Small Group, Big Impact

By Kim Schaefer, Downtown Project Las Vegas

It's difficult to imagine the effect that a small group of young people can have on a workplace and a neighborhood. But I've seen firsthand just how impactful the influx of seven Venture for America Fellows into our community has been on Downtown Project and, more importantly, on Downtown Las Vegas.

These seven people, all in their early 20s, packed their belongings, left all that they knew behind, and moved to here to be a part of revitalizing one of the most economically devastated communities in our country. But they've done much more than fill the roles for which they were hired. Since arriving in August of 2012, they have integrated into many aspects of what is happening outside of their day-to-day working lives, explored and embraced their new home.

Three of them completed the Las Vegas marathon. Some camped under the stars while watching meteor showers in Death Valley. They have traveled extensively up and down the west coast as they discovered a part of the country that many of them hadn't visited. They've been extras on the set of music videos, hung out with llamas, volunteered at a senior nutrition center, worked on the presidential campaign, grown mustaches for Movember, participated in the Blinking Man critical mass bike ride, created a public art project, and had many more adventures.

It's hard to imagine what Downtown Project was like before the Venture for America Fellows joined our team. I'm not really sure how we functioned without them. They have taken on so many roles with aplomb and have shown time and again that they are bright, capable, caring, and, often times, wise beyond their years.

In just seven short months the Fellows have helped to open a co-working space, launch a bike share program, and in the planning of several yet-to-be announced urban connectivity programs. They have been instrumental in the development and creation of two institutions that will change Downtown and, hopefully, the world: a school and a medical center, both set to open later this year. They have worked to vet numerous tech startups and assisted in funding decisions for several startups that have relocated to Las Vegas or are in the process of doing so. They launched a community classroom series that enriches the lives of the people who live and work in the neighborhood and across the Las Vegas Valley. They vet dozens of pitches each month from entrepreneurs as part of our small business team, meeting with many of those who submit, helping to guide those selected through the funding process into operation. And they work tirelessly with the entities that have been funded by Downtown Project to offer support to ensure their ongoing success.

Ovik Banerjee, Laura Berk, Andy Chatham, Barry Conrad, Josh Levine, Rob Solomon, and Jude Stanion have become much more than our colleagues: they are our neighbors, and most of all they are our friends. In just a few months, they have made real and lasting change in our community. Downtown Las Vegas is lucky to have them here.

Kim Schaefer is a writer and editor with Downtown Project where she spends her days writing, learning, thinking, talking, and daydreaming about the city she loves. Her work, which tells the story of the remarkable, diverse, and fascinating people who are revitalizing Downtown Las Vegas, can be found on In 2012, the Downtown Project hired seven Venture for America Fellows and pledged $1 Million to VFA over the next five years.

To ensure Venture for America's continuing legacy in revitalizing our country's economy through entrepreneurship, please support VFA in the JobRaising Challenge.