Over the past year, a local group intent on bringing together and building up young professionals in the Ottawa community has been quietly building steam.

The Ottawa Area Young Professionals (OAYP) celebrated its one-year founding anniversary recently, and according to the founders, there’s nowhere to go but up.

“A lot of people think that Young Professionals is only a ‘white-collar’ type group. It’s not,” Brandon Wilcox, the group’s director, said. “If you get paid for what you do, you are a professional. That’s the way we see it.

“We want to keep that message clear — this is for all working professionals.”

OAYP joins a national movement interested in engaging young working folks.

“Young Professionals programs are in most major cities and communities,” Wilcox said. “They are typically run and operated through that city’s Chamber of Commerce, much like our leadership Franklin County Program.”

Wilcox’s position as membership director for the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce gave him the unique opportunity to spearhead the founding of Ottawa Area Young Professionals last May. The group’s founding was intended to fill a need in the community that had been vacant for some time, he said.

“There was previously a young professionals program in Ottawa,” Wilcox said. “It went away a number of years ago, so it’s been something that was missing from the community for five or six years.”

The group focuses on three types of development for its members — networking, education/professional development, and civic engagement.

“We host events like our launch and now our anniversary for networking,” Wilcox said. “These larger events are a great time, even if you are shy, to come in and learn about the group and what we do.

“Other social events have been dinner meet-ups — we usually try to meet up at local businesses, to give them a boost. So, we’ve had meet-ups at El Sol, a Día de los Muertos event at El Mez, and we had a Smoked Creations meet-up.”

To further members’ education, OYAP has organized events like a meet-up with life coach Mike Jenson.

“We met at Luigi’s for that one,” Wilcox said. “It was a fun event where we talked about workplace passions, mindsets and motivations.”

OYAP also wants to be an organization known for giving back.

“Last winter we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel or step on the toes of anybody who already had a coat drive or a food drive, so we decided to act as a volunteer staffing agency, to say ‘Hey, if you need bodies to help you with your coat drive or whatever it might be, we can make ourselves available to do that,’” Wilcox said. “And that worked really well — several times we worked with Hope House around Christmas time and Thanksgiving, preparing grocery bags for holiday meals and that kind of thing. We’ve also worked with Power of the Past, helping them on their tractor show day.”

Wilcox invited any groups interested in working with OAYP to contact him at the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce.

Looking ahead, Wilcox is excited for the group to ramp up membership and increase the outreach in the next year.

“Our goal for our first year was to have 20 active members,” he said. “We hit 28 from May to December. So now, I personally would like to see us hit 60 and double what we do have.

“The goal now is really getting the area employers enthused about the group. Ultimately, it’s for their employees; it’s for workforce development. So our goal is to reach out to more employers.”