Girl Scouts quietly welcome hundreds of young migrant girls

Once a week in a midtown Manhattan hotel, dozens of Girl Scouts gather in a spare room made homey by string lights and children’s drawings. They earn badges, go on field trips to the Statue of Liberty, and learn how to navigate the subway in a city most have just begun to call home.

They are the newest members of New York City’s largest Girl Scout troop. And they live in an emergency shelter where 170,000 asylum seekers and migrants, including tens of thousands of children, have arrived from the southern border since the spring of 2022.

As government officials debate how to handle the influx of new arrivals, the Girl Scouts — whose Troop 6000 has served kids who live in the shelter system since 2017 — are quietly welcoming hundreds of the city’s youngest new residents with the support of donations. Most of the girls have fled dire conditions in South and Central America and endured an arduous journey to the U.S.

What is Troop 6000?

Launched by the Girl Scouts of Greater New York in 2017, Girl Scouts Troop 6000 is a program for girls living in the New York City Shelter System. There were 21,774 families living in the city’s homeless shelters in December 2023, according to data from the Coalition for the Homeless. Of those, 33,399 were children.

Last year, Troop 6000 opened its newest branch at a hotel-turned-shelter in Midtown Manhattan, one of several city-funded relief centers for migrants. Though hundreds of families sleep at the shelter every night, the Girl Scouts is the only children’s program offered.

Unflagging support amid anti-immigrant sentiment

Last January, the Girl Scouts expanded its Troop 6000 program to serve more than 100 young arrivals living in New York City Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center, according to a statement at the time. The group began recruiting at the shelter and rolled out a bilingual curriculum to help scouts learn more about New York City through its monuments, subway system, and political borders.

One year later, with nearly 200 members and five parents as troop leaders, the shelter is the largest of Troop 6000’s roughly two dozen sites across the city and the only one exclusively for asylum-seekers.

Not everybody is happy about the evolution of Troop 6000. With anti-immigrant rhetoric on the rise and a contentious election ahead, some donors see the Girl Scouts as wading too readily into politically controversial waters. That hasn’t fazed the group — or their small army of philanthropic supporters. Amid city budget cuts and a growing need for services, they are among dozens of charities that say their support for all New Yorkers, including newcomers, is more important than ever.

“There are some donors who would prefer their dollars go elsewhere,” said Meridith Maskara, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York. “I am constantly being asked: Don’t you find this a little too political?”

But Troop 6000 has also found plenty of sympathetic supporters, “If it has to do with young girls in New York City, then it’s not political,” Maskara said. “It’s our job.”

With few other after-school opportunities available, the girls are “so hungry for more” ways to get involved, said Giselle Burgess, senior director of the Girl Scouts of New York’s Troop 6000.

New York City, charities feeling the crunch

New York City has spent billions on the asylum seekers while buckling under the pressure of an existing housing and affordability crisis. That’s left little time to court and coordinate the city’s major philanthropies.

“It’s very hard to take a step back when you’re drinking out of a fire hose,” said Beatriz de la Torre, chief philanthropy officer at Trinity Church Wall Street, which gave the Girl Scouts a $100,000 emergency grant — plus $150,000 in annual support — to help expand Troop 6000.

With or without government directives, she said, charities are feeling the crunch: Food banks need more food. Legal clinics need more lawyers.

Since asylum-seekers began arriving to the city, around 30 local grant makers, including Trinity Church and Brooklyn Org, have met at least biweekly to discuss the increased demands on their grantees.

Together, they’ve provided over $25 million for charities serving asylum seekers, from free legal assistance to resources for navigating the public school system.

“It’s hard for the government to be that nimble — that’s a great place for nonprofits and philanthropy,” said Eve Stotland, senior program officer at New York Community Trust, which convenes the Working Group for New York’s Newcomers, and itself has distributed over $2.7 million in grants for recent immigrants.

“These are our neighbors,” said Stotland. “If a funder’s goal is to make New York City a better place for everyone, that includes newcomers.”

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