PASADENA — Kary Williams smiled shyly, ran a finger over her new uniform and waited. She had only to repeat the Girl Scout promise and receive her pin to become a full-fledged Brownie.
Like many other girls in her low-income neighborhood, Kary, 8, had heard very little about the Girl Scouts and had never imagined that she might someday become one. But last week she joined 100 other girls who live in King's Villages in celebrating their Scouting achievements.
"I feel special," Kary said. "I know that I can do the things that the Brownies can do."
Fellow Brownie Serena Lopez, 9, waited nearby. "It's fun to wear a uniform that's yours," she said. "When people see you, they know you're a Brownie because you're wearing brown and orange."
The 100 predominantly black girls belong to the Sierra Madres Girl Scout Council, which is expanding its programs among minority groups. The council, with the help of private foundations, plans to donate $130,000 over the next two years to provide free Scouting to residents of King's Villages, a federally subsidized housing complex in the northwest area known for its crime, drug and prostitution problems.
"There are very few social growth programs offered to children in northwest Pasadena," said Bruce Philpott, a special assistant to the city manager in charge of a revitalization program for the northwest.
"There is a lack of esteem-building in their environment," Philpott said. "This is one of those positive motivators."
Planning for the King's Villages program began in January under the direction of resident Shirley Stebbins, who now works on it full time. Since March, the program has enrolled nearly all the girls aged 6 to 13 who live in the 313-unit complex.
'Something to Do'
"There's really nothing for them to do here," said Josie Smith, whose daughter, Tiffany Mayfield, 13, is in the program. "The Girl Scouts gives them something to do."
Joyce Richards, executive director of the council, said similar ideas have failed in the past because they either relied too heavily on volunteers or were run by people outside the housing area.
Richards credits Stebbins, who has lived in King's Villages five years, with the success of the program.
"I think she feels she has a spiritual mission for these kids," Richards said. "She gives them a chance to see that there are things outside the community, that there are choices other than drugs."
It was Philpott who put the Girl Scouts in touch with Stebbins. He had worked with her on several day care projects and thought she would be a good candidate to run the Scouting program.
"She understands the problems that these kids are going through," he said.
Stebbins, 37, is a divorced mother of two who taught elementary school in Stockton for 10 years. When she moved to Pasadena in 1982, she taught in the Head Start program before starting a day care center at King's Villages.
Richards acknowledged that the traditional Girl Scout program is designed for white, middle-class girls who have access to money and their parents' time. Scout leaders had to modify that program for the King's Villages girls.
'Expecting Too Much'
"They're really expecting too much to think that the girls in the low-income areas have their fingers on all the resources," she said. "We're trying to adjust our program to fit different life styles."
Some rules are relaxed, including requirements that girls must wear uniforms. So far, only the Brownies have uniforms--discontinued models donated by the national organization.
Leaders also are free to choose activities that will interest the children.
For example, to earn their dance badges, the girls took jazz lessons instead of learning to perform a dance from a foreign country. For cooking badges, they learned to make sweet potato pie instead of the apple pie suggested in the Girl Scout manual.
"Now that's something black girls are going to be cooking," said Eileen Shannon, who lives at King's Villages and also works full time with the program.
During the school year, the girls, who are divided into Brownies, Juniors and Cadets, met for two hours every day. During the summer vacation, the three troops will meet three days a week.
"There's a definite need for our girls to be part of a structured organization," Stebbins said.
Through the Girl Scout program, the girls have taken craft lessons and gone on field trips--their favorite is to Magic Mountain. Stebbins hopes to increase the number of trips and include museums and historic attractions.
"These children are locked into this one little community," she said. "Without these trips, they're never going to elevate their thinking."
The girls have developed a sense of belonging with each other and their leaders. Wherever Stebbins is, she is surrounded by girls yelling, "Miss Shirley, Miss Shirley," and fighting to hold her hand or play with her hair.
At night, she said, she frequently hears knocks on her apartment door, followed by: "Hi, Miss Shirley. I was just passing by."