Program launched for young professionals |

Program launched for young professionals

Ben Dodd
Special to the Daily

AVON — Many emerging professionals are looking for the next step to take in their career path. This valley provides excellent opportunities in the hospitality, non-profit and outdoor industries, as well as banking, medical, construction, marketing and others that make up the economic fabric of most communities. The biggest asset to the Vail Valley’s working professionals are its community leaders — business owners, founders, CEOs, presidents, vice presidents and others. The tallest hurdle is accessibility to each of these community leaders and their schedule.

What can we do to provide a way for our emerging professionals to tap into this valuable resource? Next Vail Valley is a program of the Vail Valley Partnership designed to support and advance emerging professionals in our community. The program aims to serve professionals with a “mentee” mindset who seek to learn from and be inspired by established community leaders.

Next Vail Valley is an opportunity for 12 emerging professionals to meet and engage with a community leader in a group setting. Every month, the Next group will meet to reflect on the previous month’s meeting and to prepare for the upcoming meeting with the community leader. The Next group will meet with a different community leader each month.

The program

Giving four hours a month of my life is nothing compared to the value of the Next program and what I have gained. Originally, I joined to learn and network for my own professional growth, but I am glad I joined more because of my new-found friends.

Each of the “emerging professionals” come from a different background and profession including hospitality, banking, engineering, business and the public sector. Some participants may be newer to the valley while others are more established. “Emerging professionals” does not mean “young professionals.” It is an opportunity for professional growth and networking for everyone.

The first Next program meeting was held at the Vail Valley Partnership’s office in Avon to hold the first planning session for Dr. Kathryn Regjo of Colorado Mountain College in Edwards.

The line-up of community leaders is set before the application process begins for the Next program. Participants are then paired-up with another group member and one community leader. For myself and group partner Molly, we were paired up with Ceil Folz, founder and CEO of Ceil Folz Consulting: Premier Projects, and former president and CEO of the Vail Valley Foundation. Other community leaders for our group included: Regjo, Brian Nolan (owner of Group 970 restaurants), Johannes Faessler (owner of the Sonnenalp Hotel), Doris Kirchner (president and CEO of Vail Valley Medical Center), and Jeff Shroll (town manager of Gypsum).

The best part about all of it is that we make it what we want; Jill Lammers provides the foundation, but our group does the building of the program and we decide what we want to get out of each session. We choose our locations to meet, we decide which topics of discussion are important to learn from each community leader, and we get to choose what we eat and drink (wine and beer have been present during our planning sessions, as well as community leader sessions).

In most of our two-hour planning meetings, we discuss what we learned from the previous community leader session and then transition into what we want to know from our next community leader. The two designated group members of that planning session take notes for a list of questions to ask their chosen leaders. Having an eclectic group of people with different backgrounds and professions benefits everyone because each of us bring unique perspective and set of questions to ask our leaders. No matter our differences, we all gain from meeting leaders.

Key questions

A portion of our questions are usually: What drove you to want to work in your profession? How did you get there? What matters most to you about our community and the Vail Valley? Do you practice or have work/life balance? What advice can you give us emerging professionals that you wish you knew long ago?

Each leader gives unique insight and wisdom both personally and professionally. Some key takeaways that spoke to me include: no path worth taking is direct; pay attention to every detail and be thorough in your work; be present with your guests; work alongside and empower your co-workers and staff; there’s no such thing as work-life balance (just life balance), do not surround yourself with those who suck energy away from you; and any great idea can be accomplished or any problem can be solved by creating community partnerships (no one should do it alone).

Giving four hours a month of my life is nothing compared to the value of the Next program and what I have gained. Originally, I joined to learn and network for my own professional growth, but I am glad I joined more because of my new-found friends. Once each group member has completed the program, you then become a part of the Next Vail Valley Alumni, which is still evolving, but shaping into a social and active community group of local professional leaders.

One bit of advice that was given before we departed for the evening by Faessler was to join and stick with a group like Next Vail Valley. He joined a similar group in his 30’s when Vail and Sonnenalp were in their infancy. “Those relationships made will last a lifetime and you will never believe what doors will open in the future.”

The Vail Valley has a plethora of wonderful, innovative and highly experienced community leaders. Thank you to all 24 community leaders of 2016 who volunteered their time and shared wisdom to each of our emerging professionals. It was a pleasure for us to learn from you and inspiring to hear about your job experiences and your involvement in the Vail Valley community.

Please apply for this program if you consider yourself as part of the Next generation of professional leaders in the Valley. Contact Jill Lammers at for more information and an application. Applications are due by November 30, 2016.

Ben Dodd was a participant in Next Vail Valley.

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