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Cydra Wingerter: Inspired Leadership Dedicated to Lafayette’s Future

Nov 08, 2016 02:39PM ● Published by Marisa Olson

To those who have not met Cydra Wingerter, her rapid ascent as a community activist and leader may seem unexpected, even meteoric. In 2007, when she interviewed at the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce for a position as aide to then president Rob Guidry, he secretly confided to a Chamber colleague: “She was nowhere on my radar. I’d never heard of her.”  

Her next five years at the Chamber and its sister organization, the Leadership Institute of Acadiana, would prove pivotal, not only in terms of her own professional growth, but also for the community leaders who found her inspirational. Through her impassioned advocacy on behalf of Lafayette and its people, Wingerter has garnered the hard-won trust, loyalty and respect of high-ranking city officials and civic leadership. Recently, her contributions were celebrated when she was named a recipient of Lafayette’s 20 Under 40 Leadership Award.

A Plan for Lafayette

Since 2015, the mother of two has served as Chief Communications Officer for Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government (LCG). As media relations liaison, Wingerter oversees press activity, advises Mayor-President Joel Robideaux on the city's overall communications strategy, and is responsible for disseminating city-parish government news and information throughout the community.

She therefore plays a key role in the promotion of its major initiatives, such as PlanLafayette, the comprehensive, long-term blueprint for area growth and development. Plan goals include revitalization campaigns, and preservation and beautification projects such as Project Front Yard.

Although PlanLafayette was prepared under the guidance of professional planners, the public contributed heavily to its concept and development, making it a true community plan. However, engaging the larger community, raising plan awareness and participation, will be crucial to its success, a task that partly befalls Wingerter.

Wingerter has proven equal to the challenge and rallied community support to the cause: “It’s up to all of us to make Lafayette beautiful for ourselves and future generations. We are all responsible for and in charge of our future. This is less about the investment of money than the investment of pride.”  

Lafayette The Beautiful

Wingerter speaks passionately about LCG’s commitment to urban renewal and beautification projects through its initiatives, Project Front Yard, Embrace This Space, and its funding of public art, such as the giant mural painted earlier this year on the City Hall building by Lafayette’s own Robert Dafford.

She explains: “We also are dedicated to the preservation of green spaces, such as the Moncus Park at the Horse Farm, to keep Lafayette beautiful for generations to come. Beautiful, clean, green spaces fuel economic growth by attracting businesses to our community. They also keep our people from leaving by fostering local pride. Acadiana is unique: its festivals, culture and joi de vivre. It’s our people who make it great.”

Murals, parks, and cleanup projects highlight not only the natural beauty of Acadiana, but reflect the beauty of its people, Wingerter stressed.

I Knew This Place Was Special  

In 1996, the vibrant Oklahoma native sunk roots into Lafayette when she moved to attend the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL). From the moment she arrived, Cydra Shepherd felt a powerful sense of connection to Acadiana and its people: “I immediately felt at home. Never like an outsider. I knew this place was special.”

In 1999, she met Troy Wingerter, a Metairie native and UL graduate assistant for the football program. In 2001, they married. Today, Troy is Director of UL Football Operations. Cydra quips: “We met during ‘Two-a-Days,’ so I knew when I married him I was going to be a football widow!”

For two decades, the Wingerters have embraced Lafayette as home. They not only intend to remain for the rest of their lives, but for their children and future generations to maintain those roots and become community leaders as well.

“She Had It All Together”

Back in 2007, Wingerter had a successful career in restaurant hospitality, and was managing a Lafayette hotspot when she met Gary Keller, then Chief Administrative Officer with the Schumacher Group, and member of the board of directors with the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. A frequent patron, he became well acquainted with Wingerter. Without realizing it, she had impressed the seasoned and discerning executive. He describes his impressions:

I’ve been hiring and firing people all my life, and have good instincts about people. For several years, I observed Cydra’s dynamic with her subordinates and the public. She is an effective, energetic leader. She has never met a stranger, a unique skills set, which is natural, not coachable. She has it all together.

