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Troop proves age no factor for Girl Scouts

Helen Kuhn, left, 86, Kitty Hayes, 84, explore

Helen Kuhn, left, 86, Kitty Hayes, 84, explore badges on Troop Leader Natalie D' Amico's sash. (Oct. 25, 2012) Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

They can't sell Girl Scout cookies or earn badges.

But even at ages 72 to 89, the 10 members of the newly formed Bristal Scout Troop 400 in Massapequa can do community service projects and mentor younger Scouts.

For some members of what National Girl Scouts of the USA officials describe as the nation's only senior citizen troop, the fond memories of scouting remain many decades later.

Kitty Hayes, 84, a former teacher and administrator in the Brentwood school district, got involved in Troop 21 while growing up in Camden, N.J., she said this week, before reciting the Girl Scout Honor, or oath.

"I remember [it] from childhood," she said. "Isn't that something?"

With a few exceptions, regular Girl Scouts age out of the organization after their senior year of high school. However, older women, and men, can still participate in some scouting activities; 7,000 adults in Nassau County alone do that.

And while the new "troop" can't officially be one because the members aren't officially Girl Scouts, the national organization isn't going to quibble. The women, who reside in the Bristal at Massapequa assisted-living facility, have been meeting there since the troop formed in August.

Hayes said she jumped at the opportunity to join because "I was a Girl Scout, and it's a good organization."

Bristal Scout Troop 400 is the brainchild of Natalie D'Amico, 17, of Massapequa. She is a member of Girl Scout Troop 209 who made it her project to earn the Gold Award, Girl Scouting's highest honor.

"I thought it was very important for the seniors to stay connected to the community," the Massapequa High School senior explained. "The goal for the troop is to do service projects and crafts and teach them new skills, and that's what we do in Girl Scouts."

So every Wednesday afternoon D'Amico stops by, often with a guest speaker or other Girl Scouts and Brownies in tow. This week, the Girl Scouts and Brownies helped the older women decorate paper bags, donated by Runyon's Restaurant in Seaford, that the eatery will fill with food for the needy.

"I really love spending time with the seniors," D'Amico said. "I learn something different about them each time I come."

Maria Leonardo, Bristal's activities director, said working with the young Scouts "gives my residents a sense of purpose. It gives them something to do with their day where they're helping others."

After Leonardo distributed flyers to the 160 residents, 10 responded, including a few who had been Girl Scouts in their youth. They paid a $12 membership fee, and D'Amico brings them loaner red sashes with generic badges to wear during the meetings.

Helping others, keeping active and, for some, rekindling memories are the attraction for the senior Scouts.

At 89, Erika Fuessler is the oldest. The native of Germany never heard of Girl Scouts while growing up, but wanted to be a Scout now "to help the people, and I love the children."

Helen Kuhn, 86, a former secretary originally from Brooklyn, said: "I don't like to play bingo. I prefer doing things that will help other people. I liked making sandwiches for the soup kitchen in Hempstead."

"This is something great, that I can be a senior citizen and still be a Girl Scout again," Hayes said. "I can play bingo every other day."

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