2011 PFIG Recipient Alex Kent

Career Administrator

Alex Kent
College of Arts & Sciences
Government and American Politics Major
2013 Graduation Year

Internship: Woodstock Chamber of Commerce

Notes on the first week

Walking into the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce on my first day probably should have been more overwhelming. It was a brand new internship, with a boss (who will not let me call her that) that I had never met, doing something that I had never done. These new things that would normally have caused me some nerves before my first day were quickly erased as I walked through downtown Woodstock to the Chamber of Commerce. I walked past the movie theatre that I’ve been to dozens of times, the Café that I frequent for lunch, and past faces that smile back and call me by my first name. I was walking past the same stores, restaurants, and businesses that I was hoping to assist throughout the summer. Everything I was walking past comprised everything I loved about where I am from. My first week at the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce quickly showed me that the objective of the Chamber is not to turn Woodstock into a metropolis or industrial breeding ground – but quite the opposite. My work at the Chamber will be assisting in the overall goal of Woodstock and Shenandoah County. This is an area that has been a beautiful place for people to live and raise a family for over 250 years. The Woodstock Chamber recognizes that you can have a successful business community while still maintaining the small town character that has made Woodstock such a wonderful place to live for the people who lovingly call it home.

When I walked in to the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce its number of employees doubled. The Director, Jenna French, was thrilled to have me for the summer and we spent much of the first day discussing certain things I could focus in that would help both local businesses while providing me with a valuable and useful experience. I became acquainted with some of the software in the Chamber and also some basic website maintenance that I would apply throughout the summer. My first week in the Chamber I started what would become the weekly task of updating the events on our website (www.woodstockvachamber.com) for Shenandoah County such as plays, seminars, fundraisers, fairs and other events of interest. Jenna helped me to familiarize myself with the member directory of the Woodstock Chamber and I was fortunate to meet probably over 20 members in just my first week.

My first week in the Chamber showed me that my internship was going to be a diverse and rewarding experience. After only five days I could see that no day was going to be the same. At only my second day at the Chamber I sat in on a Board meeting that has been meeting for months planning a large event called “Autumnfest.” I will certainly be able to go into detail about Autumnfest on another journal entry but I will provide a brief outline of the event before I discuss my role in helping to plan it. Autumnfest is an event that will be held at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds on October 22 (here in Woodstock) and will serve as a fundraiser for the Woodstock Chamber. A few days before I arrived Jenna was able to have Governor McDonnell declare the BBQ competition of Autumnfest as a BBQ state-championship that would be sanctioned by the Kansas City BBQ Society (the largest such sanctioning body in the country). Autumnfest will also feature a corn-hole competition, belt-sander races, live music, and cow-plop bingo (this one I won’t go into explaining). Autumnfest will also draw dozens of crafters for the arts and crafts exhibition and will feature a business expo to provide exposure to local Shenandoah County Businesses. Wineries, a key component to Virginian tourism, will also be set up at the Fairgrounds so that the thousands of attendees can sample some of the great wines from vineyards all around the state. In my first week at the Chamber I had already began to put together a schematic for the fairgrounds to present to the Woodstock Chamber Board and another schematic to determine where crafter booths would be dispersed. I had also begun to take calls from crafters, wineries, and businesses and assisted them in registering for Autumnfest.

When I first spoke with Jenna about interning at the Chamber she told me that I would play a key role in marketing events like Autumnfest. I was very excited about this component of the internship and my first week at the Chamber did not disappoint. The Chamber is also co-sponsoring an event with the Town of Woodstock called “Vintage Woodstock”. The town closes off an entire street adjacent to the historic courthouse building where a local band plays music and vendors provide food and drinks for participants. The key component of Vintage is the wine-tasting from six Shenandoah County vineyards (I assure you, not all Woodstock Chamber events involve wine). My fourth day at the Chamber of Commerce gave me an opportunity to see parts of my home county that I had never been to before. I traveled around the county to the six vineyards—which seemed to be tucked away off of back-roads in every corner of the county. I was able to speak with the owners of the vineyards about Vintage Woodstock but also about the Chamber of Commerce and the Parents Committee Internship Grant. Before I started my internship I set a goal for myself to meet as many business owners as possible and learn from their experiences and opinions. I wanted to find out about why they chose or stayed in Shenandoah County as a place of business. For this reason I took the opportunity to briefly interview each owner or manager I encountered as I went from vineyard to vineyard. Each had a very unique story about what led them to owning a vineyard and why they chose Shenandoah County as their business location. It provided me a wonderful perspective on business ownership while keeping in consideration what benefits and challenges a rural setting presents. My first week at the Chamber served to excite me about the weeks and experiences to come.

