Whether new to Aiken or a new career, younger members of the workforce can become civically involved, volunteer and make friends as part of Aiken Young Professionals.

"So I have this super unique story where I moved to Aiken and didn't really know anyone," joked Shaq Louis, a new AYP member, at a recent Supper Club meeting.

Louis moved to Aiken in June of this year, he said, and began looking for random events to go to in the area, but didn't have a ton of luck.

"I was kind of convinced, "OK, it's just me and Aiken," he said.

A coworker told him about AYP, and he attended an event, liked the vibe, and came back.

Louis' story isn't really unique, as he joked. Newkirk Barnes, librarian at Aiken Technical College, said AYP was one of the first groups she joined when relocating to Aiken.

Aiken Young Professionals is an organization that has been in existence for around 12 years for people who live or work in Aiken between 22 and 39 years old, and is a program of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce.

"The Aiken Chamber formed the Aiken Young Professionals over a decade ago to help our members with the attraction and retention of early career professionals in our market," said J. David Jameson, president and CEO of the Aiken Chamber of Commerce. "Our efforts helped to connect and engage hundreds of young folks."

Sarah Kinney, 2019 Chair of AYP, said the organization provides social events, networking events, professional development events, community service outreach events, plus an opportunity to become civically engaged.

"We've placed a lot of people on commissions with City Council; we've had people run for public office who have been current members and past members, so it's a really great launching pad for people in Aiken," Kinney said.

Her entry into AYP was similar to that of Barnes and Louis, as well as many other members.

"I moved to Aiken after college, and I didn't know anybody here my own age; and it was very apparent that I wasn't just going to stumble on people in their early 20s by walking around Aiken. I needed to seek them out," she said.

A coworker told her, too, about AYP, and she attended a Third Thursday event in October 2010.

"It was at the Aiken Golf Club, and it was perfect. It was exactly what I needed to make friends, to get connected to things that I eventually came to care about, and participate in things that were happening outside the place I was living," she said, adding she met some of her very best friends and people instrumental in her life through AYP.

So what was it about that October event that made Kinney stay?

She said she remembers checking in – adding it can be intimidating to walk into a room or location where there are 50 people you assume all know each other – but said when you walk into an AYP event, new members are linked up with veteran members, or someone in the same industry, or maybe someone at their own job.

"I remember sitting with four people that were also, I think, relatively new at the time and we were sitting around a table just chatting and talking; and I enjoyed it so much that I came back the next month," she said.

"It's just a snowball effect where, you know, you get one connection with one person and it just kind of grows into a situation that you find yourself nine, 10 years later being the chair of the committee."

A group of around seven members – new and seasoned – of AYP recently met for Supper Club at Metro Diner. Supper Club is one way AYP connects people – member John Lamprecht said Supper Club is just a way of getting folks out to chat and meet up, "because there's something very different about sitting down and sharing a meal than there is about being in a huge room filled with people."

Darius Chiles, AYP's Supper Club liaison and assistant branch manager for SRP Federal Credit Union, said he was actually going to stop attending AYP events until two Christmases ago when he was awarded a superlative – for Most Talkative.

He remembered thinking, "'They actually noticed I'm here, I'll continue," and it worked out for me way better than not coming," he said, adding that before AYP, he had almost given up on trying to find social interaction within Aiken on his own.

Rachael Rockwell, who is employed by Walther Farms, joined the group for Supper Club and has a similar story: She moved to Aiken, wanted to meet people, etc., and said she enjoys that the organization has given her the opportunity to participate in community service events, along with the opportunity to teach others about agriculture, since it's a unique job.

"This effort is making a difference in Aiken," Jameson said.

To join or contact AYP, search Aiken Young Professionals on Facebook or Instagram, or reach out to the Aiken Chamber of Commerce.

Lindsey Hodges is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard and North Augusta Star. Follow her on Twitter at @LindseyNHodges.