Ask anyone who has lived in Sarasota for a significant amount of time, and they’ll agree: 10 years ago, Sarasota was a much different place for young people — especially transplants. Without a real sense of community, many young people struggled to meet peers or relate to the community beyond their jobs.
In 2003, in an effort to create a better sense of identity among young business-minded people, a group of young professionals banded together to establish the Sarasota Young Professionals Group. Formed through the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, the group allowed them to forge relationships with other young like-minded people, volunteer their time and have a voice in their community. Ten years later, some of the group’s founding members reflect on how the organization impacted their lives and changed Sarasota’s landscape for its youth.
At the top of the proverbial YPG family tree sits Eric Massey, a third-generation Sarasotan and Michael Saunders Realtor, who was instrumental in forming the organization in 2003 as a member of the Small Business Council’s board of directors.
In 2001, after moving back to Sarasota from Miami, Massey says he was passionate about becoming more engaged in his hometown and finding a way to connect the young, driven people he knew lived in town.
“I was born and raised here, so I saw a lot of my friends establishing their careers and becoming successful,” he says. “But, I realized none of them knew each other. They had no medium to connect. When you’re young, it’s not as easy to make those kinds of connections outside of a bar.”
He worked with the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce to establish the group, which he says started as a basic way for young professionals to connect through luncheons and after-hours events. But, the group quickly expanded to include service and leadership opportunities.
“It provides younger people a chance to get dialed in to whatever extent they want,” says Massey. “You get out of it whatever you put into it. If you want to come to the after-hours events and meet likeminded people, you can do that. If you want to meet all the city and county commissioners and get involved with civic leadership, you can do that, too. It’s cool to have that ability to contribute.”
Like many early YPG members, Nikki Taylor says that without the organization, she probably wouldn’t be living in Sarasota today. After moving in 2000 to Sarasota from Palm Beach, she says she had a difficult time finding any other young people in what she saw as predominantly a retirement community.
“It was a lot harder to find young people back then,” she says. “It was to the point where if I saw young people in a car at a stoplight, I’d roll down the window and ask them where they were going.”
So, when she saw a flier for the first meeting of the Young Professionals Group, she was excited at the prospect of meeting other young, motivated people in the area.
“It was like angels singing,” she says of the meeting. “To find people who were like me, in the same place, with the same aspirations and like minds — it’s what kept me here.”
Taylor first became involved as a volunteer, eventually serving in various leadership roles before stepping away in 2009, but she says the relationships she formed and the lessons she learned continue to have an influence on her life.
“Probably half the people I do business with, I met through YPG,” she says. “It’s all about forming relationships, and this group not only helped me do that, but it also trained me to be a leader. It gave me an opportunity to grow.”
Drayton Saunders grew up in Sarasota, but after moving away at the age of 15, he says his hometown felt almost foreign when he moved back.
“I didn’t have that high school or college social foundation,” he says. “I didn’t know where to go or how to meet anyone I didn’t work with. I didn’t even know how to find out what the cool bars were.”
After attending the first YPG meeting, Saunders knew he’d found what he was looking for — a way to network with other professionals and immerse himself in the community that wasn’t a party scene.
“I finally had a feeling that I was connecting with Sarasota outside of my job,” he says. “Without that, I probably would’ve only had an understanding of the very outer layer of Sarasota and how it works.”
Saunders says he’s proud of the voice and sense of presence the organization has provided the city’s younger demographic, especially in the business community, and he hopes to see that continue to translate into the political scene. And with the strong base its founders provided, he says YPG has struck a proper balance, which will allow it to continue to thrive.
“The founding members didn’t just create a flash in a pan,” he says. “If it were only about the social aspect, or only about service and local issues, it probably would’ve died a quick death. But they left it flexible enough to adapt and evolve with each new set of leaders.”
It’s hard to imagine Frank Maggio as acting as anything other than an exuberant champion for YPG and other local opportunities for involvement. But, as he’ll admit, he wasn’t always that way.
“When I first joined YPG, I wasn’t the type to be outgoing or take on a leadership-type position,” says Maggio. “For the first two years I was a member, I wasn’t nearly as involved.”
When he first joined, he says he was mostly exposed to the social aspect of the organization, which wasn’t what he was looking for. It wasn’t until around 2006, when he first took on a leadership role, that he found a way to connect to the organization on more than a social level. He says the experience had a lasting effect on him, both personally and professionally, and it eventually led to his 2012-2013 tenure as YPG chairman.
“It allowed me a chance to step up and have a voice,” he says. “And, now, I am that person who is involved in everything. YPG has a social aspect and a nonprofit and volunteer aspect, but, to me, there’s so much more than that. There’s the opportunity for personal and professional development, and, if you put in the effort, it can really train you to be a great leader.”
If you go:
YPG 10-Year Anniversary Block Party
When: 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28
Where: Downtown on Lemon Avenue, between Main and First streets
Cost: Free Info: Call 556-4038
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