Siblings Victoria and Bennett Thompson play with Play-Doh during second annual Summerfest following the Old First Night run hosted by NOW Generation, an organization made for by and of the younger generations of Chautauquans at the Youth Activities Center on August 1, 2015.
Siblings Victoria and Bennett Thompson play with Play-Doh during second annual Summerfest. File photo by Ruby Wallau.

There are baby boomers, Generation X’ers, millennials and Generation Z’ers. At Chautauqua Institution, there is also the NOW Generation.

An initiative established in recent years, the “NOW Gen” invites younger Chautauquans ages 21–40 to get involved with different facets of the Institution, both on the grounds and across the country.

“It is, in a way, a call to action for young Chautauquans,” said Katie Prechtl Cooke, the new chair of the NOW Generation advisory council.

Cooke recently succeeded John Haskell’s leadership of the nascent group. She clarified that “NOW” is not an acronym, underscoring its significance and power in its animated immediacy and inclusivity.

“It’s really a ‘more the merrier’ situation,” feeding off the vibrant diversity of its members and activities, Cooke said. “Everything is very grass-roots. If you’re really involved, you’ve been coming to lots of events, you express interest in helping, we can always find a place for you. It’s all volunteer-based.”

Some of the summer events the council has lined up for 2016 season for members of the NOW Generation include:

• Annual NOW Generation President’s Reception from 5:30 p.m. to Sunday at the Girls’ Club

• “Summerfest” for families and members of the community from 10 to 11:30 a.m. July 30 at the Youth Activities Center, following the Old First Night Run/Walk

• NOW Generation Reception with Special Guest Steven Osgood at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Miller Cottage (corner of Vincent and Whitfield)

• Miller Park “Toddler Time” at 10:30 a.m. Mondays during Weeks One and Three at the Timothy’s Play Area in Miller Park

• “Playdates at the Playground” at 3 p.m. Tuesdays during Weeks One through Six, located at the Children’s School playground

Cooke said it is challenging to program opportunities that are appealing to the full range of the group’s membership, from newly minted university graduates to young families. It’s an important issue the NOW Generation has tried to build on with the addition of informal gatherings hosted by young parents, and address by extending its off-season activities in a growing number of cities around the country.

“The NOW Generation is trying to reach out beyond the gate and encourage people to connect year-round,” Cooke said.

The NOW Generation advisory council meets quarterly to assist in organizing events among different cities, helping galvanize fellow Chautauquans. From New York to Chicago, the events, supervised by regional captains, enable members to meet and enjoy different cultural or social activities together where they live, and of course, reconnect or build new relationships.

“We want to engage Chautauquans across our age range, and encourage them to take part in all of our events, these summer events or events that happen off season, so that we can connect, because we feel like the more we connect, the stronger we’ll be,” Cooke said.

Although there is no fee to become a member of the NOW Generation or attend events this summer, contributions are encouraged.

“The social engagement and volunteer activities of the NOW Generation often inspire our members to begin donating to the Chautauqua Fund,” Cooke said. “We welcome gifts of any size. Even small gifts make a big difference.”

One method of contribution is through the Lewis Miller Circle, which asks for an annual gift of $250.

“The same amount that you pay Starbucks, you can donate to Chautauqua,” Cooke said. “And at the end of the year, that adds up to something significant.”

For someone like Cooke, Chautauqua is an unshakable limb of life. After a combined 30 summers of being both a “grouper” and counselor at Boys’ and Girls’ Club, making some lifelong friends, getting married at the Hall of Philosophy, becoming a property owner on the grounds and now watching her children start taking those same steps, it’s truly come full circle.

“There’s a reason I drop my regular life for six weeks and show up in Chautauqua every summer,” Cooke said. “To be in such a special place for me, and be able to give back in a very small way is why I got involved in the NOW Generation. I think so much of it is just about relationships. Meeting people, and what’s been cool is meeting people from different facets of Chautauqua. But it can be so much more.”

For more information about the NOW Generation or to RSVP for the upcoming events, please visit the Facebook page (facebook.com/NOWGenCHQ) or contact Megan Sorenson, staff liaison, at 716-357-6243 or msorenson@ciweb.org to sign up for the NOW Gen e-newsletter.

(Photo by Ruby Wallau.)