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How to use the Chamber of Commerce to grow your business w/ Jeff Say
Episode 12923rd May 2022 • The Business Samurai • John Barker
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Jeff Say is the President of the Culpeper County Chamber of Commerce. Jeff took the role just one month prior to the COVID-19 epidemic. In this episode, we discuss the challenge of taking on a membership-based, event-driven organization at the start of the pandemic.

Jeff describes how they utilized the Chamber resources and connections as the hub for other business owners, connecting people and services to the right areas during the most difficult times. Jeff discusses their strategy for quickly pivoting the most important events online and in a way that still provides tremendous value to the community.

And in the waning days of the pandemic, now the Chamber not only survived but is now thriving when higher than expected new memberships and stronger relationships formed.

In addition we discuss:

  • A new "Shark Tank" style program aimed at high school youth with significant prizes involved.
  • Several upcoming events in 2022
  • How Jeff learned by a major mistake at his college 20 years earlier, he actually didn't graduate and had to take one 2 credit class but he walked during the ceremony. Its a crazy story.

You can reach out to Jeff:

president@culpeperchamber.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeff-say-742247131/

https://culpeperchamber.com/

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Transcripts

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Welcome to the business MRI podcast.

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I am your host, John Barker.

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With me.

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My next guest is my good friend.

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Jeff say I first met Jeff when he was the editor slash reporter slash

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kinda multi hat where inside Nova's Colepepper times newspaper, and which I

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had a column in for about three years.

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Jeff has since become the president of the Colepepper chamber of commerce,

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continuing to serve the local community there and just appreciate Jeff taking

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the time to come chat with me, everything about chamber and community and.

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Thank you, John.

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And it's always a pleasure to chat with you.

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I always go to you for my technical and social media needs.

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I don't know too many people that as plugged in as you are.

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So I will try to be as plugged into the community side of

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aspect of things as I can.

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I was going to say you with your involvement with writing

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the columns and, running the paper and things of that nature.

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And then trans it seemed like a natural transition to go run the chamber of

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commerce when the opening came up, because you're, you were already

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previously tapped into the happening.

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So if you got to just take a couple of minutes and give your S a little bit of

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your personal background that led to you to taking the position you're in now.

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If you might not be able to tell from my Northwest PA accent, I'm

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not originally from Virginia.

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So I was in the newspaper industry for 20 years.

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I started in Clarion, Pennsylvania as a Cubs sports Senator

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in the early two thousands.

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And at the time I met a young lady who was going to school for

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education and she graduated and moved to Colepepper, Virginia, and

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we decided to try to make a go of it.

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And.

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We were able to, when we got engaged in 2004, and my wife Sarah's plan was always

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to come home to, to outside of Pittsburgh.

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And if you know anything about the Pennsylvania public schools, it's,

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you can't get your foot in the door because they hang on forever

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because the union is so strong.

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So eventually she said, I'm not going to be able to come home.

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You're going to have to come here.

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And I said, okay.

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So I applied for the.

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Sports writer position at the Culpepper star exponent in 2005.

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And thankfully the managing editor at the time, Rob Humphreys saw something

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in me and brought me down to Colepepper.

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And I will admit that I almost immediately fell in love.

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It had the small town charm of my college town while also pro I

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could see it growing at that time.

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So when Sarah first moved here in 2003, I think the town was approximately.

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8,000 people.

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Now, as of last year in the census, I guess in 2020, we are

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approximately around 20,000 people in the town 57,000 in the county.

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So it has just, the town has grown immensely, but it has retained that

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small town charm that you can walk downtown and know your neighbors.

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Thankfully through my work, in the newspaper business, I was sports editor

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for a couple of years at the star.

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And then I decided as I was getting, as we were progressing in our marriage and

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talking about children and family, that those long hours of working 10 in the

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morning until one in the morning, the next day just we're not going to work.

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So I became the community editor.

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And so that put me in contact with a lot of our businesses and a lot of.

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Non-profits and a lot of our government leaders.

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And so I got to meet, I'd like to say almost everybody got to know a lot of

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the movers and shakers in Colepepper.

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And then I got burned out and the daily biz and I went and worked at the

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Colepepper times as a graphic designer in 2015, and eventually moved back

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into the editor role because of my expertise of knowing our community.

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And it's just.

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Having the boots on the ground and getting to know the people.

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And so now when I've moved to the chamber and this job opened up,

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it just, for me, seemed like that natural progression because I'm

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still being able to do what I love.

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And that's tell the stories of our neighbors and be able to

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promote our town, our county, our businesses, our nonprofits.

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There really is no place like Colepepper the way that we're

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all able to work together.

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My good friend, pastor Brad Hales, reformation Lutheran church has

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allowed me to use his three CS it's communication, collaboration, and caring.

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And that is what sets Colepepper apart.

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I've talked to several other townships and towns and counties throughout

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the pandemic and no other vicinity.

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Doing the things that we're doing and being able to work across different

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organizations in different departments and be able to make things happen.

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So we'll get into some of that in a little bit, just our collaboration with

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our town, tourism and town, economic development, and our county economic

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development and our parks and rec and our Colpepper Renaissance, Inc,

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which is our main street program.

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We all work together.

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We all collaborate.

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We all communicate extremely well.

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And we're all able to have the same vision of what we want this

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town to be and how to promote it.

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And I think that is what sets our town apart.

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And I think there's some lessons to be learned about how, other organizations

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can be able to make things happen in terms of just that type of committee.

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No.

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And that's one of the things from having that small town environment, my wife and

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I lived there for about six years, I was heavily involved with the chamber, heavily

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involved in the community and got to see a lot of that collaboration, firsthand.

