Maria-Elena Ochoa, MBA

Girl Scouting

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March is National Women’s History Month. In our state, a number of organizations celebrate women who have made a historical impact, such as the Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail and the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame. The women honored have paved the way for all of us.

Some of these women are still with us today. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the first female member of the U.S. Supreme Court. We’ve had four women governors: Rose Mofford, the first woman to serve as governor of Arizona; Jane Dee Hull, the first woman to be elected governor of Arizona; Gov. Janet Napolitano, and Gov. Janice K. Brewer. During Gov. Hull’s administration from 1998 to 2002 and for the first time in U.S. history, the state’s top five government positions were held by women: Gov. Jane Hull, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, Treasurer Carol Springer, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Keegan.

As a member of the board of directors for Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council (GSACPC), I discovered that all five women either are or were involved in Girl Scouts.

Looking through my new Girl Scouts “lens,” I now wonder who else in our state’s history was in Girl Scouts. I have since found out that one of the women being celebrated in the Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail, Plácida García Smith, was on the board of Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council in the 1960s. This celebration of women is my point.

Tamara Woodbury, CEO of Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, is not surprised that many influential Arizona women have been Girl Scouts. She is very cognizant of the correlation between Girl Scout leadership development and women making history.  After all, the organization’s mission is “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.” Building leadership is the core of the Girl Scout program. Tamara and the council embrace The Girl Effect, “where change starts with a girl – invest in her and the world will change.” With eyes wide open, Tamara and the council’s board, which includes five Latinos/as, have made a commitment to embrace Latinas as the new wave of Girl Scouts in Arizona. The council is so committed to this cause they have established an advisory group. They are the council’s “Latina Circle of Influence.”

When I add my Latina lens to my Girl Scout lens, I now see that many Latina Girl Scouts have been making history in Arizona and nationwide. Just to name a few:  Linda Mazon Gutierrez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Women’s Corporation, influences Girl Scout policy through her work as secretary of the Girl Scout National Board. Anna Maria Chavez, former policy advisor to then Gov. Napolitano, is the new CEO of Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas based in San Antonio. Anna Maria has made history by being among the first Latina Girl Scout CEOs in the country. Eunice DeDios, recently retired deputy director from the Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, was interim CEO before Tamara came on board. Olga Aros, president of Ora y Dia Management Group, co-founder of Mujer Inc. as well as the Hispanic Women’s Corporation, whose efforts are paving the way for Latinos, has added to Arizona’s legacy of Girl Scouts, with her history-making work on the Latina Circle of Influence. Grace Salinas, vice president of the Marcos de Niza Tenant Council, co-leads three Girl Scout troops – approximately 70 girls (80 percent Latinas). With her guidance, they are developing an all-important component of leadership: self-awareness. Last but not least, Gabriela Marie Guerra, at age 18, was the recipient of the 2009 Girl Scouts Young Women of Distinction World of Humanity Award for her volunteerism serving homeless adults and children. This year she has already been recognized by the Arizona League to End Regional Trafficking, a program of the International Rescue Committee, for her international work through the Girl Scouts to end human trafficking. This extraordinary young woman has only begun to leave her mark.

The women of Arizona’s history are truly inspiring. To learn more, I encourage you to visit the websites for the Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail, the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame, the Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, and The Girl Effect. I anticipate Latinas will continue to make history and shape our state’s future. Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council is a powerful vehicle for this trajectory, and that simply makes my heart soar with pride and hope.

Yuma native Maria-Elena Ochoa is the director of the Division for Women in the Governor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families (GOCYF). She is also board chair of the Mountain Park Health Center; executive vice president of the Phoenix Chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs; board member-at-large and committee member of the Latina Circle of Influence for the Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council; vice chair, Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail; executive committee, Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame, and diversity committee chair, Arizona Council for Human Service Providers.

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