By Jaimie Julia Winters
Not long ago, 8-year-old Lindsey spent weeks living out of a motel after losing her home.
But since finding Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) of Essex County in Montclair, Lindsey and her family are in their own home, and Lindsey’s learning valuable skills, making friends and anticipating sleeping under the stars this summer — all because of the network’s new Girl Scout troop.
Sara was very quiet, but after months in the Girl Scouts troop she became a social butterfly, and has taken on some leadership with the younger girls.
“At IHN, we try our best to make life as normal as possible for families in the shelter. That means helping children maintain the same activities and opportunities that they had before they lost their homes,” said Executive Director Emma Justice.
The troop was formed under Juliette’s House, an outreach initiative created by Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey, launched in the Spring of 2018. Juliette’s House brings the Girl Scout Leadership Experience to girls living in the area’s shelters and transitional housing.
IHN in Montclair, an affiliate of Family Promise, helps homeless families with children get back on their feet. Through a network of churches and synagogues, families are given emergency shelter, three meals a day and counseling.
Director of Social Services Brenda Myrick helps the families find shelter and then permanent homes through IHN’s Home for Good program. She works with moms and dads on a plan that addresses the issues that led to their homelessness and then to become self-sufficient. And for clients with young girls she encourages participation in the Girl Scout troop.
Within a year, 41 percent of homeless children attend two different schools and 28 percent attend three or more schools. Each change sets them back four to six months, according to National Center on Family Homelessness. While IHN provides an after school program for the children, the troop offers leadership and outdoor skills for girls.
Since October of 2018, the girls meet every other Friday, with Nicole Warren as leader.
About a year ago, Warren reached out to Myrick to start a Juliette’s House troop in Montclair. In Montclair, the five to 10 girls that participate in the troop have gone to see the Rockettes, had a sleepover at Liberty Science Center and held holiday parties, along with working on badges and selling Girl Scout cookies.
Troops are formed based on where members reside, so the new troop gives the girls an opportunity they would not usually have. It also offers opportunities usually beyond the means of low-income families — like learning outdoor survival skills at summer camp or tracking cookies sales, Myrick said.
There is also no cost to the girls. The troop is funded by grants and private donations. IHN provides snacks. The trips are paid for through grants and donations, as well.
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” the mother of one scout said. “We could never afford to do this on our own.”
For more information about the Girl Scout troops for more information about the Juliette’s House troops contact Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-842-4232.