The year 2020 brought hardships for us all. But one group of people particularly impacted has been small business owners. 

With many businesses having to cut costs in order to ensure their survival of the COVID-19 pandemic, some had no choice but to drop their Chamber memberships. The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and Country Bank — both passionate about the success of the business community and small businesses specifically — decided to step in.

The two partnered to create the Country Bank Small Business Chamber Member Scholarship, through which Country Bank funded one year of Chamber membership costs for 20 small businesses. The scholarship was announced on the Chamber’s radio show, the Daily Radio Blast, on February 4, 2021. Businesses which had previously been members of the Chamber were eligible to apply for the scholarship online and recipients were announced on a rolling basis.

As part of the scholarship award, recipients were offered the opportunity to join Country Bank’s Vice President of Community Relations, Jodie Gerulaitis, as a guest on the radio show hosted by Hank Stolz. The radio segments were an opportunity for these scholarship recipients to promote their business and discuss why they wanted to (re)join the Chamber. “Joining them during their radio interview and understanding the impact this will make for their business and the community is incredible,” said Ms. Gerulaitis. “As a long-time member of the Chamber, Country Bank’s staff has had the opportunity to benefit from the valuable programs and events that the Chamber offers; we feel this membership offers a vital connection to growing and supporting businesses within the city,” she said on the inspiration behind the program. 

As 2021 progresses, things are looking up for the scholarship recipients. Many are eager to utilize their Chamber membership as we all attempt to navigate a new normal. One recipient, Jenna Knight of Never Defeated Coaching, said, “I have so many big ideas and I can’t wait to really implement them.” She added that Chamber events have inspired her to think outside of her business’ current concept as she moves forward with her ADHD coaching business.  

Other recipients, like Jennifer Hernandez, CEO and director of strategic marketing of GEM Marketing Solutions, are planning on using their funded membership to expand their teams. Ms. Hernandez expressed nothing but gratitude for her Country Bank scholarship, saying, “What a blessing that was to kind of give our small business an opportunity to grow with a wonderful and valuable membership to the [Chamber of] Commerce.” 

Another Country Bank scholarship recipient seeing success is Alan James Co., a custom leather goods shop located inside the Worcester Public Market. Owner Bill Laudon also shared his experience operating a small business on the Chamber’s Daily Radio Blast, noting that his craft has faced challenges as people have gravitated more toward mass-produced items. But with no other leather shop around, moving to the Worcester Public Market was a “no brainer” for him. And since the opening of Polar Park, he’s seen an increase specifically in custom orders. He said, “I care about each project and it will not pass my doors if it’s not perfect.”

The Chamber is incredibly thankful to Country Bank for their partnership on this scholarship program. Spanning a service area of 35 cities and towns in Central Massachusetts, approximately 85% of the Chamber’s 2,000 members are small businesses with ten employees or fewer. In essence, the Worcester Chamber is the ultimate voice for the Worcester region’s small business community, and Country Bank’s scholarship program has helped the nonprofit business advocacy organization continue to aid small businesses on the road to pandemic recovery. 

Scholarship Recipients: Alan James Co.; Armsby Abbey; ArtsWorcester; B-Organic; Che! Empanada; GEM Marketing Solutions; Jennifer Lee’s Bakery; Let’s Empower, Advocate, and Do, Inc. (LEAD); Never Defeated Coaching; Nuestra; Nuovo Restaurant; Preservation Worcester, Inc.; Sara’s Auto Sales, Inc.; Suzette Creperie & Cafe; Thryv; TidePool BookShop LLC; Uno Pizzeria & Grill; Worcester Educational Development Foundation, Inc.; Worcester Hibernian Cultural Center; Why Me & Sherry’s House.


Rayana Petrone is a Chamber intern from Lasell University. 

This story was originally published in the August 2021 edition of Chamber Exchange: The Newspaper, a quarterly publication of the Chamber. All newspaper editions are archived here.