NORFOLK -- On a sunny Saturday morning in the Fairmount Park section of Norfolk, the streets are quiet, there is little traffic, and small front lawns are sporting a shock of green. One can barely notice the scent of marijuana being burned somewhere near the front lawn of New Hope Baptist Church on Brest Avenue.
Under a huge tree on the front lawn of the church's social hall, fold-out tables have been set up for a meeting of Troop 112 of the Boy Scouts of America. The mission of the day is tie-dying T-shirts.
Wearing shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes, the boys trickle in with their mothers. The troop has only a dozen or so members, but not one child has any portion of the Boy Scouts uniform. It's a come-as-you-are program managed by New Hope Pastor Dr. Calvin Durham.
A year ago, a local attorney approached Dr. Durham and asked him to start a Boy Scout program in a community that has not had a scouting program in a couple of decades. Fairmount Park has it's share of problems that include gangs, gang-related violence and a dearth of activities and facilities for children.
As is customary, the meeting begins with the Boy Scout promise. Under the directions of one of the older scouts, the boys begin reciting the promise. "On my honor, I will do my best...", but the promise is interrupted by Pastor Durham who notices a few of the boys have their left hands raised instead of their right hands. So they took it from the top, and restarted the promise, with all right hands firmly in the air.
This misstep illustrates the challenges Dr. Durham faces in a community where neither the children nor their parents have ever been exposed to scouting. Troop 112 does not have uniforms, and it struggles to host fundraisers. Even with it's deficiencies, Dr. Durham says Troop 112 is desperately needed in Fairmount Park.
"I saw a lot of the young boys who were void of any type of leadership, and void of interaction with anything that had structure to it," said Dr. Durham.
Across the nation scouting is on the decline, but gang involvement is on the rise. According to the Boy Scouts of America, there were 4.6 million Boy Scouts in 1970, but by the year 2000 the number had declined to 3.2 million. Today there are only 3.2 million Boy Scouts. The disappearance of scouting is prevalent in poor and minority communities, according to BSA.
"Little by little, scouting started to disappear because there weren't enough volunteers to bring if to life," said Dana Mott of the Tidewater BSA.
Troop 934 in Chesapeake is only a few miles away from Fairmount Park, but it is far ahead of Troop 112. Founded 10 years ago by Rev. Michael Toliver, Pastor of First Baptist Church of South Hill, Troop 934 has produced four Eagle Scouts. There were bumps along the ten year journey, but Rev. Toliver is convinced scouting can help solve the gang problem in Hampton Roads.
"We didn't have to reinvent the wheel; scouting had a means of engaging young men," said Rev. Toliver.
The members of Troop 934 recently fine-tuned their skills in archery, rappelling, and fishing at Camp Pipsico in Surry County. Attending camp is only a dream for the memers of 112. The boys don't have the skills or the funds needed to attend camp.
Troop 112 is trying to untie the years of knots that have left their community with many problems. Dr. Durham is convinced the program will make a difference. The tie-dye shirts will be stenciled with the numbers 112.
"We will learn the principles, even though we are not wearing the shirt, or the hat, but we will still learn the principles," said Dr. Durham.