Salem Evangelical Church's gift is the largest ever private donation received by Oregon Youth Authority

PHIL HAWKINS - Oregon Youth Authority athletic and recreation coordinator Rod Martin presents a gift to Salem Evangelical Church Pastor Randy Butler that was made by residents at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility. The Salem Evangelical Church raised $110,000 to build a new hardwood foor at MacLaren's Valley Athletic & Community Center, the largest private donation ever given to the OYA.

Chris W. lines up a 3-point shot from the left corner, rises up and sinks it in one deft motion. His teammate, Trei, gathers the rebound and passes it back to Chris, who has moved toward the top of the key for another shot.

He drains it again.

Each time he shoots, the ball falls to the floor and bounces off the polished hardwood court, which reflects the lights of the Valley Athletic & Community Center. Chris is a resident at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn and is an avid basketball player — a member of his high school basketball team in another lifetime.

At this time last year, Chris and the other residents at MacLaren were playing on the weathered concrete court inside the gymnasium — cracked, abrasive and unforgiving to those unfortunate enough to fall to the ground in pursuit of a loose ball.

Not so today. Thanks to an unprecedented private donation from the Salem Evangelical Church, MacLaren was able to replace the concrete surface with the new wood floor that was christened on Thursday with a private ceremony, followed by a 3-point contest and high-point shooting exhibition.

"I'm very happy that people put their faith in me," Chris said, addressing a crowd of family members and church congregants. "Without these people, I wouldn't have the opportunity to play like I did in high school. It proves to us that other people care about us, not just family."

Led by pastor Randy Butler, members of the Salem Evangelical Church took it upon themselves to raise $110,000, donating it to the Oregon Youth Authority, which runs the state's juvenile justice system, in July of 2017. It was the largest donation the OYA has ever received from a private donation.

"It is so rare for an outside group to make a donation to a state agency," OYA acting director Joe O'Leary said. "(It is) a place of pride for our youth who use sports to stay active and form positive relationships."

The donation is just the latest in a relationship between the Salem Evangelical Church and OYA that began when Butler met with 19 youths at the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility in Salem several years ago.

PHIL HAWKINS - MacLaren resident Dion leaps over a guest as he attempts a dunk after the ceremony to commemorate the new basketball court at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility that was paid for by a $110,000 donation from the Salem Evangelical Church in 2017.
The stories that Butler heard brought him to tears and galvanized him to dedicate his time and congregation to prove to the youths in the OYA system that they have not been forgotten by society, that there are others outside who love them.

"Do not ever let the naysayers get you down," Butler told the youths at Thursday's ceremony. "You have an army who believes in you. We believe in you. I believe in you. God believes in you."

The donation was just the latest in many philanthropic efforts the Salem Evangelical Church has dedicated to OYA. The church has donated t-shirts to a basketball tournament played on the old concrete court. Its church choir visited a facility to perform a Christmas service. And most recently, the congregation holiday pancake breakfasts to every MacLaren living unit.

But the donation for the new basketball court surpasses them all. Butler has been asked on more than one occasion why his church gives such a large amount when there are so many causes that could desperately use the money. It was even brought up during the ceremony by Johnathan B., another MacLaren resident.

"You could have invested that money in a lot of things," Johnathan said. "You chose to invest in us, and a lot of times, we're not used to that."

Butler's response to when people ask him why is to simply respond with "Why not?" When Butler spoke to the youths on Thursday, he reminded them that the new gym floor is built on the remains of the old. And likewise, their new lives are being built on the remains of the old ones.

"We want this place to not only be a culture of cooperation, but a culture of hope," Butler said.

They will not remain at MacLaren forever, and when they rejoin society, they will be in a position to give to others what has been given to them.

"You will one day give back to others, reaching over the wall from the outside in," Butler said. "Live your life to give back to others. It's not about you. It's about others."

Phil Hawkins can be reached at 503-765-1194 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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