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Girl Scouts build Box City to learn about the struggles of homeless

Contributed Story • May 11, 2019 at 7:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Local Girl Scouts recently built a Box City at Bethel Presbyterian Church on Warpath Drive, and they slept outside to experience empathy for the community’s homeless population.

Through the experience they also learned about homelessness, its causes and the local organizations that assist homeless individuals and families.

They came away from the experience with new ideas on how they will continue to take action in the community.

The Girl Scouts also brought in donations of 300 hygiene products for local homeless people.

For the Box City, the Girl Scouts’ supplies were restricted to a cardboard box or plastic tarp, a sleeping bag, a hat and the clothes they were wearing. After the first three hours of learning activities, only one small bottle of water and one granola bar were provided for the night.

Activities to learn about homelessness

First, guest speakers from Family Promise and the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness described homelessness in the area to 33 Girl Scouts and several parents.

Next, Girl Scouts played games that enlightened them about the challenges that a homeless person faces daily to fulfill basic human needs. Games included Musical Houses, My Life in a Backpack and Eating on a Shoestring Budget.

An on-site scavenger hunt walked participants around Box City, viewing pamphlets of multiple nonprofit organizations to discover who provides homeless people with temporary shelter, clothing, food and guidance in applying for employment or obtaining new copies of necessary documents, like a state-issued ID card.

Appreciating the experience

The Girl Scouts also reviewed current data provided by the United Way of Greater Kingsport, in partnership with Kingsport City and Sullivan County Schools, describing assistance provided to homeless school-age children. Lastly, the Girl Scouts set up their tarps and boxes to sleep outside as best they could on the wet ground, as both the temperature and the dew dropped.

“I want to praise all the girls who spent the night like a homeless person. The weather was cold and damp. The ground was wet,” said chaperoning parent Julie Brinker Byers. “You did it! Cold weather camping isn’t fun and you all did it without complaining! Good job. Super proud of you!”

"I liked it, but I feel bad for the people who have to do that (sleep in a box in the cold) every night of their life,” Holly Franklin, a Brownie in Troop 1083, stated upon reflection. “To help, I would like to encourage others to help the homeless by keeping bags of food in their cars.”

“When I got to Box City I thought I knew about homelessness, at least a little bit. But I left with an entirely new perspective. There is a lot more to homelessness than just needing food,” added Cassidy Starr, a cadet in Girl Scout Troop 257.

Inspiration and planning for the activity

This homelessness awareness activity was inspired by and based on the collaboration between Urban Ministry Center and the Girl Scouts Hornets’ Nest Council in Charlotte, N.C. The local event was planned by parent volunteers Kasey Hallmark and Erica Jones of the Holston River Service Unit # 630. They expressed a sincere appreciation for the constant support of Bethel Presbyterian Church, the wealth of knowledge provided by the guest speakers from ARCH and Family Promise and the priceless help of their fellow Girl Scout volunteers.

“As a team, the Holston River Service Unit # 630 exemplifies go-getting innovation and risk-taking leadership in all its forms,” said Lynne Fugate, chief executive officer of the Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians. “They saw a need in their community and took action. Their dedication and perseverance are making the world a better place.”

Girl Scouts of the Southern Appalachians is open to all girls from kindergarteners to high school seniors, and girls are welcome to join throughout the year. For more information, visit girlscoutcsa.org or call (800) 474-1912.

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