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How, when you took over that role, that you think about the chamber in

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and of itself is a lot of events.

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A lot of getting together, hands in the pot, making things together

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and you take over that role right.

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At the time where it was like, no, you can't do any of that stuff.

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How hard was it to get a foothold in one, a new role, but one that was usually.

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You think of a traditionally precipitated on getting together event-driven meet

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ups, things of that nature, even a small, smaller, how were you able to

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navigate those waters successfully?

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Because the last I talked to you told me what was it?

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We had lunch together a couple of weeks ago.

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At the time of this recording and you were like, we've had what?

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40 new members sign up and 20, 22, how were you able to navigate

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those waters when everybody else.

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In panic crisis mode, not saying that you Mason necessarily worked in the beginning.

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So I started in February of 2020, and I do believe my first day was

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February 17th and I started, and our staff was our director of programming

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and operations, Amy Frazier.

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And we had a temporary staff member, Yvonne left some at that time and 2020

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was going to be our best year yet.

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We were energized.

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We were really excited.

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Certainly I had a lot to learn.

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I understood the community and I understood the relationships.

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But when you're coming into a nonprofit realm of which the chamber is,

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there is a lot of the backend that you need to quickly be immersed in.

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And I always refer to it as being, fed drinking from a fire hose.

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So in March it was March 13th is when we learned everything was shutting down and.

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That day, we had a mixer with the fuck hair, young professionals and

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our Colepepper young professionals.

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And we got together at old trade brewery and we had a good bit of people come out.

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But I remember Amy and I scrambling around to find what hand sanitizer we could

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masks weren't quite a thing yet, but it was something we were trying to locate.

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And that was the last real networking opportunity we had for three.

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And we quickly had to say we have to be the leaders.

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We can't just shut down because everybody else doesn't want to shut down.

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We have to find ways to be creative, to be able to keep business going.

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So we quickly started having town halls online.

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Our state of the community was scheduled for March and we had to postpone that.

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But in may we hosted a virtually we quickly learned about.

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And we, at the same time, we were switching to Microsoft teams with Windstar

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technologies, which was one of our platinum partners here at the chamber.

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And Windstar held our hand, taught us all the technology of how we can

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have team meetings, how we use zoom.

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We quickly bought microphones and we quickly pivoted.

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And that, and I think is the key word.

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And I know everybody cringes now at the peak.

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But we had to be flexible and we had to be understanding.

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So we knew that there was a large group of our population that was still, it was very

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hesitant, but we wanted to show that you could still continue to conduct business.

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A lot of our restaurants did curbside delivery.

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We helped promote those.

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A lot of our businesses opened websites for the first time and

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started offering curbside pickup and.

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Found new ways to utilize social media.

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We had town halls about the financial side of things, what loans were

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available what grants were out there.

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And then in the summer, the town through some ARPA funding and the

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county also received some American rescue act funding that they created

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a program called Colepepper cares.

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And that was a grant program for businesses.

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That were impacted by the pandemic that they go and fill out a

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form online and fill out some information, financial information.

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And they were able to receive grant money to keep them going.

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We served as administrators, helping out as businesses members,

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and non-members came to us and said, I don't have an email.

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I don't have a computer.

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I don't know how to navigate this.

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And we would sit down with them and help them learn.

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Some of them used my email at the chamber to create an account.

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So they were able to get into the backend and file for those grants that

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kept them flowing through the pandemic.

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And, that was for me, one of the most rewarding things, we created lifelong

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friendships and relationships with folks that we may not have known very well ahead

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of time that we were able to help them.

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And it was just that communication that collaboration of working with

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the town and the county and pages.

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With the town economic development and town, tourism was a huge part of that.

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And working with Chris Hively with the town manager and John Egerton with the

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county and working with Phil Sheridan, who at the time was the economic

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development director is now Brian Roth.

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The Mello came from Fluvanna is now our economic development

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director here in the county.

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Just working with them, open lines of communication.

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How can we get the information right.

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We had a newsletter that we were sending out and updating on our

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website, that was COVID 19 resources with what grants were available.

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Rec had grants, path foundation had grants for nonprofits, and it

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was just communicating with them.

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And a lot of our nonprofits, they were the ones that were truly impacted because they

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weren't able to host business the way they used to Culpepper county volunteer, fire

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rescue association had hosted bingos for ever, and that was their major fundraiser.

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None of that.

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The chicken dinners, the spaghetti dinners, none of those were able to

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happen unless they were takeout and it may not have been as impactful.

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So we were helped communicate with them and our non-profit council helped

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generate ideas of how they would be able to get back that funding, how they were

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able to make please on social media, to the community, to let them know that

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our nonprofits while they were impacted financially were still operating.

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They were still serving the.

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And so it was just getting that information out there that, while

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you might not see them, they are still in this behind the scenes,

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helping service our community.

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We helped our nurses and our hospital staff.

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We provided food early on.

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We worked with the country club at Colepepper.

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They donated food to the hospital to the volunteer fire and rescue

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associations to our paid staff.

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We help coordinate delivering the.

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We worked with other organizations to deliver toilet

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paper to the salvation army.

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Local hotels would bring us and we were that clearing house that we would

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help get it to where it needed to be.

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So it was finding different ways of doing business and yet having the community.

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So it sounds like for sure that you guys, were you taking a hub and spoke mentality.

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You were at that center of coordinating different types of relief effort based

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because people were reaching out to you going, Hey, I need help with.

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Whatever it was, that was directly affecting them.

