Salem-area community center will help young people learn music, screenprinting and business skills

When Becka Brisbin and Joe Kyle walked into the empty storefront on Northeast River Road in Keizer, their faces lit up. 

 “I’m so happy to be in here right now,” Kyle said to a smiling Brisbin.

Surveying a barren desk, green walls and rows of empty metal and plywood shelves, they saw its potential. The mostly empty room could be an oasis of career training, mental health support and community building for Salem-area youth and families.

This summer, they hope to open the doors at Radness Ensues, a community center that will equip young people with the skills they need to become entrepreneurs, artists, managers, rock stars and more. Their goal is to give anyone who needs it a place to feel supported.

Their plans for the all-ages space include an internship program for young people, ages 14 to 25, where they can learn how to design and make custom screen prints for shirts, hats and skateboards, along with barista skills, button-making, how to manage bands and businesses and a space to perform music. 

“We want to be a place where people know, ‘I’m welcome because I exist,’” Brisbin said. “You are worthy, you are loved, you are loved because you exist. So if you come with a mindset of, ‘I just want to participate, I want to check out art, I want to check out music, I just want to be involved in a community,’ then you’re welcome.”

Their eclectic plans for the space derive from central goals of helping people become their best selves, and giving them a place to develop skills and talents. The ideas come from personal knowledge of the gaps in Salem’s youth services.

Brisbin, founder and president, grew up in Salem’s shelters which inspired her to open a business, Becka Makes Buttons, offering a creative, low-cost space where people could recharge, get free snacks and peruse resources for youth programs, mental health and addiction treatment.

Her Southeast Commercial Street storefront closed last August, which was around 300 square feet. It will reopen as one of several components inside the 2,200 square foot Radness Ensues. Brisbin also stepped away from Punx with Purpose, which she co-founded, to focus on Radness Ensues. Punx with Purpose the non-profit that organizes Punx in the Park

Kyle has over a decade of music industry experience, and headed the Youth Music Initiative at The Salem Drop, where he provided instruments, lessons and support with booking gigs to Salem’s young musicians.

Last summer, Punx at the Park needed a new soundboard. Kyle suggested Uptown Music, whose owner Paul Elliott had been donating instruments and helping with repairs for the youth program for years. The music store ended up covering the cost of half the equipment.

Now, Radness Ensues will be his tenants, moving into the vacant storefront next door to Uptown Music. Brisbin said the owner, a longtime volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club and Chemawa Indian School, has been incredibly supportive.

“It’s been really hard to explain to people what it is we’re doing, if people aren’t in this type of culture where they’re very art and music focused, to kind of wrap their heads around ‘Well, what’s a community center look like?’” she said. “But Paul’s already been very involved in the community for years.”

Joe Kyle, Uptown Music owner Paul Elliott and Becka Brisbin outside the storefront on April 4 (Abbey McDonald/Salem Reporter)

The nonprofit raised $11,000 through community sponsors including local businesses, the Recovery Outreach Community Center and the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. They used the funds to get the ball rolling, set up a website and hire the Center for Nonprofit Law in Eugene in order to incorporate in October.

Using over $20,000 worth of donated gear, interns will train in designing, heat pressing and selling custom t-shirts, and eventually skateboards. They’ll get a take-home kit, and plan to make the store’s printing space available on a sliding scale to rent. Along with income from selling prints, they said they’ll be encouraging community sponsorships for interns.

Brisbin and Kyle plan to offer music lessons, instruments and a place to host open mic nights. They’re in talks with Capital Community Media about hosting programs to teach youth how to work with audio, filmmaking and to record music videos.

Kyle said it’s important for youth to have opportunities to showcase their talent, and to have mentors lead by example. He recalled one local band, Reckless Mess, that formed at The Salem Drop and recorded a single at Kyle’s home studio. He also helped them book gigs.

“They’re on their way to being one of the best bands in Salem,” he said.

The pair said they’ll be partnering with Ike Box to do shows once a month, along with open mic opportunities at Radness Ensues.

“We lack inclusive spaces that are dedicated to youth being able to explore their music desires,” Brisbin said. Most venues sell alcohol, which can be challenging for minors booking shows.

In contrast to the concerts, they’ll also have designated quiet hours at the space for neurodivergent kids who get overstimulated by noise. Accessibility is Brisbin’s priority, and she said one of the most exciting features of the store is a bathroom large enough to accommodate both someone in a motorized wheelchair and their support person.

They aren’t case managers, but they will have a focus on trauma informed care and plan to provide connections to mental health care, addiction treatment and other support services. Brisbin said that being forced into therapy never worked for her as a kid.

“What did work for me was: people I trusted, who loved me enough to say, ‘Hey, I think you could probably benefit from this program, not gonna force it on you. But if you’re interested, I would really love it if you would look at this,’” she said.

They plan to eventually support around 20 young people at a time in a two-year internship program that will also include them in administrative meetings and teach them business communications.

“Not only are they going to have these transferable skills with understanding how to book events, and put on shows, and do the screen printing, and run a little coffee stand, and do the button shop; they’re going to understand how those skills are transferable because there’s all these different stations of variety,” Brisbin said. “And then by the end of that two years, they should have a full set of skills and already be connected and engaged with other members of (the) community so they can kind of step out and form their own career of what they want to do.”

They’re hoping to launch after school gets out, pending occupancy permitting and insurance, Brisbin said. She’s not sure what the nonprofit will eventually become.

“What is the ultimate thing? What are we going to grow into in the end? I have no idea because it’s not for me to decide. That’s up to our community,” she said. “But we’re here if you want to show up with love and openness, and your goal is to connect, then we want to help facilitate that.” 

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251

SUPPORT OUR WORK – We depend on subscribers for resources to report on Salem with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!

Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.