ELIZABETH, NJ - It’s 4 p.m. on a typical Thursday afternoon at the Gateway Family YMCA in Elizabeth, filled with youth and teen programs during the after-school hours before dinner.

You wouldn’t know that it is also home, this one day each week, to a special Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey troop known as “Juliette’s House.” There are no welcome or directional signs for the program, and one would need a tour guide just to find the way up the stairs, down the hall, and around a bend.

But, as you come close to this particular meeting place, you hear the laughter of girls playing a game with their troop leaders. These women and girls all have something in common: They are either living in local shelters, or recently found permanent housing.

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Juliette’s House is one of just a handful of troops that creates a sense of sisterhood and stability among families in crisis. The hope is that the girls will embrace the leadership experience, and will carry on with Girl Scouts when their families find permanent housing.

The program started three years ago in New York City, when a single mother and Girl Scout employee lost her home. While living in a shelter, she decided to create a Girl Scout troop for the girls residing there. Now, in New York, there are troops serving girls in shelter systems in all five boroughs.

The program has quickly been copied in New Jersey, and right here in the 20th Legislative District. The troop attends programs at the Family Promise day center in Elizabeth. All programs – including Girl Scout membership – are free.

This Elizabeth-based program is one of the reasons why I am looking forward to March 12, which is the day of this year’s annual “Great Cookie Cook-off.”  This is a key fundraiser for the Girl Scouts Heart of Jersey, which serves the 20th Legislative District. I hope you will attend this fundraiser and perhaps see your favorite assemblyman somewhere near the Thin Mints.

Learn more here.

This article first appeared in Jamel's Journal, published through the Office of Assemblyman Jamel Holley.