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‘People need to see leaders who look like they do’: Q & A with the DVCCC’s Dr. Dolly Wideman-Scott

February 27, 2020 Category: ColumnFeaturedLongPeopleQ&A


Correction: The Lethality Assessment Program was misspelled when this column was originally published. (03/03/20 at 3 a.m.)
Dr. Dolly Wideman-Scott, the chief executive officer of the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County (DVCCC), has held that position since 1996, but she has been involved with issues surrounding domestic violence for a lot longer.

“’I’ve been in this movement for 40 years,” Dolly said. “As an undergraduate student at Widener University, I participated in an internship with a grassroots nonprofit focused on women affected by domestic abuse. The experiences I had during that time turned into a lifelong passion for helping victims and survivors.”

I had the opportunity to speak with Dolly after leading a workshop for her organization’s board. She spoke candidly about her work with DVCCC, as well as the challenges and opportunities she has experienced as a nonprofit leader of color.

Krys: Think back to when you were 10 years old. What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you ever imagine you’d be doing the work you do now?

Dolly: Well, I always knew I wanted to help people in some way. When I was small, I thought I’d like to be a teacher. When I entered college, I was a nursing major, but I found I wasn’t all that keen on the science that was involved. Social work allowed me to help people in a different way; one which better fit my personality and passion.

Krys: You’ve been at DVCCC for nearly 25 years. How did you first become involved in the organization?

Dolly: After my internship, I ended up working at the Domestic Abuse Project in Delaware County for 16 years. Once day, my boss approached me and said, “Dolly, you’ve done an outstanding job, but your time is up here.” I admit that I panicked a bit, thinking I was about to be fired. But instead, she suggested that I apply for the CEO position at DVCCC, and I’ve been here ever since.

Krys: What have been your biggest challenges and successes during your time at DVCCC?

Dolly: When I got here, it was definitely a grassroots organization. We had a very limited budget of $300,000, and our single physical location — which served as both office and emergency shelter — was in bad shape. I also quickly recognized that the surrounding community only knew us as a shelter.

Domestic violence 24-hour, toll-free hotline: (1) 888-711-6270. Or text 911 within Chester County.

From our Partners

Over the last couple of decades, with the help of an amazing team of staff and board, I’ve educated the community about what else we do, expanded our services, participated in political advocacy to impact laws affecting domestic abuse victims, increased our budget to $2 million, completed extensive renovations to our main building, and created six outreach sites to serve the widespread area that is Chester County. Through statewide committee work and other advocacy efforts, DVCCC has also helped to pass more laws protecting victims.

Board and staff of DVCCC receiving a proclamation from the Chester County Commissioners during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, October 2019. (Courtesy photo)

Krys: That’s a lot! Is there anything in particular of which you are most proud?

Dolly: Two things come to mind: the Lethality Assessment Program, where we train law enforcement officers how to identify victims of domestic violence, and our Public Education Initiatives, which have made the community more aware of the impact of domestic violence.

The more we can make people aware of the resources we have, the more we can help individuals who may need us. We also have a 24-hour, toll-free hotline — (1) 888-711-6270. If people are not in a position where they can call, they can also text 911 within Chester County.

Krys: I’d like to move from specific questions about your work to a question about the sector as a whole.

Some recent statistics indicate that only seven percent of nonprofit executives and 18 percent of nonprofit employees are people of color, despite the fact that over 60 percent of nonprofits serve a majority of people of color. There seems to be a significant disconnect in the sector in terms of leadership representing those we serve and being representative of the makeup of our country as a whole.

As a nonprofit leader of color, do you think that representation matters?

Dolly: Oh, absolutely. If more people of color would embrace working for nonprofit organizations, as well as aspiring to leadership positions, then our young people could see examples of how they can do anything that inspires their passion. I think that people need to see leaders who look like they do.

I’ve also been blessed with a very diverse staff, and I’ve seen that it makes clients more comfortable when coming to us at the most vulnerable points in their lives — that they see staff members who they think can more easily relate to them. I think staff members also benefit from working with a diverse set of colleagues. It adds an element of cultural competency to what we do.

Krys: One final question — what’s your superpower?

Inspiration at DVCCC.

Dolly: Oh, that’s a hard one. I think I’m going to go with hope. I am so inspired by the survivors we work with, by their courage and their strength.

Doing this work lets me know that there is a way out of every situation, and our survivors often want to give back to help others in similar situations. They provide hope to others, and they also inspire hope in me to pass on.

This work is genuinely rewarding, and it can make a difference to so many lives. It is truly my life’s passion.

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