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Girl Scouts troop will expand to 15 homeless shelters


    Members of Troop 6000, a Girl Scouts group based in a homeless shelter in Long Island City, at a news conference announcing the expansion of the program to 14 other shelter sites.

NEW YORK >> A Girl Scouts troop established in February at a homeless shelter in Queens will expand to 14 additional shelters throughout New York City and is expected to serve about 500 girls.

In the stately Blue Room at City Hall, five members of Troop 6000 announced the expansion during a news conference today. (The girls spoke at the lectern, although a couple did so in a near whisper.)

With a portrait of Alexander Hamilton as a backdrop, Karina, Sanaa, Christina, Nayalynn and Tanae — ages 5 to 11 — talked about the troop’s origins, its expansion and what the Girl Scouts meant to them.

What did Tanae, 5, like most about Girl Scouts? After a long pause and a little help reaching the microphone, she said, “Everything.”

Sanaa, 9, was not as shy, telling the crowd, “We have been on TV a lot.”

She said the girls took pride in wearing the uniforms, in earning badges and especially in being pioneers of their troop. “The best part is that we get to be Girl Scouts in Troop 6000,” she said.

Karina, 11, who was a Scout before becoming homeless, said Troop 6000 taught her “the true meaning of being a sister to every Girl Scout and how to emotionally support others.”

“Now more girls just like me will be able to participate and get the same,” she said.

The New York Times is using only the girls’ first names to protect their privacy.

Troop 6000 has 27 members, who live with their families in a budget hotel that was converted into shelter space in Long Island City. Although the troop came together under difficult circumstances, the members’ stories have resonated with city officials and donors around the world. The publicity has helped bring attention to the plight of the city’s homeless children, who make up nearly 40 percent of the shelter system in New York.

“You have inspired all of New York with your heart and your smarts and your spirit,” Steven Banks, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Social Services, told the girls. “You’re really a testament to the compassion of New Yorkers, a testament to the potential of the young people who happen to be homeless on any given night. You have shown us all a way forward.”

For the next three years, the Girl Scouts of Greater New York will lead the expansion. The Department of Homeless Services will provide about $320,000 annually, and about $55,000 a year will come from the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, which is led by Chirlane McCray, the wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio. The money will pay for uniforms, snacks and other expenses, like field trips.

“I think it’s noteworthy that the first lady was a Girl Scout,” Darren Bloch, the executive director of the fund, said. “Half of the Mayor’s Fund team were Girl Scouts. I think that speaks to the long-term benefits of Scouting.”

The girls in Troop 6000 have come into their own, said Giselle Burgess, who will manage the expansion. “What I mainly see with them is just pure leadership,” she said. “From the smallest ones that we have to the oldest ones, they get the job done.

Burgess, a single mother of five children, including Karina and Christina, became homeless last year after her rental building was sold to make way for condominiums. Burgess, a community engagement specialist at the Girl Scouts of Greater New York, asked her employer whether it would be possible to create a troop at the shelter.

Her request came at the same time that Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat, and officials within the Girl Scouts and the Department of Homeless Services were looking for a way to bring the program to homeless girls.

“I hope that you know this and feel this: that what you’ve done is so powerful and so important in changing our city for the better,” Van Bramer said.

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