Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts CEO: 'I'm living the American dream'

March 12, 2013 at 10:31 AM ET

It’s that time of year: Girl Scout cookie season, when those boxes of Thin Mints and Samoas start arriving. But the Girl Scouts are about much more than cookies, as the story behind Anna Maria Chávez, the organization’s first Latina CEO, demonstrates.

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Natalie in her Girl Scout days.

 Chávez sat down with TODAY’s Natalie Morales, herself a former Girl Scout, to mark the last day of the Girl Scouts of America’s year-long centennial celebration.

 The Girl Scouts have long been about including and empowering young women from all walks of life, Chávez said, noting that founder Juliette Gordon Low went out on a limb, discussing “girl issues” before women even got the right to vote.

 Take Chávez’s own story: As the daughter of a Mexican migrant worker, she couldn’t even afford the Girl Scouts uniform, but immediately felt welcome in the organization. She soon learned self-confidence — and hope.

Growing up, people would check boxes like “girl of color” next to her name, she said. “But Girl Scouts never put me in a ‘context.’ You know, they just allowed me to be a girl, to be part of a troop with other girls. And we just dreamed big.”

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Natalie's Girl Scout activities sometimes called for costumes.

 Chávez went on to Yale, then law school. She spent a long stretch of her career in public service before her current role with the Girl Scouts.  “I’m living the American dream,” she said, adding that she hoped that any girl can watch her and hear her story and know anything is possible.

 The Girl Scouts currently have members in every ZIP code in America and in more than 90 countries around the world. Their countless esteemed alumni include three secretaries of state, fashion designer Vera Wang, and CEOs such as Ellen Kullman of DuPont.

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Natalie in her scouting days, perhaps preparing for a career before the camera.

 Just as the Girl Scouts have always been about breaking barriers, today’s troops are learning about science, technology, engineering and math. And those cookies go a long way in helping the mission: The girls raise nearly $800 million selling them, then reinvest the money into community service projects or local scout camps.    

 After all, even after 100 years, it still doesn't take a lot to join the Girl Scouts. “It's $12, you know? I think about that all the time,” Chávez says. “It's three loaves of bread or two lattes.”

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