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‘All the kids that used to come here in the summer and buy drugs are going to find themselves in the middle of a tepee village.’ : Housing Project Gets Camp

Times Staff Writer

Nine-year-old Richard Thompson said he’s going to learn how to “cook stuff on a fire.” His pal, Javier Avilos, is raring to “ride horses all around the grass.” Another boy said he wants to make “backpacks out of a jacket.”

The three boys live in Van Nuys Pierce Park Apartments, a 430-unit project in Pacoima, but finding those rural activities will be easy next week--all they’ll have to do is walk over to a “campground” in the courtyard of the complex.

Sign-ups began Friday for an unusual, nine-week program organized by the Boy Scouts and apartment residents for nearly 1,000 youths from the apartments and surrounding neighborhood. There will be tents on the apartments’ grassy area, kettles on open fires and, at times, a stable.

Officials from the Great Western Council of the Boy Scouts, a district that includes the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, said it is the first time the council has attempted to conduct a summer program in a public housing project. The apartments are privately owned but subsidized by the government.

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Two Scout directors, a Mission College instructor, 20 federally funded young summer employees and about 200 parents will supervise the program.

“This is going to be like a huge den and troop meeting every day, eight hours a day for nine weeks,” said Sathara Sweet of the scouting council. “The kids will be earning badges, learning the traditional scouting things like camping and will be going on field trips.”

The apartment complex’s management has been planning the program since January. It is designed to help prevent fights, vandalism and drug dealing that residents say is prevalent on the grounds during the hot summer months, when most of the 1,500 youths in the complex are out of school. About 4,000 people live in the three-story apartment buildings at 12700 Van Nuys Blvd.

Drug problems in the area prompted police to institute foot patrols in March.

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“All the kids that used to come here in the summer and buy drugs are going to find themselves in the middle of a tepee village,” Rose Castaneda, assistant manager of the apartments, said with a laugh.

Castaneda said she contacted a local Boy Scout leader, Donald Haynes, 26, of Pacoima to find out how to organize a summer program. They started talking about a two-hour day course, she said.

Plans now call for classes in such areas as drama, nature and camping methods. Horses will be brought for riding classes, and there will be weekly field trips to amusement parks, museums and the beach, she said.

“I grew up in Pacoima and I remember these apartment were always taboo,” Haynes said. “I personally want to show these kids that there are more things to do outside Pacoima than hanging around a housing project.”

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The owners of the housing project, Wogo Apartments of Van Nuys, gave $20,000 for the program. The parents of the participating youths--ages 3 to 17--pay a $5 registration fee. Most of the crafts material has been donated from community businesses and organizations. Local church buses will provide transportation for field trips.

About 400 youths registered for the program Friday.

“Last summer I would have never let my kids play outside alone all day,” said Rita Mancha, 34. “But with the police walking through here and the Boy Scouts here, I can’t let my kids pass up this opportunity.”


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