Volunteers help Old Town thrive

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Volunteers work tirelessly to help keep the Old Town community beautiful. Photo by Kaley Fech.

Volunteers are oftentimes the unsung heroes keeping small communities alive.

In Old Town, the volunteers allow the community to not only survive, but to thrive.

Ken Schroeppel, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver and an expert in downtown revitalization, said that if people are really committed to their local community, there is a much greater chance for success.

The people of Old Town have certainly taken this concept to heart.

Matt Hund, a resident of Old Town as well as a member of the Board of Directors, said that volunteers are an integral part of the community.

“Old Town is a volunteer-driven community,” Hund said, “None of the events, aesthetics or initiatives that you see would be possible without the excellent volunteers who give their time and energy to make them happen.”

One way people can volunteer is by becoming a member of the Board of Directors for the Old Town Commercial Association.

The Old Town Commercial Association has an executive director, a programming director, a Board of Directors, and various committees, all working to make Old Town the best it can be.

The Old Town Commercial Association's office can be found on Turner Street.

The Old Town Commercial Association’s office can be found on Turner Street. Source: Google Maps. Graphic by Kaley Fech.

Their building is located at 1232 Turner St.

The Board of Directors is made up of 11 volunteers who are voted into three-year terms each February. According to the Old Town Commercial Association Web site, the board members participate in several ways, including sitting on committees, volunteering at events and raising money.

According to Jamie Schriner-Hooper, the president of the Board of Directors, the Board oversees all of the work of the OTCA and has fiduciary responsibility.

Ben Rathbun, a board member in the second year of his term, said that the members work to meet the goals and visions of the organization.

“We help to provide guidance to the office and staff and help oversee the entire organization,” Rathbun said. “We review what is happening on the four committees and event subcommittees and ensure that our work is staying aligned with our mission and vision statements.”

According to their website, The Old Town Commercial Association developed three major goals for 2017: to have zero vacancies in storefronts and properties within the borders, to expand the boundaries (real and perceived) of Old Town, and to work toward becoming a Midwest destination.

The Old Town Commercial Association office. Photo by Kaley Fech.

The Old Town Commercial Association office. Photo by Kaley Fech.

Another way people may choose to volunteer is through joining one of the committees.

The Old Town Commercial Association has four committees: the business vitality committee, the design committee, the organization committee and the promotions committee. Each committee has their own projects that are aimed at helping to meet the Old Town Commercial Association’s collective goals.

“Each committee acts as a pillar to the organization and also partners with other committees to ensure the organization is meeting our goals,” Rathbun said.

Vanessa Shafer, the executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association, said the members of the committees work together to decide their projects.

“It is through the collaboration by members of the committee that they determine what their work will be and how it will further the mission of the organization,” Shafer said. “The committees submit work plans to the Board, who then determine if they are viable projects and that they will benefit the community as a result.”

The business vitality committee works to support the existing businesses and property owners. Members of this committee provide resources and initiatives that create an engaged business community. They also work to recruit new businesses to the area. Their projects for 2017 include business retention, business recruitment and real estate assessment.

The design committee works to improve the appearance of the community. Their projects for 2017 include aesthetics (hanging baskets and light pole decorations), education tours, historic preservation and public spaces.

A banner hanging on a lamp post welcomes visitors to Old Town. Photo by Kaley Fech.

A banner hanging on a lamp post welcomes visitors to Old Town. Photo by Kaley Fech.

The organization committee’s projects for 2017 include communications, membership, sponsorship/fundraising and volunteers.

Hund is a part of the organization committee.

“I am the chair of the organization committee, serve as the leader of the communications project team and work as a team member with membership,” Hund said.

As their name suggests, the promotions committee work to promote Old Town. They work to develop marketing and advertising plans for the Old Town Commercial Association, and they support community events and partnerships with festival committees.

“All Board members are required to serve on one of the four major committees or the equivalent of year round meetings from two of the festival committees,” Hund said. “Committees generally have five to 15 members are are largely made up of other volunteers, but having board members serve promotes connection between committees and the board.”

Anyone who is interested in joining a committee may do so.

“Anyone is welcome to join any of the committees by reaching out the OTCA office or just coming to a meeting,” Shafer said. “We encourage everyone who is interested in Old Town to visit several committees to decide what works best for them.”

However, some people may not have the time these particular positions require. For those who still wish to become involved, many other volunteer opportunities present themselves throughout the year.

“If people are not sure that joining a committee is right for them, there are many other opportunities to volunteer,” Shafer said. “We always need people to assist with the festivals, to help with community cleanup efforts, or to just come down and spend some time enjoying the public art.”

Schriner-Hooper added that the work of these volunteers is essential.

“The volunteers’ work is felt throughout Old Town, whether it be from maintaining the city owned flowerbeds and planting areas to the festivals and events that regularly occur in Old Town. It’s volunteers who are making it happen,” Schriner-Hooper said. “Because we’re a small neighborhood with an equally sized budget, we rely on volunteers to do pretty much everything in our public spaces to help make Old Town a better place.”

Hund added that there is no such thing as too many volunteers.

“We are always looking for volunteers, and Old Town is a great place to feel like you belong to the community,” Hund said. “Whether you are just visiting or an Old Town regular, you should feel welcome here.”

To find out more about becoming involved, visit the volunteer page.

The work done by the Board of Directors, the committees, and all of the volunteers helps to meet the Old Town Commercial Association’s overarching mission, as stated on its website, which is to maintain a vibrant business community in Lansing’s historic Old Town district by providing services and opportunities that foster economic growth and community engagement.

Volunteers in all capacities are the reasons Old Town has been so successful.

“I cannot stress enough that it is through the volunteer efforts of our amazing community that Old Town has become such a welcoming place to live, work and play,” Shafer said.