The Ferndale Chamber of Commerce unanimously elected floral designer Jerome Raska to a one-year term as chairman in January. Raska owns Blumz, located at 853 E. Eight Mile Road, as well as a second store in downtown Detroit, with his partner of seven years, Robbin Yelverton. He has 30 years experience in the floral and event industry.
Raska recently spent three years as president of the Michigan Floral Assocation, and is now the agency’s immediate past president.
“That has given me a lot of experience that will help me in my role as chairman,” he said, adding that when he took the reigns of the MFA, the group “took a good look at who they were, and who they wanted to be, and how they were going to get there. [The chamber] is in exactly the same position, so this is not a new challenge for me.”
Since being elected, Raska has wasted no time in getting busy.
“Immediately, right out of the gate, we scheduled and have had already two strategic planning meetings,” he said. “We brought in an outside facilitator to kind of be the ringleader … and we were able to pinpoint what we wanted to achieve.”
Board members who attended the meetings were asked to write down the answers to several questions, such as five reasons why there should be a chamber, five reasons someone would want to join, etc.
“The whole room was filled with tear sheets,” recalled Raska. “We took all the information, compiled it and when we were done we ended up with a core reason for the chamber, and that’s how we ended up with our new vision and mission statements.”
The chamber’s new vision statement is, simply, “to promote business and community.” Derived from that, the mission statement is “to serve as the cornerstone of the business community by promoting commerce. To provide premier, forward thinking professional member driven collaboration through leadership, opportunities and integrity.”
“The important thing about being chairman of a voluntary board is to remember it isn’t about me,” said Raska. “It isn’t about the board members. We were all elected because we have the community’s best interest in mind.”
To that end, Raska says the important thing he can do as chairman is to help the agency become more visible – and not just inside the city limits.
“We’re going to move forward by using a ‘thinking outside of the box’ mentality,” he said. “We have formed a foundation and are looking for foundation members. It will take a $2,500 sponsorship fee to become exclusive foundation member. We’re targeting larger companies. We’re going to try to attract from outside the area. The city of Ferndale is a great place to live and work, and the people who are here already know that. So our job as a chamber is to get the word out outside of our community.”
But that doesn’t mean the chamber is going to ignore the hometown folk; quite the opposite.
“I think the thing that people will start to realize about the chamber soon is that we’re going to be more visible, and that will have the greatest impact,” said Raska. “We’re going to be hosting events. We already have a coffee connection every other Tuesday morning, which has been a great success. Now, we’re going to start having more evening mixers. We already do some, but we’re going to increase our partnership opportunities with some of the other local chambers.”
Such work is not easy, and requires Raska to take considerable time away from running his floral business. Raska, though, isn’t worried.
“Fortunately, I have the gift of multitasking, and I think what I’m doing with my business and my community work go well together,” he said. “I feel if you own a business you must be supportive of the community that the business serves, and that’s why I’m involved.”
When talking about the prospects for the chamber over the coming year, Raska speaks with an enthusiasm that’s contagious.
“I believe the reason I was chosen to be chairman of the chamber is because of my passion for the community, my enthusiasm and my infectious personality, which tends to get people inspired and make them want to become involved. I’m very excited about this opportunity that I’ve been given. If I bring to the table one quality that outshines the rest, it’s the opportunity to empower members to utilize their energies for the common good.”