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Scouting comes back for Ridgecrest boys

In a quiet corner of the Urban League's Omni Center, next to a basketball court where a rowdy pickup game is in progress, eight boys are promising to do their duty to God and their country. Some of the youngsters have mastered the words to the Boy Scout oath. Others rely on a handout furnished by Scout Master Jimmy Walker.

It has been 15 years since the Ridgecrest area had a Boy Scout troop.

Walker, 34, said that when he was a boy growing up in Ridgecrest, the Boy Scouts organization was there for him. He wants today's youngsters to have the same opportunity.

But there are other forces at work on neighborhood youth today. The area has more than its share of crime and drug traffic, and is heavily patrolled by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department.

"The dope people are using the kids," Walker said. "I can't just sit back and see kids not doing anything motivating.

"In scouting, you learn skills you use for life."

Raymond Beal, recreation leader for the Urban League, said Walker's troop is a welcome addition to the neighborhood and the Omni Center, which is on 119th Avenue N, just north of Ridgecrest Elementary School.

"It gets the kids off the street and gives them something to do," Beal said "We have a lot of kids who come down here. There's just not enough structured stuff for them."

At a recent Monday night meeting of Troop 499, members were divided into patrols to learn the Scout laws.

They knew what it means to be brave and helpful, but courteous left them cold.

"It's amazing how you guys forget all this stuff," Walker said.

They plan to make patrol flags next week, go swimming later in the month and camp out later in the summer.

They also are trying to raise enough money to buy uniforms and camping equipment.

Walker is a Seminole High School graduate. After high school, he joined the Air Force and then attended the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Now he works as a technician for the Danka Corp.

Walker went through his Ridgecrest neighborhood recruiting troop members.

One of Walker's recruits, Charles Martin, 14, said he joined "because I thought it would be fun going camping and stuff."

Corey Moore, 11, joined to "get to experience new things and to learn how to take care of somebody who gets hurt."

Charles added, "If you didn't join, you might be missing out on something."

Abraham Johnson, 12, is the only scout in Troop 499 with camping experience. A member of another troop for four years, Abraham decided to transfer to Walker's troop because it's closer to his home. Abraham is also the only troop member with a uniform.

Walker spent a year training to become a Scout master.

"The Boy Scouts of America don't just give anybody a troop," Walker explained. "You don't just say "Let's go camping.' "

Bob Gettman, with the West Central Florida Council of Boy Scouts of America, said another Scoutmaster told him of Walker's interest.

"I knew there was a critical need in the area," Gettman said.

The troop was chartered a year ago, Gettman said. Walker took courses in Scouting, youth protection, camping and related fields, and began to organize his troop.

"It's not easy," Walker said. "It's like being a mother, father, psychiatrist and a doctor. But it's fun."