Today’s young professionals are looking for more than just a 9-to-5 job … they are looking for ways to share their passions and to interact with like-minded associates to grow in their careers. Fortunately, Columbia is overflowing with opportunities for them to get involved, which is a strong testament to the active young business population in the city. The need to nurture this next generation is forever present as today’s young leaders are tomorrow’s difference makers. To that end, organizations are targeting those who are looking to fulfill a need, fill a niche and build on the interests of this thriving, energetic group. Professional development outside of the office is an integral way to hone skills, get involved, network … and have fun!
The first step to becoming involved is learning about the organizations in the community and finding the niche that speaks to the young professional’s passions. That interest doesn’t necessarily have to pertain to the person’s career. An attorney with a keen interest in history may find the perfect opportunity to network, volunteer and hone his stature as the neighborhood history buff by joining the Historic Columbia Foundation. Someone in public relations may enhance her love of the arts by joining the Contemporaries of the Columbia Museum of Art. Or a young woman in nursing school may look to the Junior League of Columbia as her outlet for volunteerism and personal development.
That being said, Columbia’s professional groups and associations, like the American Marketing Association, the American Advertising Federation, the Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators, are ideal outlets for communications professionals to strengthen their business acumen, hear from experienced, successful peers in the industry –– and seek out job opportunities and openings.
“It is vital for our community that we have an active and engaged set of young professionals,” says David Bornemann, attorney at McKay, Cauthen, Settana, & Stubley, P.A., who is involved in several Columbia organizations. “This has the dual benefit of providing the community with a group of energetic leaders with a fresh perspective and providing these young leaders with opportunities to establish and grow their networks with their peers, while also learning and gaining exposure to some of the Midlands’ more established leaders.”
“I realized that you are the only one that can pave your way in society, you must be involved and active to make a difference both professional and personally. This is why I jumped right into several young professional groups right after college,” says Beth Kelly Frost, director of business development at Cohn Construction Services. “When first getting involved in young professional groups, start small. Join a committee, then work your way up to a board position, you will gain respect from your fellow board members if you can show earlier participation.”
Asking a friend, co-worker or someone considered well-connected or active in the community is a good place to start to uncover the myriad of opportunities in Columbia. Social media and community calendars can also point an inquirer in the right direction. Lauren Garrett, national recruiting program manager at Colonial Life, recommends attending a different event each month while in search of a group. “There’s always something going on and most events are open to the public,” she says. “You can usually tell by the people you meet, the messaging from the organization and the overall vibe whether or not it’s something you want to be involved with.”
When attending the event, it’s helpful for the person to seek out the groups’ leaders to better understand its mission and vision, while also speaking to other members of the group to gain additional insight. Hearing different perspectives on the organization and the opportunities it presents will better enable the potential member to see what value he or she might gain by joining.
For Lauren, becoming involved was an ideal way for her to meet new people. “I’m not originally from Columbia,” she adds. “Since graduating from USC, I have had three jobs in this city. During each transition, I can point to one or two people who have helped me along or advised me in my decisions. Without those connections and support from people I’ve met through my community involvement with United Way of the Midlands, I’m not sure where I’d be in my career.”
Megan Plott, a Columbia resident and professional, found that becoming involved in the community not only enabled her to attain a new job, but she was also able to find one that shared her love for philanthropy. “It’s a worn out phrase, but it’s all about who you know,” says Megan. “I got my current job at Cyberwoven through a personal connection, not by blindly submitting a resume. I love working for a company that’s as community-minded as I am. It’s a great fit — likely because of that personal connection.”
Getting involved is not just an opportunity for resume-building; it’s a chance to give back, to meet people, to learn and to grow both professionally and personally. “If you aren’t committed to the organization or charity as your primary goal, it has a tendency to reduce the effectiveness of the group and your own networking efforts,” says David. “Good networking is a benefit and natural byproduct of individuals coming together for a common goal that they all believe in and care about.”
Thanks to the number of valuable organizations in Columbia, there is ample opportunity to become engaged with more than one group. “It is always good to get involved with multiple organizations to develop yourself professionally in different capacities,” says Jeff Lawler, who works for his family-owned business, 2nd Wind, and is actively involved in several organizations. “You should, however, have one true passion and focus most of your attention with that group.”
Before making a commitment, individuals need to consider their interests and the demand on their time to ensure they are able to get the most out of it, as well as give the most back to it. These organizations not only can connect a young professional with future employers and lifelong friends, but they may also uncover a passion for something that was once unknown. What better way to ignite a fire for the future than finding an organization that complements both the professional and personal aspects of one’s life?
