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When born-and-raised Charlestonian Erica Wright first heard about Charleston Young Professionals (CYP), it was at Kudu Coffeehouse with her friend and then inaugural chairwoman. The recent college grad was hesitant, but ultimately joined the group.
Now, eight years later, she still often finds herself meeting with people at the same place to talk about CYP — only, today, from a different capacity.
“I think [CYP] is the best thing since sliced bread,” Wright told CMCC News. “And here I am eight years later, the director.”
Charleston Young Professionals was developed as an initiative of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, and was led by a group of young professionals who saw the need for an organization that engaged members in the 21 – 40 age range.
The organization is preparing to mark 10 years of helping young professionals both with a celebration event and a renewed focus on a Charleston that, in many ways, is growing much faster than it was when Wright joined in 2008. At that time, she said, the group was primarily a white-collar organization, holding “happy hour” meetings. Today, the organization is increasingly expanding its mission to include community engagement and professional development.
“We’ve really just evolved from a networking cocktail hour social group — which has always been professionally focused — into something more,” Lauren Newman, the CYP’s current chair, told CMCC News. “The Charleston community has changed a lot in the last few years.”
Newman said that in addition to holding more meetings throughout the area to make it easier for the more than a thousand members to get involved, CYP’s reach has also expanded its industry demographics. With the population growing by as many as 48 people a day, the organization has begun to reach out to workers in IT, manufacturing and even the military.
“As Charleston has grown, our membership has grown,” Newman said. “That is certainly one of our goals moving forward, to be inclusive no matter what industry you’re in.”
In the early years, Wright said, the group was focused on battling brain drain. Back then, young professionals were leaving the city after earning their degrees to find jobs elsewhere.
“There was a mechanism put in place to kind of harness the ‘Millennial power,’ and that meant a lot of networking,” she said. “Over the years, we saw that platform evolve to more of a professional development focus.”
One of the more recent changes, she said, was when they began reaching out to employers for feedback on how to build those development courses. Wright talked about a recent confidence course that was offered as part of a series of professional lectures for members following that feedback.
Employers were saying how, every time they would invite their younger employees to a staff meeting confidence would go out the window,” Wright said.
Other topics have included sales techniques and business etiquette. The latter came from a local banker, Wright said, who found that his younger bankers did not always know how to handle themselves at a business lunch.
What Wright particularly appreciates is the organization’s transition to a more community-focused mission. Young professionals today, she said, are increasingly asking for opportunities to get involved in infrastructure projects, as they begin to search for their own homes while battling the same traffic jams as their baby-boomer-era counterparts. In response, CYP created the Community Engagement Platform.
“This growth in Charleston is causing young professionals to awaken, so to speak, to issues that really impact our region and look for ways to get involved,” she said. “It’s kind of gone from ‘what can CYP do for me?’ to ‘what can we collectively do for this region?’”
To celebrate the transition and 10 years of operation, Charleston Young Professionals has an event planned on August 25. The event is open to more than just young professionals, with organizers inviting business and local civic leaders of all ages to come and witness the potential of the CYP. Learn more about the CYP 10th Anniversary event at charlestonchamber.net/cyp10.
Those interested in joining the Charleston Young Professionals can reach out through Facebook or visit Charleston-yp.com. Anyone employed by a business that is a member of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce receives a free membership to the CYP.