SHAMOKIN — When Willie “Ox Ali” Martin got tired of seeing a generation of kids going downhill fast, he decided to try to be part of the solution by picking up popsicle sticks and going to work.
Show the 37-year-old carpenter a building and he can build a 3D replica out of four different sizes of popsicle sticks, a unique talent he hopes to use to get kids off the streets and spend less time playing video games.
“Kids are learning a trade at a young age, but they’re also having fun at the same time,” said Martin.
So far he’s enlisted the help of his children and family friends and is hoping to branch out within the community as a positive outreach that could help save lives.
“I got tired of seeing kids in papers for negative things. Every time I turn around, it’s something bad, overdose or a shooting. I feel like I’mpart of the problem if I’m sitting down and watching it and not trying to help,” Martin explained.
A trade he learned firsthand helped. He found personal catharsis through building things with popsicle sticks and has been able to enjoy quality family time through the hobby.
About two years ago, he said he received a phone call that changed his life. His children were put in a difficult situation out of his control.
The stress began building and Martin said he started having seizures because he felt like he failed his kids. He said he was reaching out for help from numerous sources but was getting nowhere, so one day, he picked up popsicle sticks and went to work in hopes of relieving stress and keeping his mind occupied.
He was new to popsicle sticks, but an old pro at carpentry as a former student of the Career Institute of Technology inEaston, Pennsylvania. Martin said when he first learned Jesus was a carpenter, he knew it was something he wanted to get into, and he excelled in all of his classes.
He made a career framing houses until 2007 when a traumatic experience as a victim of a violent crime derailed his life. Martin said he was robbed at gunpoint, and even though he gave the robber all of his money, the guy pulled the trigger and shot him in the chest.
Post-traumatic stress disorder kept him locked in his home when he wasn’t receiving hospital treatment. He said he’s still battling, but to achieve his dreams he has to get out of his home and start somewhere.
“I put all my heart and time into this because of everything I’ve been through in my life — all of my pain into my crafts,” Martin said of his creations.
With his family’s help, he’s sofar built nine houses, three barns, two Harley Davidson’s, one drum set and about 10 football emblems, all from popsicle sticks.
The first one he built was an exact replica of the house he grew up in New Jersey, which he gave to his mom as a Mother’s Day gift.
The creations aren’t just aesthetically enjoyable but have provided practical use as well. When a friend approached him a year ago to draw blueprints of her Kulpmont home to help her retrieve a permit to work on her porch and install a pond outside of her house, Martin one-upped her by building the plans out of popsicle sticks.
The porch was taken to code enforcement and a permit was approved, he said, and his friend thanked him by giving him the job of bringing the 3D popsicle stick creation to life.
When her daughter wanted a dollhouse, he took it even further bycreating a larger model of the home for her to use as a dollhouse, complete with a sliding glass door, hardwood floors, kitchen appliances, a full bathroom and decorative paintings on the wall, all done by his wife, Heather Buch.
Buch learned numerous skills by helping her dad fix things throughout her house growing up, and jumping in to help with miniature models was a natural fit for her.
The kids get involved as well, building their own barns and other objects. Buch’s 12-year-old son Phil seems to be taking after Martin by developing carpentry skills and an eye for detail. Martin said Phil is so adventurous in his building he even built a small house for his cat.
Martin has big dreams of one day creating playhouses for children in backyards that are a miniature replica of their home. He said the houses will teach the kids responsibility by requiring them to take careof them, and parents would be able to keep an eye on them from the main home through installed surveillance cameras. He wants to call it “Ox’s Little Houses,” and one day may make that a reality, but for now, he’s starting small.
He hopes to take his skills into the community and teach kids the art of building from popsicle sticks. Martin mentioned a project in Coal Township to bring a YMCA into a building being constructed on the Arch Street Playground grounds and hopes he can receive his clearances to work with kids by reaching out to them through his art.
He’s also filled several personal orders, including a Harley Davidson replica for a Coal Township police officer. Martin said he’s also in talks with the owner of Odds and Ends on Shamokin Street to create a contract to build pieces for the store.
To learn more about purchasing home replicas, email Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-500-9898.