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You going hold up, I know which resource can coordinate and help with that.

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And so you were able to facilitate with that in that you were a point of

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main point of contact to facilitate relief efforts during that time period.

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And that was in your first month starting on the first month in that job.

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Yeah, that was essentially my first year, trying to coordinate all of that,

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but you bring it those connections and making those connections.

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That is what a chamber of commerce to me is.

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Creating those connections, building that economic engine.

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And if we don't know an answer, we know somebody who does know that answer.

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So as they'll call somebody, we'll call here and say, Hey, I need help.

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I need to talk to somebody.

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I want to start a business.

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And I it's this great idea.

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I don't know who to talk to.

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And they think you're, we're with the chamber.

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We don't have all the answers, so we would slide them over to Dave.

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The small business development center, a community investment

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collaborative out of Charlottesville David's associated with now.

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And Dave has business plans.

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Dave knows what small business loans are available.

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Dave has years of financial information that he's able to share.

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He knows all the trends.

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He's able to break everything down and tell you what businesses are

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here that already might be in that realm and what niche you can fill.

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So it's making those connection.

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And I think that's really, our pivotal goal is to be able to connect our

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community, to get everybody the resources that they need and provide them those.

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What type of interaction, you mentioned the small business development

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center and some of the SBA stuff.

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How do you function if from a from the governmental, the

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local government standpoint?

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Because this was something I know when I was involved, that they would sit

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there and go, if something came up within the community that needed to be

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voted on, does the chamber get involved with chamber nine and go involved?

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Are you advocate for the businesses?

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How.

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How has that changed?

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How have you navigated the water with those types of things that

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may pop up within the community?

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Because you are one of the faces, Jeff say you are one of the faces of Colepepper.

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And so I imagined that, that, that type of stuff pops up.

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I would think periodically at least, yes.

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And we've encountered that, and that is still conversations we have at board level

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though, we'll have a vote or whether do we make a stand on this or, and sometimes.

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And most of the time, what it is we serve as the conduit.

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We're putting the information out there.

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We're not saying yay or nay because we don't have the final say no

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pun intended on that decision.

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That's something that our town council or a board of supervisors or somebody higher

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up is going to be making those decisions.

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We can do is provide the information to our community, to our businesses,

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to our non-profits, to our residents and let them know what is coming.

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They are able to go and speak to the board of supervisors or to the town

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council or to their representatives about what they have learned

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that we have provided that in.

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No that's awesome.

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Switching gears a little bit, because a lot of this stuff, it is all

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that collaborative environment and your, your chamber staff is small.

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You have to rely on the community in a, probably in a volunteer

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mechanism to, to come in there.

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How has that changed or how has that evolved as now?

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We're starting to open back up.

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Are you seeing a lot more people wanting to be involved in, Hey,

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I can pitch in and help with.

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XYZ and this event or that how has that allowed you to continue

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to success within the community?

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First let me put it in a plug for our team, because I was blessed to come

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in with Amy Frazier as our director of programming and operations.

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And Amy is a dynamo she's lived in Colepepper all her life.

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She went away for college a little bit, came back and she is just amazing.

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She has her pulse on.

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It's important and Colepepper.

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She has a heart for our community and she works harder than anybody.

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I know.

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And I, our events run so smoothly because of her.

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She has every logistic planned out ahead of time.

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So she, did an amazing job throughout the pandemic of transitioning our events that

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we did host all of our 10 signatures.

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Throughout the pandemic and then coming out of the pandemic,

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we're still hosting them.

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Some of them hybrid many of them in person, a couple of them virtually but

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our Colepepper Fest in 2020, which is our largest business community event.

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We had nearly a thousand people come out to a cup of tea, Eastern

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view, high school, cyclone stadium in the middle of a pandemic.

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And then we found that type of.

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Vendor opportunity to be able to get in front of our communities

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at the track where everybody's set up along the football field.

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And everybody comes in the track and goes around one way that provided so

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much exposure for our businesses and nonprofits that we did it again in 2021.

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And we're doing it again here, coming up June 10th at Eastern view high school.

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So cyclone stadium from four to 8:00 PM.

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We're doing that again.

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And it's Amy's ability to be able to.

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I think quickly and work and create the relationships that

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people are more willing to say yes.

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And we're able, and they know that her heart and our heart is

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in the right place that we're able to make these events happen.

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And then I mentioned a Von lets them, she was our temp and during the

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pandemic, and then in March, she had some elderly families she was taken

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care of and she said, I cannot work.

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I can't come out.

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As we're in the middle of the.

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And then about a year later, we put out a call for our administrative

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assistant and all of a sudden Vaughn popped up in R and D and I said, yep.

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She already knows.

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And she's perfect.

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She has this personality again.

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She's when you call, you're getting a friendly face, you're

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getting a friendly voice.

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We listen.

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Point you in the right direction, or we're able to give you the

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answers that you're looking for.

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And if we don't know the answer, then, Von is able to direct them to myself or Amy.

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And then if we don't know the answer, we direct them on.

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So our staff first and foremost is incredible.

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And I'm so blessed to have those two ladies in my life and in the chamber

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realm because I wouldn't be where I am today without them now, volunteers,

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we've seen more people now coming in.

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And saying that they are willing to help back out and

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be committed to the community.

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During the pandemic, our young professionals were extremely vital

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that they were volunteering throughout.

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They always host a crab feast in 2020, we weren't able to do that.

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So we quickly decided to have a charity carwash, and we partnered

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with Colepepper carwash and they donated $2 of every car wash.

