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‘Women’s history should be talked about every day’: Q & A with DVCCC’s CEO, Dr. Dolly Wideman-Scott

May 3, 2024

March 26, 2024, in recognition of Women’s History Month, PCADV had the pleasure of speaking with luminary advocate and pioneer Dr. Dolly Wideman-Scott (pronouns: she/hers/her). Dr. Dolly Wideman-Scott is a visionary, community mobilizer, public speaker, and exceptional advocate. She has been the Chief Executive Officer of the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County (DVCCC) since 1996.

Dr. Dolly Wideman-Scott, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, PA (DVCCC):

Dr. Dolly Wideman-Scott

PCADV: What inspired you to join the movement?

Dolly Wideman-Scott: I was an undergraduate social work student attending Widener University, and I had the wonderful opportunity to select my internships. At the time, they had asked me what I was interested in, and I said I wanted to devote my time to women and children, so they asked me if I would want to be involved in a grassroots movement.

We are talking about 40-plus years ago, and I said sure. I was introduced to the Domestic Abuse Project (DAP) in Delaware County. I had the wonderful opportunity to do my internship with DAP, and I learned so much.

I worked with survivors through counseling, and I also did legal advocacy and public education. I had a wonderful first-time experience as an undergraduate social work student. After I graduated from Widener University, there was a position available for a counselor advocate, where I applied and was hired. I remember being excited because I wanted to devote my career to helping survivors of domestic violence and their children, and I was also interested in advocacy with legislators, the community, and the public at large, so that’s how I started.

I took on different positions, and I stayed with DAP for about 18 years. After that, the Executive Director at the time said, “Dolly, I love you so much. You’re a great advocate for women, but you have to go.” And I was like, “Oh,” I thought that I was being terminated. I asked, “What? What did I do?” I was nervous, and she said, “No, no, no. There’s a position open for the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the DVCCC. You would be perfect for the position, and I want you to think about applying. I think it’s your time.”

I had mixed emotions. I was comfortable with my role as the Assistant Director and being responsible for programs, but I said, “OK, I’ll give it a try.” I was interviewed for the position, and the next thing I knew, it was another interview and another interview then they offered me the position as the CEO and Executive Director at DVCCC in 1996. I’ve been with the organization for 27 years in Chester County. Altogether, I’ve been an advocate for about 42 years, and it’s been a wonderful journey in terms of advocacy with survivors.

PCADV: Who are some of the women in your life or that you’ve watched and studied that have inspired you to continue the work?

Dolly Wideman-Scott: I would say the first Executive Director and co-founder of PCADV, Susan Kelly-Dreiss. She was so wonderful to work with and an inspirational advocate for women’s issues. I admire her, and I learned so much from her. She took me under her wing. Whenever I raised my hand to be a part of something, Susan Kelly-Dreiss would always be so encouraging. She helped me to develop as an advocate and leader in the movement.

PCADV: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced throughout your career in terms of trying to provide services and trying to provide as much aid as possible to survivors and your community?

Dolly Wideman-Scott: Some of the challenges have been, and still include, the reality that there are not enough financial resources to meet the needs of survivors. Constantly and since the 70s, programs have constantly struggled to provide the best services with limited resources budgets, and capacity. Domestic violence programs have wonderful visions, but we’re limited in terms of making those visions a reality because the resources are not available.

In addition to that, there need to be more laws that support and benefit survivors of domestic violence and their dependent children. Everyone should know that domestic violence is a crime, and it is unacceptable, and that perpetrators need to be held accountable.

So again, we need to continue to educate our legislative body about the needs of victims and survivors and the need for laws that would provide protection. Also, we need funding so that we can continue to provide the best services possible.

PCADV: What have been some of the positive changes that you’ve seen manifested because of the work that you’ve done directly?

Dolly Wideman-Scott: A lot of positive changes. The Protection from Abuse Act has been refined over time. Again, it’s still not where we would like for it to be, but the wonderful changes have made a significant difference for survivors and advocates as we are advocating for the protections. The Violence Against Women Act has also had positive impacts. There are also more laws around safety and human trafficking. There’s more funding for transitional housing programs. 

In terms of the organization, when I arrived at DVCCC in 1996, it was solely known as a shelter program. I was determined that the organization would be recognized for being more than that. It’s so critical and valuable to the safety of survivors and children that we would have programming that would be acknowledged by the community at large, and that we would work to enhance the services that we provide and grow our housing availability. 

When I walked in the door, we had shelter counseling and legal advocacy. Today, not only do we have emergency shelter, but we have what we call our Phase IV Independent Housing Program that we built from the ground up. We now have Eighteen independent housing units with thirteen three-bedroom and one and a half baths, one two-bedroomhome, and four one-bedroom apartments.

