Young Professional Society has large following

By STEPHANIE BARRY – The Republican, Sunday, February 15, 2009

SPRINGFIELD – They came streaming through the door by the dozens: lawyers, accountants, marketing executives, bankers, teachers and more.

Clearly hungry for their own kind, the first formal gathering of the Young Professionals Society of Greater Springfield in 2007 drew an unexpectedly enthusiastic response.

“We were a little apprehensive,” co-founder Kathleen M. Plante said of that first meeting. “We relied solely on guerrilla marketing to get the word out.”

But in retrospect, a flurry of emails, text messages and phone calls did the trick. Organizers hoped for a turnout of 30 or 40, but were met with about 200 comers to the group’s first gathering at the Keg Room on State Street, recalled Plante.

Nearly two years later, the nonprofit group formed primarily to attract and retain young talent to the region draws consistently big crowds to their monthly cocktail parties, CEO luncheons and charity benefits.

A similar group, the Northampton Area Young Professionals, is flourishing in Hampshire County where it was also launched two years ago to nurture the “next generation” of the region’s business community.

Springfield Young Professionals vice president, Jeffrey I. Fialky, a partner at downtown law firm Bacon & Wilson, said his group has 150 individual members, 10 corporate members and 900 on their e-mail list.

“It’s as if there was this huge need that nobody knew about,” Fialky said, describing its popularity.

Plante, director for development at Holyoke Catholic High School, said she first hatched the idea when she worked at the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield. A speaker who came to address that group noted that thousands of young people are educated here each year, but don’t stay after earning their diplomas.

“We’ve got 9,000 college kids in the region each year … but they don’t stick around,” Plante said. “We were trying to find a way to engage that demographic.”

The group’s Web site conveys a festive theme, featuring a collection of photos of cocktail-clutching members from various events and a motto of “Live. Work. Play. Stay.” But, Plante and Fialky said the mission of the group is much broader than hosting regular parties.

It attempts to serve four different functions: business networking, socializing, volunteerism and advancement of the arts, they said.

Under the social and business networking heading, Young Professionals hosts monthly “Third Thursdays” at various bars and restaurants around the city. It also schedules CEO luncheons for smaller groups of members, featuring business leaders from across the region. Members also participate in local charity and cultural events.

Fialky said the cultural arm of the group aims to bridge the gap between aging and upcoming patrons of the arts.

The Young Professionals Society hosted a successful event at City Stage recently and has scheduled for April 4 “George & Tonics.”The cleverly worded event will feature “Star Trek”‘s George Takei, along with maestro Kevin Rhodes, for an evening at the Springfield Symphony and, of course, cocktails to follow.

The group’s target demographic is professionals between 25 and 45, but no one is excluded. In fact, Brendan Ciecko, newly 21, is on the board of directors.

The Holyoke resident founded Ten Minute Media, a marketing and Web design company catering to major label recording artists such as Lenny Kravitz and Katy Perry, a the ripe age of 12 in his parents’ bedroom.

Ciecko said the group sews up all aspects of a happy existence for a young professional in the Pioneer Valley.

“You might have a great job, but if you’re not out enjoying the arts, and music and restaurants and social current of the region, what commitment will you really have here,” he said.

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