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Meeting other young professionals outside the workplace can be hit or miss, but a new group hopes to make it a breeze.
“In the few informal planning meetings we’ve had so far, everyone is immediately surprised to meet people with common interests that they’d never crossed paths with before,” said Kellianne Davis, an organizer of a similar group in Rocky Mount and Wilson downtown business specialist. “Oftentimes, you can get tunnel vision on your existing circle and forget to look for other friends, but Gig360 is a great way to meet new people. It really is refreshing to find out there are more young people that share your interests and goals and are in a similar position in life.”
Gig360 Young Professionals will have a tacky Christmas sweater-themed social and information session from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Downtown Public House, 113B Goldsboro St. The target audience is 21 to 45 years old, but the group is open to anyone.
“That demographic was identified as a gap associated with the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. Kids are really engaged in the park and Wilson natives — particularly the older ones — feel connected to the park, but young professionals are somewhat missing,” Davis said. “They know the park is here, but they don’t feel that connection as much as other demographics.”
When Nash and Edgecombe counties joined with Rocky Mount to create a positive image campaign a few years back, Davis was enlisted to organize a group of young professionals. That effort became the Young Professionals of the Twin Counties with hundreds of people participating in a variety of activities throughout the last three years.
“We have about 500 contacts and many of them are from various businesses and the chamber of commerce,” Davis said. “Teach for America is a big group we pull from because those teachers will move to an area to fulfill their teaching obligation, but they are far from home and the group allowed them to plug into their peers quickly.”
The Wilson group will be tailored to the city and centered around the whirligig park and downtown.
“It will be similar in that it is an opportunity to fill a need in the community for networking and socialization among young professionals and connect them with the larger community,” Davis said. “But it is different in the YoPros was about creating a general appreciation for all the Twin Counties had to offer while Gig360 is rooted around the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and downtown. The hope is that through activities and events in downtown, participants will be more engaged in Wilson, become better ambassadors of the community and support the park, too.”
Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum Executive Director Jeff Bell said during previous positions, he’s worked with young professionals to plan events and organize fundraising efforts. Bell said he’s optimistic the group will fulfill that role as well as be a fun social opportunity for participants.
“Two problems we often hear a lot about in Wilson are job retention and commuting. I think having a group like this can help those who have recently moved to the area meet others across the community and, in turn, allow for more of them to move to Wilson instead of living elsewhere and driving in,” Bell said. “Living in, and being more invested in, the community improves job retention. Also, members are extremely motivated to make this a really fun group.”
While the social this week is free, there is a fee to join Gig360, but there are several options. For $360, one young professional can join or for $180, a person can join while agreeing to volunteer for activities at the park throughout the year. Company sponsorships are encouraged.
Davis said the goal is to have more than 100 members and raise $25,000 to sponsor a whirligig.
“A number of whirligigs in the park are still available for naming recognition. Businesses and individuals can sponsor whirligigs at a variety of giving levels and have their name listed on a plaque in the park,” Bell said. “After discussions with Kellianne, we thought it would be really cool to name one of the whirligigs for the inaugural members of Gig360. They are working really hard to create the group and get it off the ground, and this is a very visible way for us to recognize their efforts.”
Membership dues in future years will cover group swag while offering members cheaper tickets to paid programs and events through partner organizations, discounted whirligig park rentals and exclusive access to ongoing downtown development.
“The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park is a community landmark. It is our calling card and what makes us truly unique, so for a community asset that huge to not be fully integrated with everyone is a missed opportunity,” Davis said. “Not only is it a nice amenity, it is an economic driver. In the past year, it has been a catalyst for downtown development and we’ve seen new and reinvestment at levels that we’ve never seen before, including the Whirligig Station, BB&T and a variety of smaller projects.
“Many of these downtown investments are local businesses that thrive, especially because of support from younger residents.”
For more information or to sign up, visit www.wilsonwhirligigpark.org/gig-360/ and www.facebook.com/Gig360/.