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One of the hottest days in July and we were outside volunteering,

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wiping down cars, scrubbing tires, collecting extra donations.

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And that year we had picked the Colepepper food closet as our

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nonprofit, every year, the young professionals select a non-profit

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that they're going to give back.

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It was just kissed kismet that we had selected the food closet earlier

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in 2019 to be the charity for 2020, because they really needed it.

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And so we raised during the pandemic $2,000 for the Culpepper food closet.

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The next year in 2021, we benefited the groundworks project, which is a joint

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partnership between Rappahannock, Goodwill and redundant venture bound, which

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helps students learn leadership skills and gets some resume building skills.

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And it was just an overall amazing opportunity for young people who

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need maybe a little extra help.

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And so we raised $2,700 last year on the backbone of our carwash.

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We had a kickball tournament last year and we had our crab feast and we were

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able to raise that much this year.

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We, our charity carwash is coming up July 9th.

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Again, I call bumper carwash.

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All day from nine to five, you're going to be hearing about

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it on WJ may coming up soon.

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We're going to have some radio ads about it.

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But we're looking for volunteers for that, but we've had a lot of folks reaching out

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and saying, yes, we want to get back out.

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We want to see, we want to help.

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And especially the younger gen generation, the millennials, because

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they really are plugged in to the social aspect and they understand

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how important it is to give back.

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And that's something I'm always talking to our businesses.

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Trying to find a non-profit that you support or a cause

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that you support in Colepepper.

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If there's a cause you support, there's a nonprofit that is already

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there servicing that community.

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So whether it's pets or children or working with a youth sports that

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we're able to find a connection.

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And so it's so important now for our business.

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To be able to give back to our non-profits to keep that going.

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And that, and that's just marketing, right?

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That's the way to get your name out, that you are helping support

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somebody in our community.

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And I think that really is so important.

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So when it comes to volunteers, we've seen quite a few already signing

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up for Culpepper Fest on June 10th.

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The carwash, our signup genius just went out.

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We have a signup genius on our website for Culpepper Fest.

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If you would like to vote.

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Please sign up.

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It's a great opportunity to get out, to meet other people.

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And that's what people are looking for right now.

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John is they're looking for that networking piece that

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was missing for two years.

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They want that personal connection.

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They want to get out.

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They want to see faces without masks on.

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So that's what the beauty of the screen right now, we had lunch the other day.

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We had lots of show you in person for the first time and we got a

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couple of months, but it's being able to make these connections.

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As you mentioned during the pandemic, we were doing this through town hall

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and zoom that we had folks from UVA health talking about, what, talking

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about vaccines and what to look for.

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We had folks from our financial groups, Y HB Dave Riordan from the

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small business association, we had other folks talk about Alan Rasmussen

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from RRCs talking about mental.

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And how that was impacted during the pandemic.

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So we'd kept that going, but now when you're able to get back in person, I will

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share that with Colepepper Fest in June 10th coming up in about three weeks, we

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have, as of this morning, nine booths left and we added booth space because

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we no longer have to social distance.

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So we're going to have over a, probably 110 vendors or organizations.

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Let me say organizations because that's businesses.

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That's, non-pro.

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We have folks that are going to be bringing a mechanical bull.

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We have a whole children's area, so we are really excited and we're looking

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forward to the community coming out and supporting and getting to know.

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One of the things that, that I've seen and congrats on the continued success

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and expansion of those programs.

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And talking about that, I've been, I've seen and been invited to other different

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chambers and there's a lot of similar.

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Between between them you'll most of them will have a lead share group.

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Most of them will have their big banquet.

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Most of them, they may have their state of the community, whatever they want

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to call it in local government for people to not realize that's a good

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way to meet your local representatives, if they do, do those types of events,

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which most do Colepepper does do some unique things that I've not

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seen such as like career partners.

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Can you talk about some of the unique programs that, that I know that

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Colepepper has to support entrepreneurs?

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So career partners.

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Was started in the mid nineties and it was spearheaded by Norma done what he was

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at the chamber of commerce at the time.

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And the chamber has supported career partners, which is its own 5 0 1 C3

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nonprofit, but we have supported them through scholarship funds and I serve

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on the board of the executive committee.

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So I'm tied into career partners.

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And as one of my favorite things and career partners has been.

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And the mid nineties, they were working with the students.

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And there were, the goal was to bring business leaders into high schools

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because they had identified that high school students weren't prepared coming

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out of high school to go right into college or right into businesses.

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And so they saw that there was a need and when they started working on programs

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and that included mock interviews.

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And then, so that is still one of our.

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But it's continued to grow.

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And we have so many programs.

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Now we have teachers for tomorrow, which helps fund students through

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Shanandoah university, that they go into classrooms and they work with

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teachers and they're able to learn about what it is to be a teacher.

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And then they earn credits at Shenandoah.

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So when they're graduating high school, they've already got college credits.

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Same with nurses.

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We have a program that works with them.

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We have.

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Our stem day, which is out of air Fest.

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And we set up two days out at air Fest and we bring in all the fifth

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graders from Culpepper county public schools, the six elementary schools,

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and they get to see everything that goes into flying an airplane.

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There's going to be a flight simulator this year.

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So there's just a lot of great interaction.

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But for me, the highlight is that you squared and east squared is like, And it

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started in 2008, it was the brain child.

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And they always hate it when I say this, but it was the brainchild of Mike Dale

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and Chuck Jorie and both Mike and Chuck have since won our L hen ready outstanding

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citizen award through the chamber.

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They are visionaries.

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They are some of the smartest men that I've ever met and they

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have a heart for our community.

