Spirit of sisterhood: Karen Hann was recently recognized as an Outstanding Leader by Girl Scouts of the Missouri Heartland

Monday, June 7, 2010
Girl Scout troop leader Karen Hann, center, and her Junior Girl Scout troop during a meeting at Cape County Park North on Friday, May 7, 2010. In back from left to right are troop helper Catherine Crites, Carly Gotto, Sophia Smith, Rachel Shirrell, Shadan Roumany, Mercedes Lang, Corri Brown and Chastity Sneath. (KRISTIN EBERTS ~ kebertssemissourian.com)

Karen Hann of Cape Girardeau doesn't remember all the details of her time as a Girl Scout, but she does remember that it was fun and always made her laugh. Now, Hann is responsible for 12 Junior Girl Scouts, all 9- and 10-year-olds at Alma Schrader Elementary School in Cape Girardeau, where she hopes to give them laughter -- and much more.

"Girl Scouts learn self-confidence, teamwork and how to play well with others," says Hann. "We do a lot of outdoor skills and things to make them better young women who will become leaders -- not just in Girl Scouts, but in business, in Congress, maybe even as president of the United States."

In April, Hann was honored as an Outstanding Leader at a monthly service unit team meeting of Girl Scouts of the Missouri Heartland. Hann doesn't know who nominated her, but she was told she received the award for stepping up to help a troop in need.

Hann became a Girl Scout troop leader two years ago, after her daughter-in-law, Gini Brown, passed away suddenly at only 28. Brown was a Girl Scout leader for two troops which included her daughters, Cadie Crites and Corri Brown. Not wanting her granddaughters' troops to disband, Hann stepped up and went through training to become a Girl Scout leader. She has been with 9-year-old Corri's troop for two years now, bringing them from the Brownie level up to Junior Girl Scouts. Cadie, 14, has continued with her own Girl Scout troop and also helps with her sister's troop.

"They're pretty adjusted," says Hann. "Children are so resilient. They just don't dwell on it. Corri gets upset occasionally, but she's dealt very well."

Girl Scout troop leader Karen Hann, center works on a stamp project with troop members Shadan Roumany, Chastity Sneath, and Mercedes Lang, from left, as they work to earn a Prints and Graphics Badge during a meeting at Cape County Park North on Friday, May 7, 2010. (KRISTIN EBERTS ~ kebertssemissourian.com)

Hann's troop meets twice a month after school. At first, Hann and the girls spent much of their time getting to know each other.

"I just try to make them smile. I'll ask them about their favorite color or their favorite thing and just try to find out more about them," says Hann. "By now I know which ones are quiet and which ones are outgoing, and which ones I need to push and say, 'Yes, you can do it.'"

Together, the girls work on projects to earn badges. For the Girl Scouts of the USA badge, for example, the girls learned history of how Girl Scouts got started; for the Girl Scouts Around the World Badge, they learned how girls live in other parts of the world; and for the Looking Your Best Badge, they attended a spa day at Hann's house. And, of course, there's Girl Scout cookie season, which involves numerous instructions on how to sell cookies safely and politely, role play on operating a cookie-selling booth, and delivery of the long-awaited treats.

Other activities are just for fun, such as a recent tour of Andy's Frozen Custard, which uses Girl Scouts' famous Thin Mint cookies in its concretes or when Hann shows the girls her sash and photos from her own Girl Scout days.

This summer, Hann will serve as director of a four-day summer camp at Camp Sacajawea. The camp will feature a "Treasure Island" theme and will involve lots of decoding, maps, compasses and treasure hunts, she says.

Each meeting closes with a friendship circle, in which the girls squeeze one another's hands as they tell about a good deed they did or say something nice to another Girl Scout.

"Part of the Girl Scout spirit is sisterhood to every other Girl Scout and doing good deeds," Hann explains. With each project, event and meeting, the girls learn to be better Girl Scouts, leaders and friends. And the Girl Scouts, though still children, teach Hann new things every day, including how to stay in touch with her inner child.

"They give back more to me than I give to them," says Hann. "It's fun for me to come and be with them. I always feel better when I leave than when I got there." Some of her favorite moments are the cute and funny things her girls say and do, and when they give her a big hug for no particular reason. "I don't mind putting in the hours," says Hann. "They keep me young."

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