Friday, May 23, 2008

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce - Striving to Make A Difference!

Food For Thought 5-23-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

For the last several years I’ve been a member of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee that interviews college-bound high school seniors and then awards some of them scholarships. I’ve got to say that it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve been involved in for a very long time. We get to meet and talk to the cream of the crop as far as that year’s high school seniors go. We get to find out what they think about things, and what issues are important to them. I’ve found it very interesting getting things from a different perspective.

You hear some amazing stories of determination and perseverance, and overcoming long odds to wind up where they are today. I also find it interesting to find out who the most influential person has been for some of them. Obviously in some cases it’s one of their parents, but then there are others who tell us about a certain teacher who really opened their eyes and their minds to a whole new world. I was truly impressed as one of our candidates told us that one of her teachers had the most profound impact on her. I was impressed that she acknowledged what a difference he had made in her life and was more than happy to share that with us, and I was also impressed that this teacher takes his job so seriously and really strives to make an impact in his student’s lives.

With the ways things are in the CNMI lately, it’s easy to get discouraged and only concentrate on the negative things that are happening, like the almost daily increases in the price of gasoline, and the ever upwardly spiraling cost of electricity. And I’m not saying that these are not important issues, or are not destroying many families quality of life, but in spite of all these things happening to us and around us, there are still some bright spots and things we can take encouragement from.

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce has come under a lot of fire this past year for their perceived positions on some of the issues, and for their stands on others. Some of the criticism was even coming from members of the Chamber at the time, who for their own reasons didn’t appreciate the stand the Chamber was taking at the time. The Chamber has also come under criticism in the past for charging admission to go to the Senate and Gubernatorial debates it has sponsored in the past. However, this criticism almost always comes from those who have never gotten involved, and have never participated. The money raised from those debates and the various fundraisers is where the money comes from that we give out to the scholarship recipients. It is also where the money comes from to put on the workshops the Chamber did for the schools recently.

The title of the workshops was, “I’m about to graduate from high school, now what?” The purpose of the workshops was to prepare our students for life after high school and give them some advice and tips that will hopefully help them to be more successful in their interviews and jobs. The workshops were the brainchild of Chamber President Jim Arenovski and Education Committee Chair Kathryn Barry. They came up with a 4 hour program that taught the students everything from how to conduct themselves in an interview, and what the interviewers would be looking for, to how to balance a checkbook, how to make a budget to help you live within your income, how to balance family expectations and work obligations, and how to effectively communicate. Various Chamber of Commerce members donated 5 hours each Saturday morning for a month to put on these workshops for any interested students in both the public and private schools. Jay Santos of Triple J Enterprises & Hertz Rent a Car, Steve Jang of Rainbow Color and Kanae Quinn of PIC were all part of the team that shared their knowledge and experience with the students to help them to be better prepared for what lies ahead for them. Nobody was forcing them to do this and to volunteer their time, nobody was paying them for it, and they weren’t getting anything out of it other than the satisfaction of investing in the youth of today, and the leaders of tomorrow.

You may not always understand or agree with all the positions or stands taken by the Chamber of Commerce, but that’s ok, not all the members always agree, and there are even disagreements in direction at the board level from time to time. But like with any other organization, you do the best you can, try to get the majority consensus and then proceed accordingly. But one thing I don’t think anyone can disagree with is the importance of helping our students financially by offering these scholarships, and the importance of putting on the workshops to help prepare our students for the next step in life. Detractors are always very vocal and usually very biased in their point of view and perspective. And unfortunately sometimes they are the only points of view you ever hear, because they are always demanding to be heard and writing letters to the editor. But I thought you needed to hear a little bit about the other side of the story, the one that doesn’t always get that much press or coverage. The other side that is striving to make a tangible difference in our students lives. I would encourage you to ask some of the students who attended those seminars what they thought of them. Ask them what they learned, whether they thought they were beneficial or not. And I would also encourage you to attend the next Saipan Chamber of Commerce General Membership meeting that will be held Wednesday, June 4th at the World Resort. That is when the Chamber will be awarding scholarships to 6 of the 33 applicants they had this year. You will meet some of the best and brightest students our schools have produced. Not all of them, because unfortunately we didn’t have enough money to reward all the deserving students a scholarship, and trying to make some of those decisions is gut wrenching. But you will hear a little about them and from them, and you will also hear from some of the past recipients of the Chamber of Commerce scholarships. You’ll hear how the money they received helped them to pursue their college degree, where they are now in their education, and what their next step is. I hope to see many of you there!

Food For Thought is now available online at and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

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