Alachua County Emerging Leaders (ACEL) is a nonprofit organization striving to assist young professionals in the development of leadership skills within the hub of Gainesville. Founding member Bruce Floyd began ACEL in 2005 after seeing a need for such a resource in the community.
“I was here after college in Gainesville, and me and a few of my friends came to the conclusion that there really wasn’t anything for people outside of college age,” Floyd said. “There was no real organization with the purpose of educating and connecting our demographic, and so we sort of just came up with this idea on a napkin.”
ACEL started off with only 14 members in its first year, but it quickly expanded to become the 140-member organization it is today. The group welcomes young professionals between the ages of 21 and 45 who are eager to become more involved in the community and has members ranging from recent graduates to CEOs. While it is called Alachua County Emerging Leaders, the organization largely focuses on downtown Gainesville and hosts its meetings and events at different places throughout that area.
“We’ve really focused on making downtown the cultural hub for the community because that’s what we feel young people will enjoy,” said Andrew Romero, the current president of ACEL.
The organization encourages each of its members to join committees within it and to attend monthly mixers for the chance to socialize with other young professionals.
“The great thing about the organization is that there are so many different committees that do different things that I could recommend it to almost anyone that fits in that age group,” Floyd said. “I feel like my involvement in ACEL has helped me tremendously in becoming a more involved citizen and a leader.”
From marketing and service committees to committees concentrating on local politics and professional development, ACEL provides options for anyone looking to grow in a specific field.
“There’s a lot of variety there, and ultimately the people that are involved in ACEL are just people who really care about Gainesville,” Floyd said. “They care about the community and about the other members of the organization. It’s just a great group of people.”
Many begin as committee members and work their way up to chairpersons or roles on the executive team. ACEL’s current president, Andrew Romero, explained his own growth both as a member and as an individual since he started nine years ago on the board of directors.
“Back then, I barely knew what a board did,” Romero said. “ACEL was a place I could experiment with ideas [and] where I learned how to build a team that works well together.”
By working with other members to put on events and develop programs, Romero learned about himself in ways he did not expect.
“There is a certain confidence that comes with doing good work with other people,” Romero said. “Little by little, you get used to getting things done, and eventually, you hit this point where you almost know what you are doing.”
ACEL will hold several events in upcoming weeks, including a downtown Candidate Happy Hour on March 9, during which members of the Gainesville City Commission, as well as candidates running for seats in the upcoming election, will discuss political issues with members. Additionally, ACEL Marches For Babies will take place on April 1. Other upcoming events can be found on the organization’s website, www.acelfl.com.
“In the end, ACEL is a community of people who want to live a good life and make a difference, and when you are surrounded by those kinds of people, they push you to do the same,” Romero said.
By Haley Clement