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Chamber Reaches Out

Committee seeks out Hispanic businesses

What first began as a round table discussion between selected ambassadors with the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce, has now turned into a committee with 31 members on the board of directors and a goal to unite the entire Herndon business population.

"After one [ambassador committee] meeting, they were talking about the need to reach out to the Hispanic community," said Ellen Kaminsky, membership manager for the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce, about the creation of the Hispanic Business Committee. "It grew out from the need in [Hispanic] membership to reaching out to the Hispanic businesses that are in the community."

Kaminsky explained that through the ambassador committee, which includes many members from Herndon's Hispanic community, the Chamber was able to reach a portion of the community they were missing, as well as have volunteers willing to head a new committee to do something about that absence.

"The idea was important to me to be able to start integrating the minority class of the business world of the community into the chamber," said Pat Williams, chair of the Hispanic Business Committee. "I didn't see their presence in the Chamber — there are businesses from many cultures — but Hispanic is where we decided to start."

Williams explained that because she grew up in Latin America, it was easier for her, as well as other members of the committee from other Hispanic backgrounds, to approach the Hispanic community first. From there she said they plan to spread to other minority businesses that do not know about the chamber of commerce's benefits.

"Almost 50-percent of our community is made up of minorities," said Kaminsky. "They need to have representation in the chamber."

Kaminsky, as staff liaison, will help with resources and focus the committee on realistic achievements.

"We want to see an increased participation, not only in membership in the chamber, but in the representation on the board," said Kaminsky. "We want to expand the total number, and draw from our new members to place them on the board of directors."

TO INCREASE the number of Hispanic businesses that belong to the chamber, Williams said, they first had to see how many businesses were already members.

Kaminsky said of the 800 businesses belonging to the chamber, 60 to 70 of them either primarily employ Hispanic workers or the bulk of their clientele is Hispanic, with around 20 to 30 of those businesses being Hispanic owned.

Williams said they have approached the current Hispanic business owners in the chamber, asking for their help as mentors to new members.

"The chamber offers basic benefits that are tremendous to all who have been involved," said Williams. "It's a network of people who get together, meet and support each other's businesses."

Williams said although the informal talks about a Hispanic business committee started a couple years ago, the committee's inception was this year.

"We're getting all our material ready before we go out to the businesses," said Williams. "We translated the materials the chamber provides to help businesses into Spanish."

Francine Kemp, founder of Diversity Works based out of Herndon, is a member of the committee, but said because she is in the final stages of her dissertation, she currently contributes through email correspondence.

But as one of the first Hispanic business owners in Herndon, Kemp is happy to see the chamber making an attempt to expand their membership.

"ANYTIME you have an awareness of how business is changing and you want to bring that into the chamber, that's a great thing," said Kemp of the committee's work. "I think it's smart and astute of the chamber to include the Hispanic businesses because they are the fastest growing segment of Herndon's small businesses today."

The Hispanic Business Committee hopes to integrate into the community after the holiday season with a fiesta that will introduce members of the community to the chamber and answer any questions they may have.

"In a lot of countries, being involved in the community outside of a business is not the norm," said Williams as to why they hope the fiesta will help bring more attention to the chamber.

Kaminsky said the chamber's main goal is to gain the business owners' trust.

"You have to show them the ways they'll benefit," said Kaminsky. "We want them to look at us and see themselves, that's why we formed the Hispanic Business Committee — we're not just talking the talk, we're walking the walk."