From intern to employee, Ben Smith entering final month at Chamber

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August 04, 2017
When Ben Smith first started at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, he thought he was in for a three-month internship and nothing more. Nearly three years later — with a brief detour in between — Ben is leaving the Chamber with more experience and positive memories than he could’ve ever imagined.
 
Ben will soon relinquish his duties as Director of Entrepreneurship & Education in anticipation of his upcoming wedding to his fiancée, Kaitlyn Parks, and their subsequent move to Asheville, North Carolina. Before settling in, the newlyweds will spend their honeymoon on an epic, month-and-a-half road trip across the country.
 
Ben’s last day at the Chamber will be August 31. His replacement has been selected and will be announced by Chamber President Leah Bolin in the coming days.
 
Ben knew early on — first during his internship in late 2014 and again when he returned after a short stint at Anniston-based Sarrell Dental — that the Chamber was truly where he wanted to be.
 
“As an intern with the Chamber, you’re given a variety of opportunities to participate and engage with the community that most Cullman citizens don’t get to experience,” he said. “When you then take a full-time job, those experiences are only amplified. From connecting with eighth-grade students at the Chamber’s annual Career Awareness Fair, interviewing Student of the Year candidates, helping high school students discover their passions through the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, partnering and facilitating workforce through Industry Appreciation and related Cullman Area Workforce Solutions programs, counseling startups as they’re preparing to open their doors, meeting with Small Business of the Month recipients, or networking and sipping coffee at Morning Blend, the opportunities to connect with the Cullman community have been endless. I feel invaluably blessed to have been provided this opportunity.”
 
Ben is a St. Bernard Prep School and University of Alabama graduate with deep roots in the Cullman area. He isn’t the first in his family to have Chamber ties, following in the footsteps of his late grandfather, former board chair, Austin Dean.
 
“I don’t know if I ever knew a more genuine person,” Ben said. “He was a lot like Big Doc (Tom Williamson) — community-minded, oriented towards helping people, and he did it just because he cared about people and cared about this place. I think that’s why I wanted to do a good job to start out with. The more time I’ve spent here, though, the more I’ve realized I have my own reasons for wanting to make this community better.”
 
Ben has indeed made an impact on the Cullman community through his work at the Chamber. Some of his personal highlights include his contributions to 2nd Fridays, the launch of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) at Cullman and Holly Pond high schools, and the installation of a Business Resource Center (BRC) geared toward helping small businesses get off the ground by providing financial and logistical resources.
 
As excited as he is for the YEA! program to debut locally this school year, Ben did admit his departure has made for some bittersweet emotions.
 
“I really wish I could be around to see how YEA! evolves in the next year or two, and where these kids go,” he said.
 
While a year or two might be too soon to expect a return to his hometown, Ben hinted there could be a Cullman reunion somewhere down the road.
 
“Who knows?” he pondered. “We might be back. You never know what the future holds.”
 
Chamber President Leah Bolin, for one, would welcome Ben back to the area with open arms. She’s known Ben long before his days at the Chamber and has been proud to witness his progression from wide-eyed intern to exceptional employee.

"It has been my privilege to work with Ben," she said. "He has added so much to this team and to this Chamber. Service to others is not always an easy path, but he met the challenge and we are all better for it. I wish him happiness and success, but mostly, I want to see him back in Cullman County one day enjoying the fruits of his labor."

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