By Vanessa Yurkevich, CNN
This week marks the final days of the Girl Scouts’ annual cookie sale. It’s important for every scout — but perhaps especially for Troop 6000, which is comprised entirely of girls who are experiencing homelessness or living in shelters.
Unlike most Girl Scouts, Troop 6000’s cookie sale covers all fees for the girls including trips, summer camps and other activities. The troop has sold more than $1.6 million worth of cookies since 2017, benefiting about 2,500 women and girls across more than 20 shelters in the Greater New York area.
“I was a very shy person — but when I realized you could go on all these adventures, I was like, ‘Mommy, I’m not shy anymore,'” said nine-year-old Gillesy, who lived in a New York City shelter for a year and a half.
Her mother Giselle Burgess is the reason Troop 6000 exists. She was working at Girl Scouts of Greater New York and living in a shelter in 2017 with her five children when she asked her boss if she could start a troop. The answer was yes.
“It’s such a discouraging and scary time already [to live in a shelter],” said Burgess, who started Troop 6000 with her three daughters and four other scouts. “It was exciting to see girls as they were walking by participating and laughing in one room.”
Burgess and her family are no longer in a shelter, and under her leadership as program director, Troop 6000 has thrived. The troop sells cookies at booths in the New York City area for a few days each year, and this year Bank of America matched those sales. They also sell many cookies online. The funds help the troop hold Girl Scouts activities, as well as launch programs like the Troop 6000 Transition Initiative to support scouts and their families as they transition to permanent housing.
Troop 6000 has inspired similar troops of girls experiencing homelessness around the country: in Middle Tennessee, Greater Iowa, the Sierra Nevada region, Greater Los Angeles and Orange County, California.
A 2021 tweet that went viral also helped attract attention to Troop 6000 and its larger mission of supporting girls in need.
“This population of young women has seen incredibly traumatic events. And that is right at the core of what we need to do. We need to take care of them and show them that they deserve the care,” said Meridith Maskara, CEO of Girl Scouts of Greater New York.
This January, Troop 6000 expanded into New York City’s Emergency Response and Relief Centers to bring the program to immigrants and asylum seekers.
Since last spring, about 60,000 migrants have entered the city’s Department of Homeless Services with roughly 37,500 people currently in the city’s care, according to the New York City Mayor’s office. So far, 100 migrant girls have joined Girl Scouts Troop 6000.
“I’ve only seen this in the movies. This is like a dream come true,” said 11-year-old Laura, who came to New York from Colombia six months ago.
More than 40% of Troop 6000 members speak Spanish as their primary language.
“Every girl in New York City — whether she’s here for a day, whether she’s here temporarily, Girl Scouts doesn’t care about her status. She’s in New York City, she needs to be taken care of,” said Maskara.
Their mothers often need help, too. Women who migrate to the US with their children are often unable to work as they wait for their asylum cases to be heard. Troop 6000 offers women a chance to lead in their community, by taking on volunteer roles within their shelters’ troops.
Juliana Lopez came to New York from Colombia with her two daughters five months ago. She says being a part of Troop 6000 has been transformative for all three of them.
“It gives us opportunities that we don’t have in our own country,” Lopez told CNN at the Troop’s annual public cookie sale last month. “It gives us the opportunity to be ourselves, to express ourselves, to see moments like this, to meet people who are helping us grow a lot,”
Gillesy and her friend Jasmin say they were both shy when they first joined Troop 6000.
Now, both girls say they want to be child therapists when they grow up. They want to help other kids, just as they were helped in Girl Scouts.
“Girl Scouts helps me when I am sad or mad,” said Gillesy.
She’s already putting her potential future career into practice today. This year, Gillesy visited one of the emergency shelters where the migrant girl scouts are staying. She says she made friends quickly and gave the newest troop members some advice.
“When I first met them, they were very shy, and I said, ‘It’s OK. You shouldn’t be shy, because sometimes if you are too shy you don’t take your opportunity to explore the world or do new stuff,'” Gillesy said.
Burgess, her mother, says Gillesy learned that way of thinking while living in the shelter, which was one of the most difficult times of their lives.
“Letting my kids know that this is a moment, and [we can try] not feeling so devastated about it, and trying to look at the brighter side of things — that’s what Girl Scouts do, right?” said Burgess. “We’ve got to use our resources wisely. How are we going make this work? And that’s exactly what we did.”
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