A Powerful Conversation with women who have achieved ‘firsts’

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Great Dames Monday night kicked off the first of its spring Powerful Conversations series with women who have achieved “firsts.”

The event featured panelists Chief Natasha Norwood Carmine, first woman chief of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe; Margie López Waite, head of school at Aspira Academy charter school, Newark; and Alisa Morkides, founder of Brew Ha Ha and Brandywine Coffee Roasters. Moderator was Maria Hess of Wilmington College.

López Waite says she was inspired to found Las Americas ASPIRA Academy after her experience at feeling marginalized as a Latina student in a Delaware school district.

She earnedadegree from Delaware State University and went on to have a successful career at MBNA/Bank of America.

After becoming a teacher, she launched the effort to form the dual language charter school that now has a waiting list of 1,000 students.

Morkides took note of her traditional childhood as the daughter and granddaughter of DuPont employees.

The small town culture at the time called for marriage or earning a “Mrs.” In college by finding a future husband.

Morkides went on follow in her father’s footsteps in earning a chemistry degree. Her career included corporate and financial planning posts and did not find satisfaction in either field.

She found her passion during a trip to Italy after falling in love with the nation’s coffee culture.

Morkides returned to form Brew Ha Ha, which grew to 13 locations in the Delaware Valley at one point.

The number of locations shrunk a bit. However, her enterprise has been ona growth spurt of late with the opening a few years ago of Brandywine Coffee Roasters, a wholesaler and supplier as well as upgraded locations.

She told the overflow crowd at the event at Harry’s Savoy Grill in north Wilmington not to hesitate in pursuing their dreams. She went on to praise the toughness and drive of the current generation of female managers at her business and others.

Norwood Carmine moved into the post of chief of the Nanticoke Tribe more than a year ago after serving on the tribal council and feeling that a fresh approach was needed.

Norwood Carmine splits her time between her residences in Millsboro and Newark, working as a real estate paralegal. Norwood Carmine, who grew up in Sussex County, is a graduate of Goldey-Beacom College in Pike Creek.

She admitted to being hesitant, but after testing the waters decided to pursue the post. As it turned out, she had no opposition.

Norwood Carmine believes her passion for continuing the culture of the Nanticoke as well as well as an eye for detail that is required of a paralegal serve her well in the unpaid post.

The three panelists agreed that challenges remain for women in leadership roles.

For López Waite, the recent election and the specter of deportations have raised anxiety at Aspira.

In response, the school held a Unity Day on Inauguration Day. The event was successful that it will be repeated in coming years, she said. Aspira’s enrollment is 60 percent Hispanic.

López Waite sees a bright side to the current situation, noting that people are more engaged in the political affairs than ever.

She also admits that her drive to form the school was reinforced by a voice mail caller who told her in no uncertain terms to go back to where she came from. She still replays the message from time to time.

“We are living amid considerable political and policy changes that impact women, so our focus on women is more important than ever,” says Great Dames President Sharon Kelly Hake. “We’re privileged to offer this incredible opportunity to showcase and stand strong for all women who have made significant accomplishments in our communities, both locally and globally.”

Great Dames describes itself as “kindred spirits with purpose who create positive change through self-discovery, inspiration and action.” For more information or to register, visit http://www.great-dames.com/

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