It’s Wednesday night at Mary’s Place, a Seattle homeless shelter that helps families get back on their feet, and a Girl Scout meeting is just getting started. This is the first time Mary’s Place has had its own Girl Scout troop and the first time any of these girls have had the opportunity to be a Girl Scout.
“Kids just want to have a sense of normal,” said one of the troop’s leaders, and former Girl Scout, Tanita Horton. “I think that this certainly brings some of that to them. The goal of the troop is: once they transition out of the shelter, to transition into a permanent troop within the new area that they will be residing in.”
The troop is unconventional. It’s not specifically a Brownie troop or a Cadette troop. Girls of all ages are lumped together. Members are as young as 4 and as old as 18. With families constantly moving in and out of Mary’s Place, the group is constantly in flux.
At the meeting I attended, the girls danced, sang, and crafted paper pinwheels. It’s a chance for them to play and learn and take their minds off their sometimes heavy lives.
“Me, my mom, and my baby brother, we’d been sleeping in our car,” an 8-year-old troop member told me. “In Fresno we had a house but then we had to move because some bad stuff. Then when we moved we didn’t have no where to live so then me and my mom came here.”
“We had to move here at midnight,” said an 11-year-old scout. “I was super tired. And then until my mom found us transportation we couldn’t go to school.”
The troop has only been around a few months, but a 13-year-old scout says it’s already changed her for the better.
“It teaches you to be kind and, I guess, protect the community and be nice to others and stuff. I’ve learned to respect others and to not be hurtful,” she said.
I asked her if she had been hurtful in the past.
“Yeah, a lot.”
She said she’s much nicer now.
“We learn to keep our hands to ourselves.”
Learning to control themselves physically seemed to be a theme. At past meetings, Horton says they’ve discussed leadership building and bullying.
“There’s definitely no punching here,” one girl told me. “We do not punch at Girl Scouts. If a girl punches a girl that would become a big fight. So that is why we always get along and become best friends.”
“Girl Scouts is, like, the place to get away from my parents so they can get a break,” a nine year old girl explained. “We call each other family, sisters. Miss Tanita is like my stepmom because she’s the one that always gets me to go to Girl Scouts because sometimes I don’t want to go to Girl Scouts. I say thank you to her for making me go to Girl Scouts because it’s really fun.”
She says she’d like to experience camping with her troop, something she hasn’t done before.
“I imagine camping, like, hanging out with friends, sitting by the fire, singing songs.”
At the end of the meeting, the girls formed a circle, held hands and sent a hand squeeze all the way around until it reached the first girl. Something my Girl Scout troop used to do thirty years ago.
UPDATE: The girls are going on their first camping trip this September and are looking for camping supplies! Here’s a donation list of what they need.
Girl Scouts of Western Washington is always looking for volunteers to be troop leaders all over the region. Click here to find out more!