by: Rick Swart, Jackie Matthews, the new chairman and interim executive director of the South County Chamber of Commerce, is spending several hours a day directing chamber business from its office inside the old railroad depot at the corner of Highway 30 and Columbia Blvd.

Since joining the South County Chamber of Commerce just over a year ago, Jackie Matthews is rising through the ranks of the organization at lightning speed.

Last October she ran successfully for vice chairman of the organization. With the recent resignation of Tim Lammers, who accepted a promotion with the Columbia River People's Utility District and had to give up his seat on the chamber board, Matthews was elevated again, to chairman.

On Jan. 1, Matthews took on further responsibility for the chamber when she relieved interim Executive Director RJ Brown of his duties. Brown had been filling in as interim director last summer when the board eliminated a paid staff position amid financial difficulties. Brown agreed to help the chamber out until the end of the year.

'He really stepped up for this community,' Matthews praised. 'He really cares about this community.'

Now it is Matthews who is stationed at the director's desk on a volunteer basis from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. When she isn't answering the phone or greeting visitors she is busy with other chamber business, like planning this year's annual awards banquet, working on the organization's budget, organizing coffee klatches and sending out member renewal notices. Lately, she has also been writing job descriptions for a paid administrative assistant that the chamber hopes to hire by the end of the month, and a fulltime director the board hopes to hire in 2008.

For Matthews, 43, the bottom line is restoring the chamber to a solid financial footing following a financial crisis precipitated by declining membership dues tied to a new fee structure. She believes the recovery is well under way, thanks largely to a volunteer board that has stepped up its efforts by meeting weekly instead of monthly and taking on key responsibilities, including representing the chamber at important meetings, overseeing publication of a new chamber directory, organizing meetings and events, and manning the chamber's office at the old railroad depot at the corner of Highway 30 and Columbia Boulevard.

Matthews said the other board members share her conviction about balancing the budget and running the organization like a business.

'We drew the line and said we weren't going to borrow money to pay staff,' she said, adding that over the past six months, 'We paid our bills, didn't incur any new debt, and came out of the year in the black. We felt that for the long-term future that was really the best.'

'It wasn't easy,' she added, but with RJ (Brown's) help, we got some things in place to position the chamber for the future.'

When Matthews isn't directing the chamber, she runs her own home inspection business. Born and raised in the Portland area, she and husband Darrell Matthews moved to St. Helens about five years ago. He commutes to Portland, where he is employed by Freightliner as a database analyst.

'We love it here,' she said.

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