EDA grad’s outdoor cafe draws people to Civic Center Park

by Collin Lessing, JVA Consulting

“People make parks,” said Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, Executive Director of Civic Center Conservancy, as we sat at the Civic Center EATS Outdoor Cafe on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. We first met Lindy when she was a participant in the spring 2009 Executive Director Academy at JVA, and have followed her work spearheading this delicious and successful initiative to bring people into Civic Center Park.

“We need to give people reasons to enter the park and reclaim it for the vibrant space it is,” said Lindy. If you haven’t found a reason to visit Civic Center Park yet, now you have one.

The EATS Outdoor Cafe is a gathering of local food vendors that takes place in Civic Center Park every Tuesday afternoon, and will continue through the end of August. Beautifully painted lunch trucks serving everything from pulled pork sandwiches to gourmet cupcakes are on hand to meet your most unique lunchtime needs. The mood is friendly and colorful, with live music adding to the atmosphere.

As my JVA coworker Wendy Silveira-Steinway and I looked around at the number of people and high-quality vendors at the event, we couldn’t help but be impressed at just how well it had all come together.

Lindy Eichenbaum Lent at the Civic Center EATS Outdoor Cafe

According to Lindy, the event really began to grow when it was re-branded from the previous years’ farmer’s market to an outdoor cafe. Although farmer’s markets are popular events in the Denver community, people seem to be more likely to visit the park during the workday for a delicious and unique lunch experience than they were to purchase vegetables and bring them back to their office.

Lindy also attributes the popularity of the outdoor cafe to a balanced outreach approach. Civic Center Conservancy uses traditional paid and earned media, and has embraced social media as another way to get the word out. In the last year alone, the organization has watched its Facebook page grow to more than 1,000 fans. “Our social media has really taken off,” said Lindy. “It really helps with word-of-mouth.”

Civic Center Conservancy recently incorporated evaluation into their work—surveying attendees to find out how they can more effectively motivate people to visit the park. “Learning the importance of evaluation was something I took away from Executive Director Academy,” said Lindy.

Further reflecting on her experience in EDA, Lindy identified several parts of the course for new and learning executive directors that helped her be successful in her role. “The resource manual was the most valuable part for me,” said Lindy. “I still use it today.” Lindy also told us that EDA gave her the tools to go back to her board and make the case for expansion.

In a broader sense, Lindy found the nuts and bolts approach that EDA takes to be very valuable in her role as a new executive director. “This was my first nonprofit job. I had been involved with nonprofits, but never on staff,“ explained Lindy. Introducing participants to the vocabulary, background and areas like governance was very useful for Lindy as she transitioned into her new role in the nonprofit sector.

As we finished our interview, Lindy reminded us of one more important piece that she took away from EDA. “You must tie your programs to your mission. It may seem obvious, but you must be able to connect the dots.” Civic Center Conservancy’s mission is to help the City of Denver restore, enhance and activate Civic Center Park, and judging by the turnout at the EATS Outdoor Cafe, they’re doing a fine job. I know I’ll be back next week to try one of those gourmet cupcakes.

The next EDA begins on September 20. For the first time ever, JVA is condensing EDA into a one-week intensive consisting of five full-day sessions—giving those who live outside of the Denver area or those whose schedules can’t accommodate a seven-week course the chance take part. EDA will cover the topics that an executive director needs to know to be successful—management, governance, fundraising, finances, marketing, grant writing and evaluation. To learn more about EDA, click here.

The Civic Center EATS Outdoor Café will take place at Civic Center Park from 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m. each Tuesday through the end of August. For more details, visit Civic Center Park’s Facebook page.

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