Task force volunteers help the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce get the job done.
When Lawrence Chamber of Commerce staff members need help with a project, they look beyond the walls of their downtown offices to a cadre of trustworthy volunteers.
Specifically, they turn to chamber members who volunteer to serve on the organization's 20 standing committees and task forces.
"Task forces are an integral part of just about every chamber of commerce in the country," said Kevin Walker, the chamber's director of marketing and member services. "What is unique to our chamber is the committees that we have. The Annual Meeting, the Fall Mixer and Envoys, those are all activities we have. We need volunteers to put them together. ... The task forces help accomplish the chamber's mission for the year."
Chamber members sign up for the various task forces each April. No limit is placed on the number of task forces on which a chamber member may serve. The groups range in size from about 10 to 60 volunteers.
"I've never had trouble getting volunteers," Walker said. "To me, that's a testament of the quality of people we have in the chamber. They are willing to get involved. ... We have 1,650 members (in the chamber) and there's such a wide range of groups in which they can participate. You're going to have a core group of about 10 to 15 people who are going to participate in each group."
Linda Tochtrop and Chuck McPheeters regularly volunteer their time as members of the Envoys Task Force, a group of about 60 chamber members that helps new businesses celebrate grand openings and ribbon-cuttings. Both see their volunteer duties as time well-spent.
"It's the best way I know to learn about Lawrence," said Tochtrop, an envoy for five years and a member of the chamber's board of directors. During 1995 she presided at 25 of the 71 ribbon-cuttings in the city.
"It's one of the best networking tools available in Lawrence. It's also one of the best ways to meet contacts for support."
McPheeters has served on chamber task forces for about 30 years. Most of his volunteerism has involved activities involving chamber membership.
"I enjoy meeting the new people who come to town and encouraging them to become involved in the community," he said. "I think calling on those people and welcoming them is important."
While the list of task forces changes somewhat each year, Walker said the following groups are sure to be active again this year.
- Government Affairs Task Force -- This committee develops the chamber's annual legislative survey and sponsors events which enable chamber members and the public to meet with elected officials and candidates for public office. Events hosted by this task force include Eggs and Issues breakfast meetings while the legislature is in session, Congressional updates and candidate forums.
- Sound Advice for Small Business -- This task force was formed last year to provide information to chamber members about running small businesses. Information is supplied by those with expertise in the legal, marketing and financial management of small business. The task force also hosts small business development seminars throughout the year. The task force is now developing a mentoring program for small business owners.
- Economic Development Committee -- This committee meets quarterly to discuss major projects and chamber marketing activities that will affect the economy of the city of Lawrence and Douglas County.
- Bad Check Task Force -- This task force works with local law enforcement officials, state officials and the media to combat the problem of bad checks.
- Fall Mixer Task Force -- This task force sponsors the annual fall mixer to celebrate the start of the school year. Educators from all public and private elementary and secondary schools in the county, Baker University, Haskell Indian Nations University and Kansas University are honored at the mixer for their commitment to the youth of the community. The fall mixer is one of the chamber's largest activities, generally attracting about 1,000 participants.
New task forces expected to be formed in 1996 include:
- Ambassadors -- This will be a small group charged with recruiting new chamber members. The chamber had a similar group several years ago.
- Buy Local Task Force -- This group will develop a communications plan that encourages chamber members and the general public to buy goods and services locally.
- Downtown Parking Task Force -- This group will study how the private and public sectors can work together to finance and develop additional parking in the downtown.
- Labor Availability and Work Force Problems -- This group will look into the problem of finding adequately trained workers in Douglas County and see what can be done to help future workers be better qualified to enter the work force.