By Katie Sobiech
If you haven’t already heard, the Torchbearers, young and upcoming city leaders, are creating a great name for themselves throughout the community through their intense involvement and volunteer work. Their relationship with charities like St. Bernard’s/St. Mary’s Hunger Program, the Autism Family Foundation’s Charity Corn hole Tournament, and Akron/Canton Regional Foodbank (ACRF), continues to grow, as well as with others.
Dan Flowers, President and CEO of the ACRF, shared his thanks, saying “The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank believes that leadership is vital to the fight against hunger, and celebrates the work of Torchbearers in developing the next generation of community leaders. We are thrilled when this group takes time out of their busy schedules to volunteer. Their regular commitment to our organization is a demonstration of the outstanding youth in our area.”
An eclectic mixture of volunteer work is what makes them interesting.
“We appreciate all of our volunteers and the time and talent they give to help our patients and their families,” Vicki Parisi, Manager of Volunteer Services at the Akron Children’s Hospital, said of the Torchbearers.
Connecting with City Leaders
Brian Pollak, President of Torchbearers, and Kyle Kutuchief, Director of Development at the Austen-Bio Innovation Institute, know first-hand the benefits of being a Torchbearer. This experience has opened the doors to great city connections.
“I have sat with Brian in offices of people that are leading, that are the heads of companies, men and women who are doing amazing things. The reason they took the time to sit with us is because they value what we’re doing and want to figure out a way to help us out,” Kutuchief said.
“Someone who’s really been trying to step up as sort of a mentor to both Brian and I and a number of the Torchbearers is County Executive Russ Pry. He’s just a great guy and makes a lot of time for young professionals. He and his staff are very passionate about our organization,” Kutuchief said.
“He was kind enough to appoint me in 2009 to the Summit/Medina County workforce investment, which is a board on how we get our local economy turned around and that kind of stuff. That’s an opportunity I would have never had access to but for Torchbearers,” he continued.
Pollak has also made his own set of connections.
“I met Larry Vuillemin who is the Co-founder of Heart to Heart Communications and we’ve developed a relationship. Now I’m on their Board of Directors,” Pollak shared, “It branches out into so many different things and it’s a way to just get people excited.”
“Akron’s an awesome place. Their leadership is open and wanting to embrace the next generation of leaders. It’s an awesome place to develop,” he continued.
Some of their upcoming events in the city include AkRun and Crawl, the Autism Family Foundation Charity Corn hole Tournament and volunteering again at the ACRF.
Change Maker Initiative
What’s key is that the Torchbearers are connecting with all different aspects of the city and making all sorts of connections.
“We’re fortunate to have people like Jennifer Thomas (with the Knight Foundation) and (County Executive) Russ Pry and others take a look at what we’re doing and say ‘You guys are on the right track, how can I help? What can I do?'” Kutuchief said.
“We come from the mindset that if you want to create leaders, you’ve got to let them lead. Yes, we could probably hire an Executive Director that’s in their 50’s that has all this experience, that’s been down the road before, but that would be doing us a disservice because we’re learning every step along the way. That’s what makes the organization awesome -there’s very little over-head, we’re self-run,” Pollak shared.
This year they’re adding something new to the mix: the Change Maker Initiative, which they’ve already shared with the Knight Foundation and the Akronist.
“They realized that if there’s going to be real change in this community, it’s highly likely to come from our generation because we’re not so ingrained in our paths and there’s a lot of passion and energy there,” Pollak said.
“They came to us and we put together a curriculum about being change, learning about risk taking, identifying what your passions are, pursuing them, and how to put something together to gain support for it and make it come to fruition,” he continued.
With this type of curriculum they can teach and train new Torchbearers all that they have learned through their experience.
“We have that passion and skill within our members in Torchbearers and we’re leveraging it to do something awesome and really change the community,” Pollak said.
So far, the Torchbearers have great track-record and have really begun to pave the way for the next generation of leaders.
“We’ve gained so much momentum every single year, so what you’re going to see out of the Torchbearers over the next decade to come is going to be incredible,” Pollak said, “We’re going to be unstoppable a few years down the road.”
Torchbearers has partnered with the Center for Non Profit Management, the Greater Akron Chamber, and Leadership Akron, and are looking for more community partners to leverage their best practices and make them available to their members.
As for their thoughts on staying in Akron, they say it would be crazy for any of the Torchbearers to leave after setting such a firm foundation.
“It would be absolutely crazy for Kyle, myself, or other members of the Torchbearers to ever leave this community now. We’ve made so many connections. We know the non-profits, we know a lot of the business leaders, and we know each other. We’ll be running the show in a couple of decades. Yeah, the weather’s great in South Carolina, but it would just be a bad decision to leave Akron now because of the connections we have made through Torchbearers,” Pollak said.
Looking to Grow
Their class currently consists of 30 passionate young adults that want to create change, but they hope to grow. Members can continue with the group for up to 5 years, depending on how engaged they want to get.
It is also the time of year that they take in new applications. Their next recruitment, which they only do once a year, is on May 24th. Prospective members can come and meet existing Torchbearers and learn more about what the organization is about and see if it’s something they might want to be a part of in 2013.
To find out more about the Torchbearers please visit http://www.torchbearersakron.com