6 nominees chosen for FLEX Young Professional award

By JEREMY JOHNSONStaff Derrick Staff Writer
Six nominees have been chosen for the region’s Young Professional of the Year award, which will be presented at the fourth annual FLEX Presents dinner March 28 at Wanango Country Club.
FLEX, which stands for Future Leaders’ and Entrepreneurs’ Exchange, is a committee of young professionals working under the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce to promote the needs and interests of young professionals in the region through civic engagement, leadership development and networking.
This year’s award nominees are Elizabeth Griebel of Oil City, Leigh Protivnak of Franklin, Casey McVay of Franklin, Jessica Gregory of Franklin, Matt LaVerde of Oil City and Amber Martino of Franklin.
Founded in 2007, FLEX is dedicated to “building a wide network of young professionals who are passionate about being involved and contributing positively to our greater community,” according to the Venango Chamber of Commerce website. The organization boasts more than 120 active members.
Since 2011, FLEX and the chamber have annually recognized one young professional under the age of 40 for their civic, educational and career achievements in Venango County. Past winners include Matthew Beith (2013), Amanda Hippenstiel (2012) and Renee Spence (2011).
Nominations for this year’s award were accepted through Feb. 17 from colleagues, employers and friends of the nominees. Nominations are sealed and nominees are then selected by a third-party reviewing committee, which also chooses a winner.
Chamber executive director Susan Williams said the event has been a continuing success – generally drawing more than 100 in attendance each year.
“It’s great to see all the young professionals in the community stepping up and participating in leadership roles,” Williams said. “We see them as an asset to the community.”
–Griebel, the current treasurer of FLEX, is a licensed agent for Urban Insurance Agency Inc. in Seneca. She is a volunteer for groups like the Venango Area Community Foundation and Precious Paws Animal Rescue.
Griebel also serves on the young professionals committee for the Oil Region Alliance, as a community member for the Venango County Industry Community Advisory Panel (I-CAP) and as a committee member for the Oil City Main Street program.
–Protivnak is owner of Neverending Stories bookstore on Liberty Street in Franklin and executive assistant of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce. She began her own young professionals group, Y.E.S. (Young Entrepreneurs Society), in 2013, and the group has surveyed more than 30 Franklin business owners under 40.
She is also a board member of the Franklin Fine Arts Council, a member of the young professionals committee for the Oil Region Alliance, and treasurer for the Friends of the Franklin Public Library volunteer group.
–McVay works at Venango College as assistant coordinator of admissions and financial aid, where she recruits new students, hosts campus events and coordinates social media activities. She is also the student club advisor for the college’s Studying, Exploring and Engaging Discipleship program, and serves as artistic director for and creator of the Diamond Dance Company of Rogers Gym in Oil City.
McVay is also a choreographer and performer for Dreamscape Wedding and Dance Party of Pittsburgh, and serves as a dance instructor at Studio 22 in Franklin.
–Gregory is a licensed agent for Allstate Insurance in Franklin. She has partnered for two years with the Susan G. Komen Foundation to host the Fighter’s Ball, raising more than $13,000 for the research of breast cancer, and she is currently organizing the third annual event in October.
Gregory also volunteers as a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army during the holiday season and is a member of the TCB (Taking Care of Business) group, a local organization that collects donations for those in need.
–LaVerde is principal of Rocky Grove High School and coach of the Oil City High School football team. LaVerde and his players annually assist Oil City’s First Night committee in the set-up and tear-down of the event.
LaVerde is also active in his church and other community events where he volunteers his time talking to children about community service.
–Martino is the special education teacher at Franklin High School, and she also serves as co-director of the school’s annual Musical Broadcast production, heads the Drama Club and is chairman of the FHS Hall of Fame.
Martino is also a member of the Venango County Humane Society board of directors, serves as county coordinator for C.A.R.T. (Venango/Forest County Animal Rescue Team), and is an active volunteer for DukeFest and an instructor for canine behavior and pet first aid classes. She also volunteers for the county’s Critical Incident Stress Management team and is involved in drug and alcohol prevention.
For more information or to RSVP for the March 28 event, people can call 676-8521.

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