Meet Girl Scout troop for homeless girls
Meet Girl Scout troop for homeless girls
By JESSICA BLISS
Jan. 01, 2018
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — ????For Nevaeh Mobley, it often wasn't safe to play outside.
Even as her parents sometimes sat with the door open at night, letting in the fresh air at their long-term hotel room rental, they wouldn't let Nevaeh or her brother on the threshold.
"The kids could not go outside after dark," dad Carlos Mobley Sr. said. "Because of all the unsavory extra-curricular activities going on. I didn't want it around my kids."
For four years, the family of four shared a single hotel room in the Hermitage Inn with two double beds, a small fridge and a bathroom.
They pawned TVs, wedding rings, a couple of gaming systems from better times in order to pay for the hotel at first. Later, they found other ways.
They brought in a crockpot and a deep fryer for family meals. They did their best to make their situation feel secure. But nighttime felt isolating for the kids, and — with gunshots and drug deals on the other side of that door — at times, frightening.
Things needed to change.
A little more than a year ago, it did. The Mobley family moved into Safe Haven Family Shelter where they found the safety and support systems they needed, and an opportunity they never expected — a chance for Nevaeh to become part of Tennessee's first-ever Girl Scout troop for homeless girls.
All of the members of Nashville's Troop 6000 live or once lived at Safe Haven, a small housing unit on the south side of the city that provides a temporary home for families in need.
The troop is modeled after a similar troop launched earlier this year in New York City. It is one of just a handful across the country.
Through the patch-earning and cookie-selling tradition, Troop 6000 offers a consistent place in an often unsettled situation, a spot for the girls to go without worry for a little while.
"Our past lifestyles are kind of rough and ragged," Nevaeh's mom, Debra Stewart said.
But, Nevaeh's father adds, "We have got to keep the foundation firm. A negative life turned positive."
For their daughter, smart and caring and full of potential, Troop 6000 is just that.
Troop 6000's morning begins with blueberry muffins, bagels and the Girl Scout Promise and Law.
Raven Lewis, a seventh grader with a warm smile and energetic red streaks in her dark braided hair, steps forward to lead the small group. Though there are a few scowls at the early-morning weekend hour, the girls' excitement is palpable.
They are about to go on a field trip to the Girl Scout headquarters.
As a group, they set their rules and intentions for the day. Be good listeners. Stay with their buddy.
"Have fun," offers Kennedy, one of Raven's younger sisters, a girl with expressive eyebrows and a full toothy grin.
They all agree.
Troop 6000 formed in Nashville in August, with 15 girls ages kindergarten to 8th grade. They are led by three adult volunteers, Tricia Mora, Ami Spicer and Kerri Woodberry, and one high school student, Courtney Rabb — a star soccer player who is earning her Gold Award, the highest Girl Scout honor.
The meetings are weekly, every Saturday morning in a community room at Safe Haven.
The outings — like a field trip the girls are about to take — are something to look forward to, particularly in a place where few of the girls participate in other activities due to cost or transportation issues.
Troops for homeless girls are rare across the country because of how often girls may move locations.
At Safe Haven, families stay for only 60 to 90 days while they find stable employment and secure housing. In the past, it has been difficult to create troops for these girls because families would relocate and then not find another troop where they fit.
Troop 6000 aims to offer consistency, to bridge the gap between transportation and hardship and to engage the families in a way that the girls can return week after week regardless of where their family moves next.
Nationally, the Girls Scouts of the USA does not track of the number of councils serving homeless girls. But over the past three decades, troops have formed in shelters in Atlanta, Broward County, Fla., and San Pedro, Calif., according to the New York Times. A few others have served girls living in migrant worker camps and public housing, the Times reported.
In February, New York City established its first Troop 6000, inspiring Nashville to do the same. The number 6000 emerges from New York's Girl Scout Council. There, troop numbers are determined by the city's five boroughs, according to the Times. The 1000s are in the Bronx, the 2000s are in Brooklyn and so on.
Because these girls would not necessarily identify one specific area as their home, Girl Scout leaders extended the numerical sequence, the Times wrote.
In Nashville, the name carried forward in companionship. Though the troop may have formed under nontraditional circumstances, the girls do what all other Girl Scout troops do.
In their time together, they have made dog and cat toys to donate to Humane Society, practiced yoga, and led the flag ceremony at a fundraising hike for the homeless.
Since none of the girls have been in Girl Scouts before, they have also spent time earning "Girl Scout Ways" badges, learning about the founder, Juliette Gordon Low, and the Girl Scout traditions.
When Low created the first troop in 1912, she focused on inclusion beyond class, cultural, and ethnic boundaries. This troop does the same.
"Troop 6000 not only provides consistency in their ever-changing home environment and leadership figures that are consistent and care about them," says Mary-Claire Spencer, the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee's director of membership, and the woman behind the formation of Troop 6000. "It also provides hope — hope for camp, hope for carrying the flag in the Flag Ceremony, hope for that next badge to add to their uniform.
"And that sense of hope is fostered through a place of belonging."
Ready for their field trip, the girls scramble into a van and head across town, amped for a morning filled with activity.
Inside the headquarters, they put on their vests and sashes — blue for the younger Daisies, brown for Brownies, and green for the older Girl Scouts — and pose for a picture.
The Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee is covering all costs for Troop 6000, including a $25 membership fee and $75 uniform and badges for each girl; $200 for snacks and troop supplies; and $400 for programs and field trips. Every girl also will go to one of the Girl Scouts local summer camps for a week, normally $350, completely for free.
But today, the focus is on the girls giving back.
They start the first of the day's three badge-earning activities by making emergency kits for those in need.
They fill boxes with flashlights and wet wipes and crackers, and compose hand-written notes for the recipients.
