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Scouts target urban youths

Every time Robert Ford Jr. goes to the beach, he sees what the Boy Scouts have done for him, and what he, in turn, has done for Tampa.

Two years ago, Ford, 17, became the first Eagle Scout in the Trail Blazers, a Scouting district that caters to the needs of urban children in Tampa. To qualify for the Eagle rank, Ford had to plan and develop a community project. His choice was to beautify a beachfront park, and his work remains beautiful today.

On Saturday, Ford, along with other Boy Scouts and former Scouts, came together to say thanks to one another at a fund-raising luncheon at the Tampa Club. One by one, business owners and community leaders urged the Scouts to strive for success and never give up their dreams.

"If you believe you can do it, believe me, you can," said Sandford Woods, president and chief executive officer of Brandon Dodge. "I'm not that smart, trust me, I'm not. . . . But I never gave up."

Money raised at the luncheon will benefit the Scouting district, which was established in 1991. Lerrone Benjamin, senior district executive of the Boy Scouts' Gulf Ridge Council, said the Trail Blazers promotes urban activities as well as traditional Scouting functions.

The district pays membership fees if the child's family cannot afford it, and uniforms can be earned by the children through community work.

Benjamin said Scouting is ideal for today's urban youths.

"Basically, Scouting offers the mother or father the opportunity to have their sons learn some of the social skills they'll need," he said. "They learn to accomplish tasks through the right way."

Social skills aside, many of the boys at the luncheon said the best thing about Scouting is establishing friendships and going to camp. And sometimes, those skills they learn for badges help out in real life.

Jonathon Kuder, 13, wears 23 merit badges on his uniform, but one of his favorites is the one he got in reptile study. Kuder said those lessons came in handy one day when he and two friends were planning to sleep out.

As they set up camp, the friends found a pygmy rattlesnake nearby and came to tell Kuder.

How did he handle it?

"When they said they found a pygmy rattlesnake . . . I said, "I'm not sleeping out there at all.' "