That?s how she was raised: Chamber director learns about serving from her parents

Pam Stevens can?t help it. It was the way she was raised.

Stevens, Newton Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, always has some chamber event going on ? Art and Music, College Night, Hot Topic Luncheons, Chamber Breakfast.

?I grew up in Sterling, Kansas,? she said. ?It?s a town of about 2,500 people. I was in a class of 50, so we did everything.?

Whether it was in school or in the community, ?I always had that in my background, being service-oriented,? she said. ?I got that from my parents.?

Her father, Marion, taught physical education and coached football, basketball and track at the junior high school in Sterling for 35 years. He was just as busy in the summer, running a roofing and remodeling business.

Stevens? mother, Flo, worked in the banking industry. Now 80 years old, she still fills in at the bank when employees take vacations. She also volunteers for Meals on Wheels.

?They worked very hard but always gave back to the community,? Stevens said. ?We do a lot of events here at the chamber. It?s a demanding job, but growing up in the business community has really helped me. The community has been very good to me and my husband (Ronald), and this is one way I can give back.?

A Newton resident for 30 years, Stevens volunteered at school, where she was president of the PTO, the hospital auxiliary, PEO (an organization that promotes educational opportunities for women) and Ladies Reading Circle. She also worked for the William Carter Company as a training manager.

?I decided I can get a job and get paid for my efforts,? Stevens said. ?I could volunteer and give back.

?You have to have a dying need to serve the community,? she continued. ?It doesn?t seem like work. It?s something I enjoy.?

She joined the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce six years ago as membership and fundraising director. Last March, she stepped into her present role as the organization?s interim director. She was named to the position in September 2013. She oversees a staff of three part-time employees.

?When I moved here, downtown was booming, but things have changed ? the Internet, the economy. It?s changed, but it?s still here. ?The hard part in this day and age is keeping your business viable. So we try to help them find ways to keeping them successful,? Stevens said.

?Our mission is for everybody to be successful. We?re a great resource for other chamber members to find other chamber members and resources to help them with their business,? she said.

Toward that end, the chamber offers tools on its website and works closely with the Kansas Small Business Development Center to offer free consultations to businesses.

With 381 members, the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce is going strong and is second in size only to Wichita in the area. Membership fees are based on the number of employees at a business. Basic membership, for three employees, is $195. Churches and non-profits have a different fee schedule, Stevens said.

The chamber has a contract with the city of Newton to provide events for the city, Stevens said, which serves as a revenue stream, along with memberships, and golf and cookout fundraising events.

City events for Newton include Main Street Mania, College Night, Taste of Christmas, Taste of Newton and Third Thursday.

Other chamber events include Hot Topic luncheons, and a monthly 7:15 a.m. Chamber Breakfast with community partners Bethel, Hesston and Hutchinson Community colleges, the Newton school district, Harvey County, Newton Young Professionals and the Harvey County Economic Development Council, among others.

?One of the best things we do at the chamber is the Chamber Breakfast,? Stevens said. ?It?s one of the things that?s well attended. About 100 to 130 people attend.

?The sponsor speaks for about 15 minutes and then the community partners give reports. It?s very beneficial. You get a good overview of what?s going on in the community, and there?s networking. Providing networking is the No. 1 thing we provide. We get very positive feedback from our breakfast,? she said.

Stevens balances the chamber?s established programs with new ones, including a breakfast for USD 373?s roughly 45 new teachers, and Chamber 101, a program to explain to mew members what the chamber can do to help them.

?It?s been very successful,? Stevens said of Chamber 101. ?We help engage them and make them aware of what we can do to make them more successful.?

With the breakfast for new teachers, the chamber ?welcomes them into the community,? Stevens said. The teacher is paired with a chamber member to help ?integrate into the community.?

?Education is very important to our community, so we tied the business community with the school district. When companies look to come here, they look at the school district and what amenities are here for their workers. Our members thoroughly enjoy and love to part of it,? she said.

At the same time, Stevens is always evaluating programs for effectiveness. The chamber is revamping its leadership program, for instance, and recently met with the Kansas Leadership Center ?to see what we can do going forward.?

?It?s important to grew your leaders for the future,? Stevens said. ?It?s important to give them leadership skills so they can become better leaders.?

To get ideas for new events, development tools and programs, Stevens meets quarterly with other chamber executives in south-central Kansas and with the MAKO Chamber, a group of chamber leaders from Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

So far, the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce members heartily approve of the organization?s programming and leadership. Its most recent bi-annual survey reported a 60 percent approval rating.

?We feel like we?re on the right track, even though we?re continuing to look for new things to accommodate our new members,? Steven said.

In her off hours, Stevens likes to work in her garden and spend time with her family ? husband Ronald, a family practice physician, son Tyler, daughter-in-law Ericia and 4-year-old grandson Landyn, and daughter Lauren.

Big K-State fans, where Stevens studied family economics, and Ronald received his undergraduate degree, the family has attended and tailgated Wildcats home games for the past 25 years. This year, though, they didn?t renew their season passes.

?We?ll have some free time this fall,? Stevens said. ?I don?t know what we?ll do.

?We?re expecting another grandchild in January. That?s good, because that?s our quiet time. We rarely have a quiet time,? Stevens said.

Photos and story by Fred Solis