President’s Article: November

The DMP Staff – Everyday Heroes

In this month’s article, I want to focus on the folks who make things tick at the MDA and the DMP as a whole; the DMP’s incredible staff. Hopefully you’ve all met them in person, had communication with them, or have seen them out and about in their fulfilling of daily duties. And no … I’m not one of them and I was not asked to write about them either!

As a nonprofit organization, the DMP employs a total of seven office staff members plus a slew of maintenance and temporary personnel each with unique function and purpose. As you can imagine, some, if not all of their job responsibilities, have radically shifted in the past seven months or so since the onset of lockdowns, social distancing or any pandemic related disruption.

For example, if you’ve ever seen a maintenance person Downtown emptying trash cans, watering flower baskets, power-washing sidewalks, removing graffiti or any other one of innumerable tasks, that person has more than likely had to “pivot” in their role to take on even greater responsibility. When things locked down Downtown and suddenly, there was very little traffic, by foot or otherwise, new unforeseen challenges presented themselves. These folks had to still maintain the entire area plus go beyond the call of duty. Case in point, since the annual and popular Clark Fork Coalition’s River Cleanup event was cancelled in May, they went to work hauling pickup truck-loads full of detritus out of the riverbank areas Downtown by themselves. Ray Kroenke was and is instrumental in all of these functions and deserves special recognition. Thank you for all you, do Ray!

As for the MDA itself, imagine an organization whose primary functions are to engage & serve its own members, plan major seasonal public events, and enhance the overall social and economic vitality of a healthy Downtown. Now imagine that every single one of those functions had been instantly disrupted. No longer was it possible to plan for, let alone hold, in-person events. No monthly Membership Luncheons, no Garden City Brewfest, no Out to Lunch/Downtown ToNight events, no River City Roots Fest. If you’ve ever served on a committee as a volunteer, you know how much time, organizing, planning, discussion and action goes into these events … and how hard the responsible staff members involved work to pull them off. For example, put yourself in the shoes of the Marketing & Events Director (Kristen Sackett, who rejoined the DMP team midstream of events season) or the Membership & Events Director (Chelsee Kusera), and there now are no events to organize or direct. What do you do … and how can do you it from home using Zoom? Now, each and every committees has to meet remotely! The result is you focus all of your energies into either reinventing an event to make it safer or cancelling it altogether. In either case, these decisions STILL take an enormous amount of time, organization, planning, discussion and action along with committee members’ participation … not to mention the pure heartache when things just don’t make sense to do and must be cancelled. The weight of disappointment an entire community feels when this happens lands squarely on your shoulders. The whole weekly Food Truck Pop-Up events in Caras Park this summer were an attempt to pivot the cancelled summer events and support these vendors by gathering people in smaller/safer numbers without cancelling potential business for them entirely. That was NOT easy to pull off or to even imagine what they would look like, let alone make happen.

Imagine now that you’re the Finance & Administration Director (Robert Giblin). Since all events that each generate critical income for the organization as a whole have been cancelled, you’re suddenly faced with a 75% loss in total revenue in a single year and potentially beyond. Not only was this not budgeted for, it was simply unthinkable until early in 2020. You go into immediate action in evaluating every single penny of expense, and you start making intelligent decisions about making critical cuts to all operating costs under your control. As Robert has been instrumental in developing wise long-term fiscal policies and planning for perceived “rainy days,” this along with taking emergency measures to cost-cut in dramatic fashion, the DMP has matched the loss in revenue with an equivalent proportional reduction of overall expense. Under his leadership, this was a Herculean effort on the part of every single staff person taking personal accountability for their individual and collective expense spending. And Robert has also shifted & grown into to the role of grant writer for the DMP which has been a hugely successful endeavor. As with all suffering entities during the pandemic, the organization went into action mode with sourcing any and all potential funding or financial assistance being offered by the Federal government, State of Montana and beyond. Dozens of opportunities were pursued with many resulting in critical funding or expense reduction. This effort alone has turned potential catastrophe into a bit of some breathing room for the time being.

One shining example of success, MDA program-wise, were the Unseen Missoula Underground Tours this year. These started in 2019 and become an instant hit with the community. With 2020 suddenly forcing nearly everything “underground” metaphorically speaking, it was a natural that these tours with small batches of people would be attractive to folks. Imagine you’re now the DMP Program Director (Kalina Wickham). Under your purview are the handling and booking of all reservations for any event, public or private, at the Caras Park Pavilion which the DMP manages and maintains. Suddenly, there are no new events to book. Any previously booked events for 2020 are now cancelled. All of this results in another loss of a critical revenue stream for the organization. Now what? You pivot your energies into the one program/event/revenue stream that is still feasible to safely maintain and grow; Unseen Missoula Tours. As a result, this program was expanded and resulted in continually sold-out tours throughout the entire season. The tour guides did a phenomenal job in providing fun & informative excursions through the hidden away history of Missoula. Kalina has also been instrumental in working with the Heritage Missoula committee and developing the initial stage of installing the Heritage Interpretative Legacy Trail as I discussed in last month’s article.

