Young, Hip and Re-creating Cleveland

Junior committees prepare the next generation of local leaders.

Ever thrilled to the idea of strolling through a museum after hours? Been to a party and thought, I could come up with something better than this? Do you know what you'd ask the mayor if you had the chance? More than 2,000 young professionals in Cleveland actually get a chance to pursue those daydreams.

A huge number of 20- and 30-somethings are preparing to become the next generation of local leaders. Dozens of avenues are available within the young professional circuit, from happy hours to private art tours to hands-on volunteer work. A single hipster with a broadening interest in philanthropy is just as likely to find his or her niche as a married couple with stable careers.

Playhouse Square Partners has become a dynasty in the world of young professionals' groups. Formed in 1991 by a group of nine, the organization has ballooned to 400 members and raised almost $1.5 million for Playhouse Square Center. While other groups were floundering in the '90s, the Partners flourished with events such as the popular annual Jump Back Ball.

Like many young professional groups, the Partners stress accessibility. Current Partners co-chair Jay Moroscak, 34, sees young people interested in the long-term financial stability of Cleveland as potential members. "We're not limited to lawyers and accountants," he says. "We're a very diverse group • continuing the legacy of Clevelanders who saved Playhouse Square from the wrecking ball."

In a time when many talented young workers are leaving Cleveland, these people are not just sticking around; they're thriving. For Hunter Walter, the 20-something liaison for the Cleveland Museum of Art's Young Friends committee, the organizations are a valuable resource as "hubs for young people." By getting such folks involved and passionate about their community, these groups hope to be a key to keeping young intellectuals here.

Young Friends president Candice Jones says her organization "gives people a place to go. It becomes a lifelong passion, something they're willing to support." The Young Friends was formed in the early 1980s with the goal of creating enduring interest in the museum. Today, the 100-member group indulges artistic passion through an annual after-hours museum scavenger hunt and private tours led by curators.

With about 300 members, the New Leaders of the City Club are eclipsing the number of senior City Club members. The organization recognizes its up-and-coming junior committee by encouraging its members to lead committees and schedule events and by making sure they interact with the board of directors. The current chair of the New Leaders acts as a representative for the group at board meetings, while the past two chairs have moved on to full-fledged roles on the board. Vice chair Kim Rathbone, 30, attended her first New Leaders meeting and found herself heading a program by the end of the evening.

The New Leaders challenge their members and the community with provocative, fresh programming aimed at younger Clevelanders.

"Andy Borowitz came to speak last May; a humorist is something you don't often see at City Club," observes New Leaders chair Bill Welsh. "We've also had debates on gay marriage and legalizing marijuana." The committee created Dialogues on Leadership, informal breakfast meetings between 20 members and such local figures as Mayor Jane Camp-bell and Rev. Otis Moss.

Not every local organization is as aggressive about creating opportunities for its young members, so frustrated young professionals who were members of various local junior committees created the Cleveland Bridge Builders in the '90s.

"They weren't getting a lot of direction," recalls Bridge Builders executive director Laura Steinbrink. "They were being charged with achieving goals and weren't given the resources to achieve them." So Bridge Builders created the 10-month Flagship Program, a kind of civic leadership school that attracts more than 25 community leaders to speak during each session. Five years later, the training program has touched more than 500 local businesses through its students, alumni and teachers.

"People come away with the skills they need, bigger networks and the confidence and drive to push for change and seek out leadership roles in their organizations," says Steinbrink.

While admittance into a socially recognized club can be the launching pad for community interaction and entrance into Cleveland society, young professionals are also looking for something they can simply enjoy.

The 20/30 Club, born out of meetings at the Rock Bottom Brewery almost four years ago, supports young professionals committed to Cleveland and to having a good time. Because the 20/30 Club isn't affiliated with a parent organization, the group draws young people with a variety of interests and goals — more than 300 to date. Club president Adam Tomlinson, 26, says he thinks the club acts as a steppingstone and a chance to interact with "other high-quality young professionals," people who will become prominent businessmen and -women in the years to come.

"It's such a welcoming group," he says. "The thing that continues to surprise me is that it's very open, very non-cliquish. It's such a community that when you come to our happy hours, random members will approach you and make you feel welcome."

Most groups perform some kind of volunteer services every year, but the 100 members of the Young Directors, the volunteer arm of the Center for Families and Children, are especially involved in helping people. The Young Directors hold an annual fund-raiser for the center and organize projects such as Make a Difference Day and the annual Adopt-A-Family Drive.

"Our presence has become ever more significant because of layoffs and funding cuts at the CFC," says Young Directors president Sylvia Kertesy. "If a landscaper is laid off, we'll do landscaping. We build shelves, we'll do all that stuff. We're needed more than ever to pick up the slack."

It's easy to get involved, committee members say. New-member orientation meetings are happening all the time, and you may already know someone in a group that might interest you. For most groups, the yearly dues are less than a couple of nights out at the bar. And doesn't the prospect of gaining new friends and interacting with Cleveland organizations in a positive way sound better than that weekly hangover?

For more information:

20/30 Club:

City Club New Leaders:

Cleveland Bridge Builders:

Cleveland Museum of Art Young Friends:

Playhouse Square Partners: (click on "Donations& Giving," then "Partners")

Young Directors of the Center For Families and Children:

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