BRANDON — Christine Michaels says she and her staff at the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce have shifted into high gear because of the organization's new slate of events.
Between now and March, the chamber will stage at least five major events: a political hobnob in August, a "Valor Breakfast" in September, a veterans fishing tournament in November, a Christmas light display in December and a Kansas City Barbecue Society cook-off in March.
All the events point to fresh energy for the chamber as it seeks to draw in new additions and add value for its existing members.
"It's expanding some of our existing events in very cool ways and adding new events," said Michael, the executive director. "We have a slate that really appeals to all different audiences: military, political, younger folks, family activities.
"There's something for everyone."
The slate of events points toward renewed hope for the chamber, which has endured financial challenges and a membership decline in recent years, said Cami Gibertini, a senior vice president at USAmeriBank and 2016 chairwoman of the chamber.
"We have a fantastic board, and I'm so proud of the people sitting with us," Gibertini said. "We have a great team, and I feel like it's re-energizing our membership."
The new effort begins in earnest with a political hobnob from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 10 at TPepin's Hospitality Centre, 4121 N 50th St. Candidates for local, state and possibly federal races impacting Greater Brandon have been invited.
Instead of speeches, voters will get to mix and mingle, one-on-one with candidates while enjoying craft brews, gourmet pizza and finger food.
"Regardless of party affiliation, this is a chance to come together and support leadership," Gibertini said.
The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office will conduct a straw poll — one vote per ticket. Tickets are $15 presale or $20 at the door.
The chamber converts its monthly Synergy Luncheon to a Valor Breakfast from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sept. 7 at the Regent, 6437 Watson Road. The event is billed as a chance for the business community to say "thank you" to our public safety personnel for acts of heroism in the past year.
Different from other such awards programs, the Valor Breakfast will honor those who have performed notable individual achievements in the Central Hillsborough County area between June 2015 and May 2016. Nominations can be submitted through July 31.
The chamber's Leadership Brandon class will stage a casino night from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sept. 16 at the Regent.
Gibertini also noted the 2016 Leadership Brandon class will add leadership curriculum to enhance the program.
The chamber partners with the Riverview Chamber and the South Tampa Chamber for a joint military appreciation reception from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Tampa Garden Club, 2629 Bayshore Blvd.
In November, the chamber plans another military event — a fishing tournament at Medard Park that will pair veterans with local dignitaries.
For December, the chamber will turn the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds into a sea of shimmering holiday decorations with Wonderland of Lights, a monthlong Christmas event that will revive a previous lights event at the site.
Come March, the chamber will hold what may turn out to be its biggest event of the season — a Kansas City Barbeque Society cook-off that will expand its original Taste of Brandon Event. The two-day festival March 10-11 at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds will include a masters class competition, a backyard class competition and a kids competition.
Judges certified by the famed society will pick winners, and a celebrity cook-off may be held the night before the main competition. Michaels said the chamber hopes to have barbecue master and television personality Myron Mixon in attendance.
Overall, Gibertini said, the slate of events signifies better days for the chamber.
"We really think the programming will connect with our membership and show value because of the quality and the networking opportunities," Gibertini said. "We've had some hard times, but now it's time to have fun. We have hope that good things are to come."
Contact Ernest Hooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2440.