Nancy Gardella, the new executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, had a lesson in Island living shortly after moving here and starting her job last month.
Ms. Gardella had lived and worked in some of the larger urban areas of Massachusetts - Worcester, Framingham and Cambridge - but is relatively new to small town living. So when she had a visit from the other Nancy Gardella, the longtime Vineyard Haven columnist for the Gazette, she quickly realized that something as seemingly innocuous as having the same name as another person can be an event on the Vineyard.
"She came in here and told me that people kept going up to her at church and congratulating her on her new job with the chamber, and she had idea what they were talking about," recounted Ms. Gardella of her conversation with the other Ms. Gardella, adding:
"She told me I had to change my name immediately."
But the experience also taught her about the humor, warmth and sense of community that are found here in everyday life. The case of confused identity was the subject of Ms. Gardella's most recent column, in which she playfully suggests a Re-Name that Nancy contest.
"We were both laughing about it. After we talked it over we agreed we would have to share the name. This is the only name I've even been known by - except for princess, which is what my Dad used to call me," she said.
Ms. Gardella visited the Island as a child, when she spent summers at her grandparents' home in East Falmouth, but has not spent a lot of time on the Vineyard as an adult. She read about the executive director position in the newspaper while lounging around one Sunday morning.
"I applied for the job, interviewed, and before I knew it, I was here," she said.
At the time she took the job, she was working for the Framingham chapter of the United Way, the latest stop in a career spent mostly in the nonprofit sector. She also has worked for the YMCA and YWCA.
But she did not start off on the path of community service. She was graduated from college with an undergraduate degree in English literature, and went on to earn a graduate degree in religious studies. In her first job with the YMCA, however, she realized she enjoyed interacting with different types of people, and the eclectic mix of challenges that go with working for a nonprofit.
"I had to coordinate all these events and get the community involved in the different programs offered by the YMCA. It was challenging, but I liked the idea that I was helping people make their community a better place to live, " she said.
Ms. Gardella said the ability to serve as a bridge between different groups of people will be vital to her new role. In her first four weeks on the job, she has met with the various town boards of trade and business associations, as well as business owners, town officials and civic leaders.
But she has also, in her own words, taken some time to act like a tourist.
"I've done everything. I've gone to the shops. I've taken a sightseeing tour. I even went and saw where they filmed different scenes of Jaws. It's been fun, but it also helps me to understand the visitors' experience of the Island," she said.
She said she is well-suited to life on the Vineyard, with its small town charm and vibrant arts community. In many ways, she said, the Island is similar to the city of Cambridge, where she lived and worked for the YWCA for many years. Both are largely insular communities stocked with artisans, intellects and scholars.
"And like Cambridge, there is always something to do here on the Vineyard. There are plays and community events and lectures," she said.
Ms. Gardella said she has been warmly received by the community.
"Everyone from my staff to the business owners have been wonderful and supportive. They've made everything seem very familiar to me," she said.
She noted that the chamber operated without an executive director for a short period after Gary Cogley stepped down earlier this summer after only a year on the job. But despite the lag, the transition was seamless, a credit to the dedication and professionalism of the chamber staff, Ms. Gardella said.
"I'm very lucky to be working with so many talented people," she said.
Although she steered clear of the topic of Mr. Cogley's tenure as director, she said it was important for the executive director of the chamber to grow deep roots in the community and stay on the job for a healthy duration.
"I want to be the person businesses think of when they think about the chamber. They need to know that they can pick up that phone any time and talk to me about anything," she said.
Her goals range from the specific - such as creating a link to the chamber Web site when people check the Island's weather on the Internet - to the far reaching, such as extending the shoulder seasons and doing more to disseminate information about local businesses to visitors.
But the chamber must also have a light touch, she said, and should not try to force businesses to make radical changes, such as staying open year-round. "We can't forget that we are a member-driven organization. When we start telling our members how they should do business, we are overstepping our bounds," she said.
Ms. Gardella said the priority should be attracting more people to the Island, and then getting those people the information they need when they arrive.
"We need to remind people who come here for the day in August that the Island is just as beautiful in September and October. We are very lucky in that once we get people over here, the Island sells itself. All we have to do is give people the information they need to enjoy it to the fullest," she said.