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At-risk kids see wider world through scouting

Their hearts beat a little faster as they rode across the Howard Frankland Bridge — just as hundreds of thousands of people do every day.

Their eyes grew wide when they walked into cavernous Tropicana Field — just as more than 1 million people did this season.

Their voices rose in volume as they cheered the first hit — just as Rays fans do at every game.

"We saw the Rays play the Kansas City Royals," Armani Payne, 8, blurted out as he fondly recalled the game.

The field trip that Cub Scout Troop 1952 took in the summer may not seem out of the ordinary for people who routinely attend games, but it held greater meaning for these inner-city kids, who take little for granted.

From running the bases to eating hot dogs, cherished memories formed in their minds that day — thoughts they will carry for a lifetime.

It's not always the special events that captivate them.

Anthony Payne, 11 and Armani's brother, smiles about racing around a circle while trying to balance a baseball on a spoon. Amarion, the youngest of the three Payne brothers at 7, likes doing the dizzy bat race.

Joseph Hathaway, 8, just likes being with friends and saying the Scout pledge. He can recite it, if you ask.

Brandon White, 11 and a Webelo, talks about learning to be helpful and nice, honest and truthful. He'll swell with pride when he goes from Cub Scout to Boy Scout.

"It's good because we're doing activities and not doing bad stuff," White said.

Sports often serve as a lifeline to youths, but not everyone is as gifted or inclined.

That's why Earl Silas started a troop for boys who live in and around the George Bartholomew North Tampa Community Center in Sulphur Springs. Scouting not only provides activities beyond sports, but it also opens their minds to infinite dreams.

"Exposing these kids to different types of activities exposes them to so many possibilities," said Silas, who works for the Tampa Police Department as a site coordinator for its community outreach efforts.

"It gets them to think outside that small box, and when I say that small box, I mean it gets them to think outside of this small community that they live in. Some of these kids never get a chance to go to Tropicana Field or go to Bucs training camp."

Exposure, character building and hands-on skills all guide the Gulf Ridge Council's commitment to at-risk kids.

"We want to ensure that culturally diverse youth have the opportunity to join the Scouting program," said the council's Halvern Johnson. "We want to recruit strong adult leaders and to develop solid relationships with chartered organizations in urban and rural communities."

In Silas, they have that strong leadership. But they could touch more lives with additional funding. On Thursday, the council holds its sixth annual Whitney M. Young Luncheon at Carrabba's, 700 N Dale Mabry Highway. Contact Johnson at (813) 245-9687 or

The Rev. Abe Brown and accountant Jose Valiente will be honored. Attorney Fred McClure will give the keynote.

But there will be two other special guests. Nicole Lee and Monica Boozier are two Troop 1952 parents who have stepped up to help the troop.

They know the value of scouting, influential role models and lasting memories.

That's all I'm saying.

At-risk kids see wider world through scouting 11/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 12:08am]
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