Two local groups with a similar focus combined their operations to maximize their impact on the community, and Bloomsburg University’s Center for Community Research and Consulting offered valuable help during the process.
The Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau (CMVB) and Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce are now operating under the umbrella of a new non-profit organization, the Columbia-Montour Partnership for Community Development. The process was aided in part by Heather Feldhaus, director of the center, and some of her students.
The Center for Community Research and Consulting provides opportunities for students to conduct research and provide consulting services in real-world settings throughout Columbia County. These students, including Weston Brehm ’13, helped the CMVB and the chamber through two years of planning, studying the potential impact of a partnership and aiding in implementation.
“Functioning in unison, with a vision that embraced both organizations’ desires, only made sense,” says Brehm of the new partnership. “The leaders of both organizations acknowledged that uniting for a future together had the potential of being a lengthy process, requiring that records, notes and guidance of the conversations be kept in a professional way.”
That’s when the two groups reached out to Feldhaus and her students. She and Chuck Laudermilch, a retired BU professor, helped make meetings run smoothly with student support. “Dr. Feldhaus would suggest ways that the process could utilize sociological methods, such as surveys and focus groups. My role [as a student] was to observe for future reflection,” says Brehm. “I was also the note taker. My services helped to keep the process moving forward in a way that acknowledged all points of view.” Other students from the center offered similar help, such as social work major Brock Minnick, who provided visuals and visual reflection during meetings.
“The students were very involved. Their support included taking meeting minutes and organizing materials over many months. Without their assistance, we would have been slowed,” says Fred Gaffney ’96, president of the chamber. Gaffney and David “Otto” Kurecian ’82, executive director of the Visitors Bureau, are now serving as COO and CEO of the new organization, respectively.
Gaffney says the partnership provides a number of benefits. “Members of the CMVB automatically become members of the chamber and vice versa. This increases our membership and gives us an even stronger voice on a variety of legislative issues.”
Staffs and operational resources have been combined, as well, to improve efficiency and save money to be used to further the goals of each organization. “It is our hope that, over time, other organizations with economic development as their primary purpose will consider joining the partnership,” says Gaffney.
“The visitors bureau directs the way the community is perceived by both those who live here and potential visitors. The chamber has the ability to bring in new businesses and encourage certain areas of commerce. Bring those two things together, and potential is enhanced,” says Brehm.
Brehm, information technology manager at Columbia County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities, praises the experience he gained working for the center. “The Center for Community Research and Consulting is an opportunity… for students in various areas of academia. My experience was largely based on applied sociology. Prior to working at the center I was scared that I may have chosen an area of study that would only amount to personal growth. The center and Dr. Feldhaus put all my anxieties to rest.”
By Nick Cellucci ’16