Ten years ago, a handful of young adults met in a living room in West Akron to set a new course for young professionals in Akron.
A decade later, that gathering is celebrating its anniversary as the Torchbearers group, which today has more than 100 members focusing on developing young leaders and community service in the Akron area.
“These aren’t just email addresses that we claim as members. These people are giving back to the community,” noted Kyle Kutuchief, the 33-year-old vice president of Torchbearers.
“We require a certain minimum community service and minimum committee participation,” he said. “Also, many of our members have leadership roles in the organization.”
Torchbearers doesn’t accept just any young professional into the fold.
Torchbearers leaders talk with corporate and civic officials to identify their “rising stars,” said Kutuchief, who is development director at Akron’s Austen BioInnovation Institute.
Each year, Torchbearers limits its “class size” to better focus on developing members’ leadership skills and connecting them with myriad volunteer opportunities.
New members attend “TB College,” which includes programs for serving on boards and resolving conflicts. Many more than the 100 current members have been Torchbearers, Kutuchief noted, explaining that members generally devote about three years to the group before moving on to other activities.
Applicants must be ages 25 to 39, though members can stay with the group until they are 42. Applications for the upcoming class — the Class of 2014 — will be available at the beginning of April and will be due July 31.
Last year, Torchbearers had its biggest applicant pool ever, noted Jason Christman, 28, an accountant who joined Torchbearers in 2011 and this year heads the group’s membership committee. More than 60 people applied for 39 slots.
Kutuchief says the healthy number of applicants is a testament to the group’s mission: “A lot of people under 40 know they would like to give back in Akron, but they have no idea where to start.”
Torchbearer community service projects — such as volunteering at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank or Akron Marathon — allow members to give back while also developing strong connections to others wanting to help in the community, Kutuchief said.
Often, at a young professional social gathering, Kutuchief said, “you don’t actually get to know each other. ... You trade business cards, you learn people’s favorite color ... but you don’t really get to know them.”
Lashawrida L. Fellows, a 31-year-old office manager at an Akron social service agency, is chair of the Torchbearers service committee this year. She wants to focus on projects where Torchbearers members can have a big impact on an organization and ones where members can use their individual skills.
“An organization may need its employee manual updated,” she said. “Maybe that’s something a member could do to help.”
This year, Kutuchief said, Torchbearers also will focus on attracting and retaining young talent. Kutuchief noted the group received a $50,000 two-year grant from the Knight Foundation that should help with this effort. Kutuchief said Torchbearers marked its 10th anniversary by signing an agreement to continue indefinitely its alliance with the 29-year-old group called Leadership Akron, which works with older professionals.
The alliance gives Torchbearers access to Leadership Akron resources — such as office space and personnel — and closer contact with established community leaders.
Torchbearers also celebrated its anniversary by setting up an endowment to sustain the group at the Akron Community Foundation. Kutuchief said the group has been conservative in spending membership dues ($250 per person per year) and has saved $25,000 that it used to establish the endowment.
Torchbearers co-founder Scott Read, who now works with a private equity firm, said the group’s initial meeting was in his West Akron home. He was 33 and had noticed that his parents’ involvement in the community “opened up a lot of doors for me.” His father is Roger Read, a former CEO at Harwick Chemical Corp.
At the same time, he said, he was noticing that a lot of the same people served on multiple boards.
He told his friend Jeff Satterfield, who owns an IT company, about his idea for a young professional leadership organization, and the two gathered a small group that led to the new organization.
Satterfield “is like a pit bull once he gets an idea in his head,” Read said.
Satterfield and Read were each honored with a Distinguished Alumni award at last month’s 10th anniversary reception. Daniel Flowers, CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, received the Friends of Young Leaders Award.
To learn more about Torchbearers, find the group on Facebook or go online to www.torchbearersakron.com.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.