co+Lab has launched a community spotlight series called “Inspired and Innovative”, or I&I, that highlights the amazing work of our local professionals, entrepreneurs and game-changers. This is the second feature in our series, with inimitable Donnie Ungaro!
Donnie Ungaro is head of the Okanagan Young Professionals (OYP), a Red Seal chef with his own culinary business, and an all around adventurous guy. His passion for the Okanagan valley has made him a key player in bringing the community together and attracting young professionals to Kelowna.
Kodie — Who’re you in a nutshell?
Donnie — I’m the head of the OYP and my role is to keep and attract young professionals and families to the Okanagan. We do that by making it a more engaged community, one that supports people and relationships and gets you plugged in so you don’t just leave with the next opportunity that comes along.
K — Tell me about your work with OYP. What sort of change are you seeking to make in the community and how are you doing it?
D — We’ve been focusing heavily on events for the last two and a half years. We’re really trying to fix one of the stigmas, or myths that there’s nothing to do for young people in the valley. We’ve brought in national level events such as TEDx, MotionBall, as well as facilitating grassroots, just get people together events and really focusing as well on arts and culture.
K — Why’s Kelowna a good city for an initiative targeted at young professionals? Why not live somewhere else?
D — Well, I mean, the valley sells itself in terms of geography and beauty and that, but it’s embracing the lifestyle that makes it worth living here. It’s a culture of doers, entrepreneurs, and people that choose to be here. Like, tourists seek it out, and they want to find “how do I make a life here?” It was at times difficult to figure out how to do that, there wasn’t a lot of support, but a lot’s changed in the last few years. We have on of the top places in the world to live and we’re just now starting to build the system underneath that to support the creatives and the entrepreneurs and to give people something to do, or give, let me just rephrase that. The valley has great things. The wineries, stand up paddleboarding, but if you don’t have someone to do that with, you’re not gonna stay and that’s where we’re really trying to come in and get the relationships and the connections so you can magnify the experience and have like minded people to do it with.
K — You just recently moved the OYP office from essentially a little closet into the co+Lab. What factors pushed you to do that?
D — The idea of community, physical space, and partnership. Together with the co+Lab we’re creating an actual physical headquarters, or, more of a hangout for young professionals and entrepreneurs. It’s a safe, fun, exciting, great place to come to and that you’re welcome. We didn’t have the before, you had to wait until the next event. Now you can just drop in. No word of a lie, magic happens here from just being around these people.
K — What words do you have to say to anybody that’s on the fence about trying out coworking? What are the benefits?
D — Oh, I’ve been there done that. I worked from home and had the children and tried to write blog posts with a toddler on my knee. It’s a shift in mindset that once you’re in a place where you can be creative and have that process of thought. Also just the support and the work/life balance, that was the driver for me. I don’t eat lunch by myself anymore there’s people to talk to, we play foosball, we do stuff together, I have someone to go to lunch with. Those little mental breaks actually spur more energy. It’s been awesome.
K — If you were to liken your work to a sport or activity, what game are you playing?
D — A weird version of maybe Farmville and Matchmaker. We plant a lot of seeds and grow a community with long term vision, short term gains, and long term planning. Just a lot of facilitation, there’s a lot of juggling in there with a lot of hats and stuff.
K — What in your background pushed you into doing community work? You have a culinary background, did that come before or after?
D — After, actually! Actually I was a marketing grad from the college, I have my designation in insurance, I was a marketing rep, a paid on call firefighter, small business owner, I’ve got my culinary red seal. It was actually my experience in Vancouver that when I moved there and really struggled to meet people that I knew I wanted to change that. It’s a big missed opportunity in any community that if there’s not a soft, safe landing zone or someone championing it with, “Hey, you’re welcome here!’ always introducing people then you’ll lose them. It was a shame, because there’s nowhere in the world that I’d rather live.
K — Any last thoughts?
D — I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the Okanagan to call what I do work. My job is to meet people, make them happy, go to events, put on events, and build a community. My brother jokes that I’m actually like a paid volunteer. I’m really lucky, and I’m fortunate that I’m able to dabble in other ventures on the side that give me my outlet in cooking and business development. It’s really awesome, at the moment.