In honor of Women’s History Month, we are continuing to recognize and celebrate women through our Top Ten Most Inspiring Women Series. We’ve interviewed many amazing women and we’re excited to introduce you to the Mother/Daughter Duo, Vernita Dorsey, Director of Community Strategy at WSFS Bank, and LaVante Dorsey, Owner of LaVante N. Dorsey & Associates.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
Vernita: Wow, it’s a long story, so I’ll try to make it a little shorter because now I’ve been in banking for over 30 years. I had graduated and went off to college, and I was unable to continue due to finances, and came out with the intention that ‘oh, you know, I’ll make some money, and I’ll go back.’ Then that didn’t happen for the next four years. A friend of mine, she was working at a bank, she said ‘I think you would be really great for this, you should think about coming over here.’ So I applied, and came on at Wilmington Trust as a part-time teller, and you know worked there for a little bit. Long story short, I’ve just had some really great opportunities, and some really great people around me that have seen my work ethic, the way I do things, and would seek me out.
I’ve worked at five or six different banks, all in Delaware, and all in the Wilmington area. At one point, I went from one block in the city, to the next block, to the next block, to the next, and it was because people were seeking me out. So I wound up at WSFS in their Retails Operations Area and Compliance; I was in that for about five years before I was tapped to do what I’m doing now. I tell the president of the bank, ‘You think you have the best job in this bank, but it’s really my job that’s the best job because I get to help people.’
“She’s downplaying her outrageous work ethic and her leadership. She’s on boards, she’s on committees, she does everything for our church. I don’t know how she does it.”
Tell us the real story. What did you do that helped you to be successful?
LaVante: I’ll do it. She’s downplaying her outrageous work ethic and her leadership. This is a woman, I still don’t understand that sometimes, who gets up early in the morning and works, and then she’s still working in the evening time. She gets so focused on her projects and making sure each step is executed properly, and I’ve seen it. She’s mentioned the banks, but she’s on boards, she’s on committees, she does everything for our church. I don’t know how she does it. Some people will just be like, this is too much. No, she’s like, come on bring them aboard. So, she’s downplaying, but those are those fun little keys to details that she pays attention to and has instilled in myself and in my brother.
Tell us a little about your business and the work you do.
LaVante: We are a mental health practice located in Newark, Delaware, but once the pandemic hit, we switched to telehealth. We have a team of eight therapists, all African American women, and we serve women, men, youth, and children here in Delaware. Whether it be they’re stressed about their schoolwork, or they’re having trouble on the job, or just managing life in a pandemic where you have so many hats and roles you’re trying to manage. We have seen the need for mental health assistance increase, and that people are having higher levels of stress, depression, with the job losses. Our practice, we’re just one call away. We accept local insurance, and we get calls each day for those saying ‘I’m not okay, and I need help.’ We have one-on-one therapy sessions, and groups to serve the community.
“The goal of my brand is to get [the African American community] to see that you can see a therapist that is the same color as you and that it is okay to go to someone for assistance.”
Do you think that mental health affects communities differently?
LaVante: Absolutely. Typically you’ll see African American communities say ‘what happens in my house stays in my house; I’m not telling anyone my business.’ Or ‘I can just suck it up or talk to my friends about the problem.’ We, especially in the marketing that we do, we work to kind of poke fun at those, but get you to see your friend isn’t your therapist, and that therapists have clinical skills and expertise to help you through situations. Your friends are going to get tired of hearing your story, but your therapist will keep processing it through with you. So definitely in the African American community, we see that stigma is stronger because we’re used to handling it on our own and keeping it inside, but we’re seeing an increase in those especially. That’s the goal of my brand, to get them to see that you can see a therapist that is the same color as you, as well as it is okay to go to someone for assistance.
What change do you want to see in the world and how are you aiding that cause?
LaVante: As we all know, this last year and a half, two years have been very hectic for our mental health, for our mind, we don’t know whether we are coming or going. So of course, just working to reduce the stigma associated with receiving mental health assistance and really letting people know if you’re not feeling okay, it’s okay. But there are people out there, therapists who are trained to assist you to just feel better overall. So definitely my work is towards reducing the mental health stigma, and assisting others, and getting them the mental health help that they need.
Vernita: I think, like many people would say today, it would be nice if we could see the world change in terms of racial perspective. If everyone could really be treated equally, and to that, and I am serving on the United Way of Delaware’s racial justice collaborative to work on a number of ways that, you know, the world needs to change. Be it on the wealth for everyone, treat everyone the same in terms of the criminal justice system, there’s just so many ways that people of color have not been given the same opportunities in some cases that others have. So it would be really good if that could change. My overall perspective is, I think, if everybody could just love everybody, then that would probably solve most of this.
What is the most rewarding thing about what you do for your career or volunteer work?
LaVante: The impact and the joy you can see in people. From the therapeutic side it’s, I came in feeling one way at my lowest point, I didn’t even see the light that this could even get better. And then, we look back after a few sessions and I’m like, well where did that person go? We chuckle about it and they can see like, I had the strength in me all along; I just needed that extra help to help me process. So being able to see the transformations that people can make, as well as just in working with youth, just seeing their young minds at work, and when you challenge them, them rising to the occasion and accomplishing is super fun for me.
