Awards & Events

25 Under 35 Ceremony Takes Year of Planning

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – On Feb. 8, young professionals and community members will gather to recognize and celebrate this year’s 25 Under 35 honorees.

The ceremonies run only a couple hours, but a 25 Under 35 committee has been planning them nearly a year to ensure the night goes smoothly and to choose three MVP winners from among those honored.

The committee consists of members from the Mahoning Valley Young Professionals club and the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley.

After the ceremonies end, Shari Harrell, president of the Community Foundation, says she starts planning, “the very next day,” for the next year’s awards.

The program began 13 years ago to recognize worthy young professionals, to connect them with philanthropy and to raise money for the Young Philanthropist Fund, which awards grants to area nonprofits with the involvement of the MVYP.

“As young professionals enter their careers and start thinking about the community,” Harrell says, “they are also thinking about how they can give back.”

Harrell, along with the Community Foundation donor services associate, Rachael Chacon, and Rose Shaffer Saborse, event chairman from the MVYP, began meeting last spring for this year’s 2018 awards ceremony.

“First, we do a debriefing of the prior event regarding what worked well, what did we miss, and what glitches were there,” Harrell says.

The three review the questions on the awards application form and discuss whether change are in order and if all the questions remain relevant. Then they set the deadline.

“We put our heads together and really start thinking about next year’s awards by laying out the calendar for the year,” Harrell adds.

The nominations and applications are usually collected from early June through the end of August, Shaffer Saborse says.

In the meantime, the Community Foundation and MVYP reach out to organizations to ensure that all businesses that employ a young professional worthy of consideration are aware of the award.

Anyone between ages 21 and 35 can be nominated, as long as a candidate turns 35 no later than Aug. 31 of that year. Candidates must live or work primarily in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. Once nominated, they need to complete an application and send in a resume as well.

“We do a lot of interviews to talk about the call for nominations,” Shaffer Saborse says.

“I spend a decent amount of time reaching out to various organizations where I could send out a call for nominations,” Chacon adds.

Among those organizations are chambers of commerce in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, community foundations and the Trumbull 100.

This past year the committee focused on reaching out to more organizations to get the word out, especially in Columbiana County. “We felt we needed to be more connected there,” Chacon says.

One improvement the planning committee made was using Dropbox upon receiving the nominations. Dropbox then stored them in the cloud “to try and keep everyone as connected as possible and it’s worked fairly well,” Chacon says.

Once the deadline passes, a group of four judges began scoring the applications.

The scores are based on three areas worth 50 points each: what the nominees have done in their careers, their level of education and service to their communities.

Each year the judges consist of the president of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, MVYP president, an MVP winner from the last year and a member of the community.

This year’s judges were Harrell, Shannon Renfro, attorney Matthew Ries and Mahoning County Probate Court Judge Robert Rusu.

They reviewed 68 applications, up from 56 the year before, Chacon says.

The judges have two weeks to score the applications.

“We provide them [the judges] their own copies, the scoring matrix, and then an instruction sheet on how scoring works and some prompts on what to look for,” Chacon says. “They fill that out and resubmit it to me.”

“Scoring takes quite a bit of time because there’s a lot of them,” Harrell says.

She recalls that it took her a couple of days overall – a couple of hours per application – to review and score them all because of the volume.

“Consistently across the board the nominees are extremely strong in their professional careers,” she says. “Where you start to see the difference is in community service because some of them will do all their community service that is connected to their profession and others are much broader.”

Every year the planning committee faces new challenges. This year, there were ties in the scores, 28 honorees this year instead of 25.

“If there’s common numbers, it can happen that the totals add up to the same number resulting in a tie,” Harrell says.

The judges pick the three MVPs based on the scores of the applications as well. The top three are recognized the night of the ceremony. No one except the judges knows the identities of the three MVPs until then.

After the honorees are announced, the MVYP holds a reunion mixer in November to which all from the last 13 years are invited to meet the newest class of honorees.

“It’s a chance for all of them to meet and talk and find out what the other one is working on,” Shaffer Saborse said.

Around the time of the mixer, a committee of 10 from the MVYP, including Shafer Saborse, begins planning for the ceremony agenda.

The committee is charged with getting sponsorships for tables, designing the invitations and programs, choosing the music and décor, writing and laying out the PowerPoint presentation with the honorees’ bios and photos, ordering trophies, reaching out to officeholders for letters of accolade, hiring a photographer and setting up the venue.

“We also film three five-minute interviews for the MVP videos that will be played at the ceremony, so we have to reach out to a videography company,” Shaffer Saborse adds.

All funds from the table sponsorships go toward the Young Philanthropist Fund and the number of sponsorships differs considerably from year to year as does the audience. It depends on who is honored and their colleagues and employers.

“Attendance can range between 200 and 400 people,” Shaffer Saborse says. “If the honorees are more active in the community or work for larger companies, they tend to draw in more people.”

By the third Thursday of January, date of the dress rehearsal, any last-minute adjustments must be done and the year’s planning must be complete.

“The anticipation of what we need to do has become easier every year,” Shaffer Saborse says.

“But what’s different is you’re always working with new people, so you never know what’s going to happen. It’s definitely an award show where we honor people from the community who really are the best of the best.”

Pictured: Shari Harrell and Rachael Chacon of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley work with the Mahoning Valley Young Professionals Club to sponsor the awards.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.