BY WALT SCHAEFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
SHARONVILLE -- Kelly Flowers watched as a group of Explorer scouts dangled lines from bamboo fishing poles into Sharon Woods Lake, hoping for a nibble.
It wasn't long before Art Leary, 35, of Greenhills, hooked a tiny bluegill not more than 4 inches long.
"I got one! Gee! I got one!" he shouted.
Experiences like that bring a smile to Ms. Flowers, too -- and the satisfaction of helping give a small measure of happiness to this group of mentally disabled men and women.
"Can you sense their joy at being here?" said Ms. Flowers, 23, of Colerain Township. "These are not the days when people with disabilities are hidden in an institution. Now they are out here -- a part of our community. (Troop) activities make them feel that way."
About a dozen people are involved with Explorer Post 2025, the 19 members of which range in age from 30 to 50. It's a far cry from two years ago, when the scouts -- then Boy Scout Troop 25 -- were on the verge of disbanding because of the retirement of Scoutmaster George Wietmarschen, 82.
When a story about the troop's plight appeared in The Enquirer in 1996, volunteers began stepping forward. Now, the ratio of scouts and volunteers at troop meetings and outings is often close to 1-to-1, said Claude Rost Jr., community relations coordinator for the Hamilton County Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MRDD), the post's sponsoring agency.
It's an arrangement that has benefited both the scouts and the people who have come to their aid.
Volunteer Mike Hernandez, and the post's volunteer secretary, Noreen Clifford, wrote a grant application and the post received a renewable $3,000 grant from a private foundation dedicated to helping the mentally disabled. It has provided funding for trips, games and equipment; supplies for craft workshops; T-shirts; and such financial requirements as annual scout registration fees.
Mr. Hernandez said his experience with the Explorers has shown him how much those with disabilities need such opportunities. "This gives them a real sense of self-worth, self-esteem and accomplishment. They find a sense of belonging," he said.
Mrs. Clifford said the scouts teach their advisers, too.
"I've learned patience," she said. "I've learned to stop and sit down and take time. That's hard to do. You learn that no matter what the disability, they each have something to offer and to give; and we who know them treasure each and every one of them."
Dennis Stephenson, 54, of Independence, Ky., said that without the volunteers, "they would not have the ability to come out to a place like this lake (and do) things other people do, interacting with others and enjoying camaraderie."
There have been other outings, too, all made possible by the volunteers' efforts: a Cincinnati Reds game, a round of miniature golf, camping out at a Boy Scout jamboree, a day at the circus, a group picnic at a park.
For some of the scouts, those were first-time experiences. And while most cannot explain how much they enjoy themselves, to others, the pleasure is obvious.
"I wish you had seen them at the jamboree (camp out) with other groups -- shooting black powder and throwing axes and using bows and arrows and just making new friends," Mr. Hernandez said.
If you'd like to volunteer to help Explorer Post 2025, call Claude Rost Jr., 794-3311 extension 190. The commitment includes a monthly meeting and the time to accompany the Explorers to events and special programs.