Russian River Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Elise VanDyne steps down next week to become the new field representative for Fifth District Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, the chamber announced this week.
“I see this really as a continuation of what I’m doing here but on a broader scale,” said VanDyne, who was hired as chamber executive director last year. Many of the river chamber’s issues “are also broader issues for the west county, such as balancing tourism and local needs and figuring out ways to help these communities thrive,” said VanDyne. “It will be great to work on a larger scale. I’m really looking forward to it.”
VanDyne will replace Amie Windsor, who left Hopkins’ office this month to join the staff at Social Advocates for Youth (SAY), the nonprofit social services agency.
VanDyne will take over as Hopkins’ field representative starting July 30, said Hopkins’ District Director Susan Upchurch, who is also leaving in October to retire. Upchurch’s replacement has not been announced, but Hopkins is close to selecting a new director, said Upchurch.
The Fifth District field representative is a relatively new job created in 2017 following Sonoma County’s disastrous wildfires and in conjunction with Hopkins’ promise to create municipal advisory councils for the Lower Russian River and the Sonoma Coast.
“Our office is always a busy place, but with the firestorm impacts and our future work to establish citizen advisory committees, we felt a need to beef up our office staff,” Hopkins said when she announced the new district field rep job in November 2017.
Windsor, a former reporter from this newspaper, has filled the post since then, working most prominently as coordinator of the Sonoma Coast and Lower Russian River MACs.
VanDyne, hired as the chamber’s executive director last year, said this week she will be helping the chamber select a new executive director and will work with the new director to facilitate a smooth transition.
VanDyne “will be dedicating significant time each week toward helping hire and train a successor as well as continuing to support programs and projects out of the chamber through this transition,” said the chamber announcement of VanDyne’s departure.
“Over the past 18 months, the board and staff at the Russian River Chamber have built a solid team that will continue to work together in delivering the high-quality programs, advocacy, networking and programs that you’ve come to expect from us.”
VanDyne took over the Russian River Chamber job in January 2017, bringing a background in nonprofit community promotions from Denver, Colorado, where she had served as executive director of the Colorado Maker Hub.
Since arriving in Guerneville to take the chamber job, “I have come to love this community and deeply appreciate the welcome, support and friendships we’ve grown together,” said VanDyne. “I look forward to continuing to find ways to help our piece of paradise thrive. I’m honored to be chosen to work with Lynda Hopkins and her stellar office, and I’ll be present to make sure my successor is a great addition to the Russian River Chamber community as well.”
Asked what advice she would give her successor, “Make sure to set aside plenty of time each week to visit with members and get to know them,” said VanDyne. “We have great members and board, with a motto that we are all #BetterTogether.”
River Chamber accomplishments during VanDyne’s tenure include:
• raising and distributing $129,000 for flood relief since the February flood disaster;
• increasing the River Chamber’s membership by 18 percent;
• launching member workshops on topics from marketing to grants;
• advocating for better downtown Guerneville security, resulting in a new security patrol starting this month;
• distributing grants for Russian River watershed improvement to five nonprofits;
• publishing a new Russian River wine map showcasing local wineries;
• producing and distributing 10,000 chamber member maps.
“We have just been notified of a significant grant award that will enable us to grow our member services even more,” said VanDyne. “We’ll announce details soon.”