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2014 Omaha YP Summit

Consider yourself a superhero? You might leave the 2014 Young Professionals Summit convinced—and ready to make a difference in your community.


On March 6, over 1,500 young professionals in Omaha will converge on the CenturyLink Center for a day packed with fresh ideas, inspiring speakers, and an important message: You have the power to create the community you want.

Consider yourself a superhero? You might leave the 2014 Young Professionals Summit convinced—and ready to make a difference in your community.

The YP Summit attracts over a thousand attendees each year with its popular lineup of keynote speakers, session leaders, and networking opportunities. Already in its ninth year, this one-day event is the fruit of months of planning and the effort of over a hundred volunteers.

The organizers of this year’s Summit hope the event does more than inspire. They want to motivate Omaha professionals to take action in their community.

Creating a Sense of Belonging

This year’s theme, Empower, developed out of personal experience. Megan Schnoor, environmental scientist and this year’s Summit event chair, moved to Omaha in 2006 from South Dakota. When she arrived, she had no friends or family in the area.

“I had to create the community I wanted to live in,” said Schnoor.
She attended her first YP Summit in 2007 and has volunteered for the Summit since 2008. She hopes attendees will leave this year’s event inspired to make Omaha the city they want it to be.

“[The Summit is about] creating that sense of empowerment so that [attendees] can create a sense of belonging in their communities—in their places of employment, in their classrooms, in service projects, neighborhoods, places of worship,” said Schnoor. “I want it to be actionable so that the moment the attendees walk out the door they know what they’re going to do.”

They will be among the featured designers during the March 4-9 OFW event at the Omar Building, 4823 Nicholas Street.

Speaker Power

Last year the YP Summit grabbed a lot of attention when they selected Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter John Legend as the keynote speaker.
“That drew in a whole new audience for us,” said Sarah Tucker, senior business development executive and vice-chair for the YP Summit.
However, when attendees filled out their surveys at the end of the day, one of the lesser known speakers stood out. Adam Braun, founder of Pencils for Change, shared his experience developing a nonprofit to provide education to children around the world.

“Even though John Legend was the ticket driver, Adam Braun received rave reviews,” said Tucker. “We were excited to see that people could understand the beauty of someone doing something amazing that’s impacting the nation [even though he] doesn’t have a big name like John Legend. That inspired all of us to really look at the keynote and the speaker selection this year, and focus less on the brand name of the individual and really look at what they’re doing in the communities they’re serving.”

Out of that process, the YP Summit selected Majora Carter to be this year’s keynote speaker.
Majora Carter is an urban revitalization strategist from the Bronx, a winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, and a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster. She speaks across the country about the re-urbanization of society and economic development at the neighborhood level.

“This is the ninth year of the Summit, and there’s only been a female keynote speaker one other time,” said Schnoor.  “I thought it was really important we have a female speaker. Her message is very relatable to Omaha. Even though she might not be as well-known name-wise, I think her message will be very powerful.”
The opening speaker comes from a city a little bit closer to home.

“I really started planning the Summit when I decided I wanted Mike Smith to be a part of it,” said Schnoor.  “I had seen him speak two years ago at TEDxOmaha. He was the last speaker of the day.”
At first, Schnoor didn’t see how a guy with a skater persona could connect with her.

“I stuck around and listened to him speak, and he blew me away.”

Mike Smith is the founder of THE BAY, a nonprofit skate park and youth center in Lincoln, and Skate for Change, a group of local skaters who work on behalf of low-income and homeless people in the area.
“If I wanted to create a community, I would definitely want Mike to be a part of it,” said Schnoor.

The day’s closing speaker came as a suggestion from one of last year’s attendees.

Erica Williams is a social impact strategist and member on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Social Media.
“She’s built her reputation as being the voice of our generation. She talks about a lot of topics that are close to what YPs care about,” said Schnoor.

Co-creating Our Community

Energizing Omaha’s Young Professional Scene

In between the main speakers, attendees will be able to choose from a variety of presentations during three breakout sessions. Some of the sessions include Joe Gerstandt’s “Flying Your Freak Flag,” Daniel Lawse’s “Regenerative Leadership,” and Jeff Kutash’s “Collective Impact: Addressing Community-wide Issues at Scale.”
A new breakout session option this year will be a series called Fireside Chats. These interactive, talk show-style conversations will bring together experienced leaders to discuss how they work to make a difference in their communities.

One of the fireside chats will be with this year’s Co-creators. The Co-creator designation began last year as a way to identify people in the Omaha community who are making a difference.
“Co-creators are entrepreneurs, performers, students, organizers, activists, and concerned citizens that are engaged in creating the experiences all of us participate in,” said Schnoor.
In between sessions attendees will have opportunities to network and meet other community builders.
“Most people come [to the YP Summit] looking for professional development,” said Schnoor.  “But we’re really trying to stretch what that looks like—we’re stretching what people’s traditional definition of professional development is.”

The YP Summit is organized by the Greater Omaha Young Professionals, an organization created the by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Talent and Workforce department.

“The Omaha YP group was started to create a sense of community for young people in Omaha, to create a network for young professionals, and to give them a platform to advocate for the city that they want it to be,” said Sarah Wernimont, manager in the Workforce and Talent department at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce. “That’s a huge part of retaining young talent in Omaha.”

Wernimont’s personal story shows the power of attracting and retaining talented young professionals.

Four years ago, Wernimont moved to Omaha from Denver, Colorado. When she arrived, she didn’t expect Omaha to be as exciting as Denver. And she didn’t intend to stay.

“I’ve been here for four years now, and my perspective has completely changed,” says Wernimont.  “I didn’t understand the amount of culture and the amount of things to do here. Omaha has everything a coastal city or Denver would have to offer—things to do, places to go, places to eat, places to get involved.”

The challenge is to get people to experience that.

“Once you help somebody have that experience of Omaha, it’s hard to change their perspective back to ‘There’s nothing here,’” said Wernimont.

More than Professional Development

The YP Summit is not an exclusive event for corporate professionals.

“The biggest misconception is that it’s very stuffy,” said Schnoor.

This year’s Summit includes a skate ramp, a superhero photo booth, and a drum circle—not your typical business conference fare.

The other misconception is that it is only for people working in business.

“We have a lot of attendees that come from corporate America,” said Schnoor. “But really what we try to do with the Summit is create programming that anybody, regardless of their career background, can come to and take something away.”

They hope to see more teachers, medical professionals, and hourly wage workers at the event this year.

“There’s inspiration for anyone regardless of job title,” said Schnoor.

From Excitement to Action

The coordinators of the YP Summit encourage first time attendees to come ready to meet new people and ask lots of questions.

“Expect to be inspired,” said Tucker. “The line-up is phenomenal. No matter what breakout sessions attendees choose, they’re going to leave learning something new, with some takeaways to think about.”
Every year, as attendees leaves the Summit, there’s a feeling of possibility in the air.

“There’s always a great rush of excitement at the end of the day of the Summit,” says Tucker. “Everyone’s really excited and pumped up.”

The goal this year is to turn that positive energy into real action.

“Everyone talks about getting involved and talks about what they’re going to do,” says Tucker. “We want to help extend that beyond that day.”

“Most people come [to the YP Summit] looking for professional development. But we’re really trying to stretch what that looks like.”

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