(Originally published in Enjoy magazine, July 2011)
Catalyst Redding Young Professionals should be a failure. It takes an indeterminate number of “the MTV generation”, puts them in mostly-unofficial committees, offers no funding, and tells them to enrich their community. Yet the group has contributed over $26,000 to local charities through 23 events in 11 months, not including monthly business meetings, socials, and weekly soccer games. Their method of defying the odds and shirking notions of feckless 20- or 30-somethings is simple: they wanted to do something positive, tried it out, and succeeded (repeatedly).
Catalyst’s mission is to provide an opportunity for young professionals in Redding to meet, learn and be inspired; help create, promote and stimulate new and existing culture; help nurture a youthful energy and have fun with each other while doing it. Facilitators Ashley Wagar and Chris Haedrich describe the group’s origin as ‘exploratory’. In March 2010, they gathered likeminded friends, emailed some acquaintances, and met at C.R. Gibbs to determine whether they were crazy, or crazy like a fox. Were they were realizing a legitimate void or just over-thinking their individual frustrations? “That meeting was to throw it out there and say, ‘is this something Redding needs?’” Wagar recalls. The overwhelming response was affirmative, and energy quickly became effort. Haedrich credits the momentum to members desiring a social and cultural landscape akin to what they witnessed in larger cities. Since that meeting, Catalyst has staged music, film and art events as well as quarterly breakfasts designed to motivate professionals. Its members have assisted benefits for Riverfront Playhouse, Shasta Women’s Refuge, and the North State Symphony. Their efforts raised almost $4,000 for the Turtle Bay Exploration Park through just three live music events and the Telluride and Banff film tours netted over $17,000.
The membership requirements are bare. There are no attendance conditions, no applications, no dues; members control their involvement. “It works well because many young professionals are focusing on their career, [raising] a family, or pursuing education,” Haedrich explains. “Everybody has different schedules, goals and commitment levels. That’s the niche: allowing young people to get involved in the community as much or as little as they want.” This flex method has worked so well that one challenge is managing the rapid growth and helping members realize their individual vision. When new members sign up weekly and you average two commitments every month, quality control becomes an issue. “We created a process where we help people think through their idea,” Wagar explains. “We try to figure out how to give someone the right tools to create an event and be successful.”
Catalyst has thrived at raising money precisely because it has none of its own. “We wanted to keep the power away from any one person or committee, so everybody has the opportunity to come and mold Redding,” says Haedrich. Less money requires more effort from the membership. “We’re very grassroots because there aren’t a lot of funds,” Wagar explains. “We do what we can with limited resources.” More legwork means more planning, more communication, and, as it turns out, more fun. Catalyst has been remarkably rewarding as a social hub for its members. The 50 or so active members work uncommonly well together and regularly socialize outside of official events.
The group’s affection for its city is another driving force behind its success. “We recognize that great culture exists in Redding,” Haedrich says. “We’re not trying to change it, we’re trying to add to it and help get the other events out there.” Nor is it out to compete with other likeminded groups; Catalyst endeavors for collaborative philanthropy as often as possible. The long-term goal is basic: fill a need as long as there is one. “It’s up to Redding, really,” Haedrich explains. “We’re not going to force anything that isn’t needed. Redding has to want it.”
If you indeed want it, Catalyst is always looking for event sponsors, and of course, attendees. “People see the name ‘Catalyst Young Professionals’ and don’t realize that these events are for more than just young people,” Wagar explains. “We happen to be young, but the events are for everyone.” Haedrich agrees: “we’re looking for our first centenarian attendee.” No doubt they’ll succeed at that, too.
Catalyst Redding Young Professionals