Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Interview with New FHMS Executive Director: Andrea Sommer

Federal Hill Main Street has a new executive director with a familiar face! Andrea Sommer -- long-time career volunteer and small business owner -- talks about her passion for community outreach and development, how her background in event planning makes her the right woman for the job, and what she has planned for the future of the organization. 

You’ve volunteered with FHMS in the past. Talk a little about those experiences and how they’ve lead you here.

I began with Federal Hill Main Street soon after it started. Leslie Simmons, who founded Little One’s Lane, first recruited me to help out with the children’s area of the festivals. I worked on that for a few years, then spent some time on the Promotions Committee. I purchased a business in the neighborhood in 2008 and continued to stay involved as a business owner, participating in various events, contributing to the newsletter, and encouraging other families in the neighborhood to be involved. When I closed my business in 2011 and started SoBoKids, many of the family volunteer projects we did were in conjunction with FHMS.

How will your education and professional background help you succeed as executive director?

After graduating from the College of William and Mary, I moved to New Orleans and worked for their Convention and Visitors Bureau, which brought conventions and major happenings, such as the Super Bowl, to the city. I began my career as an event planner after relocating to Charlotte, NC, where I worked for a hotel chain on both social and corporate events. When we moved to Baltimore, while I was expecting my first child, my focus shifted to "career volunteer." I worked with Federal Hill Main Street, my alumni association and Federal Hill Preparatory school on a variety of fundraising projects and activities. Life took a big turn when I purchased Ladybugs & Fireflies, a children's gift and toy store on South Charles Street. I loved being involved in the neighborhood as a business owner as well as parent. Both of my children attended Federal Hill Prep at the time, so my life was pretty much contained in South Baltimore. When the business closed, I started SoBoKids, which planned service projects families could do together around the neighborhood. I also contributed a family column to Main Street's newsletter, and volunteered for various community activities.

My event planning experience will help me with Main Streets biggest fundraisers: Fest of All, Festive Flavors, and the House Tour. More importantly, as a former small business owner, I am very aware of the challenges local brick and mortar stores face on a daily basis. I also am very invested in this neighborhood, and want to see it succeed not just as Main Street Director, but as a resident and a parent of kids who love living here.

What are you passionate about?

I’m very passionate about families being a part of Baltimore City, and I am proud to be raising my children here. I truly believe that neighborhoods are what make this city unique, and are what are keeps families here. We have such an amazing city as our backyard, and are part of such a wonderful community. My kids cannot walk down the street without saying hello to a person they know. They love walking into stores and restaurants where someone recognizes them. They truly have a sense of being part of community, not just one that is created by a sport they play or an activity they participate in, but a larger one that is made up of many different people who all contribute, in their own way, to making this place a wonderful neighborhood.

Why is this organization important? And how will you ensure that FHMS continues to play a vital role within the community?

Federal Hill Main Street is important because it encourages the growth of our business district while maintaining its history. The character and charm of Federal Hill was here long before we were, and FHMS is working to ensure that they will remain. The organization also considers the business district to be part of a larger community, and works with that community to achieve its goals. These are the things that drew me to the organization.

I am lucky enough to come into an organization that has been very successful over the past few years, and I hope to continue that success. The festivals and events have become an anticipated part of many people's calendars. They are great community-building events, as well as an opportunity to showcase our neighborhood to potential business owners and patrons. We will also continue to address the needs of the current business community, as well as encourage its growth. On a day-to-day basis, we will address the opportunities and challenges that face small businesses today. As a parent, I believe that creating strong neighborhoods, centered around a dynamic business district, is vital to keeping families in our city. We must encourage what makes Baltimore great -- its patchwork of unique, vibrant neighborhoods.

Briana Lopes, Intern

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