Jenna Gardner Named New Chamber Executive Director
By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer
HARRISON – Anyone who comes from a time when there was a variety show on television every night of the week, knows what it means to say that Liz Crafton “kept all the plates spinning” as she ensured activities and functions were organized and on time. Such is the expansive task the Harrison Chamber of Commerce executive director faces. After many years in that position, Crafton stepped down this fall, leaving a void which the Chamber has had a difficult time filling. However, that the situation changed Nov. 26 when Jenna Gardner stepped into the office as the new executive director.
Gardner is a Leota-ite, born and raised, who says she was blessed to have grown up in a house just a short bike ride from her grandparents. Gardner moved away near the end of her high school career, finishing her diploma at Concord High School near Jackson. After graduation, she moved to Texas, where she came to the realization that she wanted to serve her country in the military, and so enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Gardner said her past struggle to feel she belonged somewhere was replaced by the camaraderie she found in the military.
“You always feel like you have family no matter where you go; if it was my choice, I would still be in,” Gardner said. “I absolutely loved the military. I really wanted to deploy, but I worked directly for my battalion commander [and he did not allow that deployment].”
After leaving the Army, Gardner used her military education benefits to earn an associate degree in Medical Assisting and finished out her Bachelor of Science degree with Health Service Administration.
Jenna Gardner’s family includes her husband, Andrew, daughter Camille, 13, and son Wyatt, 7. Returning to the Harrison area, the family opted to live in a house near her parents’ Leota home, where once again her children have ready access to their grandparents’ house nearby, just as their mother had.
“My family is amazing,” she said. “That is one blessing I’ve always had. I’m blessed with that kind of thing.”
All through her interview with the Cleaver, Gardner’s comments kept returning to the basic theme of “community” and how important it is to her to “give back” to the community that raised her – and to ensure that her own children are able to experience that same close-knit community/small town community she knew growing up.
Gardner has been working with her friend Destiny Adgate, owner of Buggy Down Carriage Co. It was Adgate who made Gardner aware of the open Chamber position. She applied, and apparently her military lessons of “can do, will do” suited the Chamber Board of Directors and Gardner dived in to take on the myriad tasks awaiting her.
Gardner’s first big event was the Harrison Christmas Celebration and Tree Walk. There was a bit of confusion going in, and attendance was down, but Gardner is undaunted, and is confident for the future knowing she will have adequate time to prepare for the next one.
Upcoming for the Chamber is the annual Frostbite Festival which is slated for Feb. 14-17
Gardner said the Chamber’s greatest asset is the local businesses.
“Without the businesses, we are nothing,” she said. “They’re our greatest strength.”
The Chamber recently elected its officers, and Liz Crafton was voted in as Board president, an office she will assume as of Jan. 1. Gardner said she and Crafton have discussed possible changes to the Chamber’s numerous events, and the possibility of reducing the number of events and investing more time in the remaining ones to make them better events.
Gardner said that going forward, the Chamber’s focus will expand, and that her ambition and goal is for the businesses, not for the Chamber as a body.
“The Chamber has been asking business for a lot, and I want to turn it around and ask what we can do for business,” Gardner said. “This door opens at 9 a.m. every morning. Let your voices be heard, please.
“It’s going to be awesome,” she said. “Lots of teamwork, nothing but strength coming forward. And I can’t wait for the businesses to see that. The Board will be held to a standard and will be held to their obligation. If we have people who simply want to come forward, please do. If we have people fall out, we’ll need people to fill their shoes.”
To learn more about the Harrison Area Chamber of Commerce, visit the Chamber’s Facebook page or www.harrisonchamber.com, or call 989-539-6011.