What makes the difference between a girl and a woman? “Girl Scouts!” said Anna Maria
Chavez, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of the USA and the first Latina to lead the organization. The organization that celebrated its 100 years of existence is a lifeline for 2.3 million girl members and 890,000 adult members who work primarily as volunteers helping them achieve their dreams in education, community service and leadership.
When most people still relate Girl Scouts to selling cookies and going camping, this widely recognized non-profit has turned its direction to strengthening girls’ role in society, especially now –and more than ever– when women are being pressured to compete in every position, career and industry.
Chavez’ election came at a crucial time of this centennial organization when the need to reinvent its vision had already started. “I was very excited about this opportunity because I had been working at a grassroots level in Texas creating leadership programs since 2009.” Chavez’ impressive leadership track record in state and federal government as well as her work within the organization brought a timely influence in the non-profit’s remarkable transformation.
“I’m a product of this organization. As a little girl in Arizona, none of the women in my family had a cultural connection with Girl Scouts but the opportunity resonated with my mother as a platform that would allow me to excel in school,” she said in an exclusive interview. Chavez was raised in a Mexican-American family in the small town of Eloy, Arizona, before her family moved to Phoenix.
Anna Maria Chavez: The influence of Girl Scouts in Latino youth
The organization has increased its influence among Hispanic girls who, like Chavez, seek support to overcome cultural and educational barriers. In the past 10 years, the nonprofit has seen 55 percent increase of Latino girls in its ranks, about 12 percent of its total membership.
With over 5.7 million Hispanic girls between 5 and 17 years old, and Latina business owners being the fastest growing segment in the United States, it is not difficult to connect the dots. Latinas are determined to lead and are looking for opportunities to stand up to the task. “It’s staggering to think what they might achieve; they might be innovators or create products or breakthroughs in different industries,” Chavez said. “We have conducted studies at Girl Scouts showing that Hispanic and African American girls carry what we call the ‘resilience factor.’ They are more prepared to face challenges because they had to overcome barriers all their lives.”
The national leader sustains that these minority girls have suffered throughout their lives from being qualified as “not fast or smart enough” or not culturally prepared to excel so they make an extra effort to succeed. “They have build up confidence that allows them to deal with the pressure of leadership and tough decisions in ways that Caucasian girls sometimes are not prepared to do,” Chavez shared.
“Now think of those nearly 6 million young Latinas. They are the future of this country, and they have talent and aspirations but they need our support in helping them develop self-confidence and leadership skills so they can realize those dreams,” Chavez said. “By inspiring these girls to dream big and helping them to become leaders of their lives, families, communities and businesses, we are fulfilling the promise of our mission,” Chavez concluded.
By Susana G Baumann
(A version of this article was published on VOXXI.com February 2013)