Columbia is replete with interesting, targeted groups that appeal to the diverse interests and ideals of the city’s young professionals.
Junior League of Columbia
“The Junior League of Columbia is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action of trained volunteers. Junior League is unique in that we are a training organization for women leaders,” says past President Ginny Hairston. “In addition to our community projects, we invest time and money in our members to become leaders. The training a woman receives in the Junior League can be used with a professional career, other non-profit work or even in the home.” “The Junior League of Columbia has been investing in our community for 91 years. Our current vision is to strengthen the health and well-being of children and families in the Midlands,” says current President Kim Dickerson Leighton.
To get involved, visit JLColumbia.org, email email@example.com or call (803) 252-4552. Admissions deadline is Feb. 15 of each year.
United Way Young Leaders Society
“United Way Young Leaders Society is a group of like-minded community givers who believe one of the best ways to make real change in the community is by working together and giving of our time, talents and treasure to the United Way of the Midlands,” says Young Leaders Society Chair Lauren Garrett. “We offer our members opportunities to network at social events, to give back through regular volunteer events and to grow personally and professionally at seminars with established community members. It’s an opportunity to join forces and make a real, measureable impact on improving our neighbors’ lives.”
To get involved or learn of upcoming events, visit YLSMidlands.com, contact Becky Wych at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (803) 733-5419.
The American Marketing Association
“The American Marketing Association is a professional association for individuals and organizations leading the practice, teaching and development of marketing knowledge worldwide,” says Communications Chair Keely Saye. “Our principle role is to serve as a forum to connect like-minded individuals and foster knowledge sharing; provide resources, tools and training; and support marketing practice and leadership around the globe. The AMA is constantly evolving, helping to shape the marketing field. The organization brings together marketing professionals and academics from all over the world to share techniques, technology and exciting new ideas, helping our members stay abreast of the changing global marketplace so that they can excel in their careers.”
To get involved, follow AMA Columbia on Facebook and Twitter, or contact Jeff Lawler, membership chair, at email@example.com.
The Palladium Society
“The Palladium Society is a dynamic organization of young professionals that support the mission of Historic Columbia through educational, social and fundraising initiatives,” says President Megan Plott. “Two major events each year — a Chili Cook-Off and the Bluegrass, Bidding & BBQ Silent Auction — raise money to support the programs of Historic Columbia. The Palladium Society reaches far outside the boundaries of its seven historic properties in order to preserve, promote and protect the history of Columbia and Richland County with a wide variety of educational programs, community partnerships and preservation advocacy work.”
To get involved, visit Historic Columbia.org, contact Caitlin O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (803) 252-7742, ext. 15.
Columbia Opportunity Resource
“The Columbia Opportunity Resource connects talented professionals in the Greater Columbia area to diverse and meaningful networks for leadership, service and fun,” says past chair, Jeff Lawler. “We offer a multi-faceted approach to serving the community. From volunteering at exclusive service projects, to expanding your network, or connecting with an executive mentor, COR is the premier organization to begin your involvement in the community and be an ambassador to our great city. We connect young individuals to seasoned business professionals through programming that attracts and develops some of the best talent in the region.”
To get involved, visit OurCOR.org or e-mail Jeff Lawler at email@example.com.
American Advertising Federation
“The American Advertising Federation is dedicated to serving members by protecting and advancing advertising interests, including the freedom to truthfully advertise legal products,” says President Megan Telencio. “The local chapter, AAF of the Midlands, provides professional development luncheons, networking opportunities, National AAF discounts and discounted entry tickets to the local gala of the American Advertising Awards. Our programs and professional development opportunities are truly top-notch within our industry. We have a proven track record of excellence in programming and club activities, with more than 100 members in our local club. The professional development and networking opportunities are well worth the membership.”
To get involved, go to AAFMidlands.com or contact Megan Telencio at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These organizations are just a sampling of the quality groups in Columbia. Other organizations, such as the Emerging Leaders Membership through the Capital City Club, the Columbia Habitat Young Professional group through Habitat for Humanity, and a number of others are committed to helping cultivate leadership skills, enhance professional development and engage the mind. Having creative outlets outside of the four walls of the business are tantamount to creating a more holistic, well-rounded individual. These organizations can be an integral component to finding that passion and pursuing fulfilment — for both the young and the young at heart.