We also have what we call outreach centers located in areas throughout Chester County. We have outreach centers in the city of Coatesville, Oxford, Kennett Square, as well as Phoenixville. We’re recognized for our partnerships with many different organizations.

With the support of PCADV, we have been a recipient of the Delta grant for the Coaching Boys into Men program, and now we received our second grant. We’re approaching six years of implementing the Coaching Boys into Men program, and in September 2023, we celebrated ten years of implementing the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP). We also have more than 39 of our police departments implementing LAP.

We have some meaningful programs for families, and we recently received a medical advocacy grant with PCADV that has enabled us to work with the medical community more. We also have a new grant from the Office of Violence Against Women that allows us to do more with youth and partner with other organizations. We can advocate around teen dating and work with specialized populations, like the youth within the LGBTQ+ community. So, we’ve grown a lot and we’re in the process of developing our strategic planning for the next three years.

Our organization is always looking to the future. We’ve accomplished a lot, and we know that we have opportunities to do more. We know that even though we’re the only domestic violence organization in Chester County, we are not alone in this movement. We need the support of the community to help identify, support, and refer survivors to our organization so that we can provide them with education, safety, support, and more.

PCADV: What are some of the societal changes that you would like to see change like from a system standpoint?

Dolly Wideman-Scott: I think that social media could play a larger role in the movement if it focused more on supporting survivors because we are exposed to a lot of violence on our phones, and it’s unhealthy. There should be more information available about healthy relationships and healthy communities and supporting each other. 

I can’t speak enough about our need for more laws that protect survivors and their children. We need laws so that individuals will be held accountable. We need more laws around custody, domestic violence, and protecting children when they are living in homes where there is domestic violence. We must look at perpetrators of violence and whether it is safe for that child to have contact with that perpetrator of abuse. There’ve been one too many cases where an individual was ordered by the court to have their abusive partner have contact with the children and unfortunately, there’ve been some fatalities around that.

PCADV: What keeps you motivated to continue this work?

Dolly Wideman-Scott: I just want every survivor of domestic violence to be safe and protected. Every day I think, “How can we do better? How can we protect survivors? How can we support families? How can we educate the community?”

Being in this movement for 40-plus years keeps me going and keeps me showing up every day for work because there’s so much I feel that I must do. 

I think about building and creating additional opportunities for families. I’m inspired by the idea that we can do more to meet survivors where they are, and we will in the future.

PCADV: What advice would you give someone in the early stages of this movement or thinking about joining the movement?

Dolly Wideman-Scott: I would encourage them to be engaged and to offer their ideas about different things. I’m always interested in hearing and learning from others about their thoughts on what we can do differently. How can we enhance the services that we are providing? I don’t have all the answers, but collectively we can come up with new ideas for them to be involved in and to roll up their sleeves and be a part of advocacy to engage in, like online advocacy letter writing and visiting other programs in the legislative body to talk about the work that we’re doing and get them excited and engage in supporting the work.

I would encourage them to follow up with PCADV and see how to get involved with the different caucuses. I encourage young folks to continue to be involved and not to be afraid to speak up because all ideals are welcomed and are important because we would not have made the strides in progress without others being engaged and also speaking up in the process.

I would encourage young folks to continue to organize. When I was an advocate in the ’70s and ’80s, we used to have marches in Harrisburg called Take Back the Night, and we would march in Harrisburg with our signs and that was so powerful. We would also gather shoestrings and throw them on the Capitol steps and chant, “We need more than shoestring budgets!” That was really powerful because of the vision and the impact. I know we are continuing with our Lobby Days; they’ve been on pause because of COVID, but now we’re back, and I would say that we need to think about doing those kinds of things and maybe having additional visual impacts. Sometimes, I look back and say, “What if we gather shoestrings again and throw them on the Capitol steps and see what happens?”

PCADV: What would you say is the most impactful way for folks to stand in solidarity with survivors?

Dolly Wideman-Scott: I would say to always let survivors know that the violence is not their fault and that they did nothing for the violence to happen to them, that they are a beautiful person, and that it is possible to work on healing from trauma. Also, to let others know about what they have been experiencing when they feel safe to do so and when they feel that they can trust another person or another group.

I would also encourage them to get engaged and speak to the legislators about issues and ask for some enhancement to the current laws so that more protections can be provided for survivors of abuse and children so that perpetrators will be held accountable and also within the laws to put some funding up that is available so that domestic violence programs can continue the work and engage others in the process. I think that that would be so valuable and important.

We thank Dr. Dolly Wideman-Scott and Domestic Violence Center of Chester County for their collaboration!