To kick off our Q&A series with Indy's civic superstars, we shine the spotlight on the Indianapolis Parks Foundation's new executive director, Tanya Husain. And though we didn't go so far as to channel Barbara Walters and ask, "What kind of tree would you be?"-- we did ask her about her favorite park.
A little background on Tanya: she was selected the president of the Indianapolis Parks Foundation in July 2012. With more than 15 years experience in nonprofit leadership and fund development, she's achieved significant fundraising goals throughout her career, most recently at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Tanya is married and enjoys spending time with her husband and three children.
Pivot: How will your nonprofit background influence your work at the Indianapolis Parks Foundation? What experiences do you bring from your time with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, American Cancer Society, and Butler University?
Tanya Husain: I’ve been fortunate to work for best-in-class organizations. Each one was unique with its own signature fundraising activities. My past fundraising successes taught me what works, and it’s different for each organization.
As the Associate VP of University Relations for Butler University, I led the “Butler Rising” $125 million, five-year comprehensive campaign that focused on major gifts and grants. At the American Cancer Society, our efforts were largely event-based through Relay for Life; and, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation thrived through staff leadership. All of these experiences will help me do well here.
P: What is your vision for parks in Indianapolis?
TH: Parks enhance the cultural, educational, and recreational life of our city. The foundation exists to financially support the department of parks and recreation. We respect the vision of our parks leaders, but we have a role in helping to shape that.
Since I’ve just started in my role as executive director, I would not say that my vision for our future is fully shaped yet. At this point, I am collecting data, observing our parks in action, and conversing with park users, donors, and corporate citizens.
Here at home, I find inspiration from ambitious efforts like the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. I am also looking outside Indianapolis to innovative parks projects in cities like Cincinnati and Chicago.
I’m particularly interested in Cincinnati’s urban destination park concept. They’ve renovated Washington Park in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, turning it into a regional tourist attraction with live jazz, bluegrass, movies in the park, fun for kids, and a dog park.
The Hockey City Classic WinterFest in Chicago is another great example. Soldier Field, the Chicago Park District, and the Chicago Sports Commission have teamed up to offer two weeks of free public ice skating and hockey events for youth and adults that culminates with a collegiate hockey tournament.
P: What was your neighborhood park growing up? How did it impact your life?
TH: I’m a city gal from Chicago. As a child, we didn’t have much money, and parks were a very inexpensive way to have fun as a family. The little park in our neighborhood was called Oglesby. I could walk there by myself, and it was right down the street. Sometimes as a special treat, my parents would take us out to Grant Park (now Millenium Park) where we could stay up late and watch as they turned on Buckingham Fountain. In the city I think we crave open space. I know I do.
P: What do you do in the parks today?
TH: My husband and I have always loved to hike together. Early on it was a great date, now we hike with our three kids. We feel like we’re on vacation. It’s an adventure. Eagle Creek is our favorite for the trails. My kids go to the Orchard School so Holliday Park is like their backyard and science lab all rolled into one.
P: How will your personal passion benefit the Indianapolis Parks Foundation?
TH: You can transform with fundraising. Our parks system does not rank well in national lists — based on factors like accessibility and investments. We want to change this. Our parks are for everyone; they benefit citizens of all ages, incomes, education levels, you name it. Our support of parks translates into support of our home values into support of hands-on education into support of healthy lifestyles. This is what I love.
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