NYC’s 1st Girl Scout troop made solely of homeless youth provides opportunity, combats stereotypes

QUEENS, NY — The members of Girl Scout Troop 6000 are just like any other girls. They go on trips, draw, sing and dance and sell those famous cookies. But their connection goes beyond Tagalongs and Thin Mints.

Troop 6000 is the first in New York City made up solely of homeless girls. All the members live at the Sleep Inn in Queens, where the city has transformed the 10-floor building into a homeless shelter that serves 100 homeless families.

The troop was created in February by Giselle Burgess, a homeless mother of five who serves as the Queens Community Development Specialist for Girl Scouts of Greater New York.

Burgess told The New York Times, which first reported on the troop, that she became active in the community after moving into Sleep Inn and discussed the idea of creating a troop in the building with her bosses, who already had been talking to Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the inn’s district.

Troop 6000 is 25 members strong and growing, with scouts ages 5-14. “We have Brownies all the way to Cadettes,” said Burgess.

Cost isn’t stopping girls from participating. The Girl Scouts of Greater New York is covering the cost for the girls, including the membership fee; a starter kit of patches, pins, workbooks and vests; and monthly dues. Donations are also being accepted.

“They are our future engineers, fashion designers, athletes, doctors, activists and community leaders. With Troop 6000, these girls now have a place to realize these dreams, find stability, make lifelong friends, and discover the strength they have inside to be whoever they want to be,” Van Bramer said in a statement.

Burgess said, “It is not easy what we are going through. Some of the girls don’t have the opportunity to get out of their rooms and build those relationships. Having a troop here where there are plenty of girls to support each other is important.”

And their troop number, 6000, is one they are proud of. “That number signifies so much more than the troop number. They see a girl wearing 6000 and they know they are either going through the same thing or have gone through it.”

Burgess’ daughter Karina said, “We’re like a pack. If one of us is down the rest of us will be there to pick them back up.”

“Our partnership with the Girl Scouts is a great example of how collaboration can provide opportunity and programming that boosts self-esteem, promotes teamwork, and demonstrates the importance of ongoing community involvement,” Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks said.

“These Scouts embody the heart, smarts and spirit of New York, which is fundamentally compassionate, and we look forward to expanding this partnership to other shelters across the city to empower and uplift more young New Yorkers.”

“Every girl in the five boroughs of New York City deserves a chance to reach her full potential: to have her eyes opened to possibilities for college and careers, to make loving and supportive friends, to learn from caring female mentors, and to chart her own course to achieve her goals,” said a statement from Girl Scouts of Greater New York. “That’s what Troop 6000 is all about.”

For Burgess, Troop 6000 not only helps the scouts, but it also brings awareness to the community about homelessness. “It can be me today and you tomorrow. We need to continue to motivate these girls and not let the stigma and stereotypes of homelessness bring them down.”