’20 Under 40′ program wraps up successful year


By Kelly Daniel
Opelika Observer

On May 14, the Opelika Chamber of Commerce held their annual graduation ceremony for the 20 Under 40 Program, which is a community leadership course for professionals under the age of 40.
The program encourages collaboration and mentorship between young professionals and experienced community leaders, representing a variety of professions and perspectives from both the private and public sectors.
The event featured the attendance and participation of Opelika and Auburn leaders as well as a keynote speech by comedian Jody Fuller. Mackenzie Kayler, who serves as programs and events manager for the
Opelika Chamber of Commerce, said that more than 60 individuals attended the event, including 20 Under 40 founder Lucinda Cannon, Mayor Gary Fuller, and city council members David Canon, Tiffany Gibson-Pitts and Patsy Jones.
Kayler said that the Chamber gives “special thanks to our sponsors helping make this program possible: Max Credit Union, Baxter, Chicken Salad Chick, Opelika City Council, and the Opelika Industrial Development Authority.”
At the end of the event, the graduates elected Alex Sumrall, who works as a manager at Auburn University Federal Credit Union, as the representative of the class on the 20 Under 40 board. Carlton Hunley, who owns Lambert Transfer and Storage, was announced as the chair of 20 Under 40 for the upcoming year.
This Year’s 20 Under 40 Class
The 2018-2019 graduates developed a strong rapport with each other and went above and beyond in their efforts to help the community, as was observed by Aiesha Gentry, who is one of this year’s graduates and works as the program director at Emerge Community Solutions. “This class showed initiative in its service project but also sought out additional efforts to help the community and volunteer through helping the youth development center and tornado relief efforts,” Gentry said.
The graduation served as an opportunity for the class of 2019 to celebrate the connections made during the program and to express their gratitude for the program and the community leaders whose support makes the program possible. “This class developed a bond, and we enjoyed each other’s company throughout the program,” said Morgan Beadles, who works as the director of The Davis Arboretum at Auburn University.
Commitment to Teaching the Next Generation of Government and Business Professionals
The program’s extensive community support showcases the commitment of senior Opelika leadership, including industry experts and elected officials, to building up and shaping the next generation of innovators and visionaries in the community, as was observed by James Bush, who works as a GIS analyst for the city of Opelika. “The reason this wonderful program exists is because of forward-thinking leaders at this table,” said Bush, referencing the table reserved for the community leaders who support the program. “I think it is very inspiring to see an older generation of leadership focusing on the leaders of tomorrow.”
An Applied Educational Experience
On their website, the Opelika Chamber of Commerce encourages young local professionals who are passionate about Opelika to apply to the program. The 20 Under 40 web page states, “You will be encouraged to think outside the box, and you will be challenged to think of ways to make our city better and improve the quality of life.”
The program enables participants to learn more about various perspectives and aspects of community development, including the benefits of living and working in Opelika and the needs of the community as a whole, as was observed by Alex Sumrall.
Bush found the insights into the perspectives of various community leaders to be informative and inspiring. “The program puts you in the front seat of day to day operations of these leaders and organizations,” Bush said. “This transparency is a vehicle to encourage future leaders for the City of Opelika.”
The full list of this year’s 20 Under 40 Graduates, as well as information on how to apply for the program, can be found on at www.opelikachamber.com/20-under-40.


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