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Sustainable learning


The SixTwelve project aims to turn community into a renewable resource.

Louis Fowler May 1st, 2013

The large, dilapidated structure at N.W. 29th and N. Lee, in the heart of the Paseo, was only days away from demolition when it was rescued by Amy Young and James Varnum. In 2010, the pair bought the property, an eight-plex apartment in its former life, with the idea of turning it into a center of community living. Hence, they became the brains behind Project SixTwelve  — a nonprofit named for the street address, 612 N.W. 29th, natch.

612+amy+young+with+james+varnum+49mhAmy Young and James Varnum - Credit: Mark Hancock

They do not lack for ambition, aiming to transform SixTwelve an oasis for creativity and sustainability.

“Our areas of focus will be art, music, film, cooking, gardening and sustainable living practices,” said Young.

“We’ll have a preschool during the day, after-school programs for kids and classes for adults.”                        

She and Varnum said they have most of their own money invested in the renovations. While bank loans have covered the remainder, the pair said the real crunch comes when the building is complete and they start seeking donations and grants to fill the space with resources.

“I think that people have a pretty strong interest in having a vibrant local community — someplace they can walk to, someplace they feel connected to in their neighborhood,” Varnum said. “People want to know their neighbors and know how to be able to do things with them, as well as learn how to do new things. It’s a way to engage in something, warm up to it and then do it.”

While the duo’s dreams for the space include a tool-share program, a greenhouse and various studios for music and film, both are quick to point out their top priorities for the project.

“I’m most excited about the preschool and after-school programs. I’m really excited about kids learning in this space and growing,” said Young, a former elementary school music teacher.

“I’m excited about all of it, but I think we’ll start with the community garden first, because that’s outside and people can come and help us put that together. That’ll be the easiest thing to do to get the community acquainted with us and what we’re doing.”

Credit: Mark Hancock

Varnum said he wants to link the community gardening effort with the SixTwelve kitchen “by preparing meals and sharing the experience with everyone over the event of a harvest.”

They are aiming for a January 2014 completion date. In the meantime, Young said, they’re “trying to just enjoy the process” of putting it together and generating enthusiasm in the community.

“I think the greatest factor in this whole project and experience is the community,” she said. “I know we have a lot of great artistic and community-related nonprofits, but I think this is unique in that we’re combining creativity and sustainability education.

“This is solely for people’s learning and growth and excitement. It’s bringing together people to do good things for themselves and other people. We live in a great city in a great time, so I feel like we’re just part of that synergy.”


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