Mayor appoints Nguyen, Perez to the Parks and Recreation Board

Abby Hoover
Managing Editor


The Kansas City, Mo. Parks and Recreation Department Board of Commissioners has two new members, Mayor Quinton Lucas announced last Friday.


Jackie Nguyen and Alejandra Perez have been appointed by the Mayor to replace Commissioners Chris Goode and David Mecklenburg, who have departed, according to the Park Department.


“I’m very excited, I have appointed a lot of people to boards and commissions, but one of our goals has been to see more women on boards and commissions – more Latinas, more Asian American women, more people who represent even more facets of our community – because in Kansas City, I think we have a wonderful city, but we can’t have a truly great city unless everybody’s voice is represented,” Lucas said. “I love these two women because of their voices, not just for the communities they’re from, but for so many others.”


Nguyen is the owner of Cafe Ca Phe, a coffee truck that will soon make a permanent home in Columbus Park. She is a first generation Vietnamese American, and is the daughter of a refugee. Nguyen was born and raised in San Diego, Cali., and after graduating California State University, Fullerton with a BFA in Musical Theatre, she moved to New York City to pursue a career on Broadway.


After 10 years of being a New Yorker, 10 International and National Broadway tours, she decided to take a career pivot, relocate to Kansas City, and pour her heart into Cafe Cà Phê. After 8 years of being a barista, a trip to Vietnam last year, and a yearning for entrepreneurship, the idea of a Vietnamese coffee shop was born.


Lucas announced the new Commissioners in front of Cà Phê’s pop-up shop on the Westside. He said Nguyen will help elevate the Parks Department’s relationships with small business, entrepreneurs, all communities and everyone who, for too long, has been overlooked.


Perez serves as the Scholarship Director at the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund. Prior to joining this organization, she served as an academic advisor for seven years at various local community colleges and public universities.


She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and is a first-generation college graduate. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Multidisciplinary Studies from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and holds a Master of Arts in Educational Administration from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Perez has been a resident of Kansas City for 14 years, and calls the Northland home.


“I am particularly excited about Alex’s readiness to jump into the Parks Department’s Life X initiatives, which provide free community center memberships to a number of folks in our community, and the new Quality of Life Investment District… to help combat inequity within our Parks system,” Lucas said. “This is one of my priorities as mayor, so I look forward to working with you on that.”


As a Commissioner, Lucas said Perez will help to engage all residents, especially students from the local high schools and colleges throughout our community, to ensure they have the resources to enhance the lives of their families, and really to help address the root causes of violent crime and poverty in the community.


“When we were looking at some openings on the Parks Board, I recognized that this was a chance for us – with one of Kansas City’s greatest classic boards, right? Running the boulevard system, the current system, all of that – that we could make a difference,” Lucas said. “And that we could truly represent people, and I think this really will make a difference. So I look forward to having long, enjoyable tenures, and more than anything, I look forward to making a huge difference in Kansas City… When I think about what Kansas City looks like to me, it’s y’all. Iit gets us beyond that which we’ve always been used to, and so I think you both are mentors, not just young women in our community, but everybody who stepped up, had a dream, is making a difference.”


When Perez first got the call, her plate was already full and she was hesitant. But after speaking with her mentors, she realized the opportunity she had for her community to see someone who looks like them on the board and also being an educator.


“I’ve seen the different neighborhoods,” Perez said. ‘They are very well equipped in some areas, and in other areas we really could do better, so I really look forward to getting ideas from my students that I see everyday, from the elderly that I work with everyday, too. A lot of our students do live with their grandparents, with their aunties, with their uncles, and they don’t even know there’s resources that we have access to. Growing up, the community centers were where you could find that. We didn’t have the funds to be in ballet or piano lessons, so within the rec centers we took classes after school, Christmas parades and whatnot.”


Perez feels honored to serve Kansas Citians and said she’ll do her best to represent in the work that is important for the city she loves.


“I’m going to answer the call to serve our community,” Perez said. “I look forward to getting a lot done with Jackie and the board.”


“I’m just so excited, I’ve only been here for a year and the impact that my coffee shop has made has just been so amazing,” Nguyen said. “Part of the reason why I started Cafe Ca Phe was to amplify marginalized communities, and me being part of that – you know, I’m a first-generation, I’m a woman of color, my mom is a refugee – I feel like this role is going to really help my goal and my coffee shop’s goal of helping the queer community, the women community, Black-owned businesses, that’s what we specialize in.”


Nguyen feels like her mission, as an entrepreneur and as a citizen of Kansas City, is greater than coffee, and she’s excited to represent the people in a different way and shake things up a little bit.


“If you ask me to be part of something, change will happen, so I’m really excited for that and I really am so grateful for this opportunity because – I don’t know – we’re women of color and we don’t get opportunities like this often and so I’m very grateful to Kansas City.”


The Park Department has also found a new director. On Thursday, Oct. 14, Kansas City Park Board President Jack Holland announced the hiring of Chris Cotten as the new KC Parks director. The Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners met on October 11 and voted unanimously to hire Mr. Cotten, following a national search process carried out by the Board of Commissioners.


“We believe Chris Cotten will be an excellent leader for KC Parks operations, given his deep experience and skills developed while running parks systems in four other cities,” said KC Parks Board President Jack Holland.


Cotten is a park professional with over three decades of experience. He previously worked with KC Parks managing the Brush Creek Community Center. Cotten comes to the City of Kansas City, Mo., Parks and Recreation Department from Salina, Kan., where he served as the director since 2016.


Kansas City’s parks system has 221 parks, 10 community centers and 48 fountains, among other amenities. KC Parks has recently created innovative initiatives such as the Quality of Life Investment District to bring more equity to the parks system.


Cotten’s background includes sports management and parks and recreation operations, including 16 years of experience as director in the cities of Salina, Kan., Normal, Ill., Joplin and Harrisonville, Mo.


He oversaw the implementation of Salina’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan for future development of its system, including major improvements to Salina’s athletic fields complex and redevelopment of a soccer facility. He oversaw the construction and opening of the Salina Fieldhouse, which is a 68,500 square foot athletic facility and flagship of Salina’s Downtown Redevelopment Project. This facility has generated over $6 million in economic impact for the community.


Cotten was Joplin’s Parks Director when the 2011 tornado destroyed 35% of the city. He was tasked with rebuilding Joplin’s parks and an aquatic center.
He received his bachelor’s degree in Secondary & Physical Education from Drury University and a Master of Physical Education with an emphasis in Sport and Leisure Management. He is also a Certified Parks and Recreation Professional.


The Board of Commissioners voted at its June 22 meeting to appoint Deputy Director Roosevelt Lyons as the Interim KC Parks Director to fill the position during a national search after former Director Terry Rynard retired July 6.

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