|Involved with the group since its founding in 2009, Heather Pesta is the new chair of the Kelowna chapter ofÂ GenNext. Affiliated with the United Way, it is a group of young professionals who provide their time and expertise to community organizations who help the needy.|
For example, take their most recent fundraiser, the El Masquerado ball, held in November at the Hotel Eldorado.
It wasn't a staid, speech-laden evening with boring dinner; instead, it was an event that saw attendees dressing up, donning carnival-style masks, and enjoying live music, food, drinks and theatrics. And it was all in the name of fun - and to help raise money at the same time.
But that shouldn't be too surprising, considering who they are.
"We're all in our 20s and 30s," said the group's new chair, Heather Pesta. "We offer the opportunity for people to get involved with the community in a giving-back way.
"And we're doing it in a personal, one-on-one way. Our mandate is to engage young professionals."
Pesta, 34, in many ways typifies the type of individuals who comprise the GenNext Kelowna chapter. While she grew up in the small northern community of Dawson Creek, centre of the oil and gas boom in B.C., she has also lived in Japan, where she taught English and studied martial arts. She called Victoria home for a time before moving to the Okanagan.
She's been involved from the start with GenNext here, her career putting her in touch with others like her, who have the skills and desire to give back.
Like the other Kelowna GenNexters, Pesta believes it's not enough to just work at your career, no matter how fulfilling, and has embraced an idea they refer to as the "360-degree" professional - a person who, while successful in life, understands it's important to give back as well.
"The concept means it's not enough to just focus on your job if you want to be truly happy," she said. "The more you give, the more you get.
"For me, it's an opportunity to explore skills, develop leadership and give back in a way other than just money, because it's not there to be able to just write big cheques."
While geared towards those young professionals specifically, what makes the group unique, other than its demographic, is how members give back to their community.
While it's true they have held several major fundraising events, such as the two annual El Masquerado balls so far, as well as the equally fun Bootlegger Ball this past spring at the Habitat club downtown, members of GenNext also contribute their time and expertise where it's needed - offering help to organizations in need, whether it's balancing the books or other professional services.
"We've got accountants, financial advisers, business students, graphics individuals, banking, NGO (non-governmental organization) professionals," said Pesta. "It took us a while to finally find out who we were, but it feels like it's finally coming together."
While they may not have the financial clout of other, more established service groups in the community, what they do have is enthusiasm, a willingness to help, and a skill-set that is perfect for helping groups that directly serve the needy.
The Kelowna GenNext chapter, with ties to the United Way, are is one of several similar groups across Canada. An online search turned up similar groups, many in cities such as Sudbury, London, Ottawa, Windsor, Winnipeg, Halifax and Toronto. It was created in 1887 in Denver, Colo., when members of the faith-based community there came together to address poverty and other social needs. By the early 20th century, the United Way movement had spread to chapters across Canada.
United Way is a registered charity that has worked ceaselessly to provide affordable housing and transport, access to food, employment and skills development, and emergency shelters to many in need. Their slogan, "Poverty to Possibility," reflects the organization's desire to help those less fortunate by working collectively.
The GenNext Kelowna chapter is no different in that respect, according to Pesta.
"United Way has done this through GenNext groups across Canada," she said. "And locally, we've morphed and I feel we're in a good spot now."
Their monetary goals are relatively modest - they hope to raise at least $5,000 in 2013. But perhaps even more valuable might be there goal of contributing 2,500 hours of their time and expertise to organizations who can benefit from their skills.
"Last year, for example, we helped the Kelowna Women's Shelter, the Gospel Mission and the the Kelowna Food Bank, among others," she said.
"There's a core group of about 20 of us, but that will grow as the year moves on.
The local group is also associated with the Okanagan Young Professionals Collective (OYP), and coming off the success of its last El Masquerado, GenNext definitely plans to do it again in 2013.
And they're currently planning a more informal event, likely to be held at the Laurel Packinghouse, where interested young professionals can find out more about what they do, and can contribute by donating their time and skills for future needs in the community.
For more information on GenNext in Kelowna, go to gennextkelowna.com, or find "gennext Kelowna" on Facebook.