The Woodside native who co-founded the city’s first Girl Scout troop for homeless girls has announced she will run for City Council to replace the elected official that helped her do it.
Giselle Burgess, 34, will file papers with the Board of Elections next month to run for Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s District 26 office in 2021 — when he is term-limited out — to represent her hometown Woodside, Sunnyside and Long Island City, where she lived in a homeless shelter with her five children in 2017.
Burgess, a community engagement specialist for the Girl Scouts of Greater New York, and her children lived at the Sleep Inn hotel, when she collaborated with Van Bramer and Sunnyside resident Meredith Maskara, the COO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York, to create Troop 6000 for 22 girls living in the shelter. Burgess then managed the expansion of the program to more than 18 shelters citywide, serving more than 600 girls and women volunteers.
“I was debating about running for his office since August and I decided it’s time to make more of an impact,” Burgess said. “I’m in Ozone Park, but I’m looking for a house back in Woodside where I was born and raised. I want to go home, that’s where my heart is. There are so many good organizations in Woodside but nobody seems to be working together and that’s something we can change. I want to do something different. I want to run with the community, not for the community. Let’s change things together.”
Burgess and her children became homeless in 2016 when the home she rented in Flushing was sold to make way for a condominium. After a year in the system, she was able to find a new home in Ozone Park and gave birth to her second son.
“As a working mother of six and someone who has recently experienced homelessness, I know firsthand how hard it is to survive in our own community,” Burgess wrote on social media on Monday. “With the cost of living going up and the lack and instability of affordable housing, we are all two paychecks away from becoming homeless. I guarantee that I will fight my hardest to ensure that more affordable housing is offered in our community as well as enforcing stabilized rent laws and extending them to those who may not live in a rent-stabilized home.”
Burgess explained that she was empowered to run for office after taking a 14-week training course with Dare to Run, a nonprofit organization which provides the skills women need in order to run for public office at the local, state and national levels of government.
“I know how to do this because of the course. They provided the knowledge and training that you just don’t find on a Google search. They have given me confidence and courage as well and I have my notes so I know how to get this campaign up and running,” Burgess said. “There is such a need for women to run for office and Dare to Run makes you feel courageous and undefeatable. I want more women to feel encouraged to know that their voices do matter and there is a way for them to give back to the community and using Dare to Run as the foundation is definitely the way to go.”
In addition to her work at the Girl Scouts of Greater New York Burgess was unanimously elected to the board of directors at The Child Center of NY, a Forest Hills-based nonprofit Burgess called a “hidden gem that nobody knows about until they need their help.” She became a client after losing the family home in Flushing.
“I will let them know I’m running for office at the next board meeting to see it there is a conflict of interest,” Burgess said. “The same goes with the Girl Scouts.”
When Troop 6000 was chartered in his district, Van Bramer said it was “one of the best things” he had ever been a part of.
“Giselle Burgess is a strong woman whose life story is deeply moving and inspiring,” Van Bramer said Tuesday. “I am proud of all she has accomplished and fortunate to call her a friend. I wish her nothing but the best.”
Hunters Point Civic Association president Brent O’Leary, who announced he would run for Van Bramer’s seat back in August 2018, said he welcomes Burgess into the race.
“I believe in true democracy, so I’m happy to see that more voices are joining in on debating the best course for the community’s future,” O’Leary said, adding that his civic group recently finished their annual food drive which provides more than 4,000 pounds of food and critical items to area food pantries for the homeless.
As for Burgess’ children, she has already received their vote of confidence.
“Oh my God, they’re so excited and supportive over this,” Burgess said. “My older girls just look at me and say, ‘Just do it, mom.’”