Girl Scouts in Troop 756 study science, earn merit badges and do all the things Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes and Seniors do everywhere.

They are regular girls who wear purple leotards, want to go outside to play and who like to braid their hair in pigtails. They are chatty and excited about being out of school for the summer.They are also homeless.

As their leaders gather them on a cloudy Salt Lake afternoon, some feign disgust that it's time for Scouts again, others rush into the homeless shelter's television room, eager to see what's planned for today's meeting.

Soon, they are stationed in chairs and couches around the room, gangly legs and giggles until Salt Lake Police Officer Melody Gray does what Girl Scout leaders do: She makes them stand up and recite the Girl Scout oath.

Today, Gray is going to teach them about science. They, of course, don't know that she had to learn about static electricity from a book to prepare for this meeting. She teaches it like a pro: Rub the balloons on your hair. Tie the two little balloons to a string. What happens? They repel each other, Michelle says. And she's right. Michelle knows the answers. It's because she likes science, she says.

Two of the older girls are less interested in the project. They act nonchalant and a little bored. Sometime, before this Girl Scout meeting started, the two friends sat in a room somewhere and braided their brown hair into two sets of matching pigtails. It won't be until the next week, when the talk is of flowers and plants, that this duo will get excited about the subject matter.

One girl asks if Gray, dressed in her police uniform, will handcuff her. Gray reminds the girl that she can't. Amber, down from atop the purple couch where she has been standing, is now hanging on Jenny Backstrand, an employee at the Salt Lake Community Shelter and Resource Center who volunteers with Troop 756.

But Backstrand sweetly tells Amber she's too big to hold and finds another project to occupy the thoughts of the little girl.

Troop 756 began about a decade ago, offering the institution of young girls everywhere to these children, girls and teenagers who cycle in and out of Utah's largest homeless shelter. The makeup of the group changes constantly as new families move into the shelter and others leave. Gray and fellow Salt Lake police officer Amy DeSpain lead the troop.

Troop 756 matches a national trend in which outreach Girl Scout troops are created in areas where there may have never been a troop before: inner-city schools, juvenile detention centers, migrant worker camps and homeless shelters.

A staple of American suburbia for decades, there are now more than 2 million Girl Scouts in the United States. There are 728 Girl Scout troops that belong to the Utah Girl Scout Council. Troop 756, "Troop Blue" as they call themselves, is the only one based out of a homeless shelter.

The Silver Trefoil, an organization of women who've been in Scouting at least 25 years, helps with attire for the troop. The group buys sashes and patches and sews on badges when the girls earn them.

Dixie Lamping has been involved in Girl Scouts for almost 40 years. She said the Silver Trefoil women get as much out of the arrangement as the girls.

"It gives the girls role models," Lamping said. "And, for us, it's fun."

Seven days after learning about static electricity, the girls gather again in the television room. Bridget Ellis, who volunteers at the shelter, tells them that plants have energy. Today, a teenager who wasn't much into science last week aptly leads the discussion about roots, seeds and bulbs.

Amber isn't here this week. A new Brownie is. Mandi comes late. Tina just "flew" to Juniors. Alona gets disgusted by the talk about what makes dirt. Gross, she says over and over. Gross.

Lilian Hernandez, outreach program specialist for the Utah Girl Scout Council, says these kinds of programs offer girls consistency and normalcy.

Other outreach programs began about six years ago. So every summer, troops are created in places like Midvale, Clearfield, Ogden, Logan and Brigham City, offering Girl Scouts to the children of migrant farm workers. Hernandez said these children move often, speak Spanish and don't have parents with the time or money to volunteer to a regular troop. Other outreach troops operate out of Salt Lake County recreational centers.

"It is so important to have this kind of program. This is probably the only way they would get the chance," Hernandez said. "For these girls, it is so important to be playing and having fun with other children."

The Utah outreach program served 1,329 girls last year, 14 percent of the council's membership.

Next week, Troop 756 is going to a local garden to see some of the things they talked about. The energy of plants. Flowers. Trees. But first they plant a bright red flower in a little plastic cup and they promise Ellis, who swears that flowers can cry, that they will give it the gift of life.