Iowa Alumni Magazine | October 2006 | People

Scout's Honor: Norma Barquet

By Shelbi Thomas
Think of Girl Scouts, and Thin Mints come to mind, right? Norma Barquet wants you to try again.

Norma Barquet Photo: Elaine Lok/Detroit Free Press
As executive vice president of the Girl Scouts, Norma Barquet enjoys bringing people from different backgrounds together to work as a team.

When Barquet was named executive vice president of the Girl Scouts of the USA in July, her family and friends' first thoughts were of the popular chocolate wafers, too. But, it's the mission, not the cookies, that Barquet, 78MA, hopes will draw attention to the organization.

The Girl Scouts now boast 10 million members in 145 countries, but their purpose remains the same as it was in 1912—to develop character, confidence, and courage in girls. While that mission is as important as ever, the Girl Scouts' image has grown outdated. In today's world, Barquet finds older girls reluctant to share their affiliation with the group. "We need to make it so relevant and cool that they'll be proud to say they're Girl Scouts," she says.

To help bring new life to the organization, Barquet has refocused the Girl Scouts' volunteer and membership recruitment efforts. The group will reach out more to minorities (particularly the rising Hispanic population), emphasize leadership development, and offer more opportunities for women to volunteer for the organization.

As a former educator in the Detroit public schools and at the University of Michigan, Barquet has been giving children a voice for more than three decades. In fact, Barquet's work with diverse populations is what drew the Girl Scouts to her in the first place. Six years ago, the group invited her to join its national board of directors. Though she'd never been a Girl Scout herself (she didn't have the opportunity growing up in Cuba), Barquet agreed, because the organization's mission matched what she's always stood for.

"Popular culture places such stresses on girls and gives them negative images of themselves and the world," she says. "Girls need a place where they can be safe, develop friendships and skills, and have fun."