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Women's Leadership Speaker Series 2013

Advance through change by leading with resilience

Nov. 21, 2013 — Linda Berardi remembers the date: Sept. 3, 2010.

She was fired from her job of more than 20 years at a behavioral health organization.

Linda Berardi

Her first thought was a fearful “What will I do?”

Her second thought was a hopeful “What will I do?” Today Berardi, with more than 25 years experience in leadership development and organizational consulting, is founder and principal of Willow Oak HR Consulting.

“I found light. I found hope. And I found my next gig,” said Berardi, delivering her talk “Advancing through Change: Leading with Resilience” as part of the Women’s Leadership Speaker Series.

Berardi stressed the importance of developing resilience in response to life’s stressors. Doing so requires the ability to treasure what’s important, and for Berardi, that didn’t mean valuing her education or certifications.

“It was how I connected with the people I work with,” she said. “What are your gems in the rubble? We all have them.”

Berardi centered her talk on appreciative inquiry, which focuses on an organization’s strengths rather than problems in order to develop solutions. TCC President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani has embraced that same philosophy in developing a strategic leadership plan for the college.

“Instead of identifying problems, why not amplify success?” Berardi asked.

The strategy calls for investing in resources to make success inevitable and discovering within yourself what makes you thrive. Berardi outlined the following steps:

Discover or appreciate the best of what is
Dream or imagine what could be
Design or determine what should be
Destiny or create what will be

From left, Amy Beldon, Alex Hilborn, Melody Agbisit, Wendy Webb, Melvilyn Scott, Jeanne Natali, Linda Berardi and Laura Soulsby.

From left, Amy Beldon, Alex Hilborn, Melody Agbisit, Wendy Webb, Melvilyn Scott, Jeanne Natali, Linda Berardi and Laura Soulsby.

Appreciative inquiry is an ongoing process, Berardi said, meaning making time for “appreciative check-ins,” sharing stories of success in the face of change and collaborating with others to seize the opportunity to innovate.   



Elizabeth Veliz encourages students to pay it forward

Oct. 22, 2013 — This year’s Women’s Leadership Speaker Series is a call to “Advance,” and Elizabeth Veliz, owner of Adelante HR Consulting, gave a call to action for students. “While you may face obstacles, do whatever it takes to keep moving forward. Never take the easy way out, and when someone helps you, pay it forward,” she said. “It’s time to create the good ’ole girls network and work together. And it can start right now.”

Growing up in the projects in Union City, N.J., Veliz was no stranger to violence, drugs and life on the streets. “My parents came to America from Cuba with nothing, so we ended up living in pretty poor conditions. My father got work in a Cuban grocery store, but money was very tight. I learned early on that if I wanted to succeed, I’d have to make the right choices,” Veliz said.

During her teenage years, Veliz steered clear of drugs, and while many of her friends became pregnant again and again, she graduated seventh in her high school class and was headed to Rutgers University. Veliz’s parents were unhappy with her choice, preferring she stay home and start a family.

Ivory Warren introduces Elizabeth Veliz
Ivory Warren introduces Elizabeth Veliz

Determined to move forward, Veliz worked with her high school principal and landed a full scholarship. “Once I got to college, I’d like to say that everything was smooth sailing, but it wasn’t. I was distracted by all that college has to offer, and my grades fell. I lost my scholarship and ended up back home in the projects,” she said.

Veliz encourages students to pay it forward.
Veliz encourages students to pay it forward.

Veliz went to work for Port Imperial Marina as a receptionist. She was promoted to office manager within 18 months. She helped move her family out of the projects. Life was looking up until she fell in love and married a man who separated her from family and friends. “It was a terrible time, and it almost cost me everything. But something inside of me surfaced, and with blood, sweat and tears, I changed my situation,” she said.

Veliz continued working and returned to Rutgers. “I made a promise to myself, that I would get my degree. And this time I had to earn the money to pay for college,” she said. Veliz remained focused on her goal and with perseverance earned a bachelor of science in business administration and later a master of business administration in human resource management from University of Phoenix.

While going to school, she climbed the ranks in corporate America, starting with the Xerox Corporation. Before opening her own business, she served as director of retention and recognition in human resources for University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, now Vidant Health.  

Veliz reminds students that it’s not about the car you drive or the house you own, but the quality of your life and work that brings happiness. “I’m married to a U.S. Marine and we live in a 1,000 square-foot apartment and I drive a less than exciting vehicle, but I have an amazing life,” she said.

“Today, I can say I am happy. I married the right guy the second time around, and we just had a baby. And while I’ve had to make some career choices that put my son first, I am content.”

Veliz added, “I encourage everyone here to stop living from emotions and create a balance between your heart and mind. And never give up on your dreams.”

Elizabeth Veliz



YWCA executive director shares value of personal experience
in developing a vision

Oct. 9, 2013 — “Use your passion and personal experiences in life to determine your role.”

That’s sage advice from Ruth T. Jones, who never dreamed how pivotal staying in a YWCA emergency shelter at age 12 would be to her future.

Today Jones is executive director of that very organization.

The Virginia Beach native spoke to students at the Portsmouth Campus as part of the Women’s Leadership Speaker Series, sponsored by the Women’s Center.

“I never imagined I’d come back home to South Hampton Roads when I left here a little more than 20 years ago,” Jones said.

A graduate of Bayside High School, Jones earned her bachelor’s in sociology at the College of William and Mary followed by a master’s of social work (University of Pennsylvania) and a doctoral degree in social work (Catholic University). She was the first in her family to attend college and graduate.

Jeanne Natali, director for Intercultural Learning, Ruth T. Jones, YWCA executive director, and Michelle Woodhouse, provost of the Portsmouth Campus.

Jeanne Natali, director for Intercultural Learning, Ruth T. Jones, YWCA executive director, and Michelle Woodhouse, provost of the Portsmouth Campus.

Discovering her calling didn’t come naturally. Jones stewed over the decision, considering careers as a doctor, teacher, lawyer and judge. A conversation with a social worker helped her find her purpose.

“I think I always had a vision,” Jones said. “I knew I wanted to help children and their families.”

Jones speaks to a crowded room.
Ruth T. Jones

Jones leads the premier provider of domestic violence and sexual support services in the region, an organization she needed support from when fleeing an abusive domestic situation more than two decades ago. Sharing life lessons with the TCC students, Jones offered these suggestions:

• Have a vision for your life, and write that vision down.
• Examine what you are most passionate about in life and use that in deciding a career path.
• Don’t take your personal experiences for granted. “Everything happens for a reason,” she noted.
• Invest in yourself, and make yourself indispensable.

Students listening to Jones’ story shared with her how impressed they were with her perseverance.

“My wife is aspiring to be a social worker,” said Michael Foster, a graphic design major at TCC. “I want to be supportive of her. Social work is a very hard path to travel, and Ms. Jones gave us good advice to follow.”

Student Michael Foster appreciated Jones’ advice.

Student Michael Foster appreciated Jones’ advice.

Jones talks with student Danica Waggoner.

Jones talks with student Danica Waggoner.