Story by Irina Safaryan

An eager buyer sifts nervously through the lint and change in his palm. He is no more than three feet tall, no more than seven years old; he stands in a room full of mouth-watering candy. With a few coins, a tiptoe and a reach, he takes possession of a sour-apple sucker.

Behind the candy-shop counter is Veronica Cambiou, a young woman who knows her customers by name. The candy shop where Veronica spends her days is inside the Youth Center in Cagli, Italy.

Born and raised in Cagli, Veronica recently graduated from high school and has worked at the center for about a year. She takes care of the candy shop, restocking and organizing the items, making sure there are enough sweets to meet the demands of enthusiastic buyers.

When not behind the counter, Veronica is a playground superwoman, spending time outside with the center’s clientele -- dribbling a basketball, kicking a ball, joining a competitive game of foosball, and playing card games.

Veronica wears many hats, and at times, she could use an extra hand. Not only does she organize all the activities for the center, she also keeps it clean. “Look at the chairs there,” she says, pointing to three chairs knocked on their sides and lying in the bushes. “They throw things around and don’t want to clean up after themselves.” Many of the teens consider Veronica their friend, she adds, so trying to be fun and maintain structure can be a tough balance.

The Youth Center serves as a positive place where the young people of Cagli can come together, play, and socialize. The Church finances the center, which has a mission to provide a safe and healthy place for youth.

Veronica sees her work as important. Some days, as many as 50 young people can be found at the center. A few neighbors have complained about the buzz of activity. “They say that we make too much noise, and it bothers the neighbors,” she says.

On one recent afternoon, two boys play an arcade game while a group of teenage girls plays a board game and whisper to each other. Across the room, some children compete in a foosball match. Squeals and laughter echo from the building.

Veronica’s pay for serving as the center’s coordinator comes from the profits at the candy shop.  To her, it’s a sweet deal.

“We eat candy all day here,” she says with a laugh as she stands in a room surrounded by chocolate candy bars, soda pop and ice cream.

Veronica Cambiou Youth Center Coordinator in Cagli

A portrait of Veronica at the Youth Center in Cagli.

[Click image for slideshow]