Summit gives young professionals a chance to develop an action plan

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Posted: Friday, March 7, 2014 12:00 am

The secret to turning good ideas into action? Developing a vision and harnessing inspiration.

That was the message Thursday at the Greater Omaha Young Professionals Summit from Erica Williams Simon, deputy director for Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress, a project aiming to develop new ideas for an increasingly diverse America.

“All these things are easy to say and easy to package, but they're hard to do,” Simon said. “Being the change is all about doing the change.”

Complete with a live graffiti installation and a skateboard halfpipe, the event drew nearly 1,400 people to the CenturyLink Center Omaha. Organizers put the focus of the ninth annual event on effecting change in the greater community.

“We found out from past summits that people left here very excited, but they didn't always feel they had something they could act on,” said Sarah Wernimont, manager of workforce and talent with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

Organizers responded by focusing about half of the day's panel sessions and all three of its speakers on identifying and acting on opportunities to give back.

Kylie Kaspar, a 27-year-old resident manager for Commercial Investment Properties, appreciated those efforts. She sat in on an early session featuring Megan Hunt, a co-founder of Omaha-based online boutique Hello Holiday, and listened in on Hunt's efforts to “help women be comfortable in their own skin.”

“It's really important to see people a few years younger or older than I am making a difference,” Kaspar said.

Daniel Gardner, a 36-year-old director at Omaha private equity firm Javlin Capital, brought four of his newest recruits — all non-native Omahans between the ages of 23 and 31 — to the summit “to see what Omaha is about.”

Like many attendees, Gardner was impressed with the summit's opening speaker, Lincoln native Mike Smith.

Smith founded Lincoln-based nonprofit Skate for Change, which serves low-income youths around the country.

Katie Techen, a 28-year-old district property manager for Commercial Investment Properties, said Smith helped dispel the myth that success can't be found locally.

“I think sometimes we feel we have to pick up and leave the Midwest to be successful,” Techen said, “but that's not true.”

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