Upfront and behind the scenes, imagine you’re now the Operations Coordinator (Bram Moore). You’re the welcoming face and greeter of every person entering the DMP Office. You also are the friendly voice on the phone when calling into the office. You work with and support your fellow staff members, MDA committee members, board members, MDA members, organizational donors, and members of the general public in every conceivable fashion that you come in contact with. Now, shift out of this role into reality and ask yourself have you ever purchased Missoula Downtown Gift Cards in the past either in person or online (if not, why not)? Chances are Bram is the one who cheerfully and efficiently processed the order for you. Bram has handled the sudden shutting down of the office in March like a champ. He has single-handedly maintained Gift Card sales and processing with coming in as needed when no one else has been around. With the office opening up as of late, he has been able to be at his station full-time, performing his duties at excellently as ever. We couldn’t be more appreciative of his efforts.

Imagine you’re the Business Development Director (John Corwin) for the organization. Your role is all about what the title implies, developing business relationships to help support the economic vitality of Downtown. Suddenly, there is a dramatic shock to this vitality all over and at once. Every single relationship you have developed or have attempted to is now in danger of crumbling due to extraordinary circumstances. How do you react? You reach out. You double your efforts. You listen and offer resources. You do everything in your power to be a leader, cheerleader and sounding board for the business owners who are feeling discouraged, to say the least.

And all of the people of above have contributed mightily to the continuing health of the organization by continually bringing their heads together in comprehensive brainstorming sessions to help meet the challenge of turning a fully-loaded cargo tanker mid-ocean on a dime … in a hurricane. The sessions have produced some incredible ideas for reimagining, reinventing, re-everything-ing for the present and future of the DMP. Simply put, the ship continues to sail under its own power due to their individual and collective ideas, efforts & energies.

Overseeing all of this during both calm and stormy seas has been the Partnership’s stalwart captain. You’re now this very captain, Executive Director Linda McCarthy. With twenty plus years of dedicated service and experience under your belt growing this extraordinary organization, you now face unprecedented times. Potential economic collapse of dozens of small businesses and non-profits alike … including your own. Unrelenting concern for the health and safety of your crew (not to mention your own loved ones) is in the forefront of your mind. The hundreds of relationships you’ve developed in your role over the years are suddenly shifted, pulled, strained, threatened, and some even bolstered by the adversity of it all. You’re looked upon by your entire community for leadership, guidance, resource and recovery … essentially turning your role into that of a beacon in the darkness that your very own vessel is looking to steam toward to avoid dire straits. And your crew is looking to you to take charge, to garner and display the courage & wisdom & knowledge to help lift the sails, to be the rock with all the answers to questions you’ve never been asked before … ever. What do you do? You take charge, you garner and display the courage & wisdom & knowledge, you help lift the sails yourself along with your crew. You build new teams or strengthen existing ones to help carry the load. And by doing so, you help all boats raise their sails in a turbulent ocean filled with them. The key to your success is communication. One of the many strengths Linda possesses is her ability to communicate and connect with everyone she encounters. A prime example of this comes from her written word. If you been receiving her excellent and unprecedented, must-read Covid-19 Update in Downtown Missoula communiques, you will know there is no one who is in a better position (nor better at it) in the community to relay and provide critical information to everybody literally starving for it.

This is all said to make the point that all of these amazing people are heroes in my book. They do what they do because the main tenet of their individual and collective jobs is their dedication to the Downtown Missoula Community. They rise to the challenge every single day and never ever give up. I only gave a few examples of their incredible efforts, but there are countless examples of individual efforts going on behind the scenes that help make me personally more dedicated in my role as MDA Board President. Their example(s) should inspire us all to truly show up for the community we all love and wish to nourish & support … now more than ever when we’re needed the most. I’d like to personally thank and honor all of the following DMP staff for their heroic work:

  • Linda McCarthy – Executive Director
  • Robert Giblin – Director of Finance and Administration
  • Chelsee Kucera – Director of Membership & Events
  • Kristen Sackett – Director of Marketing & Events
  • Kalina Wickham – Program Director
  • John Corwin – Business Development Director
  • Bram Moore – Operations Coordinator
  • Ray Kroenke – Maintenance
  • Charlie McPherson – Maintenance

Unseen Missoula Tour Directors:

  • Henry Curtis
  • Leif Fredrickson
  • Krisjana Eyjolfsson
  • Anne Smyrl
  • Patrick “Sugar” Bush
  • Charley Macron
  • Carolyn Thompson

And to any other unintentionally omitted employed staff or intern whose help and activity have been appreciated beyond your knowledge.

THANK YOU!!!

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