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CBS4 News is featuring a special series of reports this holiday season called the 12 Days of Christmas. The following story is written by CBS4’s Ashton Altieri.

DENVER (CBS4) – Children growing up in Denver’s public housing neighborhoods have traditionally been among the most at-risk youth in the city. The Bridge Project aims to change that by providing a path for higher education and building character.

To help in the effort, the project started by the University of Denver in 1991 has teamed up with the Denver Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America to expose as many kids as possible to the values of scouting.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

More than 33,000 young people participate in scouting in the Denver area. There are 1,000 units including Cub Scout Packs, Boy Scout Troops, and new concepts like STEM “Labs.” But no unit is quite like The Bridge Project’s Troop 650.

“The kids are from all over the world, mostly Kenya and Somalia, and the Congo. And they are really eager about scouting”, explains Scoutmaster Bob Williams.

The troop is fully funded through the Leadership Assistance Program provided by the Denver Area Council, Boy Scouts of America.

Sergio Colmenero is the site director for the Lincoln Park location of the Bridge Project.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“The mission is to provide educational opportunities for students and families living in Denver housing and surrounding neighborhoods so they graduate high school and continue onto college or learn a trade,” Colmenero said.

Manual Alvarez is 14 years old and has been around the Bridge Project since kindergarten. He says he is proud to be a scout and enjoys having the opportunity to learn new things.

Manual Alvarez (credit: CBS)

Manual Alvarez (credit: CBS)

Earlier this year Alvarez was elected by his peers to be the senior patrol leader of Troop 650. It’s the highest youth leadership position available in scouting.

“I was proud of myself, that everyone saw me as a leader” said Alvarez. “Before scouting I didn’t know that much about what to do in certain types of situations but now that I have joined scouting, I know what to do and how to be prepared,” he added.

Manual Alvarez (left) (credit: CBS)

Manual Alvarez (left) (credit: CBS)

The troop Alvarez leads may be unusual, but they have all the same opportunities as other scouts.

“They are not held back from doing any of the activities that traditional units do. We’re pushing for them to do camporees, Klondikes, trips to the Summit” said Williams.

The Summit is a Boy Scout high adventure base in southern West Virginia. Last summer Alvarez helped lead their inaugural trip. His mom says it was a life-changing experience.

Manual Alvarez (credit: CBS)

Manual Alvarez (credit: CBS)

“He’s grown up a lot. Going on the trip to West Virginia for almost two weeks and being without mama bear and papa bear has given him a little bit of independence,” said Jeannette Alvarez.

In fact, all of the scouts in Troop 650 have taken huge steps in developing life skills.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

On the night CBS4 visited, Alvarez and his fellow scouts were working to a build a stand for cooking over a fire.

“It’s so neat to watch them when they’re camping. You can see the light come on when they’re learning how to chop a piece of wood or light or a fire with a flint stick. It’s just unbelievable,” said Williams.

The success of the Bridge Project together with their partnerships like the Boy Scouts is extraordinary. Last year the graduation rate for Denver Public Schools was about 65 percent. For Bridge kids, it was 100 percent.

LINKS: Bridge Project

Boy Scouts Of America Leadership Assistance Program

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