Just off Penn Avenue, where Bloomfield meets Friendship and borders Garfield, a gate opens onto a narrow courtyard surrounded by low-slung storage garages. They may look as though they’ve seen better days, but Kristin Hughes thinks their best lie ahead.
“There’s just something so wonderful about being in this common space,” said Hughes, co-director of the nonprofit based in those garages, Latham St. Commons, or LSC. “You close your eyes and you can imagine movies at night, Shakespeare theater, kids running around, big communal tables where people are sharing meals.”
Latham St. Commons is, first and foremost, a place, (“an ecosystem”), that with the help of surrounding communities aims at improving residents’ health and happiness. Since 2014, LSC has queried neighbors about what they’d like to see in the space. Volunteers emptied the garages, helped install a new vertical planting system, and weighed in on the kinds of capital they value: not just financial, but spiritual, cultural, and intellectual.
“It’s a place that is really meant to connect people through new types of ideas and services,” said Hughes.
To bring it all together, they’ve settled on building a commercial kitchen that will integrate education, employment, work development and cooking. Particularly, baking.
“You can do something pretty powerful if you figure out how to help people connect to ‘What do they offer? How do they begin to understand how they matter?’" she said.
To launch the social enterprise, the group kicked off a new workforce development program for young adults last week. In coordination with the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation and Carlow University’s College to Career Pathways program, the Night Owl Bakers program will help teenagers understand their unique strengths and how those translate into work opportunities. The first cohort will meet for "Friday Feasts" throughout the summer to design the future of the program.
“The framework is loose,” said Hughes. “We want to have them to help us fill it in. And then it’s our job to go, ‘What does that mean? How we build that into a more rigorous curriculum?’”
Construction of the commercial kitchen will begin this fall, with space for small entrepreneurs as well as education and employment. Eventually, Night Owl Bakers will provide labor and possibly creative services to the businesses based there.
LSC will continue to develop new projects as they raise money, while keeping the commercial kitchen at its core.