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Leading with love


Jan Hendrickson expected the cookie sales when she became a Girl Scout troop leader, but she did not picture camping in a chilly cave with live bats or riding in a horse-drawn carriage through a “haunted” part of Savannah, Ga. – just two of many fun surprises that came with the territory.

Hendrickson, who is a disability nurse consultant for Principal Financial Group Inc. and a part-time nurse for Orchard Place, has been a Girl Scout troop leader for 12 years. As a strong believer in the organization, she is quick to correct misconceptions that only young girls participate in Girl Scouts, and that their sole responsibility is to tempt January dieters with cookie sales. Although she can recall some nights of staying up late counting money from cookie sales, she’s more likely to share memories about how the girls in her troop have grown from homesick little campers to talented, independent young women.

“There couldn’t be anything better, I think, for girls or women, and I get really frustrated when people think it’s all about selling cookies,” she said. “The organization, from the time girls are young, is about learning about yourself. It’s about self-confidence and developing all kinds of wonderful skills that they will use during their lifetime.”

Hendrickson’s group, which consists of six young women, including her daughter, are seniors at Southeast Polk High School and each have been involved with the organization throughout their school years.

“In my family, we have two older sons who were always drawn to competitive sports, and with our third child, my daughter, I wanted her to have the opportunity to try a lot of different things,” Hendrickson said.

After only one year in Girl Scouts, Hendrickson found out her daughter’s troop did not plan to return for another year, so she stepped in to fill the role. Hendrickson said her experience as a troop leader has taken her on many adventures with the girls, and they’ve had fun, worked hard and learned together along the way.

“I remember setting up a tent in a campground one time with a storm blowing over us and flipping the tent out of our hands so many times that we ended up all sharing the same one,” she said. “Sometimes things don’t work out wonderfully, but that’s the fun of working with young people.”

The biggest trip her group took together was when the girls were in seventh grade. They had saved their money from cookie sales and held several fund-raisers to be able to travel to Savannah, the “birthplace of Girl Scouts.” Boring? Absolutely not, Hendrickson said.

“We went to nine states in nine days, and we had something special planned for us in every state along the way,” she said. “I’ve gone so many places and done so many things that I never would have done if I hadn’t been involved in Girl Scouts.”

Before any trips could happen, the troop had to do a lot of organizing and budgeting, examples of just some of the real-life experiences that Hendrickson sees as assets for the girls as they prepare for college and careers.

“They’ve learned about organization, goal setting, budgeting, planning, teamwork, problem solving and so many other skills to help them be wonderful gifts to wherever they’re working,” she said.

Hendrickson, who says she feels lucky to work for Principal, a company that supports employees’ efforts to volunteer in their communities, said she has also developed ways of doing things that have helped her in other parts of her life. She applies what she has learned in her work with kids at Orchard Place, as a 4-H leader and as a parent.

“Because of Girl Scouts, I think I appreciate diversity, individualism and that we all have special talents,” she said. “I think that every young person has so much potential, and if they’re fortunate enough to have adults around them who support them emotionally, then there’s really no limit to what abilities can be developed.”

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