They tie knots, go camping, earn merit badges and meet the challenges. They do it more slowly than most other Boy Scouts, but they do it just the same.
The 13 active Scouts of Troop 700, ages 11 to 28, are mentally and physically disabled. They are led by an Ellicott City couple, Scoutmaster Mike Parker and his wife, Norene, assistant scoutmaster, who decided to tinker with the official Boy Scouts of America approach to "special" activities for youngsters who are disabled.
"Troop 700 is only handicapped in respect to the physical and intellectual limitations of its Scouts," said Norene Parker, 36, a Howard County school-bus driver.
The Scouts suffer from a variety of disorders, including Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, partial paralysis and hearing impairment.
Boy Scouts of America runs a lessdemanding program for disabled Scouts, which features activities andawards strictly for them. But the Parkers felt the activities, such as ironing decals on fabric, were not stimulating enough.
So when the couple took over as troop leaders two years ago, they switched tothe Scouts' regular advancement program.
"Troop 700 promotes personal achievement," Mike Parker, 39, a sales manager for Baltimore Freight Liner, said.
"They don't achieve that benefit very often. They have their own victories. They may not be as efficient (as other Scouts) but I don't know of anything they are not willing to try -- maybe they even try too hard," he said.
Crisply uniformed, Troop 700 meets weekly in Catonsville, convenient to its members -- half of whom are from Howard County and the rest from Baltimore County and city.
The meeting routinely includes opening and closing ceremonies, activities, instruction periods and a refreshment break.
Both of theParkers' sons are Scouts. Michael, 17, a Cedar Lane student, is mentally retarded, has cerebral palsy and is partially paralyzed. Billy, 11, a Waverly Elementary fifth-grader, belongs to Troop 944 in Ellicott City and does most of his Scout activities with them.
The Parkers hope that Billy will be able to serve as a liaison between Troop 700 and other troops in the region.
"While (Michael) he enjoys the social aspect of being around 'normal' Scouts, we are both cognizant of the fact that he will not be going on long backpacking or mountain
climbing trips in the near future," Norene Parker said. "With ourtroop, he can participate in all the activities, advance at his own pace and enjoy the camaraderie of both his peers and 'normal' Scouts."
Chartered 27 years ago, the troop has always catered to disabledScouts.
Michael signed on seven years ago, when the troop's then-Scoutmaster visited Cedar Lane School to promote scouting. His father's interest in what then was a languishing troop was piqued.
"I agreed to go to a Scout meeting the one night, and the next thing I knew, I was a Scout leader," recalled Mike Parker, who had not been involved in scouting since his Cub pack days.
His wife, a former Girl Scout, joined in, as did other parents.
A turning point for the troop came three years ago, during a week of summer camp at Broadcreek Memorial Scout Reservation in Harford County. When the scoutmaster could not get time off from work, the committee chairman suffered a heart attack and no other adult males could take seven boys camping, Norene Parker and another mother, Carol Kinkaid of Baltimore County, took charge.
"We didn't know what we were doing," Parker said. "We wanted to keep the boys busy, so we decided to get started on the leather-work merit badge. We had to work on it all together; each Scout came home with a merit badge."
The scoutmaster was thrilled: None ofhis Scouts had ever earned a badge. Parents and Scouts were inspired.
The Parkers, who took over the helm two years ago, attend the troop's five weekends of camping and one full week of summer camp each year with the help of other parents.
And there have been more badges. At last summer's camp, 10 troop members earned 17 merit badges after working six hours a day for five days -- "with some time out for the pool," Norene Parker said. "I'm not sure the boys themselves believed their accomplishment. Their faces were still glowing in the darkin September" when they started meeting again after summer vacation.
"Most of the time when my mom is not in uniform, she's on the computer doing Scout stuff," Michael said.
The assistant scoutmaster's meticulous records and newsletter show achievements and movement upthe ranks by individual Scouts.
Three Scouts, including Michael, are members of the Order of the Arrow, a brotherhood of honor camperswithin the Boy Scout organization.