Midway

Midway through my Woodstock Chamber of Commerce internship has found me assisting the Woodstock community in ways that I had never thought possible. Over the past two months it seems like I have met a handful of new people every day – and all of them were genuinely enthused about the prospect of the Chamber having an intern to assist with its day-to-day functions. It quickly became evident that all members of the Chamber of Commerce were truly invested in it because they saw the benefits that the Chamber provides local industries and businesspeople. Woodstock business owners and residents all want the Chamber to succeed because they want the town as a whole to maintain its wonderful qualities that they have come to love and strive to preserve. There is an undeniable relationship between a successful business community and a successful living community and this has become perfectly clear to me over the past two months. It is a motivating quality of this internship. Knowing how much Woodstock, Shenandoah County, and the Shenandoah Valley as a whole mean to the people who live and visit here is inspiring and is the reason that organizations like the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce push so hard to assist local businesses, tourists, and residents in the area.

Vintage Woodstock was held on June 24th and was an enormously successful and equally exhausting event. I don’t have any pictures of Jenna and me working at the event because I don’t think there was a single free moment to snap a photo. Between checking ID’s, wristbanding attendees, and handing them a commemorative Vintage Woodstock sampling glass I didn’t have a moment to catch my breath. It was a tremendously enjoyable event that featured a local band named “Souled Out” who played into the night in front of a packed street of over 2,500 people. Right next to our historic courthouse, the Woodstock Chamber was in charge of setting up and operating the “Wine Garden” which featured six Shenandoah County vineyards who provided samples to a spirited group of local residents. The weather was unbelievable and provided a wonderful night for people to enjoy local wine, music, and good times with their friends and neighbors. Every person who passed by our Chamber table into the wine garden expressed so much enthusiasm about how much they were enjoying Vintage Woodstock and provided their genuine thanks for the continued efforts of the Chamber to make Woodstock an enjoyable place. The event helped to raise almost $2,500 for the Woodstock Chamber.

In an effort to promote tourism in our area Jenna and I drove to the Clearbrook Welcome Center off of Interstate 81 to hand out promotional material for Woodstock and the surrounding area. The welcome center is the first welcome center you encounter when you enter Virginia off of I81 and gets a high volume of traffic in and out on a daily basis. The Welcome Center is by no means just a rest-stop, but a newly built multi-functional facility that features an entire spacious room solely dedicated to Virginia tourism. Jenna and I were there on behalf of the Woodstock Chamber but were working with the Shenandoah County Tourism Office and handing out information on events like the Rt. 11 Yard Crawl (a 43 mile long non-stop yard sale in its seventh year that draws thousands of visitors to the county). We were fortunate enough to have a delicious incentive for travelers to stop by our table and discuss Woodstock with us. Route 11 Potato Chips (a Shenandoah County business who makes chips that are recognized as some of the best in the country www.rt11.com) provided us with 200 bags to hand out to hungry travelers. As we expected, the chips went very quickly but enabled us to start dialogue with the visitors who were only 30 miles away from passing through Woodstock and Shenandoah County. A great deal of the people we talked to seemed very interested in what our area had to offer. Many had already visited the area and fell in love with it and told us that they intended to come back soon. Unsurprisingly, many of the people we talked to also asked where they could buy more Rt. 11 Potato Chips.

