Inspiring middle school students to imagine their professional futures in their hometown community is a tall order, no matter where they live. But Forge, Topeka’s young professionals’ organization, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Topeka are up to the task.

The inaugural Live Your Dream Symposium, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, at the former Avondale East Elementary School, 455 S.E. Golf Park Blvd., is a first-of-its-kind event. It will bring together 50 to 70 Shawnee County middle school students, who are all Club members, who will have a chance to see themselves in careers – and rich futures – in Topeka.

“Studies indicate that oftentimes young girls and children of color cannot see beyond their current circumstances to realize what they can become,” said Lonnie Walker Jr., chairman of the Forge diversity and inclusion pillar. “We are partnering with leaders in the community from a variety of industries, who look just like those diverse children, to share their stories and paths of how they made it to where they are and how they can do the same, right here in Topeka.”

Students will arrive at Avondale East at 8:30 a.m. and rotate in small groups through 12 stations. Each station will provide the opportunity to hear from a professional from a different industry, including medicine, education, law enforcement, information technology and more. Each volunteer professional, many of them originally from Topeka, is a member of an underrepresented group.

The group will hear from USD 501 Superintendent Tiffany Anderson at 11:30 a.m. and then travel to the Washburn Institute of Technology, 5724 SW Huntoon St., for lunch. After lunch, provided by the Washburn Tech Culinary Program, students will receive a tour of the Washburn Tech campus. They’ll return to the Club after 2 p.m.

Each of the professional presenters is giving generously of their time. In addition to support from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Topeka and Washburn Tech, this event is receiving support from the Community Resources Council, Visit Topeka and GO Topeka.

“It’s hard to achieve what you can’t see,” said Walker, who works as the Diversity & Inclusion Analyst at FHLBank Topeka. “These young people deserve this opportunity. And Topeka needs them, too. Essentially, we are spreading hope and preparing the next generation of young professionals in Topeka.”

The Forge Diversity and Inclusion Pillar aims to increase the diversity of Forge membership to include more people of color and a broader representation of career fields. It also encourages and supports diversity in all forms in Topeka & Shawnee County. This is the pillar’s first initiative for young people.

“Forge members are doing incredible work through our four pillars and we are all excited about this event from the D&I Pillar,” said Gabriel O’Shea, executive director of Forge. “These young people are the future and we want them to build their futures here.”


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A note to editors: The media is welcome throughout the event at both locations. Students who cannot be filmed, photographed or interviewed will have a symbol on their name tags. Forge volunteers and Boys and Girls Club staff members will rotate with the small groups of students throughout the day.


The mission of Forge is to attract and retain young talent in Topeka, Kansas.