For young professionals in Norfolk, Connect tries to live up to its name.
Connect works to build bridges between young professionals and longtime residents, said Caylie Egger, tourism service assistant at the Norfolk Area Visitors Bureau. The group is a part of Norfolk Now.
“We consider (Connect) the young professionals group here in Norfolk,” Egger said. “We try to connect the new people with the people here, that’s kind of our main initiative.”
To that end, Connect hosts a number of events. These include:
— Coffee and Conversation: Informal discussions with featured guests and projects.
— disConnect: After-work socials intended to develop relationships.
— Pints & Politics: Presentations from local politicians over a certain topic with time for questions at the end. Attendees are welcome to order food and drinks.
— YP Summit: A networking event for young professionals with guest speakers and breakout sessions.
— Signature events: These include the Halloween party, adult prom and getting together for local festivals and concerts.
While these events are geared toward young professionals, they are open to everybody, Egger said.
“Our initiative is to make those connections, network with businesses, and once (young people) are here, to make relationships,” Egger said. “I think a huge reason (to come to events) is making connections with somebody you might not be able to, and also connecting with businesses as well for opportunities in the future. And then just learning about your community, what’s going on in Norfolk.”
Rachel Scott has volunteered with Connect since the group started in 2018, she said.
“I think (Connect) is really exciting because you get to empower people,” Scott said. “If you think about when you’re coming out of college, or you’re first starting out in your career or you’re moving to a new town, it can be a little intimidating trying to find where you fit.”
Additionally, Scott likes how the most of the events are free and open to everyone, she said.
“I just love that there is something to do that involves young persons in a cost-effective way,” Scott said. “We try to keep it as low cost as possible, and there’s no annual dues.”
Scott said Connect also creates a place for civil conversation.
“I think it creates a platform that’s not scary. It creates a really fun environment. It’s like having coffee with your best friend. It really breaks down the barrier,” she said. “I think one of the most powerful things that Connect is doing is it’s providing a platform for conversation. It gets people to the table and says, ‘OK, let’s talk,’ and in a way where everybody can feel understood and heard, which I think is really important.”
COVID-19 made this difficult, though, Egger said. The group had to cancel all of its in-person events last spring. The group was able to hold some events in the summer and early fall but then had to transition back to virtual events.
“They weren’t as successful,” Egger said. “I feel like people were getting tired of virtual events by the end of the year, so we weren’t making those connections.”
Before the pandemic, Scott said she met a lot of people through Connect events.
“You just never know who you’re going to meet,” she said. “Some of your closest friends are just a disConnect away or a Pints & Politics away.”
This year, Connect’s first in-person event was Pints & Politics on March 12, Egger said.
The next event is the YP Summit on May 6. Tickets are now on sale at NorfolkNow.org/Connect-Norfolk.