(Editor's note: The following story is published with permission from the Akron Area Eutopia Report. This is Part One of a two-part series.)
This generation of young adults may be known for moving away from Akron in search of a brighter future, but the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Torchbearers, a diverse group of emerging community leaders ages 25 to 39, proves this to be true.
For the past 10 years, Torchbearers has dug into the richness and uniqueness of Akron that can't be found anywhere else. From Akron's heart for charities and nonprofits, to its collaborations of people passionate about making a difference and its art, history and local gardening/farming movements that are sprouting up, all of these things make it a unique city, full of depth, and unlike any other. Those who haven't realized this may just not have known where to look.
"There's a new challenge for mid-to-late 20-somethings," said Kyle Kutuchief, director of Development at the Austen BioInnovation Institute. "They have their network that they went to school with, or work with, but there's this whole other community in town that they don't know about. Unless you happen to sit next to them at a bar or concert or whatever, you're not going to meet them.
"I got involved (in Torchbearers) to figure out what was going on in town and also to meet people outside of my current network. That proved to be the most valuable piece of being involved," Kutuchief continued.
His friend, Brian Pollak, president of Torchbearers and private wealth manager with UBS Financial Services , said he agrees.
Before Torchbearers, said Pollak, "I didn't see a reason to do much outside of my day job and hanging out with my buddies. That was just a few years ago. Now I'm incredibly engaged through the Torchbearers."
Added Pollak, who's been with the Torchbearers since 2007: "Once I got into it, it really became contagious and opened a lot of doors to get involved in the community."
The key to connecting
As Torchbearers enters its 10th year, many members have lessons to share.
"We found the way you really get to develop a relationship and know people is not by trading business cards and answering, 'what's your favorite color' and that kind of stuff, but to actually go do something with those people," said Kutuchief. "To go out and find a community service project, be in a workshop where you're sitting next to community leaders and getting their views and hearing other people's opinions."
They also find it important to join efforts with others, versus trying to start up a bunch of new projects from scratch. "What you'll see in Akron if you visit some of the other young professional groups is we have a lot of cross pollination going on and it's a really positive thing," Kutuchief added.
"We're sharing ideas and best practices and looking for opportunities to collaborate (and find) who's doing great stuff and how can we help them. We don't need to reinvent the wheel every time we want to do something in Akron. Torchbearers will help lead the way in a lot of key areas and bring some of the other groups in to help us, and vice versa, we support everybody else," Kutuchief continued.
Creating solutions for city problems
Torchbearers is a hands-on learning experience that invites one to dive right in and start learning, getting involved and creating connections.
"It's about getting people to be a part of the solution, not the problem. Torchbearers is a solution," Pollak said. "We're trying to solve problems in the community, and during that we're getting young people involved and passionate about their own development in Akron and these organizations. Awesome things come out of the other end of that process."
The group's mission statement focuses on community service and leadership development, and it tackles these issues through several committees, including the event, communications and membership committees.
"We want the upper echelon of people that are committed to their own development and to making Akron a better place," Pollak said. The best words to describe what to expect are an action-packed first year for young professionals, with the goal being to get individuals a baseline set of skills and exposure to the community.
"The goal is to present a menu of opportunities. The connections aren't the same year after year. Each year the organization visits new nonprofits and brings in new community leaders," Kutuchief said of the group's evolution.
"You will have all of these new sorts of connections to get a different perspective on the city," Kutuchief continued. "And in a year or two you can actually apply that stuff, or get involved in something that sparks your interest."
For those interested in getting involved, this is the time of year that Torchbearers accepts new applications. The group's next recruitment event is May 24. Prospective members may meet existing Torchbearers and learn more about what the organization is about and see if it's something they might want to be a part of in 2013.
To find out more, visit www.torchbearersakron.com.