Executive Board members of the Link'd Young Professionals stand in the center of the Magnolia Bowl downtown and discuss it's future. From left to right are Jason Spears, Kathy Hofmann, Christina Berry and Bain Nickels of Columbus. Photo by: Lee Adams/Dispatch Staff
October 12, 2012 10:38:18 AM
Two years ago, the Link'd Young Professionals faced a dilemma: Membership was down, participation was low and an organization filled with potential seemed destined to go the way of Ma Bell and the rotary-dial phone.
And so the board members did what all leaders do -- they reversed course, revised strategies and reinvented themselves. Welcome to 2012, where 45 is the new 40, and Generation X is no longer excluded from the Link'd membership rolls.
Originally founded as a networking organization for the 21-40 set, the revamped group has amended its bylaws and expanded its base to include young professionals between the ages of 21 and 45.
Leading the charge is 33-year-old financial specialist Jason Spears, owner of JDS Wealth Strategies, a board member with the Columbus Municipal School District, and the president of Link'd Young Professionals.
The organization's problem, Spears surmised, was two-fold: There were too many social functions and not enough service projects.
He and the other members of the Link'd executive committee envisioned more of a hybrid organization, retaining its networking and leadership roots but realigning its mission to include improving the quality of life for Columbus residents of all ages.
Their flagship event is the annual Clean Sweep Columbus, which, like Link'd, sprang from a brainstorming session between members of the Leadership Lowndes County class of 2008.
During the nine-month leadership program, attendees spent a lot of time talking about ways to make life better in Columbus, and they continued those discussions when they founded Link'd Young Professionals.
Though Clean Sweep is a citywide community cleanup, Spears and his group have focused their efforts on revitalizing the now-defunct Magnolia Bowl on Fifth Street North. Soon, they will begin sprucing up school playgrounds, beginning at West Lowndes Elementary School.
These types of projects appealed to Columbus City Planner Christina Berry, who joined the group a little more than a year ago and now serves as operations chairman.
Berry, 32, said she appreciates the opportunity to connect with her peers and work on quality of life issues, and she encourages others to join.
"You'll be at the table with a group of people who share your interests," she said Thursday while surveying the progress at Magnolia Bowl. "If you really want to be part of an organization where you can bring your creative ideas to the table and make a difference in the community, Link'd Young Professionals is that organization."
She and the other board members are enthusiastic about extending the age limit for membership.
Renee Reedy, 35, joined less than a year ago when she and her husband, Will Reedy, opened a photography and cinematography studio on Main Street.
As newcomers to Columbus, they wanted to meet other small business owners, and the idea of networking with people their own age was appealing.
For Columbus native Bain Nickels, 30, membership has taken on the added patina of giving back that which has been given.
"It's an opportunity to be involved in the community I love and have been a part of my whole life," said Nickels, who works as a financial advisor in his father's firm, L.H. Nickels & Associates. "It's an opportunity to connect with other young leaders to help benefit the community."
Link'd will hold "Fall Frenzy," a meet-and-greet membership drive, Oct. 25 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Trotter Convention Center courtyard. Annual dues are $10.
"If people want to participate, we want to accommodate," Spears said.
For more information, or to apply for membership, visit cldlink.org or email Chelsea Thompson at email@example.com.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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