I could not be happier about how this internship is going. I have gotten to help in such a wide variety of ways and the experiences I’ve had will prove invaluable. For the past two months I have been visiting and interviewing local business owners to learn about their businesses, background, thoughts on Woodstock, and an array of other topics. I won’t go into too much detail until my next journal entry when I have finalized all of my interviews but I do intend to forward our Woodstock Chamber news letter to the PCIG Committee, as this is where I have decided to publicize the information. I hope everyone enjoys reading the interviews as much as I enjoyed conducting them and going out into the Woodstock community.

Final Reflections

When I started this internship, I was under the misconception that I knew all about my hometown of Woodstock, after having lived here 20 years. Working in the Chamber of Commerce, which serves as the de-facto visitor center for our town (and more broadly, our county), I quickly learned that there was far more to know about my area. After taking up to a dozen phone calls a day and receiving a handful of visitors daily, all of whom were inquiring about information on Woodstock, I knew I was in for a crash course of information on what my community has to offer. I have learned everything, from our business resources, tax-code information, town ordinances, to giving detailed directions to local landmarks and attractions. I feel that my biggest accomplishment is being able to pass this information along to people in the area who may be visiting for a short time period or who are interested in moving to the area. Because it was only Jenna and I in the office, it gave her the flexibility to leave the office open with me handling the day-to-day business if she had another engagement to attend around the area. I took great pleasure in being able to accurately answer people’s questions and promote the area that I truly love. Any internship that gives you the chance to interact with people on a daily basis while maintaining professionalism and hospitality will surely pay dividends in the long run.

Though Woodstock’s growth is far from robust, we do receive a slow but steady influx of people moving into our area. These people turn to the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce for information on the unfamiliar area they are moving into. Jenna and I both noticed that it would be beneficial to these people if we put together an entirely new relocation packet that we could distribute to anyone interested in moving to the area. Jenna and I agreed that this would be a great project for me to tackle. It was a challenge to put together a concise but informative packet that would promote the area and show new residents all that it had to offer. After compiling the information, it felt great to have a quick resource to send out to people who may have otherwise felt entirely disconnected to the town. It was indescribably rewarding when we received positive feedback and appreciation from the people who received these welcome packets.

Autumnfest was unquestionably the largest and most time-consuming event for Jenna and I this summer. She repeatedly expressed how much having an intern allowed her to distribute the workload and more efficiently move along with the event. The nine-member Chamber board would meet weekly in preparation for the October 22nd event and there would always be a new project once the meeting concluded. I feel heavily invested in this event and cannot wait to attend it. The biggest thing I have learned from this internship is a direct result from all of the Autumnfest planning and promoting. What we, as the Chamber, are trying to create is an event that the Woodstock community can take pride in -- something that residents can look forward to and identify with as a town. The lesson I have taken from all of this is how powerful a non-profit organization can be when it receives support from the entire community. The power and influence starts with the Chamber Director, Jenna, but is strengthened by the resolve and dedication of the Chamber Board, and finally is reinforced by the Chamber’s members and residents of the community who have bought into the togetherness and donated either their hard-earned money or valuable time. After sitting down with the Executive Director of the Shenandoah County Free Clinic for one of my business interviews it became very clear that this community, through good economic times and bad, never stops their charitable efforts. This is undoubtedly why Woodstock and Shenandoah County is such a wonderful place to live. The old cliché goes something like “I would give you the shirt off of my back.” When you come to Woodstock, Virginia you are likely to find that this isn’t a cliché – but instead a way of life. I would encourage any undergraduate student to seek out an opportunity like the one I received. Working for a non-profit provides exposure that no other work can. I was fortunate to work alongside such professional and giving people. In my thank-you letter for the Chamber, I expressed gratitude for how welcoming all the Chamber members were towards me. I concluded my letter in the best way I could by saying “I only hope that I put as much into this internship as I got out of it.”

I cannot possibly express enough gratitude towards the PCIG Committee and all of those individuals who played a role in making this grant possible. Without each of you my incredible internship would have never happened. So again, thank you to every person who played a role in creating the Parents Committee Internship Grant and the dedicated selection committee who helped to create such a memorable internship for me and the other PCIG recipients.