Every week in Binghampton, kids are outside creating mosaicked furniture in an "art garden," tending to produce in a community vegetable garden, and taking tutoring lessons. And soon, they'll also be learning bicycle repair and baking skills and taking sewing classes.
And to think it's all happening on Carpenter Street.
The Carpenter Art Garden after-school program, which falls under the Binghampton Development Corporation's (BDC) umbrella, has been in operation for a few years, and now the garden's programming is expanding to include classes on trade skills and an apprenticeship program.
Kids come to the Art Garden, located in a formerly blighted lot at 301 Carpenter, every Tuesday year-round after school to work on art projects, such as murals, outdoor furniture, or smaller take-home assignments. Next door to the garden, a purple house hosts a computer lab and tutoring lessons for the kids. A pair of lots down the street from the Art Garden are home to vibrant vegetable gardens for the community.
The Art Garden recently purchased another formerly vacant house — a pink one — at 296 Carpenter, across the street from the garden. Service Over Self is currently working to replace the aging roof. Art Garden coordinator Erin Harris said she hopes to open the garden's skills training program in the house by this fall.
"We hope it will be a sort of job hub. Kids can come and learn bike mechanics and maintenance. We'll work on furniture restoration, and we have someone who is going to start a sewing program," Harris said. "And we've gotten several local businesses to agree to take these kids who show a strong interest in these areas and have them do an internship or apprenticeship."
The house will also serve as the home base for Donte Davis' Grizz yard hearts. Since 13-year-old Davis, who got his start at the Art Garden, began painting wooden, heart-shaped Memphis Grizzlies mascot yard signs, they've have taken the city by storm. Harris said Davis has sold around 1,000 yard signs, and he has around 80 on back order.
Carpenter Street once had a rough reputation, but projects like the Art Garden are working to fix that. In early June, the Shelby County District Attorney's Office closed a drug house at 273 Carpenter as a public nuisance. There had been 21 arrests made at the house since 2009, and Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said the house was a home base for members of the Grape Street Crips.
"It was such a yin and yang from the beautiful Art Garden and some of the other things going on on that street," Weirich said. "You'd just drive a few houses down and see this unbelievable sight."
An elderly woman who lived in the house is being relocated to live with family in San Diego. Weirich said they don't believe she was involved in the criminal activity.
Noah Gray, executive director of the BDC, said they're making an offer on the house. Gray said he isn't sure what they'll do with it yet, but he said it might be in such bad condition to warrant demolition.
Gray said he's encouraged by all the good things happening on Carpenter and across Binghampton.
"A good friend of mine in the neighborhood was talking about why he wants to stay [in Binghampton], and he said, 'Well, there's a lot of positive things happening, and I want to be a part of those things.' I would agree that there's a lot of positive momentum building," Gray said. "And what's happening on Carpenter Street is part of that."