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Young Professionals Club Association providing valuable ways to climb the ladder

By Staff | Aug 3, 2016

L-R Top Row: Paula Bentnick-Smith, Tom Voellmecke, Tyler Voellmecke, Brittney Burt, Justin Farmer, Laura Richardson, Sarah Lathrop, Brendan Albright, and Amanda Cross. Bottom Row: Caitlyn Voellmecke, Preston Voellmecke, Kasey Albright, April Voellmecke, and Sue Peltzman prepare for the SanCap Cares celebration. PHOTO PROVIDED

For many young and aspiring professionals, one of the biggest obstacles of climbing the career ladder isn’t what they know, but who they don’t know.

Networking and gaining a foot in the door to progress in one’s profession by knowing the right people is an important component of reaching professional goals.

For the island working force, there is a source they can use to gain a better hold in the networking world – the Sanibel-Captiva Young Professionals Club Association of Sanibel and Captiva.

Just barely over a year old, the Young Professionals has created quite the buzz on the island by providing a successful networking vehicle on a monthly basis with its informal, yet productive, events held at various businesses on Sanibel and Captiva.

“It’s really been organic,” said one of the Young Professionals founders Laura Richardson. “We have events, where members just have to register at the door, come in and enjoy the free appetizers provided by the host and converse, while networking. It’s an informal setting and we try and make people feel welcome.”

Robin Roberts, James O’Bryan, Brendan Albright, Marty Harrity, Kevin Ruane, Laura Richardson, Sarah Lathrop, and Adam Sauerland at City Hall at May event. PHOTO PROVIDED

Richardson, who is the development coordinator manager at BIG ARTS, helped start the Young Professionals Club Association, along with Kasey and Brendan Albright, who each work at John Naumann and Associates Real Estate on Sanibel.

Their goal was simple, to utilize the young people who work on the islands of Sanibel and Captiva and introduce them to each other for networking purposes.

Since the Young Professionals’ first event in June of 2015 at the Jacaranda on Sanibel, the membership list has grown to nearly 200. There’s an average of 30-35 members who attend the monthly functions. Growth is being shown consistently with up to seven to nine new people showing up at each event.

“We also found out, about a quarter of the people at the events live on the island, while 80 percent work on the island,” Richardson said. “So we are getting about 20 percent of people who attend who work off island and are coming for the networking. Plus, we are sustaining 75 percent of members who come to our events, while gaining new people consistently.”

Each month, the Young Professionals will meet at a host business, which can be either a restaurant or an organization on the island. The host will provide the appetizers, while the members will buy their drinks at a cash bar, making it a perfect two-way street which benefits both parties involved.

The Young Professionals Club Association also spread the wealth, not focusing on just a couple of businesses to host their events, but has been wide range.

“We have our events at various places and haven’t repeated one, yet,” Richardson said. “But we have been receiving more and more invites to return to the businesses who we visited over the past year.”

The Young Professionals will be undertaking a new journey Wednesday, Aug. 10, with their monthly event being held at the Bailey-Matthew National Shell Museum, the first non-profit organization to host the group.

“We are excited to be able to support the National Shell Museum,” Richardson said. “Everything raised that night will go back to the museum.”

The event will run from 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. with no admission. The National Shell Museum will provide the food and drinks, with a $10 donation for two free drink tickets available. The staff of the National Shell Museum will hold one of their popular Tank Talks, as well, with discounted prices in the gift shop.

National Shell Museum Assistant Director Melanie Moraga and Development Associate Paul Gulbrandsen were the two driving forces of hosting the Young Professionals. Both are regular attendees of the Young Professional events and have experienced the benefits.

“I try to go to the events every month and it’s provided some great networking,” Moraga said. “I’ve made some wonderful friends and have connected with them outside the group. As far as work, I’ve been able to connect with people who love to go shelling.

“We are excited to bring the group into the National Shell Museum.”

The Young Professionals also are open to anyone attending. If you work and would like to start building a network to help out a career, the door is open.

“We don’t turn down anyone who wants to attend the events,” Richardson said. “We have members of all ages.”

Over the course of the year, the Young Professionals have expanded not only its membership base, but also its services.

The group has started the Sanibel Captiva Toastmasters, which is in conjunction with Toastmaster International. The international community is a world leader in communication and leadership development, which focuses on members’ speaking and leadership skills.

The Young Professionals have also expanded into volunteer and philanthropic services, which have benefited the island’s various non-profit organizations. From collecting items and funds, the group has been inviting island organizations the opportunity to come and speak for five minutes about what they provide and the opportunities to help out. The first service event was held at Casa Ybel, which attracted the largest turnout of the year with 70 in attendance.

Food donations during the event went to F.I.S.H. The members of the Young Professionals also had two volunteer volunteered days, one where they assisted to help the SCCF oyster restoration initiative by helping load buckets of fill to help create oyster beds as well as helping the SanCap Cares event with some pre-event assistance building their centerpiece wagons.

Another addition was giving one of the island’s organizations to speak for five minutes to talk about what they provide and the opportunities to help out.

With the one-year anniversary behind the Young Professionals, the success has been evident.

“We would have been happy with five people showing up on our first event and here we had 30 showed up,” Richardson said. “We are thrilled with how the first year has gone and we’re going to have to come up with new goals because of how successful it has been.

“We want to continue to provide professional development and service. We also want to be looked upon as a source of employment opportunities in the future.”

Climbing the proverbial ladder has become just a little easier for the island workforce, thanks to the creation and success of the Sanibel and Captiva Young Professionals Association of Sanibel and Captiva.