NextGen Young Professionals helps emerging leaders build a strong professional network and forge connections that may lead to new business collaborations, mentorship opportunities, or even future career advancements. Through networking events, workshops, community service opportunities and seminars, we create a supportive environment for personal and career growth for individuals between the ages of 21 and 40.

 

Our Mission

To connect, support and engage Southwest Michigan’s next generation of business leaders.

 

Our Vision

To be the catalyst that empowers Southwest Michigan’s next generation of business leaders to harness their collective potential and propel our region towards a more prosperous future.

Who We Are

The region’s premier young professional platform that engages and empowers the community’s next generation of thought leaders and change makers.

What We Do

Encourage the next generation to remain vested in the region’s future success by fostering engagement and peer-to-peer connections.

How We Do It

Networking events, workshops, community service opportunities, seminars, and professional development programming that creates a supportive environment for personal and career growth and provides a chance to get engaged in the local community.

Who We Reach

Individuals navigating the early stages of their career and looking to participate in flexible programming that connects, educates and inspires.

Meet the Young Professionals Board

Greta Pearson-Barrons, Chair
Pearson Construction
  • Greta Pearson-Barrons is Vice President of Pearson Construction Company in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Greta attended Ferris State University, earning her bachelor’s degree in Construction Management, graduating summa cum laude, and serving as President for the construction industry national fraternity, Sigma Lambda Chi. Working for a few large contractors in Eastern Michigan allowed Greta to gain broadened industry proficiency that she was able to bring back home to her family business in Southwest Michigan. Here, she refined her skills and knowledge to the area’s specific construction and development needs. Currently Greta sits on industry specific President Advisory Councils and is an active board member of the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber. Greta is a strongly focused fourth-generation leader hoping to continue the family business success another 100+ years. Outside of work, Greta enjoys nationally competing with her Arabian horse, practicing yoga, and Pilates.

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Amber Haack, Vice Chair
Horizon Bank
  • Amber Haack is a Commercial Loan Officer at Horizon Bank. She has worked at Horizon since 2014 where she started as a teller and eventually moved into small business and commercial underwriting until most recently when she took on a commercial lending role. Amber earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Economics as well as a Master’s Degree in Economics from Valparaiso University. In January 2023, Amber moved to Saint Joseph, Michigan from Valparaiso, Indiana. She enjoys playing darts, billiards and loves to spend time outdoors.

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Molly McFadden, Secretary
Immigration Law & Justice Michigan
  • Molly McFadden is new to Southwest Michigan, having relocated for work in 2022. She graduated from Alma College in 2020 with a BA in History and Political Science. She currently works as the Development Director for Immigration Law & Justice Michigan. In addition to serving as the Secretary for the NextGen Board, Molly is also a member of the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Rotary Club as well as being involved with the Berrien County Community Restorative Board. She currently lives in Benton Harbor with her husband, their two cats, and their dog.

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Chelsea Brandt, Treasurer
Horizon Bank
  • Chelsea graduated from Lakeshore High School in 2008 and went on to Michigan State University, attended the Graduate School of Banking – Sales and Marketing School in 2020 and is continuing her education at Cannon Trust School. Chelsea is a Private Wealth Advisor at Horizon Bank where her primary focus is on coordinating estate, investment, retirement and financial planning strategies and providing advice and relevant fiduciary decisions. Chelsea has been a past board member of the Northwoods United Way (2017-2022) and Eagle River Chamber of Commerce (2019-2022) and is a current member of Lakeshore Rotary Club. Born and raised in beautiful Southwest Michigan, Chelsea and her husband, Matt, returned to the area to raise their daughters.

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Avery Backus, Events Committee
Edgewater Automation
  • Avery found a love for business in 2014 while joining the DECA marketing association through her high school. After graduation, she started her education at Lake Michigan College while beginning a career in operations and merchandising management. Since then, Avery has gained seven years of administrative and office management experience. She is currently studying at Sienna Heights University; to finish her bachelor’s in business administration. Avery now works at Edgewater Automation headquarters in Saint Joseph as an administrative associate alongside the accounting department. Her decision to join the young professionals group stemmed from her love of networking and connecting with the local community. Besides her busy work and school life, growing up in Berrien County gave her admiration for being outdoors. Avery mostly spends her downtime hiking the dunes, at the beach, or spending quality time with friends and family.

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Melissa Swanson, Events Committee
Peat’s Cider Social
  • Melissa is the Marketing and Events Coordinator for Peat’s Cider Social in Stevensville, Michigan. She graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor’s in Communication Studies with a minor in Leadership and Management and was honored with the Art Excellence Award in Leadership. Melissa grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and it taught her discipline, time management, and helped shape her incredible work ethic. In addition to her family business background, Mel has held positions in the B2B marketing space as well as a variety of hospitality roles. When she isn’t working you can find her riding on her motorcycles, camping in her retro camper, or walking with her handsome German Shepherd, Whiskey.

