Urban Boy Scouts program teaches real-life lessons Volunteers, sponsors needed for support

December 29, 1998|By Rasmi Simhan | Rasmi Simhan,SUN STAFF

The boy on the playground near Rutland Avenue in East Baltimore saw one man chasing another down the street with a gun. The grade-schooler dropped from the monkey bars and lay flat on the ground. When the men had passed, the boy ran for cover. Shots rang out.

In addition to building birdhouses and learning how to build campfires, the youngster had been trained to dodge the cross fire of urban warfare at a Boy Scouts meeting two weeks earlier.

Finding volunteers to tailor life-enhancing lessons to suit the realities of the inner city is an unending task for the Baltimore Council of Boy Scouts of America.

The council seeks Scout leaders, volunteers and corporate sponsors for Scoutreach, a program that brings Scouting opportunities to inner-city boys.

Scoutreach arranges for companies and foundations to sponsor or co-sponsor a troop for $15,000 a year. Funds from 14 organizations defray costs for field trips, craft materials, books and uniforms.

"It's not just paying for utilities," said Laura Seefeldt, the Baltimore Council's program director for special projects. "[Companies] are sending a particular boy on a trip, buying a particular boy a uniform. They can get to know the children and see the tangible results."

At the Echo House community center, 1705 W. Fayette St., Scout Christopher Murray, 11, recalled "bustin' bottles" in the afternoons before he joined the Scouts three months ago.

Christopher earned his uniform by "learning the Scout law and showing respect," he said at a holiday party for Scouts last week.

Said Christopher, who has learned how to build a birdhouse among other skills: "It keeps us out of trouble."

In the Scoutreach program, Scout leaders, called program specialists, coordinate 25 troops of about 40 boys each at 17 sites. Locations include the Pigtown, Rutland, Collington Square, Franklin Square, Charles Village, downtown, Fells Point, Edison-Erdman, Park Heights, Cherry Hill and Westport areas.

Scout Dominique Harvey, 10, said his program specialist made him feel proud to be a leader.

"On a camping trip, he was showing people how to light a fire and I knew how, so he asked me to help," recalled Dominique, who joined Scouting five years ago and has brought eight boys into his troop at Echo House.

About 270 volunteers work in the program, according to Bob Meyers, director of finance and marketing at the council. More are needed.

"We can use an infinite number of volunteers," Meyers said. The council hopes to open three new sites and increase membership to 600 Scouts next year, he said.

In its fourth year, Scout-reach's success prompted Boy Scouts of America to adopt the program on the national level. About 65 percent of its participants remain in the program, said Seefeldt, adding that adults and children benefit.

"When you impact a child and help him discover all he can accomplish, that kid is going to remember you when he grows up," she said. "You live on after you're gone."

Information: Baltimore Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, 410-338-1700.

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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