Scouts N the Hood
Tue, 8 Sep 1992 22:49:22 EST
The following article is from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Keith L.
Thomas reprinted here without permission.
The boys know the Scouting oath by heart, earn their share of camping merit
badges and can whip a rope into a sheepshank knot.
They also know a thing or two about drive0by shootings, late-night police
raids and the dark corners where crack is sold.
They're the homeboys of Troop 685 in Bankhead Courts, a Northwest Atlanta
public housing development where choices for young boys are stark.
"We'd rather be going camping and canoeing than doing drugs or getting shot
at," says Jesse Stewart, 14, a member of the troop, along with his twin
Jesse and James are among the lucky ones - the bare tip of the iceberg of
boys who might be helped by an 11th-hour effort to resurrect Scouting from the
clutches of crack and urban decay in Atlanta's public housing developments.
The Atlanta Area Council, Boy Scouts of America has started "Operation
First Class," a $1 million initiative for at-risk youths in central Atlanta.
Nowhere is Scouting more sorely needed than in housing developments. And
nowhere is it more invisible. Yet when inner-city Scouting works, it can be a
thing of beauty.
On a chilly night last week, members of Troop 685 jammed into a small
apartment to listen to "Sarge" - Scoutmaster Willie Beedle, 31, a muscular man
not much taller than his Scouts.
"I didn't see some of you guys last week," he said. "But I knew you'd all
be here for the camping trip."
In a few days, the Scouts will leave for Blairsville, Ga., on their monthly
foray into the hills to pitch tents, hike and ckook over an open fire.
When they gather with Sarge and other adult leaders, the Scouts wear their
uniforms like badges of honor.
"You should see the little boys," says Nancy Stewart, 57, grandmother of
Jesse and James. "Some of them walk around here iwth their little chests all
poked out the moment they put them on."
Spreading the Pride
Scouting officials hope "Operation First Class" will spread the pride.
With support from local churches, businesses, civic groups, community leaders
and a handful of parents, the Atlanta Area Council has targeted seven of the
city's 2 public housing developments: Bankhead Courts, McDaniel Glenn, Carver
Homes, Perry Homes, Eagan Homes, Techwood Homes, and East Lake Meadows. The
goal is to recruit and, more importantly, retain 3,000 inner-city youngsters in
Scouting programs over the next three years.
It won't be easy.
Of more than 60,000 boys served by the metro council, only 6,000 (10
percent) are from central Atlanta communities. In the seven targeted public
housing communities, more than 1,600 boys (ages 6 to 17) could benefit from the
program, the council says.
"The truth is we're no longer just competing with other recreational and
motivational programs. We're now competing with the local drug dealers, youth
gangs, whatever is out there on the streets," says James L. Moffitt, director
of the council's Central Atlanta Project.
"A lot of these kids need more than learning to tie knots. They need some
real guidance, spiritual leadership, something positive they can feel a part
David Deitch, (GIS) Atlanta
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