You may be wondering just how does the chamber fulfill these critical rolls? I would be pleased to have the opportunity to enlighten you. My career with the Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce began 18 years ago. I, like perhaps many of you, had no idea what the chamber did. I just knew that they had an open position, and I was ready to re-enter the workforce after spending a few years raising my children. Even though I arrived at my interview having very little experience in the business world, I believe my experience with people in general helped me land the job.
Once hired, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with my role. I mean what’s not to love? I met so many wonderful people and at the end of each day I felt like what I did really mattered. If I had even a small part in the growth and expansion of a small business, I knew it was worth it because that would in turn improve the quality of life for our entire community.
Our chamber has seen significant growth in the last few years as well as the expansion of events and services. Would you be so kind as to let me tell you about a few of them? For starters we have monthly Business After Hours events. We travel from member to member checking out what each has to offer. They run the gambit in atmosphere and experiences. We have flown in an airplane, sipped wine, ridden an e-bike, pumped iron, driven a golf cart, and played a game of giant Candyland, and that was just so far this year! These events give our host an opportunity to show off their place of business while our attendees connect with each other. It never ceases to amaze me as a stand on the sidelines and observe the connection in action.
Another chamber program that is in its infancy is our Chamber Leadership Institute. This is just our third class. We firmly believe in the importance of adding additional knowledge to their previous experiences to empower them to inspire and improve their spheres of influence whether that be in their workplaces or in their communities. The institute runs from September to April and covers a diverse number of topics such as: History, Heritage, and Architecture; Community, Economic Development, & Entrepreneurism; Healthcare, Human Services, and Non-Profits; Law & Government; Community Leadership; Education & Workforce; Tourism, Art, and Culture. It is exciting to see individuals who have lived here all their lives peek behind the curtain and see their community from a brand-new perspective. For those who are new to the area, it gives them a wonderful overview of what and who we are, as well as an understanding of where we came from.
To help bridge the gap between our business community and our educational one we have established a Chamber Business and Education Committee. This committee works with both school districts to assist in the preparation of our future workforce. We do so through a variety of programs such as: College and Career Fairs, Educator in the Workplace Tours, Student in the Workplace Tours, Free-Wheeling Day, Ag Tours, Mock Interviews and a host of other programs.
Next, we have our Business Breakfast Clubs. These events are held monthly with the sole purpose of education. Our topics have varied from social media content, generational differences in the workplace, workforce development and retention, to the importance of true connection.
I could go on and on, as I am sure you have no difficulty believing, but I will conclude with one of my favorite chamber yearly events, our Women’s Conference. I know you have probably read my previous thoughts on this event, but I believe it deserves repeating. This event is held each fall with the sole purpose of encouraging and empowering women in our community. Those women who are in the trenches each day struggling to find balance in their lives as they precariously walk the tight rope of job, motherhood, wife, and daughter. If we can, even for a few hours, make them feel better about themselves and more powerful, it was worth all the months of preparation.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, let me just tell you, I am very passionate about my job. To me it is much more than that. It is a God-given opportunity to do my part, no matter how large or small, in making my community a better place. I must add I couldn’t do half of what I do without someone by my side that is equally as passionate about her community as I am, my administrative coordinator, Alyssa Brown. We fit together like hand to glove, and there is no one I would rather be taking this chamber journey with! Alyssa, hang on, we have a lot left to accomplish and I believe it will be one heck of a ride!
Happy Chamber of Commerce Month, we love our members!
Rhonda S. Kelley, Executive Director, Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce