Free Your Space: Parade of Hearts

Guest: Jennifer Nussbeck | Season 9, Ep. 369

Jenn Nussbeck is the President of LeisLux, a philanthropy and event management agency. 

She served on numerous public charity boards as well as dedicated the last fifteen years to supporting organizations throughout the Kansas City communities,

Assisting those navigating the philanthropy and civic channels is not only her work, but her passion. 

Currently, Jenn serves as Parade of Hearts Co-Chair as well as serving on the Lee’s Summit Public Safety Board.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “I think in the bigger picture, it is just who Kansas City is. I think we are one of the best small, big cities. We are extremely philanthropic, and I think we have the true ownership of being called the Heartland.”

What You’ll Learn:

The inspiration behind the Kansas City Parade of Hearts and how to get involved.

This Episode Includes:

  • Jennifer shares that the original plan for the KC Parada of Hearts started at the University of Kansas Health System.
  • They soon realized that this idea was bigger than just the University and made a plan to include the entire community.
  • Jennifer attributes her desire for philanthropy to her parents. She says they instilled in her the value of giving back at an early age.
  • There are 154 hearts placed around the region, across two states, five counties, and 30 different cities.
  • The parade of hearts is a collaboration between community artists and city leaders.
  • Four organizations will benefit from the funds raised by the parade of hearts.
  • The parade of hearts will be on display till the end of May and the majority of hearts will be available for auction online and in-person during the month of June.

Takeaways From Today’s Episode:

  1. If you live in the KC area, try and go visit each of the 154 hearts on display.
  2. If you don’t live in the KC area, try and consider how you can inspire your community to do their own parade of hearts.

Mentioned In The Episode:

Click Here To View Written Transcript of Episode

Dr. Robin

Welcome back to Small Changes. Big shifts, building rhythm and resilience. I am so stinking excited about today’s show because I’ve been wanting to learn more, more about this.

If you’re not from the Kansas City area, dial in with a special ear because this would be something you might want to do for your own community today.

Joining me is Jennifer Nusssbeck. Jennifer is the President of Leslie Luxe, a philanthropy and event management agency. She’s served on numerous public charity boards as well as dedicated the last 15 years to supporting organizations throughout the Kansas City community. Assisting those in navigating the philanthropy and civic channels is not her only work, but her passion. Currently, Jen serves as the Parade of Hearts co-chair as well as serving on the Lee Summit Public Safety Board.

I reached out to Jen because I learned that she was one of the chairs for the Parade of Hearts and I’ve been wanting to learn more about them. So, Jen, welcome to Small Changes.


Oh, thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Robin

Tell me, how did the Parade of Hearts start?


It actually started pre-pandemic. This original plan was supposed to be for the University of Kansas Health System in supporting the program. And then the pandemic showed up and a small group of Kansas City leaders were having breakfast one morning. And they being the health system, brought this idea forward and said, I think this is bigger than just the health system.

What if we really bring this to the greater Kansas City region and also help those that are being impacted by the events? And at that time, this was the summer of 2020. And so that is where everything started. And we formed our board that summer and had been working on it since.

Dr. Robin

It is so much fun. There’s a heart right down the street from me at Meadowbrook Park, which is super exciting. I actually did a fun thing with my nephews and we went to see a few of the hearts to having a little adventure because they love adventures. So, around the seven days event as well, seven days walk. So, Jennifer, first of all, why are you who doesn’t love or Lance people tell me what really calls you in.


I think in a bigger picture, it is just who Kansas City is. I think we are one of the best small, big cities. We are extremely philanthropic, and I think we have the true ownership of being called the Heartland. I know other areas of the country might call themselves the heartland.

Good for them, but being in the center of the country really is a literal example of being in the heart of the country. And it just makes me so proud of how our communities can come together and support one another.

Dr. Robin

How about for you personally, what put that philanthrop, no pun intended philanthropy inside?


You know, I think there’s a couple of things. One, that is how our mom raised us for every challenge that we faced growing up. And she would remind us of those people helping, whether it was a small challenge or problem that we were facing as kids and into adulthood.

She would always ask us for retrospective of who is helping you along the way, both the positive and not so positive messages and lessons. And I think that through her, I have learned to be aware that there’s a lot of giving people out there.

And now I want to do the same thing. And I think as humans, we are better as individuals helping one another, which makes our communities more lively and stronger. So, yeah, I guess been instilled in me since I was little.

Dr. Robin

Well, it’s a great lesson for parents. Let’s go through the logistics of the Parade of Hearts and the different layers of it. So, there’s how many in Kansas City right now.


154 hearts as of today, April 20. We might have a very special heart coming to the region very soon.

Dr. Robin

Okay. I like it. How does it work? Is there an app? Are people going out and trying to find all the hearts, take pictures with them? What are some ways families and communities can engage around it?


It’s so exciting because with these 154 hearts, they are placed around the region. It is across two States, five counties and 30 different cities these hearts are placed in. And there’s a couple of ways that families or friends or coworkers can get together and enjoy them.

There is a mobile app everyone can download Parade of Hearts. We also have the navigational tools on our website, which is the And we also have the ability through social media and our website that people can print out maps if they would like. So it’s multiple ways.

As we all know, I’m technology challenged at times. And so we wanted to give people different tools. And when you get to a heart, every single one of them has a plaque and that identifies who the sponsor is, the artist, the heart name, but also a QR code that will guide them either to the mobile app or the website, whichever is their preference.

Dr. Robin

So how does somebody get a heart at their place of business?