Vernita: I mean, just the reward in seeing how either monetarily or with service, you know, what you are doing is really impacting people. You know, a lot of times we take for granted things because you have a job, and you may have a car, and you may have a nice home, and all of those things, but there are a lot of people out there that don’t have those things, and can’t see their way out of it. So to be able to give, and it doesn’t even have to be a whole lot of money all the time, it can be a small grant to an organization that really helps them to keep moving and to keep helping other people, and just to see this, how it can change the community. We gave our largest grant ever to a group over in Riverside, Reach Riverside, and this project, when it comes to fruition, and I say when it does because I truly believe that it will. They’re touching on a lot of different areas, they’re dealing with housing, they’re dealing with crime, they’re dealing with food, you know, taking care of young people and our elderly. So it’s going to change a whole section of the city. And I mean, that is important, just to be a part of that really is so wonderful to be able to look back once this is completed and say ‘well I had a little drop of sand in that, and it worked.’ It’s rewarding for me. So I want to be able to say, I want people to say when I’m gone, you know, she had some impact, and she was able to do something to change, make a change.
“Life’s too short. Don’t second guess yourself, have confidence that you can do anything.”
What is the most important business or personal discovery you’ve made?
LaVante: It’s about finding a healthy balance. I can really go into turbo super go mode, but you still have to live life and have fun. So you can still give and pour in, but you also have to look at yourself, be in tune with what you’re feeling, and definitely do self-care.
Vernita: Life’s too short. Don’t second guess yourself, have confidence that you can do anything. One of my fears early on when I mentioned, my girlfriend said ‘I think you should come and do this,’ you know, my fear was I don’t know how to do that. Pastor Lottie Lee Davis was one of my best friends, and Sarah, my best friends, sat me down and said ‘look, you put your pants on the same way everybody else does. Stop not having confidence in yourself, you can learn anything, and you know, do what these people are doing.’ So, you’ve got to go for it, you got to take a chance. Take a chance on yourself, have confidence in yourself, put in the work that it takes to do because otherwise you do get to live your dream.
“Being successful is enjoying what you do, being able to be honest with people to do the right thing… and making an impact on somebody else’s lives besides your own.”
How do you define success?
LaVante: Success has so many layers to it, and I’ve always conceptualized it as in this lifetime, you’re going to have endless success. It’s just going to keep going. So I guess that is how I define it, I don’t put kind of an ending point on it. I say, in this life, you’re going to keep achieving, you’re going to keep reaching goals. Every morning on Facebook Live at 7am, I come together and kind of broadcast to the people, I call it the Purpose Experience, and we just encourage people to reach your goals and go full out. So I would say it’s endless success, that’s how I would say it.
Vernita: This was a tough one because, you know, everybody wants to think that they’re successful at something. I think I’ll go back, my mom raised me to be humble and not to, you know, let your head get big. She would always say ‘just because you were able to do something,’ and that has followed me through my career and my life in general. I think being successful is enjoying what you do, being able to be honest with people to do the right thing, even when it’s the hard thing to do, to have to make an impact on somebody else’s lives besides your own. Because, we often do a lot for ourselves, but not a lot for others.
“Girl, don’t be afraid, bring forth that confidence. Don’t second guess yourself.”
If you could go back and share some wisdom or guidance with your younger self, what would it be?
Vernita: Don’t waste time on the small stuff. We get caught up in the day-to-day, and you know, things that seem really important when you need it. At the end of the day, most of it’s really not that important. You know, just try to deal with things that you can deal with. I learned a couple of years ago, I was complaining about some issue that was going on and they said ‘so what is it that you can do about that?’ And I said, well there’s not a whole lot I’m able to do, and they said ‘so why are you continuing to worry about that?’ Focus on what you can do, and let the rest of that go. I would say self-care is important. Enjoy the people, enjoy your family, enjoy all of those around you who love you, and just travel as much as you can.
LaVante: I would say, girl, don’t be afraid, bring forth that confidence. Don’t second guess yourself. There’s a lot more me and her would talk about, but definitely to not allow fear to stop you from doing the things that you think you can do. Because I found that once I get over that hump and do it, it’s pretty amazing.
How would you encourage someone who is feeling stigmatized to go to therapy?
LaVante: Well, we’ve had this happen actually. We’ve actually heard it from people where they say ‘well my cousin said I don’t need to go to no therapist,’ like okay, you’re struggling a lot. And we just say, you know, you’ve tried all these years to do it your way and to just rely on family support, and it hasn’t yielded the results that you want. So at least, just give us three or four sessions, just give it a try. The amazing part is, some of my people in my community and network are able to utilize our services, and they give us reviews and say ‘you know what, LaVante? I was kicking and fighting coming in, but boy has it really made a difference.’ That excites me every chance I get to hear that.
Learn more about LaVante’s work at www.lavantedorsey.com or connect with her on social media:
Connect with Vernita on LinkedIn @dorsey-vernita-05ab2934.
OR follow in these ladies’ footsteps by donating to the Coleman Memorial United Methodist Church (which is still recovering from the impact of a fire in 2020) at colemanmemorialumc.com or getting involved with Girl’s Academy, which promotes mental health for girls age 14-19 at www.lavantedorsey.com/events.
Connect with Vernita on LinkedIn @dorsey-vernita-05ab2934 or follow in these ladies footsteps by donating to the Coleman Memorial United Methodist Church (which is still recovering from the impact of a fire in 2020) at colemanmemorialumc.com or getting involved with Girl’s Academy, which promotes mental health for girls age 14-19 at www.lavantedorsey.com/events.
Why LaVante & Vernita Dorsey Are On this List
“We fell in love with LaVante and Vernita as individual applicants. We didn’t want to reduce either inspiring woman’s spotlight BUT were secretly delighted when they asked to interview together. Learning how they inspired and influenced each other added a whole extra dimension to their interview and the many accomplishments of each.”
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