Young professionals tackle to-do list

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- An organization of young professionals is out to dispel the age-old myth "There's nothing to do here."

Members of Albany Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Emerge Albany, a group of area professionals in the 21- to 40-year-old demographic, have taken on the task of completing a list of 100 things to do in Albany that the chamber included in a recent publication. With their slogan "fall in love with Albany all over again" serving as motivation, Emerge Albany's members have dubbed 2010 a "year of discovery."

"One of the most important things young professionals can do when they become part of a community is find something to get involved in, something they can plug into," said Caitlyn Cooper, development officer at the Lily Pad SANE Center in Albany and chairman of the Emerge Albany group. "This adds a fun element to that concept.

"One of the things we talk about in Emerge Albany and in Leadership Albany is changing attitudes, which changes negative images. You do it within the group, and it grows from there."

Started almost three years ago as a way for young professionals in the region to meet, socialize and network, a re-energized Emerge Albany is becoming a more viable peer component among a group that chamber CEO Catherine Glover calls the future of the community. More than 250 professionals in all fields are on EA's mailing list.

"This organization is priceless when you take into account the impact its members will have on the future of our community," Glover said. "And it is so awesome to have a group like this willing to put its money where its mouth is, willing to take the time to get to know the community.

"The more they know about the place they live, the more they're going to be invested in it. To have a young, talented group like this -- the backbone of this region's future -- that understands they need to give more to their community to get more back from it speaks well for our future."

Emerge Albany's members gather for a luncheon the second Friday of each month to socialize, talk about business opportunities and listen to guest speakers. During one such meeting Chamber Special Events Coordinator Meghan Duke mentioned the 100 things to do list in the Chamber's 100th anniversary publication "Reflections."

"We just took that idea and ran with it," Cooper said.

Some of the items on the list are simple and to be done individually: Eat a Jimmie's hot dog, browse through an antiques shop, visit a local library, watch the sun rise over the Flint River.

Others -- camp at Chehaw, go grape-stomping at Still Pond Vineyard, float down the Flint River, spend an afternoon downtown, go caroling in Rawson Circle -- are planned for group outings.

"The more we do together, the more the excitement grows," Barbara Rivera Holmes, director of marketing with the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission, said. "In being involved with Emerge Albany and with Leadership Albany, I've seen a metamorphasis in the attitudes of a lot of people. It's really cool to see someone who may not be sold on the community come around.

"It sounds trite and cliche, but if you take one person and change their attitude, and then they change the attitude of another person ... well, it grows exponentially. I sold some items on craigslist to a person who fits our demographic, and when I met him I told him about what we're doing with Emerge Albany. I've talked with someone while in a bank line. I believe in Albany and I believe in what we're doing."

Albany dentist Charles King Jr. said he too has seen a new excitement growing among the young professionals who are a part of Emerge Albany.

"As an Albany native, I'm starting to see some exciting things happen through this group," King said. "The members are dedicated to staying here, and we've taken on the job of raising the bar when it comes to making our community better.

"Albany has a history of racial discrimination that runs deep. I'm so glad to be part of a group that is putting such issues aside and is instead focusing on positive ways to help our city grow. I like the fact that young professionals from outside the community are bringing new ideas here. There is potential for tremendous growth in Albany, and I want to be a part of that."

So Albany residents shouldn't be too surprised to see groups of its future leaders picnicing, biking, shopping, volunteering and taking in all that the community has to offer over the next few months.

"Albany has a lot to offer," Cooper said. "There are ways for young professionals to enjoy themselves, to get involved. When people complain about there being nothing to do here, I tell them like my mom always told me: 'I'm sure they'll make room for you up in Atlanta.'

"It's time to change that way of thinking. Who wants to hang around such negativity all the time?"