Since launching in February, the Future Leaders of West Hartford organization has attracted young professionals to be part of its community group.
Ryan Keating, of Keating Insurance Agency, returned home last August from living in Dallas to work with his father at the third generation insurance company. He felt the immediate need for a group like FLOW to exist.
"I reached out to the chamber and there had been talks, but no one took initiative to put it in place," Keating said. "We had our first event in February... and we had to cancel registration due to the amount of sign ups. We gathered great interest off the start."
The group has 20 board members now and has established its three pillars: social, philanthropy, and professional development.
"We want to really get young professionals engaged in a variety of ways," said member Morgan Hilyard, who is the associate director of the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce and membership director of FLOW.
Keating said the growth of the group has been great. It often holds programs, like its homebuying seminar, to help educate and engage with young professionals in town.
"The most exciting thing has been seeing the others take ownership of the group and really embracing their roles as leaders to help make the group sustainable," Keating said.
Aaron Bohigian, vice president and associate relationship manager at Webster Bank in West Hartford, joined because he said it was encouraging to see a young professionals group appear in town.
"It was a little bit more local than other groups," Bohigian said. "Some of the larger chambers have more regional aspects. FLOW is a neighborhood focused young professionals group."
Matthew Banever, who works at Daswani Clothiers, said FLOW directly supports the small business owners in town.
"I'm pretty involved in the chamber of commerce, so when this opportunity came up, I felt it was pretty important because the community that West Hartford has is a lot of start-ups and small businesses," Banever said. "This is not just another networking group. People are pushing their livelihoods and their ideas."
Banever said that instead of this just being a place to sell insurance or making financial gains, FLOW is more about development.
"There are so many people starting their own businesses who have generational heritage in West Hartford," Banever said. "It goes a lot deeper than pushing resumes. It's more about developing your personal and professional network."
Hilyard, who has the perspective of someone who works with numerous businesses in town, said FLOW gives younger professionals a chance to learn about the best ways of growing business.
"I've been at the chamber for three years and through that process, I realized some of the more seasoned professionals really understood that person to person connection is the best way to grow," Hilyard said. "I noticed the younger demographic wasn't grasping that concept as wholeheartedly. It's really important to develop a group like this to show the right ways of doing business and building a network in a town like this."
But FLOW isn't just about the members. Philanthropy is something Keating wanted as part of the group. Whether that's donating time or money, Keating said it's essential.
On Nov. 11, a group of 30 FLOW members will head to Foodshare to volunteer for three hours doing whatever is needed of them.
"Philanthropy is one of the pillars of what I think a young professionals group should have," Keating said. "A town like West Hartford is a community-based town. It's a way to bring others together for a good cause."
The next FLOW meeting, which is open to prospective members, is on Nov. 13 at 5:30 p.m., at the Children's Museum in West Hartford.