BRATTLEBORO >> The Southern Vermont Young Professionals' upcoming event is open to anyone and everyone, says Alex Beck, workforce and education specialist at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation.
The Creative Black Tie Gala at Brattleboro Museum & Art Center on Feb. 27 from 7:30 to 11 p.m. is an attempt to open the group's events up to the rest of the community and it's also the first fundraiser to assist in subsidizing future events to ensure as many attendees as possible.
"The fundraiser is our coming out as a more established and organized organization than we have been in the past," said Beck. "The big call we're asking is for the rest of the community to come out and say, 'We value young professionals and we want to see more of you and we want the ones who are here to stay. We do see young professionals as an economic driver.'"
The event is also meant to show that there are young people committed to sticking around.
Having 30 extra people show up to an establishment on a random night for the group's events can make a difference in the monthly budget of a business, Beck pointed out while saying young people spending money on items locally can lead to more businesses offering those things. He looked at Hermit Thrush Brewery owner Avery Schwenk's running for a seat on Brattleboro's Selectboard as an example for what the group is attempting to do. Not only are they hoping to inspire others to run for political offices but join non-profit boards in the area.
"For people looking for leadership wanting to stay here, we're going to try and help set those community roots down," said Beck. "So the event is really to say we're going to commit to this community and we want your support."
Beck sees people "at most times mistakenly" arguing that all young people are going to leave anyway. He said those who are here are here for very specific reasons.
"The quality of life in Southern Vermont is unparalleled," he added. "The problems are with rural isolation and finding work. But if we can solve them, it can make for a more inclusive community."
In the spring or early summer, his group hopes to begin offering financial literacy courses. They might look specifically at retirement planning and first-time home ownership.
Another goal involves "creating a space" where guidance and resources can be found for participating in civics, said Beck.
"We mix fun and work in the same events," he said. "We want all of our efforts to appeal to the widest range of people and see what people want."
At the gala, where attendees are encouraged to come up with their own ideas for ties and choice of attire, surveys will be handed out. This is to solicit input for future events and weigh in on where the fundraising dollars should go to.
Beck would like to see 150 people show up, saying the group is not just about socializing but serving the community.
"It would be fantastic. We want to have families, kids, grandparents, parents," he said. "I think it's going to be a blast."
Tickets are $15 for two and include admission to the museum and art gallery. Event sponsors are Mondo Mediaworks, Brattleboro Savings & Loan, New Chapter and BMAC.
The businesses donated out of the goodness of their hearts, said Beck, but they also recognize that the strength of their business and the community "greatly benefits from a strong young professional community."
Local musicians will perform while food will be catered by The Porch Two with beverages provided by Hermit Thrush and Saxtons River Distillery. A raffle and silent auction will feature prizes from Trinity Botanicals, Whetstone Station, Stratton Mountain, the Grand Summit Hotel at Mount Snow and Naturespa. Raffle tickets cost $3 for one and $5 for two. One lucky winner will have the opportunity to design their own beer flavors with Hermit Thrush.
After the BDCC's economic development branch Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies wrapped up writing its federally recognized Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies document, the need to increase the size and quality of the region's workforce began to be addressed. Retention of the younger populations was an area needing improvement.
The Southern Vermont Young Professionals was a result of thinking about those things, said Beck, who initially was hired by the BDCC to run the social networking group. Soon, monthly events were organized.
"It's really just to get people to chat and have a good time," said Beck, who saw people with no friends and no job leaving the region but also people with a job and no friends leaving. "The goals are to recruit, retain and support young professionals. We define young professionals very loosely."
The age range is between 21 and 45 years old, mostly hovering below 35, and people do not need jobs or want jobs to be a part of the group. Individuals with all sorts of occupations come to the group's events. There are artists, manufacturers, architects and writers for publications, said Beck. The idea is to build a foundation for those who are new to the area or want to change professions. Or the group may fill a gap for people who are lacking a sense of belonging within the community.
"We've had people say, 'I'm a firefighter, I'm not a professional, so this isn't for me.' That's a stigma we're trying to challenge," Beck said. "What work and professionalism looks like in Southern Vermont ranges. It runs the gamut really."