Volunteer Award: Ben Jennings Wears Many Hats05.09.2007
Ben Jennings was named Volunteer of the Year at the Pinnacle Tourism Award ceremony on Wednesday, May 9.
The Pinnacle Awards Program pays tribute to individuals, groups, businesses and organizations that significantly contribute to the region's economy through tourism promotion and development. The program is organized by the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association (NETTA).
Volunteer Award: Ben Jennings Wears Many Hats
In a meeting last year (2006), Richard Rose, artistic and producing director of the world-famous Barter Theatre in Abingdon, introduced Ben Jennings as "having done more for arts and culture in our region than anyone since Robert Porterfield." Whew! That's a lot to live up to, but Ben Jennings has! Here are some examples:
Arts Array Series
Ben's involvement in the Arts Array started 30 years ago on a volunteer basis, but he now heads it up as part of his "real job" for a local college's cultural outreach program. What began as a monthly foreign film series now includes weekly films, monthly concerts, and many other events throughout the area.
A! Magazine for the Arts
Ben is one of the founding members of A! Magazine's all-volunteer Editorial Committee. He and a handful of others spent a year doing strategic planning and brainstorming before helping to launch the publication, which received the Tennessee Governor's Award for Arts Leadership in 2003 and is now in its 14th year.
In 2004, Arts Alliance Mountain Empire became the owner and publisher of the magazine, employing a staff writer and graphic designer. The Editorial Committee and a volunteer advertising director began selling ads. The page count has grown from 16 to 24 pages, and the quality has improved with the purchase of bright white paper and full-color printing.
While other members of the Editorial Committee have come and gone, Ben is one of the few who has remained on board for the long haul, performing editorial duties, selling ads, and discussing possible story ideas based on personal experiences and networking in the region. Ben approaches the task of producing the magazine in a manner intended to benefit the entire community, rather than serving himself or other organizations to which he belongs.
He doesn't stop there — he makes sure everyone gets a copy of the magazine, too. The magazine is inserted into 28,000 copies of Bristol Herald Courier, but another 3,000 copies are delivered or mailed throughout the region by Ben and other volunteers.
Virginia Highlands Festival
Each year more than 150 volunteers work year-round to produce this 16-day event. Leading the way for many years has been Ben Jennings. He and his wife have been on the board of directors since they moved to Abingdon in 1971. They were co-presidents in 1991 and received the French Moore Award for Outstanding Volunteers.
Ben has always preferred to be a volunteer and committee chair rather than an officer because he likes to see results. He knows the workings of the Festival so well that he could fill in as head of any committee. Most years that meant heading either the Marketing Committee or ad sales for the Festival's "Highlander" magazine. Last year he headed both committees!
Ben has not kept track of all of his contributions to the Festival over the years, but here are some:
? Since 1991, he has been instrumental in commissioning the Festival's "signature art" by local artists.
? Over a period of 30 years, he started several committees and initiallly had to chair them as well.
? For the Festival's Performing Arts, he expanded the committee from programming the Patrons Event to sometimes a dozen Performing Arts events.
? Ben separated the Natural Resources Committee from Local History to showcase the wonders of our area, modeled on the Mt. Rogers Naturalist Rally.
? Ben established the Festival's Corporate Funding Committee.
? He chaired the Festival's Advertising Committee about 10 times. He has overseen ad sales escalating from $5,000 to $50,000, and he has been instrumental in the Highlander magazine evolving from a newspaper insert to a full-color glossy 80-page publication.
? Ben has chaired the Publicity Committee at least 6-8 times. He has been extremely innovative with television ads, movie theater promotions, and other publicity endeavors over the years. In addition, whether he chairs the committee or not, he has overseen hand distribution of Highlander magazines to locations in a 100-mile radius of Abingdon.
? He also chaired the Nominations Committee, he started the Fiber Arts Committee, and many times he has been on the Creative Writing Committee.
Other community volunteer involvements
? For the past eight years, Ben has chaired the "Sunday with Friends" for the Friends of the Washington County Public Library in Abingdon. This program brings leading writers in for lectures, readings, book discussions and book signings.
? Ben has been a board member for William King Regional Arts Center in Abingdon for more than 20 years and a member of the Arts Advisory Committee which helps the curator come up with exhibition ideas.
On a personal note
Ben grew up in Kingsport, attended Emory & Henry College and the University of North Carolina, and he is Associate Professor of English and Film at Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon.