From Kelly Bass Seibel:
The capacity for the space was about 100, and we had a line out the door. A volunteer ran up to report that my boss was standing out in the rain, waiting to get in. I wasn’t entirely sure that I had printed enough nametags or brought enough membership applications. It was January 2008 and we were at the first Young Professionals Network event. It all started about six months prior…
There I was – 27 years old, 1 month into a new job at the largest networking organization in Sonoma County, and continually walking into meetings that featured phrases like, “I’ve known Bill for 20 years!” “Sue and I went to high school together!” “I’ll reach out – I’ve known Joe forever!” I asked myself over and over again how in the world I was going to make connections in this tight knit community.
It was after a meeting where one of these conversations, which included several comments about how long the participants had known each other, took place that I found myself standing on a sidewalk with Chamber President, Mike Hauser. I asked Mike if he had ever considered starting a networking group within the Chamber for people like me – younger employees who don’t have the longstanding connections that our community leaders do, a place to gather where people can make professional connections in “real life” and not over email or Facebook (texting was still not the norm). He told me he’d think it over. He called me into his office the next day and simply said, “Let’s do it.”
The next few months were spent putting the bones of the program together: combing over the North Bay Business Journal’s new list, “Forty Under 40,” asking Chamber board members to recommend young leaders within their organizations who would be interested in the group, and outreaching to potential founding board members. Those inaugural ten board members spent months planning, doing outreach, and holding focus groups to determine what young professionals in Sonoma County were looking for. They determined that they wanted to create a group where social relationships can be built, since business is done between those you know and trust – your friends. They also wanted to feature professional development and create a space where young professionals could learn the power of creating a network. They set a lofty membership goal of 50 members by the end of the first year.
So there we were, holding our first event, and hoping that a few folks would show up. We met 164 new friends that night. That goal of 50 members? We had 375 members in the first year. But the real success? The hundreds of connections that have turned into friendships, professional relationships, job opportunities, and new community leaders. Since its inaugural year, we have had members that have met their best friends in YPN (I count myself as one of the lucky ones in this group), gone into business together, used the professional services of other members, and offered jobs to fellow members. Unintended consequences? We also have had a few that have met their spouse!
Recently, I was asked to name something in my career that I am proud of. YPN is at the top of that list. The Santa Rosa Young Professionals Network is one of the longest lasting and largest young professional’s groups in the country. It has stayed relevant by changing its programming based on the needs of its members and of our community. Many of our members have moved on to leadership positions within the Chamber and within other organizations. One thing remains the same – the commitment of YPN’s membership to grow meaningful connections that will span the lives of our careers.
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