Young professionals explore the city, network during Engage! Cleveland’s annual YP week

At 6:30 a.m. last Thursday, Sep. 22 on the first day of fall—a dark, cold day in Cleveland—five intrepid women in gym wear arrived at The Foundry Community Rowing & Sailing Center to try something new.

“I’ve been meaning to try this thing out for a while,” said Lauren Lampley, as she pulled open the doors of the sprawling facility in the Flats. The crack-of-dawn class was held not on the river, but in a brick building that smells like a swimming pool—one of two “tank rooms,” where guests can learn to row indoors.

What brought these novice rowers out so early? The eighth annual Engage! Cleveland Young Professionals Week, an eight-day series of events designed to get 21- 40-year-olds mixing, mingling, and exploring all that Cleveland has to offer.

Novice rowers practice drills in the “tank room” at The Foundry Community Rowing & Sailing CenterLast week, the packed schedule included fitness passes, beer and wine tastings, art and cooking classes, behind-the-scenes tours and presentations throughout Cleveland.

Engage! Cleveland is a small operation, run by four Cleveland young professionals (YPs) personally invested in the organization’s mission: To attract, engage, and retain young, diverse talent in Cleveland. Marketing and events manager Kelsey Ott, who attended Young Professionals Week for years before joining the team, says she loves the fun and challenge of “planning something that I would want to attend.”

Young Professionals Week returned to an in-person format after 2020’s virtual series. “We [did] our best to make sure everybody still feels really connected [virtually in 2020]” says Ott. “But everyone is just so excited to be doing it in person again this year. Everybody’s masked and trying to do things socially-distanced and being as safe as possible.” Despite the COVID-19 continuing, nearly 1,000 YPs signed up for this year’s 36 events. “I just love being able to see people again,” Ott says.

An evening event at Gordon Square’s Brewnuts featured the unlikely marriage of donuts and beer. Co-founder John Pippin assured YPs during the opening presentation that he and his then-fiancée, now wife and business partner, Shelley, invented the combo in 2013 when they were “stone cold sober.”

About 30 YPs sampled three mini donuts paired with local and seasonal brews—the almighty Great Lakes Dortmunder, Butcher and the Brewer’s Albino Stout, and Southern Tier Brewing Pumking Imperial Ale, because, well, it’s fall.

The normally early-to-close Brewnuts stayed open as the sun set in Gordon Square to give attendees exclusive access to the corner shop where the line often runs out the door.

YPs mix and mingle at FWD Day & Nightclub in the Flats.For many attendees, Young Professionals Week is a great way to check out new spots in Cleveland, particularly if they’re new to the city, says Ott.

“I just moved here a couple months ago, so I’m exploring,” said Emily Romano from Lakewood, whose boss told her about the events. That’s a frequent refrain that organizers hear, as attendees get a discount if their employers are Engage! Cleveland’s members.

Linden Lehner, another new Clevelander, says she jumped at the opportunity to socialize with her fellow YPs at Brewnuts. “I’m new to the area,” she said. “This is my first time being out in so long. And who doesn’t love donuts and beer?”

Attendee Jacquelyn Daugherty went to several events, including a popular local panel on Women in Leadership. She participates in Engage! Cleveland’s Women’s Mentorship Program, which matched her, big-sister-style, with a Cleveland medical professional. “I never would have interacted with her otherwise,” Daugherty said.

The first event of the week was a beginner rock climbing class at Nosotros Rock Climbing Gym. Lyanna Shihada from Fairview Park liked the experience so much she signed up for a trial week.

 “It’s been hard during Covid times to find new friends<’ she says. “I haven’t had a lot of chances to meet people. This gave me the opportunity to meet people around my age and try new experiences.”

The week wrapped up with a closing party at FWD Day + Nightclub, an open-air club with a pool in the Flats. YPs dressed in their networking best to nibble on apps, drink seltzers, and watch the sunset while kayakers paddled by on the Cuyahoga River and trains roared overhead.

Though the seasonal club will close soon for the winter, Young Professionals Week inspired many YPs to get out of their sweatpants, dust off their business cards, meet people, and explore the CLE.

Missed this year’s Engage! Cleveland Young Professionals Week? Next year’s series will be held in June 2022. Check out other offerings from Engage! Cleveland, including their Women’s Mentorship Program, Discover the CLE Virtual Events series, and the Lead CLE Professional Development Conference scheduled for November 4 and 5.