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And so they were talking about how do we get young entrepreneurs engaged?

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And how do we introduce them to business leaders and Cole pepper

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and help them formulate ideas and then be able to present them.

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So what it is there's a group and there's classes at both Eastern view,

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high school and Culpepper county high school that they, this year,

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there was 10 teams and those teams can be as many as five students.

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There were some that had three students in our history.

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We have had winners that only had a team that had.

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But they come up with a idea, a business idea.

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They come up with a business that they have to formulate a business plan,

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including financials, including marketing, including how they expect to grow.

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And they go in front of a judge of seven judges, a group of seven

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judges, just like shark tank.

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And they sit and they present their business plan.

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That's on a PowerPoint and they have to have presentation skills.

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They have to have a business plan written.

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They have to have their financials, all things.

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And they go and they present and they're judged on a rubric of how

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they did in the business plan and how they did in the oral presentation.

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It's incredible.

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I honestly have not seen anything else like it, anywhere in the Commonwealth,

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I've talked to folks at our Virginia association of chamber of commerce

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executives meetings about it, and they have we want to copy this.

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We want to do what call pepper and career partners is doing.

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It's because of that community collaboration, communication and the

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caring is that we all work together.

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So let me share one quick story of the winning team.

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This year with spark adventure care, and they were coming up with a way they

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identified a need that there was not enough afterschool daycare for students.

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There are a couple of programs.

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We have kids central, which is through our Culpepper department of human services.

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We have the Colepepper Baptist child development center.

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They also do preschool.

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And they have pre-care and aftercare, but there's waiting lists at both places.

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There's waiting lists at all of our preschools.

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There's waiting lists at our Copa county high school in Eastern

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view, high school programs for students, the little blues and little

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cyclones for preschool students.

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So they know that there's a need and they were trying to

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find a way to address that need.

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And they come up with a business plan that they were going to buy

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the old star exponent building.

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They were going to have 10 employees and they were going to.

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Aftercare along with an opportunity, there might be a, there would be a

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tax stipend for those that needed it, that they would be able to find

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a way to get them some funding.

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They were asking for the investors to put in a stake and that

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they had it all figured out.

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But what stood out to me was we were doing, they were doing the in-person

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oral presentation and they went to a video and there was a young

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man, Chris Patel, who was acting as the CEO, or he was the CEO of the.

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And the audio on the video, as sometimes when you do a video to a PowerPoint,

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the audio doesn't always connect.

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And so you couldn't hear what the people in the video were doing.

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And I could see the small moment of panic over his eyes, and he quickly grabbed

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the microphone as soon as it was done and said I apologize for the audio issues,

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but this is what they were saying.

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And then he quickly went through and just, cliff notes style gave him.

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Detailed report of what those important community leaders

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were saying on the screen.

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And I thought he handled it with a plum and the entire group didn't

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you couldn't tell that was something that wasn't supposed to happen.

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They just made it seamless and they ended up winning.

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They were also the only team that I'm aware of that reached out to the chamber

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and spoke to me about membership and spoke to me about dissipating and the business

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industry and education day to get to.

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Who, teachers have kids.

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So they've got to find ways of when they have afterschool

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programs, they have meetings and they have other things going on.

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Sometimes their kids and my wife's a teacher, my kids will sit in her

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classroom and just twiddle their thumbs or, I don't want to say, get in trouble.

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Cause my kids are pretty good district, provide them.

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It could be bused to this location and they would have opportunities

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to do carpentry, to do.

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To do a bacon.

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And there was like all these ideas and there would be summer programs.

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And so they were going to present that to our teachers at BIE day, they

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were going to come to Colepepper Fest and present that to the community.

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And I thought that was just genius.

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And I was grinning like a proud Papa and sitting there as our logos are popping up

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and I'm like, wow, these guys, they did their homework and they ended up winning.

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But that to me is the beauty of career partners.

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And it wasn't.

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There's five other teams in the finals, five other teams in the

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preliminaries that were just as prepared.

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And they, this year, we're tasked with the social aspect of

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talking about food insecurity.

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And there was one business that came up with a food truck

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that was going to partner with mark, with merchants, grocery.

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They had identified that merchants grocery, which has been in

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Colepepper for more than a hundred years and delivers groceries.

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They're a wholesaler.

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They deliver all around the Commonwealth and they said that

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30% of their produce is thrown out.

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And they said, so the food truck talked to them and said, Hey, what

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can we do if we're using ugly produce?

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What can we work something out?

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And Chris Smithers, the CEO of merchant said, I will give you this produce

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because we're just throwing it out.

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So they completely cut out a lot of their bottom line because

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they're being donated this.

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That is ugly, but it's still good.

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And they were going to, make salsa with it and then we're going to can with it.

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And then we're going to, make these wonderful food truck creations with it.

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I was very impressed that Rachel Dillon was one of the young ladies

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that led it and she works for burnt ends, barbecue which is a food

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truck based down here off of 29.

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And I ran into Ronnie Rios who owns it.

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Who's also opening up downtown here in Colepepper.

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Okay.

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I just told him, I was just so amazed and impressed with the poise that this

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young lady had in the passion she had.

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She is going to be somebody who comes back to Colepepper and she's

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on open a food truck, or she's gonna have a business venture.

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And then, eight to 10 years, she is going to be a mover and

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shaker here in our community.

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Cause you can just tell, and it's amazing to watch these young people grow, even

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in the five minute presentation that they'll start off shy and you see them

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gain confidence because they know that.

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And it's being able to provide them that opportunity and

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this year we surprised them.

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So every year, all the winners on the team career partners has given

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a $5,000 scholarship to thanks to a grant through the path foundation

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this year, and going forward, winners of the east square program are going

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to receive a $10,000 scholarship.

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So most of the people that entered that have, did they actually go on to

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continue to execute the business plan?

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Or was it for the construct of the contest itself to get that experience

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of what it takes to formulate?

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I'm not aware of any businesses that have actually that they've taken the

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business plan and made it happen.

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Some of them are quite adventurous and one, and they've been amazing,

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but I will say that I know that young people that have been in.

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And that have won, have come back to our community and have served our community.

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Jason Ford works for Rappahannock Goodwill industries.

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He's on our chamber board.

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He's a vibrant member of our young professionals.

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He was the first African-American student, president and Mary Washington.

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He is incredible.

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And he coached a K a U squared team this year after he had been part of Eastern.

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I think six or seven years ago now.

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So he's come back and given back and Jeff Carroll his his grandfather

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was Bob Gibson was one of the ones that helped start the program.

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He, the east squared program and Jeb participated in it and I think

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Jeb won and now he's back coaching.

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So we see these students coming back and giving back into the community

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and showing that I've become successful because of what I learned

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through east squared and career.

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No, and that's awesome.

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And I wanted to piggyback a little bit because I completely

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forgot that I did mock interviews many times when I was there.

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I will say I was the only one.

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Every time I did it, I never had a partner.

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So I will set the stage if you've never been involved in the market.

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I believe these were going to be rising seniors.

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If I recall correctly and you'd go in and they were set up in the gym

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tables around every all the students would come in and they had a list

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of jobs that they were going to be quote unquote interviewing for.

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And so there should be tables with two people conducting the interview

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from the community to the students.

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I don't know how it worked out.

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I always had to do, I was always so low for whatever reason.

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I didn't think I was intimidating, but that's just how it worked out.

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But it was crazy to see one, some of the students, the preparedness,

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a couple of the ones I thought I had gotten all the album monitors one year.

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I'm talking back to back because they were going into premed and

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one kid was actually doing rockets.

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Some of them were extremely nervous.

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Others of them, I don't even know when they had time to sleep with all

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the extracurricular activities, but it was to give them that experience

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of talking to essentially a stranger in a professional capacity.

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I will say that a lot of times I'd go off strip because I did have one

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student that, that absolutely did not like any of the jobs on the list.

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And so I went off script and said, what do.

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To do.

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And we just, I said we can talk about that.

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Cause I know about that as much as I know, but anything else on the list,

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but it was an awesome experience.

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I thoroughly enjoyed doing.

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I forget how many times I did that.

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I did it at a bunch.

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And it was one of those things to be able to get involved with community

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and also work with students that never done some of that before.

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So we did mock interviews and 20, 20 and 2021 virtually we did them

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through Google vast of what the schools were using Google classroom.

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So we did them and I participated Amy participated.

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We will always have business leaders and our chamber board participate

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from E I save us all the time.

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It's one of the most rewarding things that I do because it's just being

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able to connect with those students.

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And I'm like, you, I go off.

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You're not supposed to.

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And I'm out here, I'm out here.

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I got my hand smacked a couple of times but there was one young lady

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in 2020 that stands out to me that we were talking and we were, she was

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telling me what she wanted to be.

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It was she was applying to be a waitress at a restaurant, but she was explaining

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the, she was the first member of her family that was ever going to graduate.

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And that she was the translator for the family and nobody else spoke

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English that she you spoke both issues bilingual, and that she would serve

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as the translator for her family.

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And she had all these responsibilities and she was working a job.

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And I was just completely going off script because I wanted her life story

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because she was just so incredible.

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And I'm like, you need to take this and use this because.

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The skills that you have of working with your family are skills that

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can be translated to any job.

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And w I know that Amy had some conversations with the young man that

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he, we get some of the ones that are just polished and ready, and then there's.

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I don't have any experience.

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I've never had a job.

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I'd worked with my dad and landscape and they're like, watch the kid

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almost looked like his heart was going to come out of his chest.

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He was certain nervous and I'm like, dude, calm down.

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It's okay.

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It's you know it was from all kinds of backgrounds.

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Yes, absolutely.

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It's just an, it's a conversation it's making them feel comfortable

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and let him, and there was a young man this year that came and he

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sat down and was talking to me.

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He was applying to be a barista at our local coffee shop.

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Raven.

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But he, and I started talking and I said, it was, so you seem really

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passionate about coffee and he's talking to me about how the bruise he does.

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And he's, he knows all this stuff and he goes, but what I really

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passionate about is theater and art.

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And I'm really passionate about fantasy high fantasy dry when

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they make a dragon coffee shop.

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And I want, I said, you are somebody that needs to be involved in east squared.

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And he stops and looks at me and goes, what's that?

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And I'm like the teachers, right?

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I'm going to call her over.

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She's going to write your name down.

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We need he's a junior next year as a senior, we need to get you

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involved in this program because those are the budding entrepreneurs.

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Those are the people that have the dreams and are going to lead our vision

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and our country in years to come.

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And we need to tap into that.

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No.

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Absolutely.

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And before we run out of time, I've got two more questions.

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First one last one's going to be personal, but the first one is where do

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you see, how do you see the Chamber's continuing to evolve and re reinvent

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themselves in changing times as poppy?

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You're bringing up you're talking about E squared, getting those in

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involved in ways that are engaging with.

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Major technological advancements coming in there for collaborate, different types of

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collaboration and things of that nature.

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Where do you see it?

