I am amazed, in awe, and inspired by the way many nonprofit leaders – many of whom are women – are leading their organizations through the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. So much so, that I’ve decided to do a special series about Badass Nonprofit and Small Business Executive Women who are living in the trenches, working to keep their nonprofit running, and doing critical work to continue to serve individuals and families during this crisis. I’m curious about their work and the people they’re serving, their biggest concerns, and how they are taking care of themselves and those around them. So I asked!

Linda Broadfoot, Director, Department of Parks and Recreation

Linda comes to her role as Director of Indy Parks naturally. She’s a born connector and self-proclaimed lover of all things Indianapolis. She joined Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration in February 2016 and is responsible for a team of nearly 120 people (up to more than 600 in the summer) who manage and maintain Indy’s 212 parks, 11,000 acres of green space and about 3,600 programs and events annually. Under her leadership – and with what she calls the most creative and dynamic team – Indy Parks has completely pivoted its focus in the wake of COVID-19.

Q. Who are you serving and how are you serving them during this crisis?

A. Like everyone else, when COVID-19 hit, our programming came to a screeching halt. On March 13, we shifted from being a full parks and recreation organization to almost exclusively a food service organization. Although we were already adept at serving after-school and summer meals to students across the city, we shifted our resources in an effort to serve adults, children, and families in need. In a matter of days, our team established new partnerships, leveraged existing relationships, and established new ways to serve and deliver meals to individuals and families. Additionally, Windsor Village Park, which already had an established food pantry, was able to continue serving the community with a drive-thru opportunity for families to pick up boxes filled with food.

We continue to serve people at our parks and green spaces, but we are working diligently and strategically to ensure people are using Indy Parks spaces safely. As the weather is getting nicer, people are using the parks more and feeling a need to connect with nature. The attendance at parks has been astronomical. While we are thrilled people are recognizing the value of green space, we need to ensure people are using the space responsibly, practicing social distancing, and obeying the rules. We’re doing what we’re doing to keep people safe. 

Summer 2020 will definitely look different for Indy Parks – we are just not sure what that means yet. We want to continue to provide service and care for the people that need it most but be mindful in the way that is being done.

Q.  Have you added, changed, or deleted any services because of COVID-19?

A.  We had to close all of our facilities that aren’t open spaces, such as dog parks, sports courts and fields, family centers, and playgrounds. We’ve cancelled events and programs through May 15 and had to cancel our rentals. Pack the Parks won’t happen this year and that’s really heartbreaking because it’s one of our signature events – and one of my favorites.

On the flip side, our team has been producing incredible digital content and educational videos, as well as hosting online events. It’s remarkable to see how people are getting creative and engaged in online learning. I would encourage everyone to follow us on our various social media channels and experience Indy Parks that way, if they haven’t already.

Q.  What are your biggest concerns right now?

A.  I’m most concerned about striking the balance between offering services and amenities but doing it in a way that feels safe and secure for visitors and my team. Park staff are also on the front line and I want to make sure they feel safe and are safe. I’m also concerned about the partnerships with community leaders we’ve fostered over time. I miss them and want to make sure they continue to feel connected with Indy Parks.

Q.  How are you taking care of yourself, your staff, and your clients?

A.  For me, it helps to have a supportive husband who has been taking the lead on lunch and dinner, as well as being there for me 24/7. For my team, I’m proud that we’ve been able to keep everyone employed and engaged. We are doing everything we can to make sure staff are valued, that we listen to their concerns, and that they know we are there for them. We are also giving everyone a lot more grace and understanding that everyone is feeling a lot of emotions, so we’re supporting them as we all deal with this crisis. As for our clients, we are just doing everything we can to keep everyone safe.

My greatest joy is celebrating my team. I enjoy sending handwritten notes to them. I also use my own networks to celebrate and lift up the work of the Parks team.

Q.  What is your biggest need right now and how can people support your organization?

A.  Please come out and visit a park – but do it responsibly. We are encouraging people to pick a park off the beaten path and visit at a different time to avoid crowds. With more than 200 parks, there are plenty of options. I would also encourage people to donate to the Indianapolis Parks Foundation or choose a specific park they love to support. And finally, get involved and plugged into Indy Parks. Stay connected with us.

Q.  What are you reading, watching, listening to, or doing to get through this?

A.  I’ve been working out with my favorite NIFS instructor online. My husband and I are watching Community on Netflix, which is something light and helps us keep our minds off of everything going on around us. I just finished reading A Gentleman in Moscow, which was a beautiful story.

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