Hispanic Austin Leadership Alumni Q&A: Sierra Fernandes

Sierra Fernandes, Director of Product Programs at the Girl Scouts of Central Texas and HAL Alumna of 2019, shares about the Girl Scouts’ pivot on cookie operations, how staff continues to support young girls in the program, as well as her cookie recommendations in an interview facilitated by Kathie Rojas, GAHCC Communications & Events Coordinator. This is part of a new series highlighting Hispanic Austin Leadership Alumni.

Kathie Rojas: Can you tell me a little bit more about any pivot to operations that the Girl Scouts have had to do, especially around planning for the start of cookie season?

Sierra Fernandes: So for us, the challenge is that we are having our cookie season launch in January, so we are having to plan things months in advance that might completely change come January and February, but we are really looking at pushing our online versions of the sale. Girls have been selling online for the last few years where they send links to their customers, so we are really pushing that this year, and then a new feature that we have is that customers can pay online and girls can go and do a curbside doorside delivery to them. So those are some of the ideas that we are pivoting to, and we are also doing drive through cookie booths so that customers can purchase drive thru cookies in case we don’t have that retail space. So we are looking at all different avenues so girls can still participate in the program safely. 


KR: Could you tell us about your growth in your organization? What do you enjoy most about your role?

SF: I have been with girls scouts now for about 9 and a half years. The entire time I have been with the cookie in the fall program. I started as a product program associate then moved to Product Program Manager and now I have been the Director for the past 3 years. I have definitely grown within that department. We have seen so many changes to our cookie program. We have seen more participation and more cookie boxes being sold, which is great. My favorite part about working with the organization is the entrepreneurship skills that we are teaching girls. When a girl is at a cookie booth, she has a safe environment to open up and pitch her cookie sale, and one of my favorite stories is that we have a girl who has been an 1,000+ seller for the past few years. She is extremely shy and extremely terrified of any spotlight but her mom said that when she is at a cookie booth, she opens up and she sells and reaches her goal of over 1,000 each year. That to me just shows how important the cookie program is to help girls build those skills and feel safe and comfortable to put themselves out there. 


KR: How is the staff at GSCTX still harvesting those connections with the girls?

SF: We have had to shift everything virtual so we are definitely still offering our program, but just in a virtual setting and then a lot of our programs have moved to virtual. They are open to members and nonmembers, so we have done just a huge pivot to  still offer our program but just in a safe environment for girls.


KR: How do you feel the organization continues to advocate for young women throughout the pandemic?

SF: We have had to move virtually, so we are really trying to keep that routine and familiarity for girls and letting them know that we are still here and we are still available to them. We are teaching girls this new side of resilience and critical thinking to really think through different ways to do things that they used to do in the past with that in person interaction. We are really still trying to give girls what they need in a virtual setting. 


KR: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about GSCTX? 

SF: As an organization we are continuing to grow. Now more than ever we are seeing our girls get involved in the community. We are having girls make masks, not only sewing masks, but 3D printings of masks, we are having girls get donations for essential workers, writing thank you letters--getting more civilly involved with this being an election year. We are seeing more girls involved in our civic patches that we offer. So we are definitely still here for girls and giving them opportunities to expand in whatever way they feel comfortable. 


KR: So this question is really important-- what are your top three girl scout flavored cookies?

SF: I’ll give you two answers. One being the top favorites among everyone which would be of course thin mints caramel delights, and peanut butter patties.

My personal ranking would be peanut butter patties-- because who doesn't like chocolate and peanut butter, caramel delights and shortbread because they are a great cookie to eat with coffee or tea. And we do have a new cookie this year so I am excited to see how that will do. It’s called Toasty-A. It's a french toast inspired cookie. So I am excited to see how that will do.

KR: You were part of the HAL class of 2019. Can you share a story of the impact HAL had on you?

SF: My team did the civic engagement project, and our project used civic ambassadors. They met with high school students and taught them about the importance of their local, county, city state government and why they should get involved. Working with those students just put in impact in that they were so open to learning--some of them even said that that was the most they learned about civic engagement compared to their schooling and just hearing that, and also finding that they might want to work as a public servant, and looking at ‘I never thought I could have a career doing this’ was definitely a great impact knowing that HAL in the community project gave them this opportunity that they would never think about.

KR: What would you say to someone who is considering joining HAL?

SF: I would say first and foremost do it. Apply. I think a lot of people when they see leadership programs, especially programs like HAL that have a community project involved, their first thought is I don’t have the time-- this is out of my comfort zone. I truly find that you find growth in discomfort. I would say if you are on the fence, just do it. There is a network of people that you can talk to and get more feedback on HAL. HAL has not only opened up my network, but even what I consider to be my family network. I am still really close to my team members and some of my class members. So, that alone is amazing. 

I appreciate all the work the Chamber does. I am so glad to be able to be part of the chamber, and I look forward to when we can do in person things. 

Learn more about the Girl Scouts of Central Texas