SAN DIEGO -- Anna Maria Chávez took over as the country’s chief Girl Scout last November. She's the first Latina to head the 3.2 million member organization.
Chávez grew up in the tiny town of Eloy, Ariz., between Phoenix and Tucson. And, of course, she was in a troop.
“I went away for the first time to go camping without my family. That was a huge thing," she recalled during a recent visit to San Diego. "And since that point it really charged me up to think about boundaries outside of Eloy.”
Chávez went to law school and later worked in the administration of former Arizona governor, Janet Napolitano, now U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.
Chávez said Girl Scouts of the USA is making a major effort to stay relevant to an increasingly diverse population of girls and their parents. They can still go camping, if they want, but the options for activities and learning have greatly diversified as girls have changed, she said.
“You know, nowadays girls are into technology. They’re figuring out how to be global citizens. They’re wondering how can they start their business at 10 years old,” she said.
Faced with lagging membership, the organization has also made a major effort to recruit more Latina girls and get their parents to volunteer.
Enrollment of Latinas has increased by more than 50 percent over the past decade. They now make up 12 percent of all Girl Scouts.
The goal, Chávez said, goes well beyond earning badges and learning the finer points of sidewalk bake sales.
“People when they hear 'Girl Scouts' the name, they smile, and sometimes think crafts, camping and cookies. But really it is the premiere leadership organization for girls in this country, if not this world,” she said.
The organization recently launched a campaign, dubbed "To Get Her There," to encourage community leaders, schools and governments to promote leadership among girls. Chávez said surveys have shown that only a small percentage of girls are interested in occupying leadership rolls.