Signups beginning for Seymour Young Marines


One Sunday night, Shawn Riley was at home when an idea popped in his head.

He thought the top floor of Seymour Decorating Center, which he and Brett Ferry own in downtown Seymour, would be the perfect space for the Columbus Young Marines to call home.

Young Marines is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit youth education and service program for boys and girls ages 8 to 18 that promotes mental, moral and physical development of its members. The program focuses on teaching the values of leadership, teamwork and self-discipline so members can live and promote a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.

Riley, who serves as unit commander of the local group, emailed Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Director Dan Robison, and Robison came by the next morning to look at the space and said, “This town would fully support this program and this idea.”

Riley then called Seymour Main Street Executive Director Bri Roll and shared the idea, and she reassured him the town would fully support the idea.

By Tuesday afternoon, Riley and Ferry’s employees were tearing out the entire top half of the building at 220 S. Chestnut St. to make way for the new meeting place, which would result in the Columbus Young Marines switching its name to Seymour Young Marines.

That same day, Riley emailed Seymour Mayor Matt Nicholson, and within an hour, he responded and said the same thing: He would fully support the program in Seymour.

By Saturday, the mayor had city councilmen calling Riley to find out more about the program, and they were out seeking donations.

“So within six days, my idea became a reality,” Riley said during Saturday’s grand opening, ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house. “Instead of thinking if I’m going to do this, I made up my mind that we were going to do it in six days, so it happened very, very quickly.”

Riley and Gunnery Sgt. Sam Neal, 18, a member of the Columbus Young Marines who lives in Greenwood, then went around the city asking for donations and making community contacts.

“We made a lot of great connections, had a lot of good conversations and once again, it just reassured how much Seymour is going to be behind the program,” Riley said.

In a little under three months, the project, including renovation, was completed.

Over the 22 years of Columbus Young Marines, Riley said more than 700 youth have participated, but the program always rented meeting space, bouncing around to eight different places.

Now, that’s no longer the case.

“There are probably like five units in the country that have their own space like we will now, so it’s a pretty big deal,” Riley said.

Entering the headquarter offices, the main room features trophies on shelves on the right wall. Those were earned by the members over the years but had been in a box in a trailer in Riley’s garage.

There also are areas where computers and books can be checked out; an operating board with the training schedule, gear costs and promotion requirements; framed pictures of the unit commanders and their years of service; a memorial for Logan Thompson, a member of the unit who died; a uniform room; a gear room; and a unit commander room for board and parent meetings.

Walking through a door off the main room, there is a large meeting hall with tables, a projector and canvas prints of Young Marines activities.

“This may just look like an office space, but this is now our home, and we put a lot, a lot of detail into this,” Riley said.

Riley has been a part of Columbus Young Marines for 18 of its 22 years. He started in the program when he was 10, and after he graduated, he joined the staff under his father, Scott Riley, who was the unit commander. At the same time, he also joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

“I just love it, everything about it,” he said of Young Marines. “I feel like it helps everybody grow as a person. It’s an amazing program. It teaches you so much.”

Youth begin as recruits, and once they complete the 13-week program, they are considered a Young Marine. Then they can continue in the program because it offers two 13-week sessions each year.

Examples of the training and classes are drug demand reduction, field skills, map and compass, shelter building, marksmanship, fire safety, first aid, team building and public speaking.

Members also participate in activities, such as unit encampments and hikes, veterans appreciation, parades, Red Ribbon Week, Wreaths Across America, Indy Honor Flight, color guard and various community service projects.

“We do such a wide variety of things to keep everybody interested, and it’s a really fun program,” Riley said. “We will make Seymour kids into the leaders of tomorrow.”

In recent years, Riley said youth programs, including Young Marines, have taken a really big hit in their numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I discharged about 25 kids in the fall of 2020, so youth programs are really down, but we’re really hoping to have a big ramp-up here in Seymour,” he said.

Signups are set for 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturday and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday and Wednesday at the headquarter offices. The cost is $150 for the first 13-week session and includes a uniform and all registration costs, and the next sessions will be $50 each time.

At registration, parents should bring their child’s Social Security card and birth certificate, a copy of the insurance card and a copy of a recent physical. If the child doesn’t have a recent physical, a form can be provided to have filled out after registration.

The first drill will be from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Feb. 19, and meetings will continue for 12 weeks at the same time Saturdays, skipping a week for spring break.

Seymour Young Marines currently has a volunteer staff of six people and is bringing on five more, so Riley said they will be able to serve up to 110 kids.

Neal said he is beginning his final session in the Young Marines.

“My dad signed me up for it. I had no idea what it was. I honestly thought it was boarding school,” he said, smiling. “But I got into it and I stayed for a year or two because he wanted me to, and after that, I got into the whole rhythm of promotions and going to events in schools and different stuff. It has really just given me a purpose. I wanted to stay in it because I would have something to do and people to teach.”

After moving from one meeting space to another over the years, Neal was happy to cut the ribbon Saturday and walk upstairs with fellow members to check out it all out.

“It’s insane because we’ve never had our own building,” he said. “We’ve taken spaces in places before, but we never had our own building to put our own equipment and our own design and our own awards in. I’ve never experienced it before, so it’s pretty exciting. … It’s a lot more stable environment. If someone needs something that’s here, someone needs to be taking a class or something, it’s all here.”

Young Marines has made such a big impact on Neal’s life that once he graduates, he wants to join the staff.

“It affects everything,” he said. “It involves everything in normal life, everything from public speaking to just general leadership and being able to stand out. We talk about leadership all the time. One of our mottos I like to enunciate on our younger ones is ‘Be the best in everything you can do.’”

Riley looks forward to seeing what Neal and the other Young Marines are able to do, and he encourages youth to sign up. He also is seeking donations to assist with the move to Seymour and is looking for opportunities for members.

“Share our posts on Facebook, like us on Facebook, get the word out to people,” he said. “We’re not new to the Young Marines, but we’re new to Seymour, and we need to know what events are going on in town and just get the word out to the public that we’re here.”

If you go 

What: Seymour Young Marines signups

When: 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturday and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday and Wednesday

Where: Headquarter offices upstairs at Seymour Decorating Center, 220 S. Chestnut St., Seymour

Who: Boys and girls ages 8 to 18

Cost: $150 for the first 13-week session (includes a uniform and all registration costs); the next sessions will be $50 each time

What to bring at registration: Social Security card, birth certificate, copy of insurance card and copy of a recent physical (if the child doesn’t have a recent physical, a form can be provided to have filled out after registration)

Information: Call Shawn Riley at 812-344-7286, email [email protected] or visit or

How to help 

Seymour Young Marines has three donation levels

Bronze ($200): Name or business logo on back of the organization’s trailer that’s hauled everywhere they go

Silver ($500): Name or business logo on the back of the trailer and on the wall of sponsors in the new facility in downtown Seymour

Gold ($1,000): Name or business logo on the back of the trailer, on the wall of sponsors and in brochures that are passed out during parades, graduations and community events

Other amounts also are accepted.

All donations should be mailed to Seymour Young Marines, 220 S. Chestnut St., Seymour, IN 47274.

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