny English, a RiverBend unit coordinator, said that the woodworking project helps youths relax.
“You see their stress level go down,” English said. “They come back (from the wood shop) in a better mood.”
English also sees students who are developing skills that will serve them well for years to come.
“The skills they learn are ones they will be able to take with them forever,” he said.
He noted that many of the youths at RiverBend, about 10 miles west of La Grande, have never had a chance to do carpentry work because they grew up in inner cities where this opportunity was not available.
Dunten believes the toys the RiverBend woodworkers have made will be well received.
“Homemade toys have more sentimental value than manufactured toys,” he said.
Dunten believes that the value of learning to reach out to the community through the making of these toys is not something that can be underestimated.
“It is not all about us,” he said. “It is about helping out.’’