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100 Years of Girl Scouts

TFK talks to Girl Scout CEO Anna Maria Chávez

March 09, 2012
PAUL MORIGI—GETTY IMAGES FOR GIRLS SCOUTS OF THE USA

Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, speaks at a "Girl Scouts at 100" event on Feb 1, 2012, in Washington D.C.

TFK chats with Anna Maria Chávez, the 19th CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, the largest organization in the world that represents girls. Before leading the group, she was the deputy chief of staff for then-governor of Arizona Janet Napolitano. Chávez is an attorney. Here’s what she told TFK about the Girl Scouts and why all girls—and boys—should see the organization as important.

TFK:

What was Juliette Low’s goal in creating Girl Scouts in 1912? How would she feel about the organization continuing to meet this goal 100 years later?

ANNA MARIA CHÁVEZ:

She really was allowing girls to think big about their lives by ensuring they were prepared and how they could give back to their local communities. She started this movement in Savannah, Georgia, in 1912—long before women had the right to vote—and was thinking about how Girl Scouts could provide an intellectual platform for girls.

It is a very exciting opportunity to look over the past 100 years. We have more than 50 million alumnae. It really goes back to the power of one and the impact one individual can have. We now have 3.2 million Girl Scouts currently active.  

TFK:

How was creating Girl Scouts in 1912 groundbreaking at that time? 

CHÁVEZ:

It was long before there was even a focus on women and what women could contribute to society. Low really had this audacious goal to build the largest organization for girls in the world. You see today that the legacy has really amounted to great success not only to individual women but also to this country. Eighty percent of women business leaders were Girl Scouts.

TFK:

From the start, Low sought to include in the organization girls of all backgrounds. As a Mexican American, you are the organization’s first Latina leader. How do you feel about this?

CHÁVEZ:

We were a very inclusive organization from the very beginning, desegregating troops long before any laws [required it]. Martin Luther King, Jr. called us a force for desegregation because we look at girls as girls. Everybody is included. We enable girls to connect with others. We do it in a way that is fun and safe for all.

I hope all girls understand that anything is possible and that they see my path and work in public service as a guide. All girls in this country can aspire to anything they want to do as long as they are positive, stick to their core values and treat people well.

TFK:

What do you see as the biggest changes in Girl Scouts over the past 100 years?

CHÁVEZ:

We make an effort to listen to our girls. We didn’t have the technology then that we have today. Girls have so many options now. We need to compete for their time and we have to stay relevant. By talking to our girl membership and through research, we know that one area girls want to explore is around science, technology engineering and math. We’ve developed special programming focused on robotics. [In a FIRST LEGO League competition, a team with girls from two troops from Ames, Iowa,] called the Flying Monkeys created a prosthetic hand for a little girl. They are changing lives.

TFK:

How old were you when you were a Girl Scout?

CHÁVEZ:

I was a Girl Scout between ages 10 and 12.

TFK:

You have said that only about 3% of the heads of publicly traded companies, or top corporate executives, are women. How did Girl Scouts prepare you for your leadership roles in the working world? 

CHÁVEZ:

Girl Scouts did a lot for me. The first time I went away by myself, I went to a Girl Scouts camp. For me, growing up in a small agricultural community, there weren’t a lot of things to do. Girl Scouts allowed me the opportunity to explore outside my community and get involved in a different way. I sold cookies, and that was very exciting because I started my own small business. I came back from one Girl Scout camp and became very focused on the environment. I decided to become an environmental lawyer by the age of 12.

TFK:

Girl Scouts has named 2012 the Year of the Girl. How would you describe the goal of this campaign to our readers? How will the campaign affect their lives? 

CHÁVEZ:

The Year of the Girl is the launch pad for the campaign “To Get Her There.” It is the largest, boldest campaign to educate adults that girls need to be supported and encouraged to go for their dreams and [to provide girls with more] options.

Girls do not see enough role models in leadership positions that they aspire to have. Only 18% of women are in leadership positions. We are hoping that women in particular [in leadership positions] mentor and sponsor girls and talk to them about what is possible and that girls get the opportunity to go down the same path. 

TFK:

You are the mother of a nine-year-old son. Why is it important for him, and other boys, to support Girl Scouts?

CHÁVEZ:

In Girls Scouts, they call me Eagle One and my son is Little Eagle. Little Eagle gives speeches on behalf of Girl Scouts, and what he says is: it’s important for everybody—including boys and men—to support the girls and women in their families. Together, we can do great things for this country. I think everybody would support the idea that even today, a successful girl creates success not only for herself but also for her family.

TFK:

When you talk about a successful girl, what do you mean by that?

CHÁVEZ:

We want girls to dream big, be happy and do something that is fulfilling.

TFK:

How can our readers across the country best honor the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts? 

CHÁVEZ:

They can join Girl Scouts. They can find out about what girls are doing in their local communities and support their volunteer efforts. 

TFK:

To our girl readers who aren’t Girl Scouts, why should they consider joining?

CHÁVEZ:

Because Girl Scouts rock! Girl Scouts get to do so many cool things. There are so many people that you can help and you can become immediately connected to a worldwide group of sisters. Once you are a Girl Scout you are connected not only to more than 3 million people in the U.S. but others in countries [around] the world.

 

Read more about Girl Scouts in the March 9, 2012 issue of TIME For Kids.


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