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Kari Gayes

Kari Gayes - Content Marketing Manager



It was a promise. At the age of eight or nine, Kari Gayes, Content Marketing Manager, pledged to try “to help people at all times.” She was a young member of the Girl Scouts at the time, and that promise has stuck with her throughout her life – including during her time at First Merchants Bank.

“It’s funny, I was only in the Scouts myself for a few years, but that time was so special to me, and includes some of my most vivid memories of childhood,” Kari said.

Being a Girl Scout – well, a Brownie, technically, she amended – taught her a lot, even in such a short time. She learned how to work as a team, important life skills, and how to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

“I remember a particular event where our troop was charged with learning about a particular country and making traditional dishes from that country – our leader knew a family from Kuwait, and they came to speak with us,” Kari said. “They shared recipes and loaned us items to wear and decorate our event table. And that moment has stuck with me – how we met and engaged and learned from people who were from a place that, at the time, none of us had heard of before. It’s just a memory I’ve always carried.”

And these are skills Kari still practices in her role as Content Marketing Manager as she works to share team member and customer stories with a wider audience.

Kari eventually left the Girl Scouts and grew up. She got a career in Marketing, started her own family, and moved to Muncie, Indiana. Then, one day, her daughter, Kat, came home from first grade and asked to join the Girl Scouts.

“It was a new troop, and they met right after school, so she joined up,” Kari recalled. “As a working mom, I was pretty uninvolved that first year – it was just another extracurricular activity for my daughter.”

That changed over the summer, during a troop pool party.

“I learned that the current Troop Leader planned to step down,” she said. “I remember looking at this kind of eclectic group of girls and I could see how much fun they were having together. They’d become friends despite their different backgrounds, and I wanted them to stay connected. I worried that this would dissolve the troop and the beautiful thing that they were building. So I volunteered to be the next Troop Leader.”

“I had no idea what I was getting into at all,” she added with a laugh.

Her first year as Troop Leader, Kari played it safe. She ran meetings using an official Girl Scouts of the USA lesson plan and tried to make sure the girls earned badges.

“By the end of the year, they were building birdhouses and campfires – and no one got hurt doing it– so I took those as huge wins,” she shared jokingly.

When it came time to sign up for the next year, the girls all agreed to come back. Then they started bringing friends, Kari began coming up with her own activities and soon, they were thriving.



“I really believe in the mission of the Girls Scouts,” Kari said. “I believe there’s a lot of benefit to that girl-led environment for young girls. And this troop became something that was clearly good for these girls, and along the way, I started to realize it was good for me, too.”

Kat and the original five girls are now in middle school – they’re still part of the troop, and Kari is still leading the way. But they’ve all grown. Kari built a leadership team for her troop and sits on the Delaware County Girl Scouts Service Unit leadership team.

“I’m really proud to work for a company that encourages me to give back to others – in fact, our commitment to the communities we serve is a big reason I joined First Merchants. In just over a year, I’ve been encouraged to join the board of a local nonprofit and continue my support of the United Way and my children’s school parent-teacher organization. I’ve even used vacation to volunteer at a Girl Scouts summer camp,” Kari shared. “I spent the whole week washing dishes, but it was a wonderful experience and I think allowed me to set a good example for the next generation. I love that the bank’s mission to invest in our communities aligns so closely with the Girl Scouts’ mission to help others.”

And, Kari also works to instill sound financial skills and to foster an environment where the girls make decisions about activities and ways to give back.

“They pitch business ideas during meetings, they choose what badges they want to earn and fund their activities by being incredibly successful in the annual Girl Scout Cookie Program. They’ve become passionate about community service – which came entirely from them,” Kari said. “So we try to get out of their way and let them lead. And it feels good to see that. It feels like we’ve done something right.”

The troop recently wrapped up a two-year project, which involved collecting recyclable plastic which was used to make a bench that the girls donated to a local domestic violence shelter.

“It makes me feel so hopeful,” Kari said. “Because I can see how much of this goodwill comes from them – the desire to lead, the desire to make a change, the desire to help people. I see it as our job as leaders to nourish that and to provide a place where they can exercise that.”

Girl Scouts is all about helping communities and building bridges – and Kari sees that play out day by day in her troop.

“When you have kids, it’s easy to exist within a bubble of them interacting with the same people, who likely have a similar background,” Kari said. “But in a Girl Scout troop, kids come from all over. None of the girls in our troop are each other’s best friends – but they all get along, they work together, support each other, and they figure out how to problem-solve as a team. And that’s what it’s all about – in Girl Scouts we’re working together to bring this experience to all the girls in our community.”

When Kat eventually graduates from Girl Scouts, Kari said she still plans to stay involved in some way.

“I really believe in the Girl Scouts mission – to be accessible and inclusive to all girls and to inspire them to be leaders,” she said. “And that’s something I want to be a part of growing in my own community for a long time – whether I’m doing that through Girl Scouts or through my role with First Merchants.”


First Merchants Bank’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility compels us to invest in our communities by finding ways to reduce inequalities, improve the quality of our neighborhoods, and promote positive economic mobility though our five community pillars: Employee Empowerment; Community Investments and Charitable Giving; Financial Wellness; Community Home Lending; and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This series features First Merchants teammates who embody the spirit and impact of the company’s Vision: “to enhance the financial wellness of the diverse communities we serve.”