If violence rattled a number of Columbia inner-city neighborhoods this weekend, some of their most vulnerable residents wouldn't have been there to witness it.
Youth from communities across the Midlands spent the weekend camping on a 4,300-acre plantation north of Camden, sharpening their outdoor survival skills and building character at a Boy Scout "camporee."
"They have already learned pretty much how to survive in the streets," said Angel Cruz, scoutmaster both for Boy Scout Troop 144, anchored in the Allen-Benedict neighborhood, and the Hispanic Tropa 75, which meets in The Reserves, near Conder Elementary School.
"Out here we teach them things like how to stay away from poison ivy, how to set up a camp and build friendships. Later, in the future, it's going to help them out."
About 1,500 scouts and scout leaders, along with 500 or so of their family members, trekked out to the plantation Friday and Saturday, where the scouts participated in archery, campfire cooking, tomahawk throwing, knot-tying, mountain biking, clay shooting and other activities.
The camporee is part of a yearlong celebration by Columbia's Indian Waters Council, with about 8,500 scouts, leading up to the Boy Scouts of America's 100th anniversary in 2010.
Over the years, the Boy Scouts evolved from awards for hog farming to awards for personal finance skills, said Indian Waters Council Scout Executive Douglas Stone.
"These young people are part of something big," Stone said. "There are so many for whom scouting has meant so much. And this - this is our outdoor classroom.
"We need these young people to help ensure that tomorrow is based on good ethics, good morals, and the same lifetime values we seek to instill here today," Stone said.
For Cruz, a Columbia Police officer assigned to the Columbia Housing Authority, and his scouts, the Boy Scouts of America has made a positive difference.
The Boy Scouts are a practical alternative, he said, to the negative choices inner-city kids sometimes are left with.
Tropa 75, for instance, was founded as a Hispanic troop to attract kids with little else to do, Cruz said.
The troop is made up of boys from Venezuela, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Puerto Rico and other countries, and they love Cruz.
"I may not be the best example, but when these kids see me, they know they are dealing with a man who is trying to help them - not someone who is out using profanity in front of them," said Cruz, who is of Puerto Rican descent.
Kevin Mole, a seventh-grader at W.A. Perry Middle School, said he and the scouts in Troop 144 enjoy each other, playing basketball and football in the park near Benedict College. But it's sometimes tricky.
"You see a lot of bad examples," Mole said.
Sergio Resendiz, 18, got involved in scouting late, at age 15, but in three years has become an Eagle Scout. He didn't feel comfortable at first, starting out with boys 12 to 13 years old.
"I had to learn from the bottom," Resendiz said.
His visit to Camp Bartstow, a 400-acre Boy Scout camp in Saluda County on Lake Murray, sold him. He learned to handle knives, tie knots and shoot rifles and shotguns.
For his Eagle Scout project, Resendiz built benches around the lake at Sesquicentennial State Park.
"I was proud, my dad was proud of me. Scouting is a lot of fun," Resendiz said.
Darrell Clippard, 14, a Dreher High School freshman, is hooked on scouting, too. "We built tents last night, made a campfire, made hot chocolate, and it was fun," Clippard said.
Kieber Ojeda, 15, a sophomore at Spring Valley High School, said he is the first in his family to be a Boy Scout. His mother coaxed him into joining, he said, because he was a little chubby and she thought he needed activity. His first camping experience was also at Camp Barstow, with Cruz.
"That was the most incredible experience for me," Ojeda said. "I just wanted to hang out more and more. I hardly miss a thing and have made so many friends."
As for Cruz, Ojeda said: "He's incredible. He's been in the Army and has so much experience - he could be my dad."
Leonard Price, 89, owns the land used for the camporee and said he does most of his giving to education.
"It's a shame if we as adults don't recognize the need for education," said Price, a member of the Indian Waters Council. "As the (Kershaw County) sheriff said to me, if every young person had to come through the Scouts, it would be a better place."