NORTHRIDGE : Boy Scouts Deal With Volunteer Shortages

Plenty of children, but no one to lead them--that's what Boy Scout leader Carl Pabst has encountered for the last few months as he strives to expand Boy Scout programs in poor neighborhoods.

A new Boy Scout pack and Cub Scout pack in the Park Parthenia apartments in Northridge are examples of the untraditional solutions that Scout organizers such as Pabst have devised to deal with a shortage of adult volunteers. After Pabst tried unsuccessfully for months to recruit a troop leader in the enormous, low-income complex, the local Boy Scout division took the unprecedented step of hiring a Scout leader from Van Nuys to head meetings at Park Parthenia two days a week, using a donation from the complex manager, A&M; Properties.

For the last few weeks, a Scout leader has been paid about $6 per hour to lead meetings for the 20 new Scouts at the 447-unit complex, where about one-third of the tenants receive public housing coupons.

The Park Parthenia troop is the only one with a paid leader in the Balboa Oaks District, and it has none of the luxuries that most people associate with Scouting--no camp-outs, hikes or canoe trips, said Christine Demmitt, district director. But Demmitt and Pabst, who has offered to include the new troop in some of the activities of his Northridge troop, said they hope that the Park Parthenia unit will help set off a new trend in Scouting.

In Los Angeles and elsewhere in the country, Boy Scout troops are concentrated in middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods, where parents can afford to volunteer their time, buy uniforms and pay dues, Pabst said. In recent years, the Scouts have sought to diversify its ranks to neighborhoods where few parents can afford to volunteer.

Pabst is recruiting to start new troops in poorer neighborhoods of Northridge, Canoga Park and Van Nuys. So far, the Park Parthenia troop is the only one to get off the ground. But Demmitt said she hopes that it will become a model for other large apartment complexes.

"We've got an awful lot of kids out there on the street," Pabst said. "We are definitely not serving who we should be serving."

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