When a position became available at the Lafayette Chamber, Keller told then president, Rob Guidry: “I’ve got the person for you.” Although Guidry had never heard of Cydra Wingerter, he trusted Keller’s instincts and agreed to an interview. Wingerter looks back on that meeting:

I truly love Lafayette, and knew this was my chance to become more involved. I wanted to be an ambassador to the community. I immediately grasped the parallels between my background in hospitality and the position at the Chamber, and explained how my duties and successes in the restaurant business translated . . .

After hiring Wingerter, Guidry thanked Keller for the recommendation. Wingerter also remains extremely grateful for the opportunity that Keller provided, and still places a high premium on his guidance: “He saw something in me that I couldn’t. I always appreciate his counsel. I trust him to tell me what I need to hear, not what I want.”

Making a Real Difference 

During her years at the Chamber and its Leadership Institute, Wingerter served as vice president of operations. At Leadership, she served as Chamber liaison and chief administrator, running its Leadership Lafayette program. There, she forged crucial alliances with city officials, local business owners, and leaders in the non-profit sector, familiarizing with their roles and missions in the community.

She developed a particular affinity for the mission of the United Way of Acadiana (UWA), a non-profit that seeks to “unite people and organizations with passion, expertise and resources to create more opportunities for a better life.” UWA supports community literacy initiatives for young children to raise educational standards and graduation rates, thereby contributing to Lafayette’s long-term economic viability.

“I saw them making a real difference,” Wingerter says. “They were achieving significant outcomes and helping to break the cycle of poverty. I was inspired by their successes in creating genuine opportunity for our children.” 

While administering the Leadership Lafayette program, Wingerter collaborated closely with Sarah Berthelot, then UWA’s Chief Operating Officer: “Sarah is a wonderfully kind and giving person who makes a difference for the common good in this community.” When Berthelot told Wingerter about an opening with UWA, Wingerter seized the moment: “As a mother, and as someone who embraces this community, I had to be a part of it. I had to take that opportunity.”

A Passion for Child Literacy

For over two years, Wingerter served as UWA’s director of resources development, spearheading its fundraising efforts. Berthelot reminisces about their time as coworkers: “I had a recruiting objective when I told Cydra about the job opening. I knew she would excel in that environment. Her passion for the community was clear. Our work was so demanding that only those who truly love the organization and its mission will stay.”

Although Wingerter has since moved on to work with LCG, she remains highly active with UWA and loyal to its mission, serving on it Women’s Leadership Council and executive committee, whose focus is preparing at-risk children to enter school ready to learn.

Joey Durel

In February 2015, Wingerter accepted a position at LCG working for then Mayor-President Joey Durel. It was the last year of his last term in office. Coming on board at that late hour was a gamble, because his successor could replace her. Consequently, many friends and family members urged her against accepting the appointment.

Wingerter’s instincts said otherwise: “Everyone thought I was crazy, but I knew working with Durel for even one year would be worth it. I couldn’t bypass an opportunity to help grow this community. Whatever happened, I knew things would work out. And they did.” Now, Wingerter has the experience of working for two mayor-president administrations, and during some of the city’s most serious challenges, such as the historic flooding that devastated the region last August:

During crisis, this community pulls together in very moving ways. Witnessing their heroism was powerful . . . I see great things in our future. I find so much hope and inspiration when I consider our unique opportunities and potential. It makes me want to work that much harder to get everyone on board to bring about the transformation.

To learn more about the City of Lafayette’s beautification projects and to get involved:

For Residents: Project Front Yard and The Rain Barrel Public Art Project

http://www.lafayettela.gov/Presidents/Pages/Project-Front-Yard-Get-Involved.aspx

For Acadiana Businesses: Embrace This Space

http://www.lafayettela.gov/presidents/pages/project-frontyard.aspx

About Moncus Park at the Horse Farm

https://www.lafayettecentralpark.org/enjoy-park

The Public Art of International Muralist, Robert Dafford
https://www.facebook.com/daffordmurals/

Photos by: Penny Moore - Moore Photography 

To read more Cover Stories from Face Magazine click the following link:

Etienna Wright: - Aug 01, 2016 01:54PM

Melissa Bonin - Jun 29, 2016 02:20PM

Acadiana Life, Arts+Entertainment, Lifestyle Face Magazine Lafayette Moncus Park at the Horse Farm Cydra Wingerter Lafayette Consolidated Government Project Front Yard

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