by Mary Jo Miuccio
Back in the early 70s, when young people were in the middle of a nationwide social revolution, a group of teens in Camillus wanted their own special place for meeting friends, listening to music, and talking about timely concerns. Together, they approached a community group with their request.
Not long after, an abandoned clothing store called the Town Shop, at 67 Main St. in Camillus, was revitalized into a meeting place for area teens.
Now, 36 years later, the Town Shop continues to offer area youths a “place of their own,” to share common interests, as well as offering many motivating programs.
“In most New York communities, there is little for teens to do if they are not into athletics,” said David Vermilya, who co-directs the Town Shop with his wife, Cheryl.
Vermilya attributes some of the Town Shop’s success to the fact that when it began, the teens were invited to help make important decisions about the direction of the group, including interviewing prospective staff, decorating the space, and what types of activities could and would be offered. Now three major programs attract, educate, and promote participation from 40 to 60 local teens each day.
Adventure Experiences include a myriad of four season activities from camping, cross-country skiing, kayaking and snowshoeing, to more extreme experiences such as whale watching and a recent winter break camping experience.
Creative Expression at the Town Shop opens the microphones for poetry, song swaps, and concerts.
For those with more visual interests, there is photography and art encounters and chances to take part in other areas for imaginative interests such as cooking, forums, and speak-outs.
All of these activities require revenue to keep going and growing.
According to Vermilya, “The three major sources of funding that keep the project alive and well come from the Town of Camillus, Department of Aging and Youth, a BOCES grant, and money raised by the youths in a variety of fundraisers. Title IV money from the West Genesee School District have been used to purchase equipment such as canoes, kayaks, tents, backpacks, art supplies, a PA system, and other activity related necessities.”
The youths at the Town Shop do not just accept and enjoy what has been provided to them without giving something back to the community. Many members participate in a number of volunteer actions.
For the past eleven years, Town Shop volunteers offer weekly services at St. Paul’s Samaritan Center. They also volunteer at the Sunshine Horse Rescue, an organization that cares for retired and homeless former racehorses housed at the NYS Fairgrounds; work on Earth Day projects; and help with the Onondaga Creek Cleanup and other collaborations with local civic groups and causes.
Needless to say, this youth organization has received numerous awards and acclaim over the years because of its well-designed functionality and caring participants.
Recently, after the youths returned from helping at the Samaritan Center, they enjoyed cutting into a cake to honor the Town Shop’s birthday. After 36 years of service, the community can only hope for many more, as Town Shop’s members spread caring and devoted action.