New directors welcomed

Team Jaffrey names new leader, Peterborough chamber hires interim director

  • The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce and TEAM Jaffrey both welcomed new leaders this month.
  • The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce and TEAM Jaffrey both welcomed new leaders this month.
  • The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce and TEAM Jaffrey both welcomed new leaders this month.

New faces are on the scene this month at two local business organizations, as TEAM Jaffrey and the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce both welcomed new leaders.

In Jaffrey, downtown resident Melanie McDonald, a former TEAM Jaffrey volunteer who once worked for the Sharon Arts Center, is TEAM Jaffrey’s new executive director. And in Peterborough, May Balsama, the former head of the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce, will be serving as interim executive director for about three months. Both women started in their new jobs last week.

McDonald is no stranger to Jaffrey or to TEAM Jaffrey. She and her husband, Chris, bought a home downtown in 2005, when she was working at the Sharon Arts Center, and she quickly became involved as a TEAM Jaffrey volunteer.

“We were drawn to Jaffrey for all its charm,” McDonald said on Friday. “We had this idyllic vision, of being able to walk to town, to restaurants. The theater was in the process of being reborn. I immediately wanted to get involved.”

McDonald said former TEAM Jaffrey Executive Director Kathy Batchelder invited her to a TEAM Jaffrey visioning session.

“I was hooked immediately,” McDonald recalled. “I became a volunteer, then joined the board in 2006. It was a wonderful way to integrate into the town.”

McDonald scaled back her work with TEAM Jaffrey a bit a few years ago when her duties expanded at the Sharon Arts Center and later when her son, Henry, who is now 21/ 2 years old, was born. For the past two years, she has been doing development work at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center in Vermont. She said Marie Cassady, TEAM Jaffrey’s most recent executive director, contacted her about the TEAM Jaffrey position job when Cassady was planning to leave.

“I was so honored, and excited about returning to work right here in my home community,” McDonald said.

TEAM Jaffrey’s goal is to enhance and revitalize downtown Jaffrey.

“We want to support the businesses that are here, attract new ones and focus on the beauty and quality of life in this town,” McDonald said. “We have an army of hardworking volunteers, and a board made up of people from all walks of life, people who roll up their sleeves and work.”

TEAM Jaffrey sponsors numerous events downtown throughout the year. They’re now holding a farmers’ market on the Civic Center lawn on Saturdays, where they are working on a system to accept electronic benefits cards. The Concerts on the Common during the summer draw good crowds and have a focus each week on a local restaurant, retailer and service provider. The popular Riverfest event on the third Saturday in June is known for its giant game of musical chairs on Main Street. And Scarecrows on the Common on Columbus Day weekend draws visitors from all over the region.

Although she has been on the job for only a few days, McDonald has some thoughts on where she sees opportunities for growth. “Raising awareness is really important,” she said. “We need to focus on what sets us apart. We’ve been very event driven and we may need to diversify the ways we raise money.”

She plans to focus on grant writing and also on an effort to work with Jaffrey businesses that aren’t downtown, in order to develop more support.

And she’s also recruiting volunteers. “People move into Jaffrey every week,” she said. “As a young mother, I’m interested in connecting with parents. We need help. We need mulch spreaders and face painters. We need a graphic designer. Tell us what you like to do and we’ll put you to work in downtown.”

In Peterborough, Balsama is also looking forward to working with the many volunteers who help with chamber activities. “You rely heavily on your volunteers,” she said. “Working with them and honoring their contributions are the real joys of this position.”

Balsama, who lives in Amherst, said last week that she’s delighted to have the opportunity to work in Peterborough. She retired from chamber of commerce duties in January after eight years at the Souhegan Chamber and has been working in real estate with her husband, Richard Balsama.

“I missed working with the business community,” Balsama said. “This is a return to something I love to do. I hope I’ll have a positive influence on the chamber and on the community.”

Balsama, who was Amherst’s Citizen of the Year in 2012 and was the first chair of the Souhegan School Board, said she’s been a frequent visitor to Peterborough, often shopping at the stores in Depot Square. “I’m still learning my way around town,” she said. “There’s a lot going on this summer that I’ll have fun doing.”

Balsama said one of the goals of any chamber of commerce is to provide a forum to bring businesses, nonprofit organizations and civic groups together. “They are very interdependent,” she said. “A strong business community is absolutely vital.”

On a national basis, Balsama said, businesses return about 14 cents on every dollar earned to the local community, in the form of sponsorships, assistance to civic organizations and support to school systems. “In smaller towns, I expect it’s much higher,” she said.

Balsama has signed on for a 90-day interim stint at the chamber. “That was part of the attraction. [This job] was serendipity for me,” she said. “It’s my intention that there will be a termination.”

She said the chamber board plans to form a search committee to recruit a permanent executive director, with the intent to have someone start in the fall.

Balsama will be in the chamber’s office on Route 101 on a part-time basis, with her hours flexible depending on what’s going on. “My door is always open when I’m here,” she said. “I’ll look forward to meeting anybody, any time.”

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