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As now we're going into a new, potentially a new age, a new work look at the new

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work environment that's out there.

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Now.

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Most white collar jobs have a majorly remote work and, component to them.

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How do you see this affecting the Chamber's relationship with businesses

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as business itself is evolving.

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That's a great.

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I think that there is a, I think the best way to do is stay transformational

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instead of transactional.

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That's something we've talked about before.

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There is this perception of chambers that they've just always asked

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for money, and that is old white men in a dark room with cigars.

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We're trying to change our culture.

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We've started a diversity equity and inclusion group.

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It's gonna be a committee and the council, but we're allowing them to

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pick what they want to be called.

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And so we met in April.

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We're getting met again in may.

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We're going to be meeting again in July, and it's trying to find

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ways to highlight how diverse our community is and be accepting

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because there is so many different groups that we just want them to.

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Like they have a sense of belonging in our community.

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And so it's growing that and bringing them in and the Chamber's role is to

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serve as that conduit and for me to be able to serve as that connection

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agency, to be able to bring our community together, to bring people to

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the table, to be able to get work done.

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And that to me is more traditional, that's being able to build those connections

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to have those relationships, but.

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And that's what we need to do is to build those lines of communication,

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to be open, to be welcoming.

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And then when you're getting into your more your newer reality of,

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how do you navigate social media?

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Our small business council is going to be having a mixer, a

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breakfast mixer of do leave.

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It's July 12th, that we're going to be having it.

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There's going to be focusing on social media and we're going to

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have a couple of speakers, a little.

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Speakers, somebody from the small business group with Dave Riordan, he has

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a whole team down in Charlottesville.

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They're going to bring up this gun and talk about the big picture.

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And we're have somebody talk locally, a social media expert to talk about,

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maybe one thing businesses can do, but really highlighting how you can

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promote yourself on social media.

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That's something that we've worked really hard on.

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We do all of our ribbon cuttings now on Facebook live.

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We do them in person, but we also broadcast them on Facebook.

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We had one for Bailey's cookie bar on Monday.

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And we had as of Tuesday, we had 1500 views on that video.

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I think we were over 2000 views on that video already.

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So it's expanding that reach, letting people understand that yes, you want to

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be in the community, but there's also this whole other realm that you can be on

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social media and how to best utilize that.

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How often to post what.

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How do you respond to somebody that has a complaint, how to

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properly promote yourself?

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So it's navigating the traditional along with what I would call your newer reality.

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So it's a fusion of those two things.

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And I think that we play an important role in that and serving as leaders of

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showing how you can adapt and how you can evolve, but while also keeping your.

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Firmly your feet firmly in tradition as well.

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No, that's awesome.

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And I really appreciate the time as far as discussing the chamber in the future,

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but I have to cap our conversation off with a story that I have been repeating

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many times about a personal travesty that happened to you in my mind anyway.

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And try to set the stage without giving away the punchline.

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You were able to.

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Graduate college without graduating.

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And how and how you need to stay on top of how something 20 years in the

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past can come and bite you in the butt.

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So I it's something that I've talked about it with a few people.

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It's not my most proudest moment, but I also like to think it's not your fault.

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I'll say it's not your fault.

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It was just a thing that happened.

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This is one of those odd things in life.

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And but I also like to think maybe it shows my problem solving

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skills and my perseverance.

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So I graduated from Clarion university of Pennsylvania in 2002, and I worked

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at a newspaper and I had, so I was working full-time at two and two.

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And so I went back and I finished my degree.

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I worked my way, I was putting my way through college, so

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I wouldn't have any loans.

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That was something that I was very cognizant of.

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And so I came down to Colepepper.

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I got a job in the newspaper business, a couple of different jobs.

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I had another job opportunity that I would have applied for.

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I was excited about and I was accepted and they started doing the background

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and they come back and they said, Mr.

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Say, we'd see that you didn't get.

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And that's what I graduated.

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I started digging through all my paperwork, trying to find my diploma.

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I'm sure I had it.

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I called my dad.

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My mom passed in 2014.

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She was the one who handled everything in terms of paperwork and our family.

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I'm like mom had that, right?

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Like I walked, I had the everything, and my dad's I can't find it.

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I don't know where it is.

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Probably threw it out.

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My dad's a very gruff Northwest PA 84 year old man.

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So I called the school and I'm like, Hey, can I get my.

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Transcripts and everything and get my diploma.

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And they're like you're two credits shy.

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I did not complete.

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Or a one of my professors did not.

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My advisor at the time did not tell me that I needed a biology

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class, a basic biology class.

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And I'd gone through my entire career thinking that I was solid and.

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Yet I was two credits shy quickly put it in action.

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I said listen, this isn't going to work.

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I can't go through life like this.

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I have been presenting, for 20 years almost that I'm a graduate.

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I need to complete this.

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So the school was very accommodating Clarion university of Pennsylvania, which

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is now being merged with, I do believe it's Edinburgh in California to form.

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College, but that my college at the time, two years ago, so this is, this was in

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2019 late 2019 that I discovered this.

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And so I quickly enrolled in a winter course in 2020 and December of 2020.

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It was an online course.

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It was six weeks long.

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And I finished my biology class with a B and while I was working,

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full-time at the newspaper.

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And while I have three.

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Girls, Maddie is 11.

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Mara is nine and Macy is now four.

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So at the time you take off three years, they were, nine and six and two.

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So I had, my family life and everything going on and I just worked

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my tail off online to get that done.

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And I can proudly say that now.

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My diploma is.

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And we just moved.

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So I know exactly where my diploma is up near my pants in my closet,

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and I just haven't tucked away.

