Shamokin is seeing revitalization with younger residents helping to lead the charge – and they’re asking more youth to join them.
Danielle Hinkle, 18, and Marshall Buggy, 19, both graduated from Shamokin Area High School and are committed to reinvest in their community even amidst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and college plans.
They’re part of a group called Future Leaders and Achievers of Greater Shamokin (FLAGS) that Kathy Vetovich, a Shamokin business owner, started early this year. Vetovich is heavily involved with and is president of Shamokin Area Businesses for Economic Revitalization (SABER).
A key piece to reengage youth is the Skye Loft Youth Center that Vetovich is opening to teach life skills and give youth a positive and productive place to hang out. Youth will learn how to change a tire, write checks, learn about finances, have sessions on personal development, cooking classes, learn about Shamokin heritage, and more.
One room will be a meeting room for kids after school; another will be a quiet reading room. Another will have desks and computers along with games like shuffleboard and ping pong.
Vetovich bought the former Trinity Episcopal Church at 150 E. Liberty St. to house the youth center as well as a city welcome center, the Anthracite Heritage Museum, the Shamokin Music Mart, and a dog-friendly coffee shop.
It’s expected to open by year’s end.
Hinkle is helping to paint a mosaic in the Skye Loft and wants other youth to get involved with FLAGS. While she “made the best” of her youth in Shamokin, she sees today’s kids going down a different path.
“That’s why I’m really involved with the youth. We need to give kids more to do. Right now, they just hang in Dunkin or walk around Wal-Mart,” she said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a series of workshops in conjunction with SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) earlier this year to create its Shamokin Community Rebuilding Action Plan. SEDA-COG supports and coordinates revitalization efforts in Shamokin with an office in the heart of the city.
Hinkle attended the EPA meetings and, as part of that plan, is leading a group to increase community involvement and partnerships.
Hinkle coordinates metal and clothing drives, collecting the community’s unwanted items. She’s also part of SABER and is on Mayor John Brown’s advisory board, and she got other kids to participate on his board, too.
“When I was little, my dad would drive around Philly and show us the work he did as a contractor on buildings. Now I get to drive around Shamokin and say I was involved in things, too,” Hinkle said.
When one of Hinkle’s high school teachers asked her class if they were going to stay in Shamokin after they graduated, the question hit Hinkle like a ton of bricks.
“I hadn’t thought about it before. I told her, ‘yes,’” Hinkle said, who graduated this year. That’s when she joined FLAGS. She and her family moved to Shamokin from Philadelphia at age 7, and now she wants to stay near her family here.
Buggy, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was born and raised in Coal Township. In February, a friend told him about FLAGS and he was immediately interested. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the college sent students home and he participated in the FLAGS virtual Zoom meetings.
As part of his community involvement efforts relating to the EPA workshops and involvement in FLAGS, he’s promoting community service and helping to create a welcome packet with the city for new residents to introduce them to local businesses.
“We don’t want them to move here as outsiders and stay outsiders for five years. We want them to be welcomed, integrated, and become valuable members of our community,” Buggy said.
Shamokin was a booming city during the coal era, Buggy said, but as that shifted, so did its population, lowering the tax base.
“The quality of life did decline, but irreparable damage has not been dealt to Shamokin,” Buggy said. “People get too stuck in the idea that we aren’t as great as we once were – but we can be a different type of great. That’s the danger of nostalgia. It’s good to want to be as great as you were, but it’s not necessarily productive to be the exact same as you were.”
He loves how close-knit the community of Shamokin is.
“Everybody knows everybody. Whenever anything big happens in the community, everybody feels it. It’s not the town that’s bad – it’s the attitude toward it,” Buggy said.
Hinkle wants to be a forensic pathologist and perform autopsies. Buggy wants to be an astrophysicist and work for NASA. Both want to make a lasting impact.
“I want to make some sort of impact. If everyone thought like that – what small mark can I make on this city – it could build to something huge,” Buggy said.
Youth can get involved with FLAGS by joining the Facebook group at FLAGS – Future Leaders and Achievers of Greater Shamokin. For business owners or managers that want to be involved with SABER, join that Facebook page, or contact Kathy Vetovich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Shamokin’s revitalization, visit goshamokin.com.
As a community and economic development agency, SEDA-COG enhances the quality of life and economic advantage for residents and businesses in 11 central Pennsylvania counties through its vital partnerships and initiatives. SEDA-COG also is an advocate for the interests of its communities at the state and federal levels. For more information, visit www.seda-cog.org.