New EPIC leader values community involvementWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
EPIC Toledo’s new director Sara Swisher’s eyes light up when she talks about the Glass City region and her organization, which seeks to connect emerging professionals in the area.
“EPIC’s mission is to accelerate the influence of emerging leaders in the region and to provide them a voice in the community and retain talent. And I feel being from the area, those are things that we want. We want an area that’s going to grow and flourish,” said Swisher, who became EPIC’s director in March when she took over Paulette Cousino’s old position.
Swisher graduated from Bowling Green State University with a bachelor’s in theater in 2011. After graduating, she worked in restaurant management, particularly fine dining establishments.
Adam Davenport, EPIC’s chairman and founder of Gorillas & Gazelles LLC, said he believes Swisher’s background in a demanding industry has prepared her for her new role.
“She’s hit the ground running; actually, I would say sprinting,” he said.
“She’s only been with us for a month and you can already tell the energy and passion she has for the organization.”
EPIC Toledo Vice Chair Jeff Schaaf said Swisher’s Bowling Green connections are another plus and help diversify the group.
“She brings another perspective of the Toledo region. I think that’s valuable because we don’t want to shoehorn ourselves into one community,” he said.
“Sara has already jumped in headfirst and has done a great job establishing contacts. She is outgoing and personable and energetic and exciting.”
EPIC Toledo was founded by the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Wendy Gramza in 2007 as a way to combat brain drain. The organization has about 1,400 individual members and 62 corporate members. All corporate member’s employees have access to all EPIC Toledo’s benefits for free.
Member benefits are important to Swisher.
“We’re always seeking opportunities to benefit our members, always trying to provide them with new opportunities to grow professionally, network and become involved in the community,” she said. “I’m really hoping to give the membership a wide variety of opportunities and benefits.”
Schaaf said, “I think Sara’s going to take us into a little bit different direction where we’re more engaged with our corporate members and engaged more in the community. I feel like we’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg.”
Community involvement is a big part of EPIC Toledo, Swisher said. Last Thanksgiving, the group helped Cherry Street Mission get enough holiday meals and is planning on handing out water bottles at the Glass City Marathon on April 28. Every summer, members also build with Habitat for Humanity.
“When you are connected to things like that and you’re seeing the impact you’re making in your community, you want to grow in that area and it makes you more passionate, of course, about the area as well,” Swisher said.
EPIC Toledo’s events also serve as a way to connect newer professionals with more seasoned professionals, Swisher said. An upcoming golf outing, starting at 8 a.m. June 21 at Belmont Country Club, 29601 Bates Road, Perrysburg, will do just that. Every fall, EPIC Toledo also hosts a summit where about 25 community leaders give talks to EPIC Toledo members.
Davenport said, “There’s always something coming. We actually get a lot of people saying, ‘How do you do all the events and all the causes?’”
Swisher said EPIC Toledo members span several industries — and ages. The group is made up of “people who are just starting out to people who have made more of a mark for themselves or are a little more settled,” Swisher said.
“We say it’s more about attitude, not about age.”
EPIC Toledo is also about drumming up the positives about Northwest Ohio and keeping talent in the area, Schaaf said.
“I would challenge anyone who thinks we’re a miserable city with nothing to do to spend a day with an EPIC member,” he said.
“[EPIC Toledo] gives opportunities for young people to connect with their peers who are passionate about being in this area,” Davenport said. “It gives us a way to connect people who are like-minded.”
Swisher is clearly one of those members who is passionate about the Northwest Ohio region.
“One of my favorite things that everyone always talks about is how you can get everywhere in 20 minutes,” she said, adding that she also appreciates Toledo’s sporting and entertainment opportunities.
“Obviously, with a degree in theater, I love the arts. We have symphony; we have opera; we have theater.”
Swisher said her first full month on the job has been good and that she’s staying busy.
“Every day is different and I enjoy that. [I’m] meeting new people everywhere I go and the great thing about EPIC is their reputation is overwhelmingly positive,” she said.
An individual EPIC Toledo membership is $75. To learn more, visit the website www.epictoledo.com.