By Carrie Hunsucker
Alachua County has a problem. The University of Florida brings in some of our brightest and best students but Gainesville often loses these promising adults to other larger cities after graduation. The Alachua County Emerging Leaders (ACEL) is trying to change that. ACEL seeks to encourage the development of young leaders and engage them in community life by being connected, informed and involved as a thriving community of and for young professionals. This local volunteer organization aims to keep people between the ages of 21 and 45 engaged in their local community and offers networking events for those who have outgrown the undergraduate scene.
ACEL began in 2005 as a special project of some of the members of the Leadership Gainesville Class 31. The original vision behind ACEL was to create an organization that would help fill the gap between university students and established community members while improving networking opportunities for young professionals. As part of the organization’s evolution, ACEL is currently focused on solidifying its reputation and its value as a leadership organization while clearly establishing ACEL as a resource for and about young people in Alachua County. By fostering opportunities to keep young people connected, informed and involved, ACEL will continue to position Alachua County as a highly desirable place for diverse, talented young professionals to live, work and flourish. Professional and personal development programs, service opportunities, community involvement and social events are actualized through the work of seven committees. These committees offer opportunities for skill development in areas such as leadership, marketing, event planning and public policy. As a testament to the development offered through ACEL committee work, 2011-2012 President Colleen Raccioppi credits her career transition in part to the experience gained with the Marketing and Communications Committee.
“When the opportunity arose for me to apply for my dream job, I was able to go into the interview with a robust portfolio, confidence and poise gained through practice with ACEL public speaking and a wealth of ACEL references,” said Raccioppi. “I’m happy to say that I got the job two years ago, and I love it. ACEL quite literally changed my life.”
For those interested in getting involved in the community, ACEL offers many opportunities for building relationships with local policy leaders and volunteering at service events. The organization hosts a Lunch with Your Legislator series designed to give young people one-on-one access to elected officials, and ACEL facilitates meet and greets with candidates running for local office to help its members cast informed votes. The group also organizes an annual charity kickball tournament that has provided more than $60,000 to local charities since its inception six years ago. ACEL members also participate in well-known community events like the March of Dimes’ March for Babies and volunteer with other community events and nonprofits throughout the year.
Young professionals looking to boost their career will enjoy educational workshops with one-on-one access to community leaders and introductions to local businesses. ACEL is currently organizing a “Building Your Personal Brand” series that focuses on areas such as interviewing, communication and self-actualization. The organization also offers scholarships for educational opportunities and local leadership programs such as Leadership Gainesville.
Young professionals craving a social scene will enjoy ACEL events that cater to their demographic and introduce them to venues in Alachua County that they may not otherwise be exposed to. For instance, ACEL sponsors monthly happy hours at the UF Hilton’s 2-Bits Lounge that provide a comfortable space for members to network and meet locals with similar interests. Recently, ACEL organized an Amazing Race event during which participants worked in teams to run around town solving clues and learning more about our community. Other popular social events include annual trips to Ginnie Springs, visits to art festivals and a semi-formal annual business dinner at a local establishment.
The Alachua County Emerging Leaders may be one solution to the county’s brain drain. Young professionals have an opportunity to develop leadership skills, forge connections with like-minded individuals and become involved in their community. For more information about ACEL, visit www.acelfl.com.