The Girl Scouts of the USA has appointed its first Latina CEO in its nearly 100-year-old history. Come November, Mexican-American Anna Maria Chávez will begin her appointment as the 19th leader of the 3.2 million-member organization. We had a chance to chat with the Arizona native, and here’s what she had to say:
What does it mean to you to be elected the first Latina to lead the Girl Scouts?
I’m ecstatic. It’s a very historic point in our organization. We’re about to turn 100 years old. I’m going to be the CEO as we enter our second century—that’s historic in itself. I represent a lot of women out there who work hard and dream big, and make sacrifices to get to the position that you want to obtain.
You’ve worked for government agencies and have served as CEO of the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas since 2009. How has your experience prepared you for the role you’re about to take on?
I really believe that my legal experience has prepared me well for this role from the sense of working at pretty high levels in organizations and goverment. Also, I’ve worked with agencies that advocated on behalf of populations that needed assistance. I have been an advocate for girls and families for many years.
The organization is trying to recruit more Latina girls, is that something you’ll be very involved in?
It’s part of our mission of reaching girls wherever they may live. We’re in every zip code in the country. I happen to live in San Antonio and my council is 21 counties. We serve about 21,000 girls on an annual basis and because of the demographic that we live in, 55 percent of these girls are Latina because that mirrors the community we live in. Our focus going forward is to make sure that we’re serving all girls. Interestingly enough, our market research shows that the Girl Scouts is a natural fit for most Hispanic families. My parents were very focused that I had opportunities to continue my school, be successful and seek challenges that were girl-focused.
You were a girl scout when you were 10, how did the organization impact your life growing up?
It was life changing. I grew up in Eloy, a small farm town in rural Arizona, which has a population of about 4,500 people, and because we were a good hour away from a major city you had to figure out how to occupy your time. Luckily, a woman in our town volunteered to be a troup leader and I was fortunate that her daughter was one of my good friends. She came to school one day all excited to be a girl scout and because my family had never been involved, I didn’t know what that meant. I eventually convinced my family to let me join. For a girl who didn’t have sisters—I have two brothers—it was really neat to be able to hang out with other girls. I went away for the first time by myself to a Girl Scout camp and it really opened up my eyes. I still have my little box from troupe 304.
Were your parents hesitant about letting you join?
My dad is from Michoacán, Mexico, and my mom was born and raised in Arizona. My dad was focused on his kids getting good educations. But my nana—olvidate! When I translated to her from English to Spanish and said “tropa de niñas, uniformes, campo,” she thought it was either a military organization or a farming camp. I explained to her the premise and once she got it, she agreed to it. Any opportunities that I could engage in and explore other avenues, she was a supporter.