How a community responds to a problem says a lot about the community. Take Binghamton.

In June of 2007, the Junior League of Binghamton proudly opened The Story Garden, a community resource to promote both children’s literacy and the enduring joy of classic children’s literature, as well as an appreciation for the “outdoor environment.”

A $350,000 project that took four years to create, The Story Garden was the Junior League’s signature project, created to honor its 75th anniversary of service to the Southern Tier as well as the 25th anniversary of The Discovery Center of the Southern Tier, Binghamton’s children’s museum, which provided the space for the garden.

But last year, on a hot August night, this unique little corner of Upstate New York suffered extensive vandalism — trees uprooted, plants pulled out of the ground, one-of-a-kind sculptures destroyed — with damage estimated at $30,000 or higher. This senseless act energized our Southern Tier, however. Neighbors of The Story Garden showed up with tears in their eyes and donations. Two small children came with their allowances. Other kids came with piggy banks filled with nickels. One boy showed up with seed packages. Our Binghamton police chief gave $100 from his own pocket after he investigated the crime scene.

Many Lend A Hand

Next, the larger community got involved. The Pirates on the Susquehanna Club and the Last Call Band threw a chicken barbecue fundraiser. The Price Chopper supermarket chain and Crowley Foods Inc. did an on-site benefit, with donated music from local bands Hover and Groove Garden, wacky hairdos from Special Effects Salon, along with 30 NYSEG employees helping.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension CITY Project teens set up a lemonade stand to raise funds. The Binghamton Travel Basketball Program, and several Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts groups helped clean up. The Junior League’s own members — along with their friends and families — donated their time, labor and funds to help to bring The Story Garden back. Things were looking up, but much was still left to be done. How would it all be accomplished?

Undeterred By Weather

Fall turned the weather cold — but not the hearts of our town.

In the weeks that followed, Habitat for Humanity built us a new shed. Lowe’s Home Improvement Center donated close to $1,200 of perennials. Price Chopper returned to put in a much-needed security system, installed by volunteers Randy Bidwell and Dave Hogan. The Penguin Publishing Group provided books. Ken Williams of W & W Nursery provided a $2,500 LiveRoof to crown our Earth House, which replaced the destroyed Story Garden Library. The Binghamton Rotary Lunch Club gave us $1,000 toward that same Earth House effort.

Paul Shuba, a local mason, directed the Earth House building project, which included the donation of building materials from Barney Dickenson, Hawk Brothers, Eldorado Stone and Oneonta Block. Master gardeners, volunteers from the United Way Day of Caring, UHS Hospital System and BAE Systems came and planted and re-planted and painted. Chuck Webster, a muralist from New York City, re-painted the inside of the Mine Shaft. Kevin Rittenhouse, a landscaper specializing in stone and brick, worked with Eagle Scout Mike Snyder (Boy Scout Troop 201) to put in an improved walkway, with donated stone from Broome County Building Supply.

Many Donate Plants

A local grower, Donna Waite, told Story Garden volunteers to “come and take whatever perennials you want.” Three other homeowners had the same amazing idea. A total of 200 plants were received from these sources and delivered with the help of Jeff Stone, another community-minded landscaper. Bob Gates, Jim Hargrave and Bob Smith donated hours of their time to re-building mailboxes and windows, wooden structures and much more. The Southern Tier Antique Tractor Club refurbished a 1932 Farmall tractor to park next to our Peter Rabbit garden. Fifty Binghamton University students from Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity returned after helping in the fall.

BU Students Pitch In

Because of the news and interest in the site, the Binghamton University PricewaterhouseCoopers Scholars Program decided to create a whole new Story Garden section called “Play Nice” under the direction of Professor Elliot Kamlet and Discovery Center staff, and with the amazing creative spirit of about 150 Binghamton students. That project came together under the watchful eye of Discovery Center director Pokey Crocker.

Can you believe it? Of course. We live in a great place with wonderful people we’re calling Story Garden Guardian Angels.

So if you’re anywhere near Binghamton on June 29, stop into the all-day celebration of The Story Garden’s “grand re-opening.” This is a story that has a good ending — for everyone.

-Nancy Hargrave is a Sustaining member and “Garden Girl” of the Junior League of Binghamton.

Reprinted with permission by The Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin