Erica Cardenas

Lawyer creates lasting legacy

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Anna Maria Chavez

At eight, the small girl from Eloy set her sight and vision on becoming an attorney. Somehow, this petite Mexican-American child knew, without a doubt, that helping others was her calling. However, what she didn’t know then, was that desire to help others would also one day serve as her driving passion.

For Anna Maria Chávez, that childhood dream continues to create her legacy.

Currently serving as the Governor Janet Napolitano’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Urban Relations and Community Development, Chávez’s role extends beyond her fulfilled dream of becoming a lawyer.

The first Latina in the state’s history to serve in this role, she is instrumental in promoting the Governor’s program, initiatives and policies on a local and state level. This includes overseeing the Governor’s staff in addressing the needs of the state’s senior population, as well as providing oversight for the Governor’s faith-based and community initiatives.

But her responsibilities don’t stop there.

Chávez also serves as the Governor’s policy advisor to the Arizona Department of Housing, and is instrumental in developing strategies for coordinating housing and economic development.

Chávez says she couldn’t feel more fulfilled.

“I actually requested the particular areas within my role because I’m so passionate about them,” she says. “Seniors are the second fastest growing market in the state…In the housing sector, providing homes so that our teachers, firefighters and policemen can actually work in the communities they live is key…And as a public servant, there are great opportunities to work in the community and build this department within Maricopa County and statewide.”

With education considered a priority within her family, she says she’s fortunate her family always supported her education and advancement.

“Coming from a small, poor town, the perception of advancement wasn’t necessarily there,” she says. “But my family allowed me to see that there were other paths available.”

Chávez would eventually seek out those paths after moving to Phoenix during junior high. In fact, the educational foundation she earned would be vital to her professional and personal successes.

She holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Arizona  College of Law and a bachelor’s degree in American History from Yale University. Although Chávez agrees that along the way there have been barriers, she is optimistic in her outlook.

“I feel very blessed to be where I’m at today. I feel even more lucky to be serving as a team captain to such a wonderful team of staff.”

Whether it is facilitating ways to address the growing problem of housing affordability or it is advising the Governor on issues impacting the Latino community, Chávez stays true to her calling.

Prior to her current appointment, she also served as the Governor’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs from 2003-2007. She has been in-house counsel and assistant director for the Division of Aging and Community Services at the Arizona Department of Economic Security and oversaw the state’s adult services programs, which included Adult Protective Services.

Chávez was an advisor to senior U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and White House officials on a variety of policy issues, including civil rights, affirmative action and minority and small business development.

Yet despite titles and responsibilities, she says she is humbled by it all.

“I consider myself not to be a gatekeeper, but as opening the doors for others,” she says.

And as far as serving as a role model and leader to today’s youth, Chávez shares words of wisdom that were once shared with her:

“Focus on what you’re doing this day, this hour and give it 110 percent. Even if you’re the last on the totem pole, others will notice and you will make a difference.”

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