In 2009, Kevin R. Smith founded Young Professionals of East Kentucky (YPEK) to foster networking and leadership among young business people and entrepreneurs. At the time, he was director of strategic initiatives with Inez Deposit Bank, and now operates his own general practice law office in London. Nonprofit YPEK is going as strong as ever because Smith believes in promoting the resources of the Eastern Kentucky.
“YPEK strives to enhance the abilities of young professional leaders to develop forward thinking, innovative approaches to improve the communities throughout East Kentucky and to nurture their vision and passion to fuel the region’s business and social climate with new energy and initiatives,” Smith said.
While there are models for YP organizations through chambers of commerce around the country, Young Professionals of East Kentucky is an independent entity based on the desire to connect, grow and lead.
The other 300 members of YPEK are engaged in efforts to have a positive impact on 32 counties in Eastern Kentucky. It has sponsored regional issue forums, networking events, a women’s conference and annual awards banquet in London, Manchester, Pikeville, Ravenna, Somerset and Whitesburg.
Early on, YPEK was a founding partner with Morehead State University and Alice Lloyd College for a business accelerator program called the i2b Entrepreneurs Academy, with i2b standing for “invention + innovation = business.” The academy was the first of its kind in Eastern Kentucky to provide mentoring, training and business support for young professionals.
Smith co-founded another nonprofit in 2014, Rural Up, to provide computer technology classes for middle school and high school students throughout Appalachia, and a deep love of learning drove the Clay County native to further his own education.
The graduate of Union College in Knox County went on to earn a J.D. at the University of Kentucky College of Law, and then an MBA from UK. Next, he attended Princeton University in New Jersey, where he earned a master’s degree at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and was elected by his peers as the president of the Graduate Student Government.
Standout board members
On the board of YPEK is Johnathan Gay. When Smith was gathering a group of people to form Young Professionals of East Kentucky in 2009, Gay was one of the first to join. At the time, he was with the Kentucky Innovation & Commercialization Center program at Morehead State University’s regional campus in West Liberty. Since 2013, Gay has been the director of the Kentucky Innovation Network at Morehead, which is 20 miles from his home in Flemingsburg.
He grew up in Leslie County and, like Smith, is a sole proprietor attorney in addition to his full-time job with the Kentucky Innovation Network. KIN supports entrepreneurs with business consulting, networking and programs for startups.
“YPEK has been a valuable partner in celebrating entrepreneurship, helping host events related to entrepreneurship, and recognizing successful entrepreneurs in the region,” he said. “Our region is undergoing significant changes, and it is extremely important that we think and act collectively to better understand and overcome our challenges.”
Tim Robinson joined YPEK in 2013 and although he “aged out” of the organization last year when he turned 40, he is still an avid ambassador for YPEK.
“I’m a big fan of Kevin’s,” he said of founder Smith. “I believe he’s one of the up-and-coming leaders in our state.”
Five years before his involvement with YPEK, Robinson had been a prosecuting attorney in Louisa, Ky. He resigned to open an addiction recovery center called Karen’s Place, a grassroots effort that became a state-licensed operation and transitioned into a healthcare facility. Karen’s Place in Lawrence County is now part of Addiction Recovery Care.
“I was a raging alcoholic,” he said. “I was a lawyer who was a drunk. I got sober, and I help other people get sober. There is a big need for addiction treatment in the state.”
As founder and CEO of Addiction Recovery Care, Robinson and 200 employees operate a network of 13 treatment centers, including residential treatment centers in Lawrence, Boyd, Fleming, Harlan, Jackson and Pulaski counties, and outpatient centers in Lexington, Louisa, Mount Sterling and Prestonsburg.
ARC also promotes vocational rehabilitation and job training with programs like the Peer Support Academy.
“People in the business community are finding it hard to find employees who can pass drug screens,” said Robinson, who is a fan of second-chance employers. “The business community in general is going to have to move from a zero-tolerance policy. Addiction is like any other disease that needs treatment and support.”