Three Inspiring Women ~ Being First and Breaking Barriers

Three remarkable Delaware women — a business owner, an educator and an Indian chief — were invited to speak to guests of the Great Dames last week about their inspirations and paths to success. Each of the women is notable for having achieved “firsts” in their fields, which was the theme of the evening at the Great Dames Powerful Conversation Series event.

Alisa Morkides, founder of Brew HaHa! and Brandywine Coffee Roasters, was one of the three panelists on March 20th at the reception at Harry’s Savoy Grill in North Wilmington. Margie López Waite is the founder and head of school at Delaware’s first dual language immersion school ASPIRA Academy charter in Newark. And Chief Natasha Norwood Carmine is first woman chief of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe.   

Morkides turns away from Chemistry career to follow coffee passion

Morkides, who has recently reinvented the Delaware coffee scene with several attractive store renovations and expanded menu offerings, always thought she wanted to do something entrepreneurial. But growing up in Wilmington she first took the more predictable path of earning a Chemistry degree and landing jobs at some of the major employers in town. “I had big dreams when I was little. I dreamed about opening my own store and living above it. I was very entrepreneurial as a kid. But I grew up in a company town (DuPont), and essentially put aside that spirit. It took many many years to get out of that mindset. Once I took that path I started realizing small successes — and not everything was a success.”

Morkides said her failures were just as important as her successes because they allowed her to learn, grow and fine tune her business. “It’s crazy how you can bounce back when you fail,” she said.

On being the first and only woman to own a multi-store coffee franchise in Delaware, Morkides said it was her passion to develop and sell a terrific cup of coffee and her ability to stick to her commitment toward excellence year after year that has helped make her business venture a successful one and a Delaware retail favorite.

Morkides’ advice to those with some entrepreneurial spirit: “Find that thing that gives you joy that you do well — be cautiously optimistic, but live your life! Even if it seems risky, make sure you have the talent and the passion. I’ve been at it 25 years and I am not bored!” And Morkides said she will always hire the strongest person for the job. “Women today are more confrontational, assertive and tough. I admire the women of this upcoming generation. They rule!”

Dual language immersion school founder draws from personal experience

López Waite suffered more than a few “bumps along the way” along her circuitous path to becoming head of a school. When her family moved to Dover from New York, López Waite as a child and student felt isolated by her community. “We were labeled migrant workers and assigned to special education programs,” she said.  

That experience proved to be the defining one in her life. For while López Waite enjoyed 16 years of a successful career at MBNA, she always felt the pull to return to education and to “fix” what was wrong with her experience as a bi-lingual student in the Delaware school system. She repeatedly told the Great Dames audience that they should look at problems as opportunities and encouraged them to take calculated risks.

“My experience in education was so negative that it inspired me to get into education,” said López Waite. “You can’t control what happens to you but you can control how you react. My advice is to always turn a negative into a positive.”

With a starting enrollment of 300 students and just one month before López Waite was set to open Las Americas ASPIRA Academy in August, 2010, the property owners rescinded on the deal, causing López Waite to have to postpone opening the school for a year. But she remained determine to realize her goal of opening Delaware’s first dual language immersion school. 

“To me it’s not important about being the first. I just wanted to break barriers,” said López Waite. 

Now in its seventh year, ASPIRA Academy boasts a waiting list of over 1,000 students. While that may sound impressive, that actually is cause for concern to López Waite, who wishes she would do more to serve Spanish-speaking children throughout the state. “To me it goes back to being isolated as a Hispanic in Delaware.”

Delaware’s first female indian chief follows life’s journey

Natasha Norwood Carmine became Chief of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe about a year ago when she decided that the Tribe needed some fresh ideas and new leadership. She says she didn’t really consider the significance of her being the first woman to serve in that role. She said her personal drive to be involved (she served on the Tribal Council), her attention to detail, and her ability to assert herself lead her to apply for the Tribe’s top post. 

“A lot of my comments tonight are about this journey and the path I have followed. A lot of the part of being a Native American Indian is following a path and participating in the circle of life — being care takers,” said Carmine, who resides in Newark and Millsboro. When not leading her Tribe, Carmine, a graduate of Goldey-Beacom College, works as a paralegal, a career she has enjoyed for several years. 

Her advice to the women in attendance was to not wait for opportunities but rather to act when they feel the tug of inspiration. “I have learned a lot. There’s a self determination and a self esteem that you have to have. You set the goal of where you want to be in life. If you have the passion and a goal you will succeed.”

Great Dames’ Powerful Conversation Series continues on April 24th with a peer mentoring event and speakers who will address role models and life mentors. The public is invited to attend and may register on their website.

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About the Contributor

Christy Fleming

Christy Fleming

The managing editor of TownSquareDelaware.com, Christy Fleming also supports a variety of non-profit initiatives in Delaware. Her background includes positions in public relations, advertising and journalism.

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