By: Shemeeka Johnson, Spring 2017 Young Gamechanger
I sat near the wall in a large, chilly conference room in the beautiful downtown LaGrange, full of chatty, excited and eager young professionals. I noticed and overheard lots of handshaking, exchanges of business cards and short oral bios of their most recent accomplishments. We took turns standing before the group, fifty of us, introducing ourselves and inserting something humorous and memorable. Not until after my own introduction, after my nerves had finally settled, did I look around the room and feel what I’ve felt each day after that opening session…. inspired.
The spring 2017 Young GameChangers (YGC) program was the most challenging, fun and refreshing organization that I’ve been a part of. My former colleague and Alumni GameChanger Odie Donald, raved to me about his experience in the program and encouraged me to apply. Prior to being accepted into YGC, I had only passed through this- one of Georgia’s most historic areas- once or twice. “Friendly” is an understatement to describe the welcoming environment, southern charm and rich culture of LaGrange Troup County.
Early in the program, we participated in numerous team building exercises, which at the time, felt silly, but later in the program provided the perfect structure for effective communication. One of my favorite parts of the program was learning about the hidden treasures within LaGrange/Troup County. Whether we were listening to legendary stories at the Biblical History Center or staring at the beautiful art sculptures within the LaGrange Art Museum, I continued to recall the slogan from a brochure that was given to us by the LaGrange Chamber, it simply read “Be Surprised” and surprised we were!
I applied for YGC because I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of connecting with other professionals and learning about their “journey to the here and now”. This program provided me the opportunity to learn about a place that I’d only seen on a map, but now considered a home-away-from-home.
Our group, the Millennial Minds, was tasked with finding creative ways to attract millennial tourists to the area. Throughout the program, what began as a group of nine strangers, soon transformed into a group of close friends, working together, each providing a unique set of skills and strengths, to take on the challenge at hand. Every other week we’d host virtual conference calls to discuss next steps, big ideas and how we could make a difference in this community.
During our final recommendations, we offered the community three “big ideas” that involved increasing activities at West Point Lake, enhancing the existing assets of LaGrange’s beautiful downtown district and a unique opportunity to invite a millennial retreat center into the small town of Hogansville.
One moment of the final presentation that stood out to me most was when Mayor Bill Stankiewicz of Hogansville stood up after our presentation, with the biggest smile and asked “So, when do we break ground!?” That’s when I knew that we had come, we conquered and the community was pleased.
I stepped into this program as an eager, young professional ready to take on a challenge and I walked out as a Game Changer.