Honorary Mayor Vendetti ‘committed’ to Central Delaware

DOVER — Dr. Dina Vendetti came to Dover in 2000 from York, Pa. to answer St. John’s Lutheran Church’s call for a principal to lead a kindergarten through eighth-grade facility to add to its existing preschool.

Dr. Dina Vendetti, left, with classmate Dean Blaha, hoists the trophy for the Leadershp Central Delaware Alumni Best in Class, an award presented to the 2004 LCD Class at the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce Awards for Excellence Dinner Thursday night at Dover Downs. Dr. Vendetti is also this year’s Honorary Mayor of Central Delaware, sponsored by the chamber. (Delaware State News/Ashley Dawson)

Seventeen years later, she’s built a program that serves 55 students and has become a celebrated figure in central Delaware’s business leader atmosphere.

In late April, she was named this year’s Central Delaware Honorary Mayor — through the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce (CDCC). On Thursday night, at the chamber’s annual Awards for Excellence Dinner she won the Volunteer of the Year award and her Leadership Central Delaware program alumni class of 2004 won the Best in Class award.

“Dina is one of the most committed people I know to Central Delaware and to creating leaders here,” said CDCC President Judy Diogo, “She does this through her involvement with the chamber and our leadership program, but also through her work as principal at St. John’s. She’s one of the most passionate and dedicated people in Central Delaware when it come to growing and cultivating our leaders.”

The Honorary Mayor distinction is one started by the chamber about five years ago, said Ms. Diogo.

“In part, it’s a big fundraiser for the chamber, but it’s also a chance to give advertising and promotion to members and their businesses who agree to be part of the program,” she added. “We give about $10,000 worth of advertising through the course of the campaign to the candidates and the winner is the candidate who raises the most funds for the chamber.”

Ms. Vendetti, a Baltimore native, won the mayorship by being able to add close to $7,200 to the CDCC’s coffers by the end of her three month campaign. She was in a run-off against three other candidates.

“The biggest source of the money was a fundraising letter I sent out to about 100 different people including people familiar with the chamber’s mission and family and friends — I think the self-addressed stamped envelope I included with each one really helped my cause,” said Dr. Vendetti

“I’m also a little bit of an amateur Italian chef, and I raffled off $20 tickets for a three-course Italian meal prepared in the winner’s home for 12 people. I was telling people you can’t even feed 12 people pizza for $20 so it’s a real bargain if they win. I ended up netting a little over $1,000 for the chamber with that.”

She also ran a number of different smaller fundraising efforts and sold spaghetti sauce and candy bars as well.

Community cheerleader

Although the honorary mayor has no legislative power, Dr. Vendetti feels it can be a nice platform to promote civic pride and further the goals of St. John’s and the chamber.

“I think the position can be as little or big as you make it,” she said. “So far, I’ve done little fun things like attend ribbon cuttings and participate in the Dover Days Parade, but I think it can be an opportunity to show some hometown pride.

“I have a big blue sash and a black top hat that I’ve been decorating for events — I love it here, and this is a chance to be a cheerleader for Central Delaware. But, another thing that I’m thinking about is maybe using the position to help expand the chamber’s leadership training to include college kids and even high school kids rather than focusing strictly on young professionals in the business community. Leadership workshops and seminars could be really beneficial.”

It also gives St. John’s school promotion that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

“In the spirit of the campaign, the chamber pushed people to participate with different events, newspaper ads and newsletter mentions,” Dr. Vendetti said.

“Each time my name was mentioned, St. John’s School was, so it was great exposure. Our small business could have never afforded that kind of marketing.”

Well entrenched in the CDCC, Dr. Vendetti also serves on the chamber’s board of directors and has chaired the Leadership Central Delaware program steering committee for nine years.

The program, which is a 10-month course started in 2001, aimed at “preparing the leaders of tomorrow” and providing business education and skills to entrepreneurs in Central Delaware. The program now boasts approximately 360 alumni — a group to which she belongs. Her class of 2004 took home the best in class award on Thursday night for racking up the most community involvement points out of any other alumni class.

In the competition for Honorary Mayor of Central Delaware, St. John’s Lutheran School principal Dr. Dina Vendetti, third from left, ran against, from left, Paris Patton of Allstate Insurance, Gigi Boyd of Lady Lifters and Sarah Zimmerman of First State Heritage Park. (Submitted photo)

“Since our purpose is to build leaders, once they graduate, we wanted to have a way to sort of track their success and track their involvement in the community so we came up with this award,” said Ms. Diogo.

“Each year, classes who graduate turn in a complete recording of their volunteer and leadership activities in the community and they get points for that. The class that accumulates the most points, gets selected.”

School work

Dr. Vendetti joins Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen at his desk in City Hall. (Submitted photo)

St. John’s Lutheran School has had its ups and downs over the years since its inception, said Dr. Vendetti. Although she now has 32 years of experience working for the Lutheran school system, keeping a healthy enrollment at the small school has taken some effort at times.

“We were growing steadily until 2009 when the economy bottomed out and we lost a lot of students — there was a time actually where I was worried we wouldn’t make it,” she said. “We’ve maintained though and we’ve been steady since. I’d certainly love to add more kids though. Our most comfortable number is around 100 students, so we have a little room to grow.”

Dr. Vendetti credits her involvement with the CDCC in part for helping keep the school afloat in hard times.

“We are a very small business here at St. John’s School,” she said. “When I first started, I needed to be able to build a network of relationships and get in touch with how the community made its choices and how to market to them. The chamber has been absolutely invaluable at every step of the process for this. When times got hard too, they’ve helped us keep our name in the public eye and let people know about the work we’re doing at the school.”

Recently, the school has eyed the possibility of enlarging programming to include high school students.

“We actually had one high school student graduate with us this year through an online program we have access to,” Dr. Vendetti said. “It’s a little bit of a hybrid of homeschooling and going to school. He would come to school three days per week so we could provide support. It’s a great program, and we’d really like to look into expanding it.”

For more information on St. John’s Lutheran Church or school, visit stjohnsdover.com. For more information on the chamber’s programs, visit cdcc.net.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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