As written in the Hyde Park Bulletin
The June 28, 2018
by Matt MacDonald, Staff Reporter
On June 13, Hyde Park Main Streets (HPMS) named Thien Simpson as its newest Executive Director, bringing an end to a search that had begun in earnest early this year after Emily Patrick vacated the position in late 2017. Simpson had been Hyde Park Main Streets’ program coordinator for the last 10 years, a Hyde Park resident for more than 20, and HPMS activist for nearly as long.
She had been serving as interim executive director while the search was ongoing and had been encouraged to apply for the job by the Board of Directors when it first became available. Simpson passed on this offer, citing a couple of different reasons: the fact that the program coordinator’s part-time hours enabled her to spend more time with her two teenage children, and her own uncertainty at taking on the responsibility of the position. “I didn’t know if I really wanted to take that on because at the end of the day, you’re responsible for everything. The buck stops with you,” she explained.
As the executive director search stretched on, Simpson settled into her interim responsibilities and realized that her new schedule was working out in terms of spending time with her children. She also came to the realization that she enjoyed the work, even though it involved longer, odder hours, “and just feeling more responsible for what you’re doing.” That being said, Simpson added that “it wasn’t a difficult transition and it wasn’t a huge learning curve.”
The executive director search was conducted over two rounds, with the first concluding when an offer had been extended to a candidate that was ultimately unaccepted. This marked a turning point for Simpson. “The moment that I knew that I wanted the job was when the Board had mentioned to me that they had made and offer. That’s when I realized, ‘Oh, now I have to be an assistant again and I’m going to miss being the face of Hyde Park,” she explained. Asked again to consider applying, she did, and went through a traditional application and interview process, after which she received an offer which she immediately accepted.
Though Simpson’s tenure officially began on Monday, June 18, she had been very much involved in moving plans forward that had already in place before Patrick’s departure. All of these plans come under a comprehensive strategy to determine how HPMS can more effectively assist businesses and residents through the entire community in relation to the Main Streets District, which covers the Cleary Square/Logan Square area.
With her new position, however, Simpson also has more freedom to decide what projects she would like to pursue, and shared some of her ideas, which include networking breakfasts in the vein of the monthly Board of Trade meetings and filing for different grants that might help to fulfill that strategic plan for the community. In that department, Simpson has wasted no time, applying – in partnership with Mattapan Main Streets – for a $50,000 “Connecting Communities Exploration” grant made available by the Boston Main Streets Foundation. She described her vision for the program. “Basically, it’s like a cultural journey between the two Main Streets,” she said, during which Hyde Park and Mattapan residents will board trolleys that will give each group the opportunity to visit the other’s neighborhood to sample restaurants, visits local landmarks, and learn about some of the neighborhood’s history. “Even though we’re next to each other, it doesn’t mean that we know much about each other,” she said. If successful, the program will happen on Saturday afternoons in the fall, and the grant money will be used not only to furnish the trolleys, but also to finance what happens at the destinations, “so instead of asking restaurants to donate their food or appetizers (as had been the case during the Main Streets Explorer program run during the Christmas season last year), we’re going to be able to pay them for it,” Simpson said.
As Simpson gets to know more of the executive directors from other neighborhoods’ Main Streets, she has still bigger plans: to run a trolley tour geared toward university students in downtown Boston and increasing their awareness of the many different neighborhoods of the city. “There are two parts to it: one is to let them know about the different neighborhoods, and two, as a selling point, is to try to keep them here after they graduate, so they stay as residents and help with the economy,” she said. This trolley tour, which would pass through a good portion of the city, would follow the same format as the Hyde Park-Mattapan idea, with the underlying goal to “just make them (the students) aware that there’s more to Boston than downtown Boston.” In both of these trolley tour examples, Simpson demonstrated her awareness of the balance between neighborhood and city necessary for her to maintain in order to succeed. “I’m basically reporting to two different bosses: my Board and Boston Main Streets. And sometimes you have to figure out priority wise which one is more important,” she said.
Simpson also spoke of her goal to increase resident membership. When asked of the benefits to joining, she mentioned events and special programming geared towards the enjoyment of the neighborhood, but also spoke of how the fee would go toward beautifying the Main Streets District and increasing the desirability of the neighborhood. Speaking of membership benefits, the former volunteer got at her philosophy toward Hyde Park Main Streets as a whole. “I think it’s not specifically, ‘Oh, hi. I’m going to do this for you (the resident member): I’m going to do this for our neighborhood.”
Visit Hyde Park Main Streets at hydeparkmainstreets.com or call 617-361-6964.