Young professionals association disbands in Somerset County


Courier News, February 10, 2008

The Somerset County Association of Young Professionals (SCAYP) might have been a victim of its own members' successes.

The organization, which was founded in 2001 and once had 450 people on its e-mail list, dissolved Dec. 31 because participation was dwindling, said Jodi Kastel McCaffrey, chair of the group's professional development committee and designated spokeswoman.

McCaffrey, who works at Somerset Medical Center, joined the group when she moved to Somerset County from Ocean County.

"I didn't know anyone," she said.

She found the SCAYP through a Google search, then joined and was an active member until the group's dissolution.

As SCAYP's members advanced in their careers and started families, there were fewer and fewer active members who were involved in the group's mixture of community service and networking events.

"It was just one of those things," McCaffrey said. "There's not that much free time that we used to have. Members got married and had children."

Other members received job promotions and were either transferred or had to spend more time traveling for their jobs, she said.

At the end, only a handful of people were attending the group's events and were getting discouraged, she said.

The decision by the group's board to disband was bittersweet, McCaffrey said.

"Some people were very emotional," she said.

Keeping promises

But the group still fulfilled its commitment to work with the Food Bank of Somerset County to cook and serve a community Thanksgiving dinner at the PeopleCare Center in Bridgewater.

And some members already have said they will work again at the dinner, McCaffrey said.

The board also decided the money in SCAYP's bank account will give "a final helping hand" to several Somerset County organizations that partnered with the group, including the Children's Museum of Somerset County, Somerset Treatment Services, the Somerset County Cultural Diversity Coalition, Somerset County Vocational-Technical Schools, Middle Earth and the Samaritan Homeless Interim Program (SHIP).

For example, the Children's Museum will use a $250 grant to buy a miniature kitchen facility that it would not otherwise be able to afford, McCaffrey said.

"They did a great job," said Tom O'Leary, executive director of SHIP. SCAYP members helped cook and serve food on SHIP's mobile kitchen truck.

"It was good food and there was lots of food," O'Leary said.

O'Leary was sad about the group's decision to disband.

"It's unfortunate," he said. "As the need is growing, a lot of these groups are dissolving."

SCAYP formed in September 2001 as part of the United Way of Somerset County and reached its peak membership in 2002, 2003 and 2004 with as many as 450 people on its e-mail list and 50 active members. The group separated from the United Way in 2003.

There were no dues and no age limits if you wanted to join. The only requirement, McCaffrey said, was to attend two events a year.

The mixture of events included programs on professional development (such as how to deal with difficult people at work), a seminar for first-time homebuyers, networking and social events such as bowling and mini-golf, fundraisers and volunteering for other community organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity and the Somerset County Cultural Diversity Coalition.

Facing challenges, competition

But the group, despite three attempts, never achieved its nonprofit 501(c)(3) status, which exempts nonprofit organizations from paying federal taxes and classifies all donations as tax deductible.

That hindered its fundraising ability. And the word "young" in the organization's name also might have been an obstacle, McCaffrey said, because some thought it referred to high-school and middle-school students.

One group that is doing well -- and might have drawn members from SCAYP -- is New Jersey Young Professionals, which was founded by 30-year-old North Plainfield resident Laura Occhipinti in February 2004.

"There was a big need out there," she said.

Occhipinti had just moved from Bergen County to Somerset County.

"It was very hard to meet friends," she said.

She founded the group on Yahoo, and at the end of the first year, there were 2,000 registered members.

Two years ago, Occhipinti turned the venture into a limited liability corporation and it became her full-time job.

"It's doing pretty well," she said.

The company's 9,500 registered members, who range in age from 21 to 39, come from all parts of New Jersey, with the majority from North and Central Jersey.

While SCAYP concentrated on community-service events, New Jersey Young Professionals focused more on networking opportunities with only a smattering of community-service events, such as volunteering at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey Bank.

Its Web site,, has a schedule of events, forums, classified ads and merchandise for sale, including T-shirts with the group's logo and its motto, "Get out ... make friends."

Another group that might have drawn interest from SCAYP is Leadership Somerset, an annual scholarship program that encourages individuals who live or work in Somerset County to become more involved in their communities.

The goal of program, administered by Somerset County, is to create a network of residents who will develop the skills to become community leaders.

But McCaffrey remains confident that the members of the SCAYP will remain active in the county.

"The community is still going to be served," she said.