“I felt that I was up to the challenge,” Melissa Vander Plas about her new job as the director of the Harmony Area Chamber of Commerce. Melissa grew up on a small farm just northeast of Harmony, graduated from Harmony High School, and has lived the last 20 years in Harmony.
When Melissa saw the posting for the Chamber director job, it seemed too opportune to pass up. “I thought I might be a good fit,” she said. “It was a surprise opportunity that has worked out well for me.” Melissa had worked at the Bluff Country Reader for 25 years and, as much as she loved her job there, she was ready for a change. “I wanted to find something that allowed me to continue working in the communities, but with less weekend and night hours like the paper had,” she explained. She was also working part-time at the Preston Public Library and wanted something flexible enough to allow her to keep that job. The Chamber Director position fit the bill.
Melissa interviewed for the job and when she heard that she had gotten it, she was elated. “I was very excited and a little nervous because it’s a big responsibility to help the community move forward and continue the traditions that have already been established,” she said. “My knowledge of the community and involvement in different organizations has really given me a step ahead.” Over the years, she has served on the Chamber board twice, on several planning committees, and has worked with the guidebook production.
On October 1, Melissa officially started her new job as the Chamber director. She was able to spend some time with the out-going director Becky Hoff, learning the ropes before she took over.
“I’m really in learning mode right now,” Melissa said. “I jumped right in the middle of a lot of things going on.” She just finished with Haunted Harmony and is now working on coordinating the annual Breakfast with Santa and Holiday Fest events. As each event she works on is new to her, she doesn’t have any plans for changes until she’s experienced each one. “Then I’ll evaluate and see how we can do better next year,” she said. The timing of the job was perfect as Harmony will be celebrating its 125th anniversary next summer. Melissa is optimistic that everything will go smoothly and knows that the planning committee will help make it a success. “We have a great committee that’s taking a lot of the weight of that celebration on,” she explained.
Melissa is aware that she still has a lot to learn about the day-to-day logistics of being the Chamber director, but knows that she has the resources necessary to accomplish everything that needs to be done. She is staying in contact with former director Becky Hoff who is always available to answer questions. “She has not stopped answering my phone calls yet,” Melissa said, laughing. Chamber staff Annette Evenson and Sydnie Huffman have been very helpful as well. Melissa also appreciates the Chamber board members. “I’m just very fortunate to have a supportive board,” she said. “They encourage me and have given me a lot of reinforcement.”
Melissa looks forward to working with Harmony business owners and community members to promote the city. She plans to continue Harmony’s tradition of tourism, which includes a strong business community and recreational opportunities. “We have a lot going on in Harmony with the elevator project and proposed splashpad,” she said. Both projects are community led and contribute to Melissa’s view that the people of Harmony are forward-thinkers. “Every day I’m here, I learn more about that strong sense of community that is driving us forward,” she said.
Melissa spends Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays at the Chamber office while continuing to work part-time at the Preston Public Library and working as a freelance reporter for the Bluff Country Reader. In her spare time, she enjoys quilting, reading, and seeing movies at the Jem Theatre. She looks forward to talking with people from the community and encourages people to share their ideas, concerns, etc. with her.