Matthew Naimi, whose motto "Share Your Candy" is scrawled in marker and spray paint in various spots around his Detroit recycling facility, always seems to be cooking up something sweet. 

He's the founder of Recycle Here! — Detroit's community nonprofit recycling center — and instigator of the Lincoln Street Art Park — the impromptu garden of street-art delights that rose from a vacant lot behind the recycling center.

His latest project at the green complex on Holden Street just north of Woodbridge and west of Midtown is the Activi-Tree, which involves turning a shipping container into the coolest treehouse classroom you've ever seen. It will be a tricked out piece of art serving as a space for city kids to learn about art and science.

The "Activi-Tree" would be a learning lab for the Recycle Here! partner educational nonprofit, Green Living Science, to hold field trips and classes.

"The act of recycling is for the generation behind you," says Naimi. "For kids, recycling is an answer for cleaning up their city. They see the litter and dumping all around them, and they don't like it."

The learning lab will provide a year-round space for field trips at the Holden Street complex — because right now the warehouse isn't adequately warm or dry for kids year round.

The nonprofits are working to raise $8,000 to turn the shipping container at the Lincoln Street Art Park into the learning lab. The container will be decked out to fit the art park's surroundings — with a giant metal sculpted tree on top made by local artists who also put their art offerings in the park. 

Teaching kids about green living has long been part of Naimi's misison. Since 2007, Recycle Here! and Green Living Science have worked with Detroit schools to teach children and staff about recycling. This year, they have brought programs into 25 schools in the city — including in-class lessons, school assemblies, professional development, and more. In addition, Recycle Here! and the art park host busloads of kids for field trips all year long.

Naimi says that when kids come to the art park, "we get a lot of 'this is the coolest thing ever.' It's an old car factory that has been repurposed through people who bring us garbage." It's also a place for kids to see and experience graffiti and spray paint as an art form. Noted local street artists including Tead, Malt and Carl Oxley III have added their work to the art park. Sculptor Doyle, the man behind the fire-breathing dragon Gon KiRin who left a "Save the Art" message on the DIA lawn last year, also has work in the park. "It's a funky little place with a lot of function. Here kids can imagine what can be done with a vacant lot," Naimi says.

Rachel Klegon, director of Green Living Science, says kids get art and ecology lessons during their excursions to the Recycle Here! and Lincoln Street. "They learn about waste reduction, why it's important and how to do it. They learn about renewable and reusable resources. They learn about pollution. And we encourage the kids to touch things."

She says when schools visit they ask them to bring recycling and let the kids sort it. "That's the most fun thing to see — when a student comes back with his or her family and shows them where everything goes."

Naimi says proceeds from sales of recycled material from Recycle Here! and the Michigan Green Safe products (whose offices and warehouse are also at the Holden Street facility) all feed into Green Living Science. "Green Living Science is kind of like the soul of all these things," he says.

To raise money for the Activi-Tree learning lab, Recycle Here! and Green Living Science have an Indie GoGo campaign that expires June 1, 2014. Thank yous for donating include cool swag like a ride on the fire-breathing art-saving dragon. There is also an art auction fundraising event called Art and Amble, to be held May 31, 2014 (details here), featuring work from Doyle, Robert Sestock, Carl Oxley III and about 20 other artists. Detroit Party Starship will play the event, which will feature catering from Dave Mancini of Supino's. 

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Written by: Clare Pfeiffer
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