Young Professionals And Their Powerful Rural Impact



By Brittnay Dawson, Norfolk Area Chamber Director of Talent Development & Recruitment


Why do you believe it is important for young professionals to make an impact on their communities?

First of all, I think the term “young professional” gets misused frequently. Many young workers across the state (and country) don’t necessarily see themselves as professionals if they are not sitting in an office or wearing a suit and tie. We like to think of young professionals as a group of like-minded individuals who come together for a common focus and conversation on issues specific to our demographic, regardless of profession.

As for the importance of these young professionals making an impact, I think that is self-explanatory—it creates engagement. Statistics show that the more people are engaged, the happier and more connected they feel with their community. If you were to walk into a party and not have a single conversation with anyone there, would you stay? Most likely not. Think about how you feel when you have multiple conversations, or even just one really good one. Now you have found a reason to stay, or a reason to invest and continue that conversation after the party. The same concept applies to community engagement. The more involved you are, the more you want to see the community grow and prosper. It becomes a part of your identity.


What are some of the most effective ways for young professionals to get involved in their communities?

If your community has an established young professionals group, start there. This will be an incredible resource. If there is no organized group, just start talking to people! This can be your mayor, a teacher, or even a family member. There are endless ways to get involved, and the amazing part is you can focus on what matters to you the most. Volunteering is a great way to get involved, but also consider civic engagement. Many communities and businesses are getting on board with the “millennial” mindset and love to have younger people serving on their boards or councils.


How can young professionals make a positive impact on rural?

There is a lot of talk about urban and rural divide. While there will be obvious amenity differences between two different communities, it is important to remember that most of us still want the same thing, regardless of location and size: a sense of belonging, purpose, maximize our potential and abilities, and plant some roots. Thinking about starting a business? More entrepreneurs are considering startups in smaller communities. Craft breweries are trending, and you would be surprised how well they do in rural areas with the right team behind them. That is just one example, but these types of business endeavors have a positive impact on rural communities, and serve as a great attraction piece for new talent and other young professionals interested in relocating to your community.


In what ways can young professionals uniquely excel living in rural communities?

In a rural area, what you say and do truly has an impact. There is not as much red tape to get through when seeking new endeavors or projects, but you do still need to be passionate and driven. The world is changing, and many communities are growing older. The survival of shrinking communities depends on attracting younger individuals to move back and start families, and are supportive of that “young energy” you bring. If you have an idea that would greatly benefit your community, speak up! There likely are many elders who would love to hear your ideas and support you in making those happen. If you have the drive, you can be a total game changer in any community.


What are some examples of the young professional impact you’ve witnessed in the Norfolk community?

We have many young professionals that have taken leadership or director level positions in Norfolk. There is a sense of pride when you go to a community event or festival, and you recognize many of your friends’ names who took lead on a project—from fundraising to event planning, everyone has a very important role to play. The support here is amazing, and there are endless opportunities for our young professionals to step up to the plate.

A specific example that happened recently involved a young woman named Emily Afrank. She felt the need to have a handicap accessible park in the community, so she did everything from concept planning to fundraising, and oversaw every aspect of implementing the project. She had the vision, made a plan and created something powerful for an entire community to enjoy for years to come. When you hear a child say at the opening event that this was his first time ever on a playground—well, that demonstrates the kind of impact just one young professional can have on a community. Now take that type of energy and passion and team up with other like-minded individuals, and think about all the possibilities.


What advice do you have for young professionals looking for ways to get involved?

My advice is to just get started. Dream big, but start small. Have attainable goals along the way. Don’t be afraid to have conversations with everyone you meet. The best way to learn about a community and involvement opportunities is to put yourself out there. If you are more on the timid side, ask someone you trust to introduce you to one other person who is already involved in something that interests you. Make that first connection, then make another one. Just know that everything you do is valued, if you see the value in your own work, no matter the perceived contribution size. Whether your preference is getting your hands dirty or sharing your ideas, you can, and will, make a real difference.


How do YOU define “young professional?” Let us know!



Brittany Dawson

Brittnay Dawson

Director of Talent Development & Recruitment | Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce
Connect with Norfolk Now on Facebook & Instagram.

Brittnay Dawson attended the University of Nebraska–Lincoln where she received her BA in Psychology, focusing on advertising and public relations. Following graduation, she launched her own photography and marketing business in Destin, Florida, working with small businesses on their image branding and digital marketing content. Brittnay has worked for national clients including the New Balance line for Heidi Klum (HKNB) and Rachele Brooke Smith. She is currently a monthly contributor to JMG Lifestyle, a millennials and entrepreneurs resource magazine.

Back in Nebraska, Brittnay is the Director of Talent Development & Recruitment for the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Program Director for Norfolk Now where she works to attract other young professionals and families to the Norfolk area.




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