This month, Girl Scouts of Greater New York is recognizing the fifth anniversary of the creation of Troop 6000, the first-of-its-kind program serving girls and women living in shelters for the homeless.
On Feb. 24, 2017, Troop 6000 held its very first meeting at a shelter for homeless families at the Sleep Inn Hotel in Long Island City with just seven girls. The program has since expanded to 23 shelters across all five boroughs and has reached more than 2,000 girls and women, in a partnership with the city’s Department of Homeless Services and with the support of then-Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and donors from across the city and the world.
Troop 6000 had its genesis at Sleep Inn Hotel where Giselle Burgess and her children were living after the home she rented in Flushing was sold. Burgess, a community development specialist for Girl Scouts of Greater New York, approached then-COO Meredith Maskara about creating a troop for her daughters and other children living in the shelter. Burgess led the first meeting with seven girls, and as the program spread through word of mouth, it quickly grew to 22 members.
Maskara, who lives with her family in Sunnyside, is now the chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Greater New York.
“Every girl in New York City deserves the sense of community and support that comes from being a Girl Scout and the opportunity to see herself as a leader — that’s what Troop 6000 is all about,” Maskara said.
Troop 6000 brings the Girl Scouting experience to girls and women who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. Girl Scouts in Troop 6000 meet weekly, earn badges in subjects ranging from STEM to business and entrepreneurship, explore the city on field trips and attend camp upstate — all at no expense to families.
Part of the experience is the Girl Scout Cookie Program, and this year Troop 6000’s annual cookie sale will return, coinciding with the in-person anniversary celebration at the Seaport from March 10 to 12. All proceeds from cookie sales fund Troop 6000’s activities.
“We won’t stop until every girl in New York City has the opportunity to join the sisterhood of Girl Scouts, so we are especially grateful to anyone that has purchased Girl Scout cookies from Troop 6000 or made a donation,” Maskara said. “Your support will help us expand the program for years to come. I am incredibly grateful to the many people who bring their creativity, compassion and commitment to making this program happen: from shelter staff, our partners at DHS, our incredible volunteers, our unstoppable staff team and, of course, the girls themselves and their parents and caregivers who make it all worth it.”
In 2018, Girl Scouts of Greater New York launched the Troop 6000 Transition Initiative to support girls and families while they transition to permanent housing and keep them in the Girl Scout community. The average stay for a family in the shelter system is 18 months. When families transition from shelter to permanent housing, maintaining a sense of community and consistency is vital. The initiative helps girls stay connected to the community during this time by integrating them with a local troop, providing welcome home packages and offering financial support for Girl Scout participation for up to three years.
Burgess’ daughter, Hailey Vicente, 18, a founding member of Troop 6000, is now in college and a Girl Scout volunteer. She recently earned her Gold Award, making her the first member of Troop 6000 to earn this highest award in Girl Scouting.
“Five years ago, Troop 6000 created a community for Girl Scouts like me who shared the experience of lying in a shelter, and I found that sisterhood to be very powerful,” Vicente said. “Girl Scout meetings were a safe place for me and my sisters to connect and just have fun with other girls who were going through the same things as us and a distraction from the situation we were in. Even after moving out of the shelter, Troop 6000 remains an important part of my life, and the leadership skills I’ve gained through Girl Scouting have really shaped who I am today.”
To learn more about Troop 6000, and to learn how you can help, visit their website here.