The Sweetest Troop
Members of the first Girl Scout troop for kids with type 1 diabetes are going to sell you on their group
Houston Girl Scouts are as sweet as the cookies they sell every year. They’re excited to make friends, go on trips, and learn with their fellow scouts. In fact, some girls maintain membership in two troops, because Houston has something special: the first Girl Scout troop for girls with type 1 diabetes.
The troop was founded in 2013 by Jake Kushner, MD, head of pediatric diabetes and endocrinology at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, and Shelley Spector, a type 1 mom. It embodies the Girl Scouts’ mission of building “courage, confidence, and character,” especially the confidence part. After all, the girls are part of a troop where everyone understands what they’re going through. “We do everything every other normal Girl Scout troop would do. We just have diabetes,” says Spector, of Bellaire, Texas. Both she and her daughter, Lindsey, live with type 1 diabetes. “They compare pumps; they compare struggles. We all have diabetes, and finally these girls are the majority of the group.”
The troop meets once a month, sometimes for a field trip and sometimes for a service project (in the past, they made bookmarks for kids newly diagnosed with diabetes). It fosters friendships that otherwise might only develop at diabetes camps, such as the American Diabetes Association Diabetes Camps held each summer across the country. Because of its growth, the troop recently split into two, with kindergarteners through third graders in one group, and fourth graders and older in another.
“One thing I love about our unique troop is that we can be ourselves around each other,” says scout Alexis Lucille Castillo, 14, of Houston. “We’re not afraid to just check [our blood glucose] or give a shot, knowing that no one will look at you weird. My troop understands what it means and feels like to have type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes isn’t the nicest disease to have, but we are fortunate to have each other.”
Seven-year-old Ellen Holden of Katy, Texas, describes it succinctly: “The other girls understand me. They speak my D language.” Holden, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 4, loves that her fellow scouts understand what it feels like to be low and need a snack.
The older scouts get some diabetes education each month, as diabetes management can get tougher in the teen years, says Spector. But the troop also tries to educate the community. Yes, the type 1 scouts sell those famous cookies every year—and were big sellers, as well as diabetes advocates, last year. Some people asked the scouts if they could eat the cookies they were selling. “That’s when we have to educate, [tell them] that we can eat what anyone else can eat as long as we take insulin,” says Spector. “It’s given us a chance to educate people on what type 1 diabetes is and who we are. It’s our job to educate people and inform them.”
Most Girl Scout troops base their membership on location, but the type 1 troop is available to any girl with type 1 diabetes in the Houston area and her sisters. More than a quarter of the girls are also in their local troops, but Nicole McGill, 10, of Friendswood, Texas, says the type 1 troop is special. “Our troop understands that you can overcome challenges instead of running away from them,” she says. “If every girl with type 1 diabetes could be in a type 1 diabetes troop, they would be happier!”