A homeless shelter’s Girl Scout troop transforms cookie sales into opportunities
A Council Bluffs Girl Scout troop is turning cookie sales into opportunities for homeless girls.
Troop #64224 has surpassed their goal of selling 4,000 boxes of cookies this season. This milestone means a lot to the troop which is made up of homeless girls staying at the MICAH House, an emergency shelter for women and families without housing.
All cookie sales go directly to funding new opportunities for the girls – like zoo passes, museum visits or horseback riding. Child program specialist Kayla Terrillion said due to the economic instability many of the families are facing, they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do many of these activities otherwise.
Most of all, Terrillion said she believes the troop empowers the girls to have fun.
“Some of these kids are pushing against the odds right now,” Terrillion said. “And what better way to show that we can beat the odds than by starting with Girl Scout cookies.”
The troop, which began in 2018 after being inspired by a New York homeless shelter, is in its fifth cookie season. Last year, the troop sold over 20,000 cookies to all 50 states – shattering their previous sales record.
This year, the troop is focusing on giving back. The Girl Scouts are asking each buyer to consider purchasing an additional box of cookies to give to a friend, neighbor or community organization.
Breaking the cycle
Before the MICAH House opened an additional space for women exclusively in 2019, children made up more than half of the residents at the shelter. Associate director Ashley Flater said the organization wanted to find ways to support families beyond providing a bed.
“We can't just focus on the needs of the parents if we're going to be intentionally breaking the cycle of homelessness. We also need to be addressing the needs of the children,” she said.
One of those needs is stability. Flater said the Girl Scout troop gives the girls in residence a sense of normalcy and continued connection. Most of all, she said, it gives them the space to “just be kids.”
“That's the way that we're going to improve their self confidence,” she said. “That's how they're going to learn and grow and make those connections that help determine what their future looks like.”
"What better way to show that we can beat the odds than by starting with Girl Scout cookies.”Kayla Terrillion, child program specialist at the MICAH House
In Council Bluffs, nearly 13 percent of people live at or below the poverty rate. In 2020, 377 children stayed at the Micah House for shelter, with an average age of 6 years old.
Flater said experiencing homelessness is often a traumatic and scary experience for children. She said that’s why it’s imperative to address their mental health as well as physical needs.
The troop provides a stable, fun activity to look forward to each week where the children’s wants and needs are put first, Terrillion said.
“Half of what a child needs is that stable adult that's in their life, that's telling them that they love them so that they can succeed,” Terrillion said. “That's half the battle right there.”
A shared connection
Over the course of 5 years overseeing the troop, Terrillion has seen girls open up and change drastically in their time at Girl Scouts. She said she believes a lot of that has to do with the community the program creates at the shelter.
Terrillion said the bi-weekly Girl Scout meetings are a place where the kids can be completely honest with one another. For Troop #64224, it’s just as much about community as it is about more badges and cookie sales.
“Most of their friends [at school] probably have no idea what it's like to be homeless,” she said. “And so for them, it's the idea that ‘I'm here and everybody else is going through the same thing that I'm going through’,” she said.
"Half of what a child needs is that stable adult that's in their life, that's telling them that they love them so that they can succeed,"Kayla Terrillion, child program specialist at the MICAH House
It’s these connections that Flater said she hopes the girls take with them to wherever they go next.
“Hopefully, they'll be able to look back and think about the experiences they had with kids who were also going through a similar situation and the adults and caregivers who were there to make sure that they were safe,” she said.
Even when the girls eventually move out of the transitional living facility, Terrillion said there will always be a place for them within the troop.
The MICAH House Girl Scouts will be selling cookies until the end of March.