The Young Professionals Society of Greater Springfield

Alyssa Carvalho described it as a “good problem to have.”

She was talking about April 14, and a scheduled ‘CEO Luncheon’ to be hosted by MassMutual Chairman and CEO Stuart Reese. The Young Professionals Society of Greater Springfield (YPS) started the luncheon series last year as another way to carry out its broad mission to “engage, involve, and educate” its members.

The problem? Well, seats to the monthly luncheons are limited in number, said Carvalho, the group’s current president and, during the day, membership manager for the Greater Springfield Conventon & Visitors Bureau. The typical count is 20 to 30, to ensure intimacy and the opportunity for one-on-one dioalogue, but Reese and MassMutual will likely find a way to accommodate many more than that. Still, not everyone will be able to go.

“And everyone will want to go,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she and other officers will have to contrive some method of determining which members will be able to circle that date on their calendars. As she said, that’s a good problem to have, and it’s a scenario that shows just how far this organization has come in two years.

From quasi-humble beginnings, YPS has grown to more than 200 members, expanded and diversified its program offerings, and garnered enough respect to prompt Reese to donate a few hours of his precious time to impart some “words of wisdom,” as Carvalho called them, to this young, diverse audience.

“We worked very hard to get him, and we’re thrilled that he would take the time to speak to our group and open it up to more people than we would normally have,” she said. “Our members are excited about the chance to be sitting in the same room with that caliber of speaker; the fact that he’s willing to do so speaks to the importance of our work — these are the emerging leaders in the community.”

This higher profile has earned YPS a place in this first class of Difference Makers, along with some sky-high expectations for the future — which Carvalho and other officers are determined to meet in what might be considered another good problem to have.

“We’ve done very well so far,” she said, “but we know we have to keep building, doing more in the community, and providing more value for our members.”

YPS got its start in Springfield in late 2006, when a small group of younger professionals — all graduates of the Leadership Institute, a partnership between the ACCGS and Western New England College to teach mid- and upper-level managers the skills needed to become effective leaders — conceptualized a group that could handle a number of assignments. They would range from giving people something to do to providing programs on professional development; from helping to educate members on the issues of the day to providing some reasons for young professionals to stay in the Pioneer Valley and become valuable contributors to its progress and livelihood.

The overriding goal, said Carvalho, is to help members “plant roots,” and develop lasting connections to the region and its business community.

While the group’s founders were ambitious and had lofty expectations, even they might be surprised by how quickly and profoundly the group has become a real force in the community. In addition to the 200 members, there are 900 ‘subscribers,’ those who have a connection to the group and attend some of its events.

Since its start, the organization — which takes a name similar to other groups in the region, including young-professional societies in Northampton, the Berkshires, and Hartford, but is different from these groups because it is independent — has been consistently adding programs, forming collaborative partnerships with other groups, and, in general, making its presence and influence felt.

It’s making a difference.

In addition to the CEO lunches, which have featured leaders and business owners ranging from ACCGS President Russell Denver to Springfield Falcons General Manager and co-owner Bruce Landon, the group has staged monthly networking events called Third Thursdays. It has become involved with the Division II college basketball tournament staged in Springfield each March, and last fall it partnered with Rock the Vote and other groups to encourage young people to register to vote and understand the issues involved with the presidential election.

YPS also conducted a number of events and programs to connect young people with the arts, promote mentoring, and facilitate efforts to give back to the community. It even created an award — the Young Professionals Society of Greater Springfield’s Excellence in Leadership Award — which is given to a graduate of the Leadership Institute who has distinguished him or herself through community involvement, civic leadership, and professional excellence. The first winner was Elizabeth Cordona, director of Gov. Patrick’s office in Springfield.

For 2009, the goal is simply to build on the momentum created over the past two years by continually looking for new ways to meet and expand the group’s mission, as expressed in one of its slogans: ‘live, work, play, and stay,’ said Carvalho, who told BusinessWest that her work as president has become what she called “a second full-time job.”

“I’m putting in maybe 30 or 40 hours a week toward this,” she said, adding quickly that other officers are logging similar time handling YPS affairs. “And I need to, because there’s so much happening and so much to do.”

Sounds like another one of those good problems to have.

— George O’Brien