Being the Voice for Millions of Sisters

What are some major changes which occurred in American society in the last 100 years? What are some characteristics of good leaders?
How would you rate the equality of opportunities for women and minorities 100 years ago? In your opinion, how much equality of opportunity exists today? What part does effort and determination play in gaining opportunities?

On Valentine’s Day, 1912, approximately 200,000 Arizonans became residents of our nation’s 48th state. One month later and 1,600 miles away, Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of America in Savannah, Georgia. Low hoped the new organization would give opportunities for girls to build courage, confidence and character. Imagine the amazement and disbelief if someone had made these predictions for the future: 1)100 years in the future, Arizona will have a population of 6.5 million people, 2) Girl Scouts of America will grow to over 3 million members, and 3) Anna Maria Chavez, from the tiny town of Eloy, Arizona will become the first Latina CEO of those Girl Scouts.

Less than 5,000 people lived in rural Eloy, Arizona in the 1960’s. Chavez remembers having a microwave put a family at the cutting edge of technology. “We didn’t have a lot of extracurricular activity. My best friend came to school one day and announced that she was going to be a Girl Scout. So I decided I wanted to be a Girl Scout, too!” By making that decision, 10-year old Anna Maria became part of a sisterhood of millions. The mission of Girl Scouts of America has always been to inspire girls to meet challenges and develop their own capacity for leadership.

In a March, 2012 interview with the Arizona Republic newspaper, Chavez commented, “They (the leaders in Girl Scouts) looked at me when others may have seen a different story–a girl at risk, a girl perhaps in a poor community–and they saw something else.” That something else was a girl who wanted to be taken seriously and trained to use her many talents to set and accomplish high goals.

The family moved from Eloy to Phoenix, and Anna Maria graduated from Shadow Mountain High School. With the support of her family and her Scout leaders, she had been involved in many activities during her high school years. These positive extracurricular accomplishments and her excellent grades were the gateway to a full scholarship at Yale University. On an early Scout camping trip, young Anna had decided to become a lawyer to help protect Arizona’s environment. So after graduating from Yale, Chavez returned to Arizona to enroll in University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.

Ms. Chavez spent the next segment of her career in public service. Arizona’s aging population benefited from her service as Assistant Director for the Division of Aging and Community Services at the Arizona Department of Economic Security. She also served the governor as Deputy Chief of Staff for Urban Relations and Community Development and advised on housing, transportation, and issues affecting Arizona’s Latino population.

Chavez was the driving force behind the creation of Arizona’s Raul H. Castro Institute, honoring the man who had been Governor of Arizona when she joined Girl Scouts. Former Governor Castro has been an inspiration to many young people. Through his own determination, hard physical work, and self-denial he had earned the money to attend and graduate from college in 1939. Ten years later, he earned his law degree. Raul Castro served the United States as Ambassador to El Salvador, Bolivia, and Argentina. The Castro Institute is a “think tank / do tank” focusing on education, health and human services, leadership and civic participation.

Anna Maria Chavez was happy and successful working in public service in Arizona. But in 2009, an offer came to her that she couldn’t resist. Girl Scouts of America offered Chavez the position of CEO for the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas in San Antonio. In a 2012 interview with the national publication, “Hispanic Executive,” she said, “The most pivotal moment in my career came when I decided to leave public service. But I felt compelled to work with young people. I knew the call was the opportunity I’d been waiting for.” And three years after accepting the Texas assignment, Anna Maria Chavez, who started her Girl Scout experiences as a 10 year-old in rural Arizona, became the inspiring national leader of the 3.2 million members of Girl Scouts.

Chavez is an admired role model, capable of making a positive impact on millions of American girls. Within the first months of taking charge of Girl Scouts of America, she launched “To Get Her There.” This is the largest campaign in U.S. history focused on training girls to develop their leadership potential. “Girls are amazing,” Chavez states. “Sit down and have a conversation with them about some of the issues that they are tackling with Girl Scouts. They are thinking big. They’re thinking solutions. Just think about the millions of community-service hours they give every year without fanfare. Think about the cookies program–every year, the girls raise 760 million dollars, which they invest back into their local communities, into homeless shelters, into animal shelters, meal sites, and community-service project for parks. If half the population isn’t involved in creating solutions to the problems in the United States, then we’re missing the opportunity to groom their ideas and creativity around these solutions.” Ms. Chavez sees herself as the voice telling the story of the vast potential within girls in the United States.

Juliette Gordon Low was a woman with a deep commitment to public service and to encouraging women to realize their own potential. At a time when women were not even allowed to vote and their roles were very restrained by society, Low created an organization which gave girls the opportunity to be both physically and mentally engaged in their communities. Her goal to help girls develop the self-reliance and resourcefulness they needed to enrich their personal lives and to pursue active citizenship in their communities. Fast forward to one hundred years later. Much has changed, but many girls still need to hear voices encouraging them to develop the potential within themselves. Undoubtedly, Juliette Gordon Low would be proud that a ten-year old Girl Scout from a small town in Arizona grew into a woman whose strong voice advocates building courage, confidence and character in girls who will be the next generation of women in leadership positions in the United States and the world.

  1. What made it possible for Chavez to attend Yale University?
  2. Research: Which former U.S. President graduated from Yale about 25 years before Chavez? How many women were members of his graduating class?
  3. Besides her participation in Girl Scouts, what resources and support may have helped Anna Maria Chavez develop her talents and abilities?
  4. In addition to having a challenging career, Chavez is also a wife and mother. What are some pieces of advice you think she might give her son?
  5. Write a paragraph agreeing or disagreeing with this statement: “This generation of young women has equal opportunities with young men to become the next generation of leaders in the United States and the world.” Support your position with facts.