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The power brokers of tomorrow?

Elite OC's 'schmoozer' events combine networking and charitable giving with youthful exuberance.

February 21, 2014|By Emily Foxhall
  • A room full of young professionals chat and exchange business cards during the Elite OC "schmoozer" event at Canaletto restaurant at Fashion Island on Thursday.
A room full of young professionals chat and exchange business… (Don Leach, Daily…)

On the third Thursday night of most months, a select Orange County venue fills with an array of people in heels, loafers, dresses and suits.

It's called a "schmoozer," and the attendees arrive prepared to network, handing over a donation to the designated local charity as the price of entering the throng.

Although similar to the society events one might find elsewhere in the county's wealthy coastal towns, the mixers have a twist. They target high-caliber young professionals.

"You don't have to wait until you're 40 or 50 years old to start being charitable," said Stacey Kaszton, 30, a board member and vice president for the host group, Elite OC.

At other charity events, one might wonder if he or she is the youngest in the room. Here one can talk about a viral video and know people will get the joke, said Kaszton, who works in marketing.

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Founded in the fall of 2010, Elite OC hoped to fill a void for charity and business networking in a comfortable and social atmosphere for young adults.

Anyone can attend the functions, but an application process exists for aspiring members, who gain entry to member-only events, serve as ambassadors for the group and receive discounted tickets for the Elite OC's annual boat cruise and golf tournament.

A Gold membership costs $50 per year, while a Platinum membership costs $100 per year for slightly different benefits.

"If there's somebody that's here just for trying to take advantage of meeting people, we don't want that person in the group," Chris Trudeau, Elite OC president and chairman of the board, said after shaking hands with a woman employed at Pimco and a woman who works at Wells Fargo, both of whom promised one day to join the Elite OC board.

Trudeau, 32, works at Bowermaster and Associates as an insurance advisor. He replaced outgoing chairman and founder Joe Stapleton, 29, a financial advisor running for Newport Beach City Council.

The group hosted its first schmoozer in September 2010 with 65 people in attendance, Stapleton said.

More than three years later, hundreds showed up for the January gathering.

"Just that buzz, it's rewarding," Stapleton said as he walked into the crowded ballroom at The Pacific Club, a private social club in Newport Beach that hosted January's schmoozer. "There's so many young professionals that could be at a bar, that could be elsewhere."

And yet there they stood, holding glasses of wine while they chatted in small groups or pairs. They extended handshakes and offered business cards.

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