Eikon Ministries uses programs such as its Club Nathan and Bing Dance House to minister to Binghampton’s students while showing them what’s possible in life.
Sometimes, simple moments are all it takes to make a difference in a child’s life.
Take Willie Baldwin, who today is Ministry Director and Assistant Executive Director of Eikon Ministries in Binghampton, but as a child wasn’t on that path to leadership.
Baldwin grew up in a family of seven in a single-parent home in Hurt Village, one of the city’s roughest neighborhoods. While he witnessed gang violence and killings, he also has a memory from when he was 10 of playing basketball with a friend.
“A guy pulls up in a red pickup truck. It had ‘Jesus Saves’ on the license plate,” Baldwin recalled. “He had a big gallon of orange juice. We were hungry. He said, ‘You can have the OJ and doughnuts if I can share with you. I need to share the plan of salvation with you.’ I came to Christ that day.”
Baldwin spent the next several years bringing friends to Bible studies. But, he said, “Jesus wasn’t putting money in my pocket.”
He started selling drugs. He also had three near-death situations.
The first came at 17. Baldwin said he was shooting dice with a guy who pulled a gun and put it to Baldwin’s head. The gun jammed so the man hit Baldwin over the head with it.
A few years later Baldwin was hanging out in a drug house. Suddenly, some guys beat in the door and robbed the men, leaving them for dead.
Then in 2003 Baldwin was hanging out with a friend who had just bought a new car with nice rims. Baldwin wasn’t feeling well and asked his friend to take him home. Later that night he woke up, turned on the TV and saw breaking news with a helicopter circling above his friend’s car. He was dead.
Baldwin got the message and reconnected with his old friend Roy “Soup” Campbell, who now was Executive Director of an organization called Eikon Ministries and working in Binghampton.
Campbell started Eikon Ministries in 1997. The vision is to change the community from the inside out by building leaders who live in and are vested in Binghampton. Eikon’s strategy to build leaders in Binghampton is accomplished through a 15-year process from preschool education through adulthood.
The goal is for the community’s youth to one day become homeowners in Binghampton and its next leaders.
As Baldwin shares his story he’s doing so from a back building on a property on Nathan Street in Binghampton. The house on the front of the property? Baldwin lived there back in 2004 when he decided to begin a children’s ministry in the neighborhood.
Known then as the Nathan Street Ministry, it met in Baldwin’s living room with five kids and 10 volunteers from Second Presbyterian Church. It started meeting every other Tuesday. And those five kids grew to 15 and eventually 20.
“They asked what my biggest challenge was and I said space,” Baldwin said. “The initial thought was to build a pavilion. So they ended up building a two-story garage for us.”
Today, the Club Nathan ministry is part of Eikon Ministries’ work in Binghampton. It operates on Tuesday nights throughout the school year. There are usually 55 children ages 8 to 18 who participate in four breakout groups. Baldwin eventually moved out of the house because of Club Nathan’s growing needs.
Baldwin called the Tuesday night gatherings a safe haven. But it stretches beyond that one night as students gather on the property’s basketball court throughout the week.
“When you say Club Nathan kids are ready to come,” Baldwin said. “They have all kinds of fun. We wanted to call it Club Nathan to give kids something to be part of. So many ministries come and go but the kids saw me here. The neighbors send their kids because they saw I’m trusted.”
Part of being on staff at Eikon is moving into the neighborhood. All staff members live in the community. Eikon uses office space at the Binghampton Development Corp. offices on Lester Street. It uses other spaces throughout the neighborhood for other services.
RaSheema Pitt is the Women’s Youth Coordinator for Eikon. One of her main tasks is teach dancing. While taking a group of students to a performance of Nut Remix in December 2014 she realized a need.
“They said, ‘What’s that?’ It was tap and ballet,” Pitt said. “I couldn’t understand why they had never seen this. I asked Soup why didn’t Binghampton have anything for this and he said to do something about it.”
So following prayer and what she called a divine appointment with Andrew Beach of First Evangelical Church the Bing Dance House studio was born. Beach’s students helped renovate a space that would become the studio.
The Bing Dance House uses dance to promote self-esteem, respect, patience, hard work, physical exercise and artistic expression. The mission is to expose youth living in Binghampton to various styles of dance and help them develop artistically.
Pitt helps students with homework and leads Bible studies. She also uses the space for mother-daughter Zumba classes to build relationships with parents.
Pitt is a native of Nebraska. She took some of her students on a mission trip there as well as Oklahoma and Kansas. It was a life-changing trip for the girls.
“We stayed with friends of mine who are black homeowners,” Pitt said of the trip. “One of them said, ‘I can own my own home?’ Then one of the legislators they saw at the state capitol was a black lawmaker. My littlest one said, ‘She’s black. I can be a senator?’ I said, ‘You can. You have to put goals in place but it’s possible.’ Seeing their eyes open to different things. … It was great getting them outside their environment and giving them a mindset that there is a life going on outside this. You have to see it to obtain it.”