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Chester woman who survived cancer, a house fire, and husband’s accident now uses cleaning to help others

Needing a way to earn money after her husband was involved in an accident, Betty Dorsey now has a thriving cleaning business, has helped teach others, and recently came out with a book.

Anthony Dorsey and Betty Dorsey outside of the Chester Housing Authority office. Betty teaches cleaning classes for Chester Housing Authority Housing Choice Voucher Program residents.
Anthony Dorsey and Betty Dorsey outside of the Chester Housing Authority office. Betty teaches cleaning classes for Chester Housing Authority Housing Choice Voucher Program residents.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

Betty Dorsey knows all about overcoming obstacles. She’s gotten through breast cancer, her husband’s truck accident and resulting unemployment, and a house fire. Who knew all those hardships would eventually lead her to start her own business and become an author and mentor?

The Chichester resident has just published “Ready, Set, Go! Action Plan to a Clutter Free and Healthy Home Environment," a guide she created in collaboration with the Chester Housing Authority. She became acquainted with the Authority in 2008, when she applied for and moved into CHA’s Housing Choice Voucher Program. Both the house fire and the accident involving her husband, Anthony (a chef who was then out of work for a year), had left the couple in difficult financial straits.

Dorsey, 56, needed to generate income while her husband was unemployed. Always one who kept an immaculate home, she decided to start her own cleaning service in 2016. She knew how to clean her place, but what about office buildings and others' homes?

“I did a lot of research, and I learned when you do something and have a passion for it, you can succeed,” she said. “I have always had a passion for cleaning and was good at cleaning my own house because I loved it so much.”

Dorsey researched the science of cleaning, studying what chemicals worked best for which jobs, and learning how not to cross-contaminate with cleaning rags. Soon, the business — A.G.D. Manna — was up and running. Her husband, also 56, along with son Kelvin Vick-Brown, 35, work with her.

She established the business while battling lupus, whose pain that can at times be excruciating.

“What I learned about pain is, the more I sit around and complain, then the more I can’t do the things I need to do for other people,” she said. “I want to help those more needy than me.”

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So, about a year after starting her business, Dorsey called the CHA to ask if she could teach free classes to residents about the best ways to clean their homes.

On the other end of the phone was the CHA’s voucher-program director Mary Militello, who was open to the idea. By coincidence, she told Dorsey during that conversation, the CHA was looking for someone to clean its administrative building. Would Dorsey be interested in the job?

''I said, ‘Betty, what wonderful timing, we have an RFP [request for proposal] out for cleaning services of our administration building,’" Militello said.

Dorsey had never filled out an RFP before, but she found help through an online janitorial service, Clean Guru, that helps small businesses like hers learn about the bidding process.

The fact that Dorsey was a CHA voucher-program member made her bid intriguing to CHA executive director Steve Fischer.

“We are in the business of encouraging participants in the program to do things like start businesses or get better employment,” Fischer said. “Still, we are the stewards of federal funding: Anybody who wants to work where they’re going to be paid [with federal dollars] to do it has to compete and show that they are qualified.”

In other words, Dorsey had to earn this contract. Which she did, said Fischer, hands-down.

"You have to give credit to Betty and her husband for being able to satisfy all of the requirements,” Fischer said.

Dorsey’s company now cleans the CHA administrative building five days a week and has other residential and commercial clients. Meanwhile, her free classes for CHA residents have taught them how to clean a home properly.

Early on, she realized that many of those in attendance had never learned life-management skills, let alone home-care ones. So she began teaching them the importance of having a clean house, how it affects all other aspects of your life. For example, she told them, at CHA if a resident fails inspection because his or her house isn’t clean, they threaten their chance to continue living there.

When COVID-19 forced her to cancel in-person classes, she worked with the CHA to write Ready-Set-Go!, a step-by-step guide to cleaning, room by room, and also includes cleaning tips for children. The book costs $12, and more than 1,000 have already been sold. Dorsey receives a percentage of the profits; the rest supports CHA.

“We had to make it simple, showing different techniques that people can use," including tasks that are kid-friendly because keeping a home tidy is everyone’s job, Dorsey said. “We made it nice and colorful, easy to read. One of my biggest goals is getting the book to all housing authorities across the United States. Residents have to be more active in keeping their communities clean.”

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While Militello helped putting together the book, she said that Dorsey did the majority of the work; Dorsey enlisted the graphic-design skills of a friend, Polly Foster, to illustrate the book.

“We added a few things to make it work for us, but content is probably 95% Betty gleaning what she thought was important,” Militello said. “We’re very proud of all the great work she did.”

As she battles her own aches and pains, Dorsey thrives by having a positive attitude that allows her to keep moving at breakneck speed.

“I have legs and arms, and can see, and I have the ability to get up in the morning and get out — so I feel fortunate,” she said. “I don’t want to go to the grave with [anything] left to do.”