Not until 5:30 a.m. Saturday, when rain began to fall in earnest, did 11-year-old Rachel Rudolph and 12-year-old Olivia Giambalvo understand what it was like to be homeless.
That’s when they made a dash – soaked and cold – from their makeshift cardboard shelters for real shelter with most of the other 100 Girl Scouts who had slept outside all night.
The scouts represented 20 troops of the Charlotte-based Girl Scouts Hornets’ Nest Council, tasked with building a cardboard city at the council’s headquarters on Idlewild Road and sleeping through a rainy night to get a taste of homelessness.
Rachel and Olivia, members of Troop 1598, understand they didn’t get the full experience.
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“But it showed us what it would be like on a very small scale,” Rachel said. “Even for one night it was miserable – especially after it started to rain hard.”
The eight-county council decided that its troops would focus on homelessness for the year, said Kaity Scruggs, a council program specialist.
The scouts help planned their night in the rain. They were told to bring a cardboard box, sleeping bag and warm clothes. In no time Friday night, they set up a cardboard city.
“We’re not pretending that we’re replicating homelessness,” Scruggs said. “We just wanted to give them a little touch of the physical discomfort and provide them a lot of education of what it’s really like.”
Through Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center, two former homeless people – Justin and Tabby – talked to the scouts Friday night about their time on the street.
Justin told them he was so scared the first night, he didn’t go to sleep. He just walked the streets. Tabby described how she was attacked.
“Being homeless is definitely a hard situation,” Rachel said. “I tried to put myself in that situation. I don’t think I’d be able to make it.”
Olivia learned that she can’t take her “good life” for granted. That was confirmed after the rain started as a sprinkle late Friday, then turned into a downpour about 5:30 a.m. Saturday, drenching sleeping bags and scouts.
“We have it so good. We have a roof over our heads, we have warm, comfortable beds,” she said. “We don’t have to sleep on tarps and the concrete. We can go home every afternoon and get a snack.”
Olivia said that when she got home, she planned to go through her clothes and weed out what she wanted to donate. She’d also advise her younger sister to take her lead and go lighter on her Christmas list and perhaps ask for something to be donated to a homeless child.
Troop-mate Courtney Parrish, 11, said she’ll take the experience through life.
“I couldn’t do this for more than one night,” Courtney said. “It really opened my eyes about the world around us and how hard it is for some people to survive.”