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David & Cheryl

David went to Hobart College in Geneva, NY right after high school for all four years of his college career. Cheryl Ann Johnson went to Nazareth college in Rochester, NY for her first two years, then transferred to Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She and David went to a mixer together in the fall of their senior year. David recited poetry to her as they walked around the quad, looking at the stars. She later found out the “poetry” were lyrics to Kink songs. David invited her up to his room “to see his lizard.” She was nervous but didn’t want to show it. She went up. He had a Gecko and a swift (lizards) in a window desert aquarium. She was hooked! They got married six months later in the Hobart Chapel, the day before graduation. That important date was June 13th, 1970.

They lived in an apartment on Seneca Street in Geneva. It was a over a pool hall. It had a giant bay window and David made it into a tropical forest for a large African chameleon named Yargur. Often from the pool hall people would come up the fire escape to see the lizard in the window. After a few months living and working in Geneva, they received a call from a call from David’s former Baptist youth fellowship leader who at the time worked for the Syracuse YMCA. He said a new director, Don Roesler, had been hired and wanted to work with suburban youth.

Meanwhile, over in Camillus NY a large group of parents and concerned adult community members had been meeting weekly from autumn 1970 into winter 1971, discussing ways of addressing teen issues (alcohol, drugs, loitering, boredom, etc) that were causing alarm all across the nation. Remedies considered included providing more services, enhanced law enforcement, curfews, and expanded education. Through good instincts and good fortune, several adults in regular attendance at these meetings, among them Father Ronald Buckel, Jack Gardner, and Rosalyn Syp, urged inviting teens themselves into the discussions, particularly teens who were not deeply affiliated with school or other community programs. The call went out, and many showed up. When asked “what do you think the community is lacking that would be helpful for young people?” the dozens of teens present responded that what they wanted was a place that they could call their own, where they could meet their friends, hang out, listen to and create their own music, and plan their own activities that reflected their own interests.

Remarkably and wisely, the adults listened. An abandoned clothing store called “The Town Shop” was rented as a temporary location (hence, the program name), and a job listing was posted in search of an adult director. When David and Cheryl ventured up from Geneva, NY in their Volkswagon Beetle on that cold February 1971 night for a job interview, they were astonished to discover that the interview would take place in the presence of more that 40 young people and a few adults, and that the teens had equal vote with the adults. David remembers that there were at least 8 other applicants, that he and Cheryl were the only ones who did not show up in a suit and tie, and that the quality of the questions asked by the teens “was exceptional”. One young woman followed them out to their VW after the fishbowl interview, gave them a hug, and said “I hope you two get the job” even though David was really the only one applying. They drove back to Geneva with a completely different wish than what they’d expected, and have felt they were “blessed to be chosen” ever since.

That precedent, of inviting young people into the creation process and allowing them to take the lead, has been faithfully followed, from choosing a permanent building, to deciding how it should be decorated, to determining what the standards and etiquette’s should be, to deliberating on how the available space should be used, to planning and implementing their own activities. The rest, as they say, is history and heritage.

Awards & Recognition

  • The Association of New York State Youth Bureaus’ 2009 William (Bill) J Bub Award (2010)
  • Syracuse Commission For Women Youth Service Award (2007)
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension Cooperator of the Year (2002)
  • Fayetteville-Manlius High School Hall of Distinction (2001)
  • Post Standard Millennium Achievement Award (2000)
  • David M. Goukas Award for Excellence in Leadership in Recreation and the Community; presented by CNY Parks and Recreation Society (1999)
  • JC Penny Golden Rule Award (1998)
  • Intergenerational Council of Dept. of Aging and Youth Professional Youth Worker of 1997 Award
  • Model After School Program presentation to Association of New York State Youth Bureaus (1996)
  • Town of Camillus Citizen Appreciation Award For Commitment To Youth
  • Camillus Optimist Club George Mezey Community Leader Award
  • Television WIXT Positively Central New York with Rick Gary
  • Scientia Chapter, National Honor Society Leadership, Service, Friendship to Youth Award
  • Senator DeFrancisco Award for 25 Years Meritorious Service
  • Village of Camillus Trustees 25 Year Exemplary Role Model
  • Central New York Village Mayor’s Association Community Impact Award
  • Camillus Masonic Order Dewitt Clinton Award
  • City County Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission Community Recognition Award (1993)
  • New York State Legislature Exemplary Program Award (1992)