WESTMINSTER - So far, only a porcupine, flying squirrel and cave bat populate the branches and tree limbs.
The trio would like some company.
So would their creators -- James Palmisano, 8, of Manchester; Frankie Boyer, 9, of Westminster; and Jason Duncan, 10, of Finksburg.
The boys, assisted by their dads, constructed the 6-foot-high, three-dimensional tree with saws, hammers and nails. Transplanted from a classroom to the church vestibule, their masterpiece attracts attention, curiosity and interest from all who enter.
The large, wooden tree and its occupants represent Tree Climbers, a group that brings boys in grades 1 and 2 together with their fathers or a male sponsor to cement the bond between them.
The group meets 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the Westminster Church of God, Route 27 and Lucabaugh Mill Road.
Ideally, each boy attends with his father or male sponsor, but this is not mandatory, organizers say. Church and community members are also invited.
"We know fathers are busy and are aware of the need for quality time," said coordinator Joel Palmisano. "The two-year Tree Climbers program gives them a practical way to spend meaningful time with their sons.
"It helps fathers understand the importance of spending at least one hour out of the week together with their sons," he said. "It lets the boys understand that we care."
"It helps young boys in overcoming shyness and brings fathers and sons closer," said the Rev. Dennis Foster, pastor of the 200-member congregation for the past three years and adviser to the Tree Climbers.
Group members share fun and learning while participating in games, stories, craft projects and occasional retreats and camping trips. Boys in Tree Climbers also memorize Scripture and study the Bible.
Palmisano's son James likes playing games best. He colored the porcupine and glued it to the tree. He says his dad helped.
"He did a lot of hard work to make up the tree," said James.
Debbie Duncan said her son Jason looks forward to spending Wednesday nights with his father, Vernon.
Jason said he liked making a marble game.
Each boy receives an adventure booklet, weekly planner, family devotion book, pin and "Woody the Raccoon Treehouse" poster. Green T-shirts may be purchased.
Since the group's inception nine months ago, projects have included constructing log cabins and birdhouses from Popsicle sticks, making camp lanterns from juice cans and candles, and studying about the sun and stars.
The boys and their fathers have created posters, murals and model rockets, and learned about careers and hobbies.
"Tree Climbers introduces God to boys in a realm they can understand," said Palmisano. "They can touch a tree or see the stars. We're beginning to take shape, growing."
The Westminster Church of God Men's Fellowship supports the group, but the boys raised $150 themselves by enlisting church members as sponsors for a bowl-a-thon. The Tree Climbers plan a Christmas card sale to raise additional money.
Tree Climbers meets in a Sunday School room at the church. With a new wing nearly completed, however, there soon should be more space for activities.
Tree Climbers clubs are conducted in hundreds of North American churches, and are the first step in the Christian Service Brigade -- a cross-denominational, Christian-oriented boys club based in Wheaton, Ill.
In succeeding steps, third- and fourth-graders progress to Builders and to Sentinels when in the fifth and sixth grades. These two groups compose the Stockade. Teen-agers go into the Battalion division.
The steps in Christian Service Brigade are similar to those in Scouting, Foster said.
"If we have a turnout of older boys and fathers, we could start the Stockade group almost immediately," said Palmisano.
Vernon Duncan, Christian Service Brigade chairman, plans to begin working with this group.
Palmisano, 31, operates the machine shop at Netzer Metalcraft, a metal fabricating company in Baltimore. He and wife, Barbara, son James, daughters Stephanie, 7, and Danielle, 2, live on a small farm.
He and his wife have attended Westminster Church of God for seven years and became members 2 years ago. Stephanie belongs to the Bluebells, a Church of God organization for girls.
Foster said Tree Climbers organizers hope to attract new group members through newspaper ads and by taking pamphlets door to door.
Information: 848-9667 (days) or 239-4332 (after 6 p.m.).