"I love myself," 7-year-old Kennedy Washington's writes in crayon. It's meant to be an inspiring message for the person who receives her kit, but for the bubbly girl, it is just as reflective of herself.
As they work, Spencer talks with the girls. "Why do you think that it's important as Girl Scouts to help other people?" she asks.
"To show we care about other people," Nevaeh Mobley earnestly responds.
Just as others care for them.
Though larger cities may grapple with crisis levels of homelessness, Nashville is not immune.
The population of homeless youth in the city reaches into the thousands, with nearly 1,900 students, boys and girls, attending Metro Nashville Public Schools this year considered homeless.
These kids lack permanent housing, some due to extreme poverty, others because they don't have a safe and stable caregiving environment.
For most, homelessness means doubling up, living with friends or relatives in places meant for a single family.
But there are cases more extreme. More than 200 students live in emergency shelter or transitional housing programs for homeless families; nearly 200 more live in daily or weekly rental motels.
Troop 6000 provides an anchor in uncertain circumstances.
A single mom of five girls, Erica Lewis and her family lived in a three-bedroom duplex off of Dickerson Road for years.
But when her landlord served an eviction notice, she couldn't find other Section 8 housing. So she and her girls entered the city's shelter system.
Now, after a short stay at the Rescue Mission, the family of six shares a small space at Safe Haven with six bunk beds and a tiny private area for Erica to sleep.
"It's like a breath of fresh air," Lewis said. "We're used to being on our own. Here they respect me, and they are going to help me be self-sufficient again."
Transitional living has been hard on the girls. Uprooted, their grades dropped, their attitudes hardened and Erica started getting phone calls from school about misbehavior.
But at Safe Haven, three of her girls, Kennedy, 12-year-old Raven and 11-year-old Emya, have joined Troop 6000.
Girl Scouts, Lewis said, has offered the stability that a transitional home life cannot. It teaches them responsibility, helps them build character, and keeps their mind off the roof over their heads.
"They shouldn't have to worry about issues like that," Erica Lewis said. "They should be free to be kids."
And she sees the difference.
Raven hasn't been part of the troop long, but it is clear she is a leader here.
She isn't afraid to speak out or stand up at meetings. She is silly, but strong-hearted. The older, more quiet girls, stay near her side — and she embraces them in a carefree and caring way, letting them know she is a friend.
"I want to be like Juliette Low," Raven says of the Girl Scouts founder, "to help other black girls who don't have privileges.
"Everyone should be treated the same way."
Of all the lessons Girl Scouts teaches, that one may resonate most with these girls.
Rabb sees it in ways others may not.
As the high school leader of the group, Rabb comes from a stable household. Her two older sisters attend Yale and Brown University. She plays year-round travel soccer. All three have been Girl Scouts almost their entire lives, and their mother before them.
Rabb sees these girls' hesitation. The time it takes to earn their trust. She knows for other girls a lesson on being kind may mean giving someone a hug. For these girls, it can mean the day they took their neighbor to the hospital with a gunshot wound.
But it doesn't mean limitations. They can camp, learn to make their own food, horseback ride. Rabb isn't from the same beginnings as these girls, but she can be an example of their future.
"This teaches the girls they can do anything and be anything," Rabb said. "There are no limits."
Even cookie sales mean more.
As a brand new troop, the idea of selling Thin Mints and Caramel DeLites is exciting to them. Their eyes brighten when they learn that part of the money they raise will go back to the Troop for something special.
That's when 6-year-old Gia Beatty, the youngest of the group — but certainly not shy — raises her small hand.
"Can we give the money to the homeless?" she asks.
The future for these girls is strong, local Girl Scout leadership has already discussed expansion into other shelters.
The Girls Scouts have partnered with Metro schools H.E.R.O. (Homeless Education Resources Outreach) program and Urban Housing Solutions to determine where the highest populations of homeless students live.
It plans to launch several more Troop 6000s across Davidson County in January and February 2018. The hope is that with more Troop 6000s across the county if a girl moves shelters or neighborhoods, she will still have a troop close to her.
The troops will be doing the same curriculum on the same schedule, so the transition would be easy.
The Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee received generous start-up funding from HCA, Kroger and the Community Foundation and will continue to accept donations for expansion.
These families still face challenges, needs that Girl Scouts can't meet.
But, when they do move on — to wherever that may be — they will have a place to come back to.
That is especially important for girls like Nevaeh.
She and her family have moved out of Safe Haven and found stability in a small duplex of their own.
At their new home, Christmas stockings decorate the stair railing, a tree draped in lights and strands of bright tinsel spreads a soft glow across the furniture in the front room.
On the walls hang family photographs and paintings of handprints and flowers that Nevaeh and her brother made.
Nevaeh's parents don't have the resources for a car right now.
But that hasn't kept her from Girl Scouts. She gets to troop meetings thanks to the kindness of her troop leaders, who drive her to Safe Haven every Saturday.
Nevaeh's grandmother was a Girl Scout, and at 84 years old, she still has her sash.
From her, Nevaeh's father learned to always look after others. As a boy, buying popsicles at the ice cream truck for kids with less change than himself. As an adult, serving as a drug counselor at Cumberland Heights.
There have been darker times, struggles for both Nevaeh's parents with active addiction and continued focus on recovery, but the happiness is apparent — and Girls Scouts, with its fun leadership activities, blossoming friendships, and opportunities to do good for others, is a part of that for Nevaeh.
"I teach my children to always think more of others than they think of themselves," he said. "She loves to give back."
She loves to debate, too, her parents say, and her dad hopes that will set her up for being a lawyer someday.
But right now, Nevaeh just wants to be a ballerina.
And a Girl Scout.
The Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee is currently looking for people who would be interested in volunteering with future Troop 6000s. For more information, email Mary-Claire Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com