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Brittany Lee, Social Media
Corewell Health
  • Brittany Lee is a Marketing and Communications Specialist for Corewell Health. For the past two years her focus has been on community partnerships, sponsorships, and events. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and Strategic Communications from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. Brittany moved to Southwest Michigan 5 years ago with her husband Kevin. Brittany and her husband are working on visiting all 50 states, the most recent state being Alaska. You can typically find Brittany in a hammock with her kindle. In addition to being on the NextGen board, Brittany sits on the board of 100 Women Strong.

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Gabriella Havlicek
Berecz & Associates, PLC
  • Gabriella Havlicek is an Associate Attorney and Mediator. She earned her degree in political science from Michigan State University where she participated in a government program working with Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter. She worked for the Michigan House of Representatives for more than 5 years. Her proudest accomplishment was drafting the Save Our Students Act for Representative Andrea Schroeder which requires schools to put a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline on school identification cards. 

    During her last year at the House, Gabriella entered law school and received her Juris Doctor from WMU Thomas M. Cooley Law School. While in law school, Gabriella also completed SCAO-approved training to be a Civil Mediator and Family Mediator. Following law school, she served as Executive Director for the Michigan Community Mediation Association. There she secured a grant for the nonprofit to create the Behavioral Health Mediation program through the Department of Health and Human Services which provided a new alternative dispute resolution tool for individuals receiving behavioral health care.

    Ms. Havlicek then gained considerable trial advocacy skills as an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Berrien County where she enjoyed conducting misdemeanor and felony trials.

    Gabriella currently serves as a board member of the St. Joseph Catholic Church Pastoral Council, the Our Lady of the Lake Dr. John Proos Athletic Golf Classic, and the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber’s Young Professionals Program.

    During her time as a prosecutor, Gabriella honed her courtroom skills and appreciates the ability to now serve family law clients at Berecz & Associates, PLC when litigation is necessary. She also enjoys mediating for families who want to retain control over their own divorce process and decisions. Gabriella is committed to helping families transition through divorce using the best process for each client’s needs and situation.

    Gabriella lives in Saint Joseph Township with her husband, Arthur, and their daughter, Nora. When Gabriella is not working or spending time with her family, she is either reading or cooking. Her culinary skills are so impressive that the last time she cooked dinner, even the smoke alarm cheered her on.

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Trevor Carlson
Prairie Real Estate Group
  • Trevor is a dynamic professional who graduated from Grand Valley State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism management. With a strong foundation in business, Trevor kick-started his professional career by collaborating with renowned real estate developers in the vibrant landscape of New York City. There, he honed his skills and expertise while working on high-profile mixed-use development projects. Trevor relocated back to West Michigan in 2020 and married his wife, Ashley, in 2022. Currently, he serves as the Property Director for Prairie Real Estate Group where he combines his extensive knowledge and expertise in the industry to lead the company’s growth and success. In addition to his role of Property Director, Trevor serves as a consultant for commercial and residential real estate management and development through Prairie Real Estate Group. Trevor finds joy in exploring the natural wonders of Michigan through hunting both waterfowl and deer, fishing, and golfing.

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Gillian Wright
Honor Credit Union
  • Gillian Wright is a passionate and dedicated business professional who cares deeply about the community she serves. As the Saint Joseph Member Center Team Lead at Honor Credit Union, Gillian works diligently to provide solutions for financial success to members of the local community. She currently holds an associate degree from Lake Michigan College and is actively pursuing a bachelor’s degree with Siena Heights University. Gillian’s previous career experience includes time spent in the restaurant industry, in the higher education sector, and the non-profit industry. Gillian has found from all of these experiences that she loves helping others reach their full potential and forming lasting relationships with the people in her community. Gillian is excited to help others make professional connections and encourage active participation in the Young Professionals organization.

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Sarah Lancaster
South Shore Health & Racquet Club
  • Sarah Lancaster is a graduate of Lake Michigan Catholic High School and Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. She studied Business Administration and History while playing on the Saint Mary’s tennis team. Today, she continues to play tennis and pickleball with SSHRC members. As Owner and General Manager, Lancaster is committed to promote wellness for all ages by providing unparalleled health programs and facilities. Sarah is also a member of the Business Networking International and Women’s Service League.

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Forrest Avery
Venanpri Group
  • Forrest is newcomer to the Southwest Michigan area. Graduating from Beaver Island Community School located in Northern Michigan, he moved south to attend the University of Michigan. In Ann Arbor, he earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics with a minor in Entrepreneurship during the spring of 2022. After interning for the Venanpri Group senior year, he joined full time and has since held multiple positions within the company. Currently, he is a Process Improvement Manager, overseeing a global accounting software implementation as well as companywide financial improvement initiatives. Forrest is a dedicated year-round member of the St. Joe Kickers Club and an active golfer during the warmer months. He is passionate about teamwork and is always eager to jump into any new opportunity.

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NextGen Young Professionals helps emerging leaders build a strong professional network and forge connections that may lead to new business collaborations, mentorship opportunities, or even future career advancements.

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