United Way’s ‘Emerging Leaders’ group aims to engage young professionals in community, philanthropy


By Jennifer Logue

A new group created by the United Way of St. Johns County aims to engage young professionals in community service while growing the next generation of philanthropic leaders.

The “Emerging Leaders” group will formally launch this month with a kick-off reception to be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19 at the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine. In addition to cocktails and heavy hors d’oeuvres, the reception will offer young professionals the chance to network with one another as well as more established business and community leaders while learning how they can become involved in the community and future Emerging Leader activities.

“The concept is a United Way worldwide concept to bring young professionals together and get them focused on being involved in the work of United Way and having greater involvement in the community in general,” said Resource Development Director Victoria Reynolds, who worked with a steering committee of local young professionals to develop and implement the idea in St. Johns County. “We began meeting in June to figure out how we could create a young professionals group that had more than just a social aspect to it. We wanted to have fun, but fun with a purpose behind it.”

To that end, Reynolds said, the group plans to offer at least one social/networking event, one volunteer opportunity and one professional development session each quarter. Volunteer opportunities could involves working on a Habitat for Humanity home, while the first professional development session – to be known as “Lunch with Leaders” – has already been scheduled. To be held from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7 at the St. Johns Volunteers center at One News Place in St. Augustine, the inaugural session will focus on setting and achieving goals.

United Way also plans to offer Emerging Leaders members the opportunity to participate in a five-week program to train young professionals to serve on the board of a nonprofit organization. “We’ve created this framework to teach people about the expectations and responsibilities for serving on a board,” said Reynolds, who said the Emerging Leaders group is also collaborating with the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce to serve as its official young professionals group. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people saying that’s something that hasn’t been offered previously in the community.”

Reynolds stressed that while the Emerging Leaders program is targeted broadly at professionals between the ages of 21 and 45, its events will be open to community members of all ages. And while formal membership in the group is not required, participants will be encouraged to contribute a minimum of $250 a year to the United Way to signal their commitment.

“Part of being a philanthropic leader does involve giving of your time, talent and treasure – and $250 works out to about one Starbucks a week,” said Reynolds, noting that the Emerging Leaders’ volunteer outings will give members a chance to witness their donation in action.

“Volunteering is going to enable people to interact with the many partner agencies of the United Way,” she said. “By committing to be a member, this really gives people the opportunity to see where their donation is going.”

Tickets for the Emerging Leaders kick-off reception are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Tickets may be purchased online at http://www.unitedway-sjc.org/emergingleaders.