Friday, February 15, 2019

Girls in Shelters Find a Home in Girl Scouts

Since 1912, Girl Scouts has committed to serving as a safe space for girls. All girls, regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic background, are a part of a sisterhood that not only builds the most powerful of friendships, but also teaches valuable life skills that they'll carry with them forever.

For girls living in homeless shelters, the feeling of friendship, sisterhood, and family haven't always been a reality. Many miss out on opportunities to build memories, share laughs, and set--and reach--goals for their future. Thankfully, the mission of Girl Scouts doesn't discriminate, and Juliette Gordon Low's vision for girls reaches far and wide.

In 1924, Josephine Holloway dreamed of exposing girls at Nashville's Bethlehem Center, a shelter for at-risk women and children, to the powerful program founded in 1912. She believed in the impact Girl Scouts had on the community, and through her hard work and determination, had more than 300 girls in the shelter engaged in Girl Scout-inspired activities by the end of the year. Since then, her legacy has lived on, and girls in shelters across the nation are making the Girl Scout Movement stronger than ever.

Here are just a few who are making our communities better and worlds brighter for girls.

 Girl Scouts of Western Washington 

In Seattle, Washington, a Girl Scout troop formed at Mary’s Place, a Seattle homeless shelter that helps families get back on their feet. From Daisy to Ambassador, girls from all walks of life gather together to dance, sing, enjoy crafts, and participate in robust Girl Scout programming that allows them to retreat from their sometimes heavy lives. With the support and guidance from their troop leader, Girl Scout alum Tanita Horton, girls are able to set goals, try new things, and have life-changing experiences.

“We call each other family, sisters," said a nine-year-old Girl Scout of her troop. "Miss Tanita is like my stepmom because she’s the one that always gets me to go to Girl Scouts because sometimes I don’t want to go to Girl Scouts. I say thank you to her for making me go to Girl Scouts because it’s really fun.”

Despite life's hardships and uncertainties, one thing's for sure: these girls have found refuge in the friendships they've built and the memories they're continuing to make today. In fact, last September, the troop went on their very first camping trip, a goal nearly a year in the making. From leadership building to lessons on bullying, Girl Scouts at Mary's Place enjoy the safe space where they can learn, grow, and build friendships that'll last a lifetime.

Girl Scouts of Orange County  

For more than a decade, multilevel Girl Scout Troop 1082 has been run by dedicated volunteer troop leaders, mother-daughter duo Karen and Elaine, and Laksmi Reddy out of the Orange County Rescue Mission. Growing from a troop of five girls to nearly 25 Girl Scouts, Troop 1082 is the only of its kind to serve exclusively homeless girls in Orange County and one of the first of its kind in the country! Girls ranging from kindergarten through 11th grade gather together for troop meetings, participate in Girl Scout programming, and set exciting goals both individually and as a unit. Their oldest troop member is pursuing her Girl Scout Gold Award, while the troop as a whole has their sights set on exceeding last year's cookie goal. 

The troop is aiming to reach a personal best for number of cookies sold this year, with the goal of 1,500 packages, up from last year's 1,200. With their proceeds, they plan to pay for amazing Girl Scout adventures that they wouldn’t have exposure to otherwise. For some younger girls, they're planning an ice skating field trip, while others are excited to enjoy unforgettable experiences at Girl Scouts of Orange County's Camp Scherman. 

Girl Scouts of Greater New York 

Troop 6000, launched in 2016 at a single family shelter, is a Girl Scout troop specially designed to serve the thousands of girls living in the New York City Shelter System.

Homelessness can impede the sense of security children need, but for girls who live in a shelter in New York's five boroughs, membership in Girl Scouts offers solace and support. Not only are these girls learning important leadership skills to last a lifetime—their troop provides them with stability and fellowship among peers who understand their circumstances.

The attention Troop 6000 is receiving is further spreading the message that Girl Scouts truly is for every girl. From the New York Times to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the message is coming through loud and clear.

The importance—and the potential implications—of Troop 6000 are evident to the girls, too. In the words of 14-year-old Karina, “We’re starting a chain reaction. Hopefully in the next couple years, there will be more Girl Scout troops in shelters.” 

Today,  Troop 6000 has expanded to over 15 shelters across all boroughs, resulting in nearly 600 active Girl Scouts across NYC. Together, they're working diligently to set and reach cookie goals for exciting experiences, including attending Girl Scout Camp and enjoying robotics training.