Marti Awad, 41
Denver Health Foundation, Project PAVE, Denver Scholarship Foundation, Women’s Vision Foundation, The Lab at Belmar, Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

The unlikely combination of a shaky economy and a city filled with 20- to 40-somethings jazzed about contributing to the greater good is putting a new face on how money is raised for some of Denver’s charities.

The Young Professionals movement, which includes many of the sons and daughters of Denver’s longtime philanthropists, represents a changing of the guard, the first major leadership shift in 25 years. They want to do good works, but they also want to have fun, so their parties and causes don’t resemble the types of events their parents throw.

The new guard is also using social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to get their message out, and forgoing engraved invitations for quick, free alternatives such as Evites.

Sean McNicholas, 33
Boys Hope Girls Hope, Alzheimer’s Association, Mount St. Vincent Home, Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center, Kempe Children’s Foundation (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

“They’re young and they have no fear,” saysbranding expert Erin Yoshimura. “It’s amazing how they get an idea and just run with it. The smart charities, the ones that will really benefit from YP involvement, are the ones that will let them create something that is uniquely their own. It might not be an event that you or I would do, but the bottom line is that it works.”

Established charities recognize the contributions the new guard can make, both financially and in bringing new talent to organizations. “Everybody’s courting them because they can make a world of difference,” says Jim White, manager of community affairs for Volunteers of America.

For example, White says, at the recent Single in the City party that 5280 magazine did as a benefit for VOA, “We were hoping for 800 people, but advance ticket sales were slow. The night of, we were totally amazed when 1,700-plus showed up. We finally had to close the doors to everyone who arrived without a ticket in hand. ”

In some cases, the YPs are forming guilds that augment the work of established charities such as Girls Inc. Two years ago Cissie Megyesy, 31, a software-program manager, started the Girls Inc. Junior Alliance with two girlfriends, Katie Dark and May

Monica Owens, 26
Colorado Ballet, Volunteers of America (Western Fantasy), Kempe Children’s Foundation, Janet’s Camp, Denver Health, University of Denver Daniels College of Business (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Wilson.”We have the energy, time and drive to inject new life into things that have grown stale,” Megyesy says. The Junior Alliance has grown to 125 members, something Megyesy credits to the opportunities Girls Inc. has for hands-on involvement. “It’s tangible,” she says. “All of my friends like to see the difference they’re making.”

Members also like the networking and friend-making opportunities the Junior Alliance provides through monthly happy-hour socials at the restaurant nine75. “Most of us work, so meetings at 10 a.m. are not an option,” Megyesy says. “The Junior Alliance meets at 6 p.m. at a place we might be going to after work anyway.”

Volunteers of America discovered the power of YPs in 2007 when Monica Owens, the

Jim Guttau, 31
CultureHaus, National Kidney Foundation Great Chefs of the West, New Genesis, Beacon Center, Historic Denver (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

daughter of Frances Owens and former Gov. Bill Owens, rallied friends to take part in VOA’s signature fundraiser, Western Fantasy. Frances Owens was chairing the $300-a-ticket extravaganza and, at her daughter’s urging, got VOA to set aside a small number of half-price tickets for the YP crowd.The following year, Monica Owens and a group that included Brandis Becky Pelletier, Donna Crafton, Kasia Iwaniczko and Katie Behnke expanded VOA’s YP reach by organizing a Brandin’ Party at artist Duke Beardsley’s LoDo studio several months before Western Fantasy. “Everyone had such a good time that we wound up selling enough tickets to fill five tables of 10.”

At $150 a ticket, the Western Fantasy admission is steep by YP standards. Most YP

Veronica Montoya, 40
Highland United Neighbors Inc., North High School, Latina Initiative, Las Chicas, Denver Center for International Studies (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

functions top out at $50 a pop.No more cheese cubes

Jim Guttau, a 31-year-old public-relations firm owner involved with several YP groups, says, “If you want to get us in the door, you’ve got to speak loud on the venue — it’s gotta be someplace cool like EXDO, RedLine or a funky warehouse space — keep the ticket price at $50 or below, and have an open bar, imaginative food and good music so everyone feels they’re getting their money’s worth. The days of cheese cubes, olives and lame dance bands are over.”

Easier said than done? Not for well-connected YPs.

At an event to kick off YP support for the National Kidney Foundation’s Great Chefs of the West, Guttau and Anne Donley spent a grand total of $50 to

Anthony Graves, 32
Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods, Census Complete, We the People (judge for a high school constitutional scholars program) (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

give about 200 guests a night with abundant food and drink. “The 50 bucks went for really nice linens to put on the tables; everything else was donated,” Guttau said.”If you want a younger crowd, you’ve got to have a theme, a cool location and a reasonable price point,” says Sean McNicholas, who has helped get YP groups up and rolling for the Alzheimer’s Association, Mount St. Vincent Home, Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center, Kempe Children’s Foundation and Girls Hope Boys Hope.

The Kempe YPs, for example, have had functions at a local Ferrari dealership and poolside at the Watermark condominiums; the MS center YPs do an annual Drag Queen Bingo party at Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret; and the Alzheimer’s YP group hosts a New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge and a pancake breakfast in September as part of the association’s annual Memory Walk.

The YPs communicate using viral networking rather than mail or phones. “About the only thing we print are save-the-date cards,” Guttau says. “For everything else, we get the word out via Facebook or Evite. Printing is too expensive, and nobody reads their mail anyway.”

Mike Downey, Adrian Smith and Greg Preston Tyiir, partners in Lead Alliance Media/Music Group, estimate that they reach 100,000 potential ticket- buyers via e-mail, text messaging, and Facebook and My- Space pages they use to publicize and promote at area clubs, many of which involve charitable giving.

Their 10-week star search, “Almost Famous,” which began in January at Herman’s Hideaway, generates money for Dedicated to Diabetes, a charity begun by Kerry Kinnard, daughter of Junior Leaguer and time-management expert Melly Kinnard. A music showcase in May, Bands for Lands, benefits sustainability and natural-energy causes.

Some YPs, like Anthony Graves, 32, an international marketing manager for Sun Microsystems, and Annie Guo, president of Asian Avenue magazine, find their own causes, such as overcoming stereotypes, quality-of-life issues, neighborhood improvement and politics.

Guo, 23, works for Integer and is director of the Miss Asian American Colorado pageant that was started to dispel stereotypes about Asian women. She also directs Next Generation Voices, a student- run organization that is hosting RISE, a conference Saturday that will incorporate hip- hop music and spoken word to educate non-Asians about a variety of cultural issues.

The son of a veterinarian, Graves is a mentor to young people struggling to find their way. He also leads Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity’s holiday food drives, and last summer he got the members to donate interview-appropriate clothing for Denver Rescue Mission graduates ready to find a job.

Marti Awad, a vice president and private wealth adviser for Merrill Lynch, is the co-founder and chair of Denver Health Foundation’s Level One Society. In May, she will be among the honorees at the Denver Health Gala. She also brings fresh ideas to Project PAVE and the Denver Scholarship Foundation and Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce boards.

“I think the whole focus for YPs is to keep the overhead down and the fun quotient up,” says Veronica Montoya, a Realtor active with Highland United Neighbors Inc., North High School and the Denver Center for International Studies. “We want people to experience things they might not get to, or that they’ll want to support in a much bigger way once their careers are established and they make lots of money.”

Joanne Davidson: 303-809-1314 or