By Lara C. Chapman

Michelle Ryan | Age: 25

Director of Venice Area Young Professionals

Venice, with its small-town charm and spectacular sunsets, is often described by both residents and visitors as “paradise.” According to Michelle Ryan, however, Venice is more than a stunning place to live and work; it is her one, true home. Here, where she was born and raised, she grew to appreciate Venice for its strong sense of community and calm way of life. Today, Michelle is well known in the region for her leadership role in the Venice Area Young Professionals (VAYP), where she acts as director. She attended the State College of Florida.

Why is the community of Venice so important to you?

Several years ago, I left Venice to pursue a degree at the University of North Florida. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time. High school was over and I wanted to experience something different. I thought Jacksonville was a good spot because of its beaches and big-city environment. But when I got there, I kept thinking about Venice. I missed not knowing people or seeing friends around town. Big-city life became overwhelming to me, and two years later I moved back to Venice. I guess I had to get away in order to appreciate what a wonderful community Venice is.

How has your life evolved since you’ve been back?

It’s been great. I’ve been working in community relations for the Venice Chamber since 2005. My boyfriend and I also bought a house together near our family and friends. I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by people who love and support me. 

How did you get involved with Venice Area Young Professionals?

The Venice Chamber didn’t have any specific group geared toward young professionals when I first started working here. I had heard there was a young professionals group in the Sarasota Chamber and thought maybe something like that could work here in Venice. Soon after, I spearheaded and developed a task force which led to the establishment of VAYP in 2006. None of us knew what to expect in the beginning; however, our first meeting drew 95 attendees! Today VAYP is an actual organization within the chamber with our own policies, procedures and budget.

Why should local young professionals join VAYP?

We’ve got something for everyone at VAYP—whether it’s networking groups, family-friendly events, workshops or volunteer opportunities. Our organization can be what any young professional wants it to be. Some of our most popular events are professional workshops where members learn about a variety of topics, such as marketing, social media, handling the economic downturn and so much more. We recently started to integrate corporate tours into our event schedule. The tours give members a chance to go behind the scenes at some of Venice’s large companies. VAYP is an excellent way for professionals between the ages of 21 and 40 to make friends and build solid working relationships within the Venice community.