A few years ago, when IT entrepreneur Jon Gauder was invited to another networking event, he didn’t have high expectations.

“It was at a bar, so I figured the worse case I’ll have a beer,” he says.

But Gauder, president of Volo Technologies in Dayton, came away from his first Generation Dayton event blown away by the people he met.

“I met so many people. I had no idea that there were that many young professionals in the area looking to do similar things,” he says.

Now in its ninth year, Generation Dayton, a program of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, is a spawning ground for the region’s future leaders, offering a venue for young professionals to connect, develop skills, volunteer and have fun along the way.

“Our goal is keep the young professionals in the Dayton area engaged and connected so they don’t want to leave Dayton,” says LaDonna Wulfeck, the chamber’s program manager for Gen D, which has more than 300 members across the region.

After attending his first Generation D event, Gauder got more deeply involved in Gen D activities and this year is chairman of the eight-member steering committee.

“It’s been a blessing for me in my business,” he says. “I’ve not only grown professionally from a career standpoint, but my business has taken off tremendously and I’ve worked with some phenomenal people.

“I hear all the time: There’s nothing to do in Dayton,” says Taryn Ward, vice chair of Gen D and a membership development representative for the chamber. “I’m from Columbus originally, and going from a larger city to a smaller city is different. But after getting involved in Generation Dayton, I’ve found there’s so much to do and it’s a great way to be on top of what’s going on.”

Annual membership in Gen D is $75 per person if your employer is a chamber member, and $100 if a non-member. Membership includes access to all the networking and professional development events, a monthly newsletter and a message board, and discounts to restaurants, businesses and cultural events with the Gen D Access card.

Another focus of Gen D is its regular Professional Speaker series, giving young professionals an opportunity to connect with business and community leaders. At the end of April, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley discussed her vision for the city at a Dayton Racquet Club luncheon.

The theme of this year’s professional development program is “Building your business/developing your personal brand in Dayton.”

Says Gauder: “No matter what profession you’re in, we all have a personal brand. It’s who we are.”

Another focus of Generation Dayton is community service. Its biggest volunteer event is the annual Give Back Dayton Day held this year on May 2. More than 150 young professionals gather for an afternoon of volunteering at more than 20 local nonprofits, doing everything from office work to repair and maintenance.

Last year’s Give Back Dayton Day included 160 volunteers contributing 640 hours of their time, representing an economic impact of $14,200 to the community.

Ward, last year’s Gen D Volunteer of the Year, says there are plenty of other volunteer activities throughout the year, such as working on a Habitat for Humanity house and serving hot meals at House of Bread. For information on Generation Dayton go to generationdayton.org or contact LaDonna Wulfeck at 937-226-8264 or lwulfeck@dacc.org.