For a young professional, busy with career and life, Give Back Cincinnati provides a community service group with no strings: No dues, no monthly meetings, no special skills, no required attendance, no fundraising pitches.

The only requirement is to help out from time to time on a weekend community project followed by some partying and socializing.

"We are guilt-free. That's one of our founding principles," says Ryan Cowan, sustainability chair and a past president of Give Back Cincinnati. "We want people to be here for the right reasons."

Work & Play Hard

"We work hard and we play hard.

"It's volunteering with a social twist," says Lauren Doyle, Give Back communications director. "At the end of the day, if you don't want to come back for another event, that's your choice."

Hundreds of young professionals have been coming back for a decade now to donate their time to Give Back Cincinnati. They work on a wide array of community service projects that include an annual Paint the Town event and a Thanksgiving Day
Community Feast at the convention center that serves hundreds of meals to seniors and the financially strapped.

Give Back holds dozens of smaller events throughout the year ranging from neighborhood cleanups to visiting retirement homes to socialize with residents.

It raises money for microloans to nonprofit endeavors and has a separate group, Give Back Beyond, which carries the volunteer spirit to projects overseas in Romania, Ghana, Guatemala and Vietnam, along with yearly trips to New Orleans.

Always An After Party

While Give Back is about doing good deeds, some socializing follows almost every event. After all, a little partying needs to be built into a group made up predominately of 20-somethings.

"If we didn't, we wouldn't have anyone come back," Cowan says with a laugh. "There is always an after party that follows our events. We go to a local pub or have it on-site playing cornhole and grilling out. You can build on the relationship with the people you were working with throughout the day."

What is most refreshing is that the nonprofit service group has no hidden agenda. It is not the community arm of a corporation, church or a chamber-like civic group. There is no product to push, no underlying political, business or religious motive. There are no paid staff members. It is a group that sprung up almost organically.

Just Friends

The origins go back 11 years to a group of friends in Norwood looking for a service project. So, they got more friends together and painted a school. It felt so good, they looked for another good deed to perform. Through word-of-mouth, friends brought more friends to the next project.

A decade later the group has a mailing list of 5,000, a robust all-volunteer organizational structure and hundreds who show up for any given event.

The largest annual Give Back effort is Paint the Town in which hundreds volunteer to paint homes in a neighborhood on a Saturday once a year.

Forty houses are selected through an application process from lower income families, seniors and the disabled unable to keep their homes in shape. Past years targeted such neighborhoods as Evanston, Price Hill, and Bellevue and Covington in Kentucky. This June, the group painted homes in Cheviot.

To appreciate the genius of Give Back Cincinnati, consider the many ways such an event can benefit members (not to mention the
appreciative residents):

> The group is sort of a Welcome Wagon for out-of-towners who have moved here for school or work.

"It is an easy way for people new to the city to get their feet wet, meet people and neighborhoods," says Patrick Newton, an attorney and Give Back president.

"Perhaps 50 percent of our members are not native to Cincinnati."

A Paint the Town event is preceded weeks out by a neighborhood immersion, with a walking touring of the neighborhood so volunteers get to know the people and history.

Cowan, an engineer raised in Canton, says even for Cincinnati natives that can be an eye-opener, given the city's East Side-West Side thing. "This is a city of a lot of smaller neighborhoods. You can get focused too much on your own little world," says Cowan.

> The group is a teaching resource for a variety of skill sets.

One young attorney says he never would have learned about roofing if not for a Give Back project. And it lets young professionals strut their leadership stuff. After all, most are in jobs where they are taking orders, not giving them.

"Organizing hundreds of people into smaller work teams to paint homes, assuring they have all the equipment and food for the day, is a significant logistical effort that builds leadership tools," says Newton.

"It's helped me learn how to get things done from a planning and event standpoint. I've learned to evaluate an event to make the volunteer experience better."

> Obviously networking is a big part of any young professionals group.

"It's a way for YPs to get out of their offices and meet new people without just going to bars," says Newton.

Forming Bonds

Give Back volunteers all say there is something special about the bond formed when working together on a volunteer effort.

"People told me when I joined that you will meet people who will become your best friends. I kind of thought, "¢Well, you hear that from any group,'" Cowan says. "But you really do meet people who become your better friends. It's kind of cool."

"We've had Give Back marriages. At least six that I know of. These are people who didn't know each other before they came to an event," Newton says. "There are a couple of Give Back children, too."

Cowan says a bigger push is on to enlist students at local colleges, especially as a networking tool for those planning to stay in Cincinnati. Cowen says Give Back is a perfect fit for many college kids.

"There are a lot of scholarship and student athletes who need to perform volunteer hours and community engagement," he says.

While Give Back takes pride in its guilt-free, work-hard, play-hard mantra, organizers realize the group is ultimately about service. They are careful to separate the play from the work. The party doesn't start until a project is completed. And those who come mainly for the reveling may not find a home.

"If you come and are just looking for a party, not ready to work, you will get called out," says Newton. "You are going to start doing the work, or you probably won't come back."

"We understand people have a different view of what it is to volunteer, so we try to provide a broad array of experiences. Give Back Cincinnati is for those who want to grow their social network with like-minded people," Doyle says.

"Volunteering is not for everyone. A lot of people like to sleep in on a Saturday instead of getting up and painting.

"We don't want to make this a chore, or something on a checklist. It should be something you want to do and if you don't ever want to do it again, that's OK with us." - 

How to Become a Member

Young professionals, ages 18-35, interested in volunteering and fun fit the bill for Give Back Cincinnati. Go to the website for details.

What's expected?

"¢ Open mind and positive attitude. "Because you might get dirty and you might have to paint a locker room with someone that you don't know."

"¢ Dedication to the group and the activities. Give Back doesn't expect members to be at all the events. But, it says, attendance at one or two would make organizers happy. Three or four would make organizers ecstatic. Five or six would, well, you get the idea.

"¢ Spread a positive word of mouth about Give Back Cincinnati to friends and colleagues. "The more the merrier, and the more we can accomplish," organizers say.