Karen Hill became a fan of Girl Scouts when she was young. She was a Brownie and a Junior in Bloomington, Ill., before she moved to a community that didn’t offer Scouts.
Hill, who is raising two granddaughters — ages 10 and 13 — knew she wanted to expose them to Scouts because it promotes leadership and achievement.
“I would like to see them go through the process because I think it builds more character,” she said.
Hill moved to Smithton 11 years ago and has been with the Smithton troop the past five years. She has been the product chairwoman for the past three years.
Rita Henson, of Otterville, was the troop leader at the time Hill’s granddaughters joined. Though Henson doesn’t have a daughter of her own, she has been involved in Scouts for 20 years. She started troops in Smithton and Otterville in 2003.
Hill said Henson is “a marvelous lady and a marvelous teacher. She is so involved in so many community activities that it was very easy for the girls to do community service and get to know their community through her.”
When Henson decided to retire two years ago, Hill seemed like the natural replacement. If Hill hadn’t volunteered, the Smithton troop would have been forced to disband.
“Although I didn’t know everything that was involved in being a troop leader, I have been well educated in the past couple of years,” Hill said.
Henson feels very comfortable with Hill at the helm.
“(The troop) really kept going because of her. She really promotes it and does a lot of good things for the community,” Henson said. “She’s the mastermind. She organizes any activities the girls need to participate in or lead. She’s so calm about everything. That’s a really good quality to have too.”
The troop doubled in size last year to 26 girls. They range in age from kindergarten through eighth grade. Hill is in charge of the Juniors and Cadettes, and she had three girls earn their Bronze Award last year. The girls not only participated in community service, but international service. They collected more than 150 pairs of shoes that were sent to Kenya and sold to locals for 39 cents apiece; that money went into a fund to develop a community water system.
“They had quite a good time with that because it was so much learning,” Hill said.
The girls participate in a variety of community service projects. They recently sold programs at the Society Horse Show at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, which forced them to learn how to count money and make correct change. They also painted the picnic area at the Senior Center, helped the Sunrise and Noonday Optimist clubs with events such as the haunted hayride and train rides at Liberty Park, and sang at local nursing homes.
They also put out barrels in Smithton School once a year to collect food for local food pantries.
“As long as we can keep them interested in something, they are go-getters,” she said.
While community service is a big part of Scouts, Hill also likes to focus on doing fun things, including camping, hiking and leading badge workshops.
“I think we are able to make it fun for them through Girl Scouts and I think that’s why so many have stayed with us,” she said.
The juniors and cadettes are saving money for a trip to Arkansas. They participated in the Festival of Sharing last year and want to visit the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Ark. The cost will be about $300 per girl.
“A lot of the girls are financed through Girl Scouts, so they don’t have the parental help that can kick in when they want to go on trips. Our troop always tries to pay at least half of the amount they need,” Hill said.
The rest of the money is raised through sales of their fall product and cookies.
“They learn budgets and they learn that if you don’t do fundraisers, you don’t get those extras,” she said.
Hill enjoys the hard work that comes with being a leader.
“They’re all sisters. They may not be related by blood but they will always have something in common with any girl they meet,” she said. “I hope I put them on an easier path.”
Hill wants each girl to have a good feeling about themselves, know they can achieve anything they put their mind to and to gain the skills to be a good leader. She’d love to see each of them get their Bronze, Silver and Gold awards.
“With economics the way they are, scholarships are a big issue and I think a lot of the girls are looking at that and they realize they can get scholarships by achieving these awards,” she said.