Group behind 757 masks on a mission to keep young talent, promote Hampton Roads region

Posted at 7:48 AM, Aug 25, 2021

Are you proud to live in Hampton Roads? Do you plan to stay here? There's a region-wide effort to get more people answering 'yes' to those questions.

757 Proud was formed at the end of 2019 following the result of the Hampton Roads Chamber and Reinvent Hampton Roads' Envision 2020 initiative that found 'The 757' as the name that resonates the most with all 17 Hampton Roads communities.

It's one step in changing the area's marketing strategy from promoting individual communities to pushing the region as a whole.

Nearly two years in, 757 Proud, made up of and generally aimed at young professionals, is now a 501c3 nonprofit and in the middle of several initiatives to help promote the area as a whole.

"I know people in Virginia Beach who refuse to drive to Downtown Norfolk at night and enjoy themselves because of old perceptions," said Grayson Orsini, president of 757 Proud, or 'Old Salt' as others in the organization refer to him. "That's all changed and it's up to 757 Proud to showcase all of that."

Orsini is an attorney who graduated from Cox High School and William & Mary. He's chosen to build his life in the Hampton Roads region at a time when he says many of his peers have moved somewhere else.

"This region suffers from a lot of 'brain drain' from young professionals in this area because of either a real or perceived idea that other areas offer things better to young professionals. We see people leaving to D.C. or Richmond," he said.

Part of the plan to reverse the trend is building pride in 'The 757.'

An early project included creating protective masks with "757" on the front, but the group isn't stopping there.

757 Proud is currently in the middle of an initiative called Humansof757, an effort to showcase the people of the region, which runs from as far north as Williamsburg and Surry County to the North Carolina border, from Southampton County to the Atlantic Ocean.

With 11 colleges and universities along with numerous military bases creating a high-transient population, 757 Proud's Special Projects "Czar" Destini Harrell says there's a lot of potential for growth.

"We've so often looked at that as a challenge, like, 'Oh my gosh, everyone's leaving and moving,'" she said. "There's really an opportunity there if we look at it that way. We have different minds and we have different perspectives coming in all the time."

Now the goal is keeping them here.

Orsini says he'd like to see not only businesses and activities geared more often to a younger crowd, but region-wide initiatives including those involving transportation and sea-level rise mitigation.

For now, 757 Proud is doing what it can to promote Hampton Roads. An online quiz game called "757 Did You Know?" lets people answer trivia questions with monthly prize giveaways.

"They have an opportunity to win a staycation in The 757," said Alisa Crider, Secretary a.k.a "Organizer of All Things" with 757 Proud. "The last winner just won a stay at the historic Cavalier (Hotel) in Virginia Beach and a $100 gift card to Becca restaurant."

A prize worth hundreds of dollars, all for answering a few questions.

But for 757 Proud, the prize of building a regional community is worth so much more.

"I just think our assets are incredible and our workforce is incredible and it's only getting better," Crider said.

757 Proud is currently looking for more members and to fill spaces on its board. Click HERE for more information.