Well, that was quite the project. So I’m going to start with what we did first and last summer, June of 2021, we did a public call for artists, and we were told, yeah, you guys might get 50 or 60 designs submitted. And we really wanted artists to be free in their designs. They take their inspiration, whether it was historically their cultures, whatever it may be, and submit their designs. We had 700 by September of 2021. And so the independent jury selection panel, pun intended a little bit, had to break some hearts because they had to take that number of 700 and bring it down to 154.

And everyone asked why such a specific odd number of 154, and that was how many hearts we had sponsored. And so from there, we then went to a separate committee that helped us identify locations around the region. With the exception of top-tier sponsors, no one got to choose their locations. We wanted to make sure we made a critical point of our mission, and that was to have hearts in under marketed areas, not just the usual suspects, as we say.

Of course we want hearts on the Plaza and of course, downtown, but we wanted to be able to spread the love throughout the region on both sides of the state line, and that’s how we got to where we are today.

Dr. Robin

Has there been any other community, you know of that’s done a parade of hearts?


The community in San Francisco did a heart public display, and the hearts look very different, and they did it through the pandemic. And I’m very grateful for that San Francisco group. They gave us some guidance on how we got to the fabrication of the heart and also identifying locations.

So as far as we know, we don’t know of any other hearts that have been out there. Of course, everyone where most of us in Kansas City are familiar with the Cow parade, the Teddy Bear parade. But as far as we know, we are the first to do these large heart installations.

Dr. Robin

Well, the heart is my favorite body organ, so it’s super fun to have you be putting the hearts around Kansas City and your team.


So when you think about what you’re hearing from the community, because the first part was launched when what date where we brought all the hearts together and did a private kick off celebration so that the sponsors could meet the artist and community leaders.

We had them all in one room down at the American Royal. And on March 5, we started installing the hearts, and it took us just under two weeks to get all 154 out and installed. So they’ve only been out on display just a month.

Dr. Robin

And you mentioned sponsor. So what happens with the money that you’re raising?


I am so proud of this. I’m not surprised, but I am in awe of the support that has come by the sponsorship pledges of community leaders and individuals. 72 sponsors helped get us to where we needed to be and getting it out for public display. Those 72 sponsors have pledged a combined $1.8 million for this project.

And I think it’s important just to mention we have merchandise that is helping our fundraising efforts that we have for sale on our website. And then the heart auction will be part of our revenue. And when this is all finished, there are four organizations that will benefit from this project.

And those four organizations are the University of Kansas Health System. They are going to use funds to purchase a machine helping those impacted by COVID long haulers, particularly on the heart alt cap.

 They will be making grants to our minority-owned businesses. Visit KC foundation will be making grants to our locally owned restaurant owners and hospitality companies, and sole proprietors and Mid America Regional Council.

They are typically known for government affairs, but what most don’t know is their impact and support that they can get money down to the child care deficiencies that have happened since the Pandemic. So those are the four organizations we will be supporting. The fifth is our arts community.

We gave a stipend to every artist that was selected to do a design. And so I’m very proud to say that we have put back into the arts community to each artist a total of $300,000 from this endeavor. So in five pillars of support that will come from this.

Dr. Robin

Wow, how exciting. That gives me chills. It is. I’m thinking I need one of those hearts at my office at your wellness connection. So how do I find out about getting in line to bid on one of the auction?


The hearts will be out on display through the end of May. We will begin collecting them the beginning of June. The majority of the hearts will be online and available for people to bid as they’re auctioned off. And we will have probably a handful that will be in a live auction on June 17 at our events in which people can be a part of that even if they can’t attend. So I would highly recommend Be on the Lookout on our website and social media channels Parade of Hearts for more information coming next month, we want to give everyone an opportunity to bid on their favorite heart, including you.

Dr. Robin

Well, I’m delighted. I’m excited to try to get to I’m not sure I’m going to get to 154 between now and end of May, but I’m going to sure do my best to actually get to more than I have already. So that is totally awesome. Jennifer, any closing words? I’m going to ask you a final question, but any other things that our audience know about the Parade of hearts, do they just go to


Yes. The They can learn about the artist, the hearts, the inspiration of the design. And I’ll leave a final note for everyone. As people have asked, why are certain hearts in certain areas? And we wanted to be perfectly imperfect.

So I’m going to use one example. There is a Soul Heart by Psych Style that pays homage to a jazz artist from KC K. That heart is placed out in Lee Summit. Most of Kansas City, Kansas know about this artist. What we want to do is also elevate education so that we can learn about one another’s communities.

And so when I say perfectly and imperfect, that is one reason why we put the hearts in nonspecific related to that design area, because we want people to visit other areas and learn about other communities. So, I hope that helps explain a little bit about why the placements are where they are.

Dr. Robin

Well, awesome. Instead of asking my normal last question, I’m going to change the question on you. Can you tell me a quick story of something that has happened for you during this last year and a half?


That’s an unexpected surprise of being involved in the parade of hearts. Oh, talk about goosebumps. I think that the overwhelming response that has come from so many, whether it’s civic leaders or even teenagers, has been the communication, especially on social media, that this was so needed.

They’re so proud to showcase hearts and be able to get out and visit with one another. I think it’s just something through a tough day. I will hop on there and read the comments. It’s brought a lot of joy and connecting our communities that have been disjointed for not just because of the pandemic, but a lot of things that we’ve gone through in the last 18 months and that has probably touched me the most.

Dr. Robin

Well, once again, I said it five times. I’ll say it one more time. I love it. It’s super exciting. Thank you for bringing it to Kansas City with your committee. I know it’s never just a one person show. So thank you very much and thanks for joining me on small changes big shift today.


Thank you for having me.


A huge thank you to our sponsors!


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