Young professionals group grooms rookies for the big timeWritten by Emily Gibb | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Four years ago, a group of individuals were looking for a way to attract and retain Toledo’s young professionals while connecting them to senior community leaders. They wanted to combat the “brain drain” of Northwest Ohio.
Through brainstorming and planning, plus support from the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, they formed EPIC — Engaging People, Inspiring Change — in 2007.
“People live in a community because it’s work, live and play, and we’re trying to be able to get them adapted to all three aspects of their life,” said EPIC Toledo director Paulette Cousino. “That’s what makes young professionals stay in a region and that’s why we were formed — because people weren’t staying in this region.”
In conjunction with celebrating their recent four-year anniversary, EPIC leaders and corporate partners evaluated where they are now and what goals they are still working toward.
“If you look at our corporate member list, it reads like the who’s who of Toledo and it’s really great to have that kind of support behind our organization. We wouldn’t be able to do it without them,” said Brian Niedzwiecki, 2011 EPIC chairman.
EPIC adapted its direction to focus more closely on the three core values, or main pillars, of the organization that its corporate and individual members have come to expect: leadership and professional development, community impact and networking.
“Over the course of the years, there have been a number of events we have done to help accomplish those goals of getting people connected to each other, to the area, to business leaders; to help foster the next generation of leaders in this area,” Niedzwiecki said.
EPIC’s corporate members provide the base for bringing in individual members but membership also spreads by word of mouth, Amanda Geletka said. EPIC has grown to include 1,200 members.
“We’re pulling them in from all different kinds of industries and walks of life,” Geletka said.
As the membership and marketing chair, it’s her job to help plan the quarterly mixers — an easy task with important consequences, she said. At the mixers, they have about an hour to sum up for potential members what EPIC does while giving them that “feel-good feeling.”
“It’s just the energy that’s in the room when you walk in. It’s the stories that you hear and the different relationships you make in just under an hour” that make people want to join, she said.
While the membership has grown much faster than Vice Chair Stephanie Cousino expected, a strong bond has formed from the passion everyone has for seeing Toledo become more successful, she said.
High interest in EPIC began at its first event at the Erie Street Market in 2007. Niedzwiecki said he passed a billboard advertising “a new group called EPIC” every day while driving to work and decided he would check it out.
“I was floored by the hundreds of people that turned out for it. The energy that was in the room just blew me away,” he said.
Niedzwiecki said everyone comes to EPIC for something slightly different and there are many different ways to stay active without an overwhelming pressure to be involved.
EPIC Communications Coordinator Samantha Scott was “tossed into” EPIC in the beginning because she works for the Chamber of Commerce, but recently said that it was the best thing that could have happened to her on a professional level.
“I’ve learned how to conduct myself, how to lead meetings and how to be a better businesswoman,” Scott said.
She said her connections rapidly grew from about 50 people to about 2,000 people she can reach out to.
“I’ve been a lifer in Toledo and you think you know everyone, but you don’t,” she said.
Community Impact Co-chair Jeff Schaaf joined in 2008 because of a friend and also discovered many things about Toledo he didn’t know, despite also being a “lifer.”
“There’s not an easy way to get involved [in Toledo],” Schaaf said. “EPIC makes it easy.”
It’s that accessibility to senior leaders and younger employees that makes EPIC unique, Niedzwiecki said.
“It takes away some of the fear of the boardroom when you have that opportunity to interact,” he said. “It’s that kind of personal connection that you don’t get in bigger cities.”
For more information visit their website, epictoledo.com