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There might be able to put it in a safe, but it was something that, and

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so when I applied for the chamber and was going through the interviews,

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I was in the middle of all this, I hadn't even received my diploma yet.

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That it was, I was finishing up that course and I was open and I'm like,

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listen, guys, this happened to me.

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And this is one of the oddest things I've ever heard of since then.

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I've learned that happened to a couple of.

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And it, which is just insane.

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Thankfully my credit still 20 years later still applied, they didn't make me, I, and

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I have a degree and I'm in communication.

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That is obviously what I do.

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And so I, it is an, a liberal studies degree.

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I get it.

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So when you are doing your schoolwork and you go to a college,

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make sure all your credits are.

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Make sure that everything is lined up just, dot your I's and cross

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your T's allow me to be a a symbol of what can happen if you think

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you've got everything under control.

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I will admit it led, I led to a lot of mental health issues with me.

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It led to a lot of anxiety.

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It led to a lot of self doubt and I like to think that I persevered and the

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chamber saw something in me and saw that.

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A passion for Colepepper.

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And and I had the skills that and now, one of the things that I'm a big

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cheerleader for John is career and technical education that you don't

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need to go to college for four years.

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I don't know.

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I honestly don't know if I had, if I needed to go to college for four

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years to do what I'm able to do.

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I have a background in obviously print journalism and radio and

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television, but those are all experiences that I gained, not in the

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classroom that was from afterschool.

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That was from joining organizations and learning.

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Certainly now when you look at plumbing and electricians and cybersecurity,

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these are all things that we offer at our career and technical education

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center in Colepepper, through corporate county, public schools,

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and also in partnership with Germana there's automotive that you can do.

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There's culinary.

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These are programs that you can be certified right out of high school.

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You don't need to get those student loans.

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You don't need to work a full-time job while you're going to college.

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So you don't have students.

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So I am a huge proponent of career and technical education.

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College is great.

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And I I had amazing experience in college, but at the same point in time,

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I don't know that if it's for everybody.

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You've got to find what works best for you.

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And use me as an example, please always double-check your transcripts.

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And there are certain things that, I don't remember a lot

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of stuff through high school.

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My mom gets irritated with me because she'll sit there and

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go don't you remember this?

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Don't you remember?

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No, that wasn't like one of those moments that just stick with you.

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I specifically remember you telling me.

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That story because you and I were going together to go interview somebody that

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was doing some new technology work.

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And you told me, and I remember how mad I got because, and I also got

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mad, but they actually made you take a course instead of just going, Hey, are

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bad and you could send them pictures of walking into her graduation.

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And I just found that because to be honest with you, I know somebody else

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that didn't get their paper degree because they didn't make the effort to go do it.

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And they had just graduated.

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And I reiterated that story to them.

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I said no, don't let this be a thing of, because you didn't take the effort.

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Now you graduated literally five months ago or three months ago, whatever it

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was and didn't get it that you don't have something like this come back and

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quite frankly, bite you in the ass, 15 years later when somebody asks.

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And it's so weird again.

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That's why I'm like, this to me is not an embarrassed, it's it's just one.

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I ball things, that how does that happen?

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It's perception, right?

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And we talk about perception all the time.

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So even if it wasn't my fault, there was a perception, oh, while

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you're trying to hide that, I had no clue, but I, I am a man.

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I like to think I'm strong in faith in terms of where God

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puts you, where you need to be.

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And where I was going to.

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God knew.

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And he sent a signal, like whatever, appreciated, a little more stumbler

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of the the signal, however, I ended up where I was supposed to be.

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And that for me is, I think about it every day.

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I do.

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And but I'm where I'm supposed to be at the chamber and promoting

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Colepepper and be able to promote all of our programs, our Colepepper

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Fest, our BIE day, our valor awards, given back to our first response.

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And just being able to incorporate all of the things that I've learned in my

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life, in terms of my writing skill of my people, skills of my ability to just

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talk off the, on the fly, off the cuff, on radio and television that, it has

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just worked out perfectly and it wouldn't have happened without that odd, strange.

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I will sit there and say, I guess the other sign is at some point

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later in life, you're going to need to be updated on your biology.

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Hey, listen.

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I was funny as that.

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Now I'm able to use those those skills and those lessons that I learned during

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that course to help my 11 year old as she's going into sixth grade biology.

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So now it's something that I'm able to pass along.

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That's awesome.

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Jeff, I, man, this has been great.

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I appreciate the the time today and talking about how the chambers are

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very important within the community and company, specifically in all

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the events coming up, and you've been able to navigate the waters

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through all of those shutdown periods and turn it into a great success.

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Thank you.

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And I thank you for having served on the chamber board and helping guide RJ.

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And in a way to where we needed to be.

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And, throughout the pandemic we have is just how can we help our

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businesses and our nonprofits.

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And now that continues as how do we continue to help them?

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Not only thrive, not only survive, but thrive.

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If anybody wants to reach out, what's the best way for them to do that.

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You can reach me on my email president@colepepperchamber.com.

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Please visit our website, www Colepepper chamber.com.

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We have Facebook presence.

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We have Instagram presence.

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We're on Twitter.

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And also we can just give me a ring if you're into traditional

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methods 5, 4 0 8 2 5 8 6.

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And I'm going to piggyback on that and say, if you're, if you

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happen to be in another community, you're looking to get involved.

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You're looking for different ideas.

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I know Jeff would be open to sharing what's worked and what

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doesn't work and help you shortcut successes within your own areas.

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I believe in R and D rip off and duplicate.

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Awesome.