The Girl Scouts of Maine awarded the 2016 Woman of Distinction Award to Eileen Skinner, president and chief executive officer of Mercy Hospital, at an annual fundraiser that yielded $128,000 to enable more Maine girls to experience scouting.

Skinner led the campaign to build the Mercy Fore River campus, greatly expanding the Catholic hospital’s programming with new primary and specialty care practices and clinical programs. Sisters of Mercy, many of whom were Brownies, Girl Scouts or Scout leaders earlier in their lives, filled a table at the awards dinner Dec. 3 at the Portland Marriott at Sable Oaks in South Portland.

“I would give her the unsung hero award because many people don’t know all she does,” said Jane Sheehan, president of the Foundation for Blood Research, based in Scarborough.

“She has been a mentor and a role model,” said Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton. “And she’s an avid outdoors woman. And I don’t mean camping. I mean being dropped in the middle of Alaska.”

Skinner, crediting Girl Scouts with fostering her love of the outdoors, showed the 340 guests her Girl Scout sash and badges as well as her canteen and mess kit. Then she ticked off the countries she has visited with those durable utensils.

Skinner, a New Orleans native, came to Maine to take the CEO position at Mercy in 2002. Her husband, pathologist John Skinner, was working in a New Orleans hospital when Hurricane Katrina hit.

“There is only one thing you can control in life, and that’s yourself,” Skinner said. “What’s really important is the people.”

Embodying that principal, Skinner concluded her speech by inviting her daughters, Amanda and Katherine, to join her. The three women sang “The Slumber Boat,” a tune written in 1898 that Skinner learned as a Girl Scout in Louisiana and sang to her three children as a lullaby. It was an emotional moment, wrapping tradition in love.

“The point of Girl Scouting is to develop girls to be strong women,” said Joanne Crepeau, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Maine. “We hope that someday they too will accomplish the sort of things a Woman of Distinction accomplishes.”

Former Girl Scout Monia Mukiza, now a senior at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, spoke about coming to Maine as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo when she was 7. “Who would ever think that I would find my sense of belonging in an American Girl Scouts troop?” said Mukiza, talking about Troop 2051 of Portland.

When Mukiza hit eighth grade, just seven girls from her elementary school troop had stuck with scouting. “The seven of us have remained close like sisters,” Mukiza said. “And, as a Girl Scout I have learned to give back to the community that accepted us so willingly.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough. She can be reached at:

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