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Passing of the Gavel

By Megan Ruscello, 2022 EMERGE Chair

Well, I have officially handed over the gavel to Sterling Searcy as Chair of EMERGE for 2023!

What a year it has been: from our new member kickoff, to the entrepreneur-stacked Follow the Leaders dinner, to the countless socials, service events, and networking opportunities, it has been a busy and crazy year!

Heads up: 2023 is on track to be even better than 2022! As we make our plans for next year, here are a few tips and tricks to make the most of EMERGE.

1. Bring a friend with you if you’re nervous!

If you are nervous to show up to a room full of people you may not know, bring a friend with you! Best case scenario, you have someone else that will help make introductions as you work the room together; worst case scenario, you have a built-in sidekick.

*Pro Tip: if your friend can’t join you, find any Steering Committee member (peep the name tags), and they’ll gladly serve as a last-minute stand-in!

2. Get involved early!

Don’t wait until you feel like you know enough people to get plugged in and get involved. It actually works the opposite – the more you invest, the faster you will feel engaged. Take on projects as your time allows, sign up for our EMERGE Serves program, ask a committee chair out to coffee. The most important thing is to find a way to get plugged in that fits your interests and availability.

3. Show up consistently!

In Lakeland especially, the communities of service-minded professionals overlap and intertwine regularly. Whether it’s at one of the events of our parent organizations, UWCF or the Chamber of Commerce, or at one of Lakeland’s stunning charity events, the EMERGE network runs deep! The more events you come to, the smaller those circles become, and the more you start to recognize people and make meaningful connections.

4. Follow up outside of the events!

This one goes hand in hand with the one above it! If the goal is making meaningful connections (whether it be to find your next career move, meet and make friends, or make Lakeland feel like home), then just chatting at a structured event is not going to cut it. If you meet someone you click with, then add them on social soon after the event, swap business cards, or start a group text – whatever your method is. The key is to continue the conversation and build on the small talk you made at the event. Making friends as an adult can be awkward and weird, but lean into it and be bold! Three of my best friends in Lakeland all started out as random people I met at an EMERGE event. Thankfully, they’re all better at the follow-ups and making plans than I am (so I thank them for this tip, along with our friendship).

5. Get your employer involved!

I had the good fortune of working for a company and a manager that were well-versed in the value EMERGE brings to the table, so there was a huge amount of support as I became more invested, and it required more of my time and attention. If you’re not so lucky (yet), be sure to loop in your team on why you’re getting plugged in. Whether it’s to sharpen your marketing skills, build your client base, feel more at home in Lakeland, or recruit some new talent to your team, be sure to advocate for the time and resources you need to stay the course. Our Steering and Marketing teams are always here to help you advocate for more time in EMERGE and prepare that ever-crucial elevator speech.

6. Stay authentic!

Finally, perhaps the most important: be yourself. Whether you’re silly, serious, awkward, boisterous, first or last to the party: be uniquely you. We have had someone sing the Puerto Rican national anthem at an event, someone else lead a diversity and inclusion workshop, and someone else dive headlong into being the awkward one to make everyone else feel normal. Fun fact: All three of these people work at the same company. What you bring to the table is unique to you, and all has value and a place at EMERGE.

One final note

This year as EMERGE’s Chair has brought me more joy, community, and connection than I could have thought possible. I’d like to say thank you to our Steering team, our sponsors, committees and members that made my job so easy, fun, and rewarding.

And I know without a doubt that what Sterling, Kassia, and the team have in store for next year is going to be even better. We hope to see you all there.

'Til next year,


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