- Associated Press - Sunday, August 27, 2017

SALEM, Oregon (AP) - Those keeping an eye out around Salem might notice matching Adirondack chairs outside restaurants like Word of Mouth or in the lobby at the Department of Human Services building. They’re built from pine in a standard style, in various stains on hand-sanded wood.

Most wouldn’t guess that they’re built by the psychiatric patients of the Oregon State Hospital.

The woodshop, part of the vocational services program, operates within the main complex of the hospital. There, they produce Adirondack chairs, loveseats, ottomans, tables and the occasional odd piece of special-order furniture.

“Sometimes when people come to us, they don’t engage in healthy activities in their spare time. So giving them something that they’re interested in, like woodworking can be a really powerful tool,” said Rebeka Gipson-King, hospital relations director.

Brian Baker supervises the shop and designs the templates that patients follow during construction. He started at the hospital in 2004 and took over the woodshop several years later.

“I jumped right in and started building,” he said. “This is exactly what I wanted to do.”

Baker was a carpenter for many years in Colorado before studying occupational therapy and combining the two passions at the hospital woodshop. He teaches and assists the patients during construction and inspects the furniture when it’s done. He said workers often don’t have any background with woodworking but are eager to learn.

“I love being able to show them what I know about woodworking,” he said. “It’s amazing. I’ve found some patients here that, you wouldn’t think they had the ability that they had.”

Up to six patients work under Baker at various stages of construction in the shop - cutting, sanding, painting and assembling.

Some patients rotate through different areas of the shop; others know exactly what they like.

“I love to sand. I can get in my own zone and smooth out the wood the way it’s supposed to be,” said Andrew Siegel, who’s been a patient since 2008 and worked in the woodshop for a year and a half.

“I like to see the beautiful furniture. The final product, see it all come together,” he said. “It takes teamwork.”

The program is unique because the chairs are one of the only things created in the hospital that see the outside. For patients who once tended toward self-destructive behavior, the shop can teach them how to build.

“It might be the only time that the clients have anybody who actually believes in them and is giving them an opportunity to succeed in life, and praising them when they do it, you know? They might’ve never had that,” said Krystal Landry, assistant director of vocational services.

Siegel didn’t have any carpentry experience when he came to the woodshop. Now, Baker calls him the “master of sanding.”

“I zone into the process of working the wood. I just go from piece to piece to piece, any pieces that need to be done,” Siegel said.

This is the goal of the woodshop - to provide skills and experience that patients can take out into the world and apply to real jobs. They’re treated like employees during shifts, paid a wage and able to earn recommendations for future job applications. Proceeds from the chairs, which can be purchased through the Oregon Health Authority, return to the shop as funding.

Before Siegel was in the hospital, he worked in a dog kennel. He said he liked that, too, but that he hasn’t found anything in his life that helps him focus the way he does at his sanding station.

“I haven’t missed a day,” he said. “If they have jobs like this on the outside, they probably do, but I would definitely love to get into something like that.”

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Information from: Statesman Journal, https://www.statesmanjournal.com

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