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Project Dinner Table founder wants to get people together

Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.

Gina Gavan can sound like a self-help guru at times.

“Life is about communication and showing up open-hearted and willing to trust,” she advises.

“We’re all connected,” she offers at another point in the conversation. “And we’re all one.”

Since coming to the valley in 2000, she’s applied those philosophies to a career in the private and public sectors, as well as the nonprofit world. Gavan’s company, Tribal Minds Marketing, has worked on projects at Strip hotels and in the Fremont East Entertainment District. She’s served on committees for several local nonprofits.

Since 2014, she’s been director of economic development for North Las Vegas, developing relationships with companies such as Amazon, Fanatics and Hyperloop One.

In the culinary world, Gavan is best known for creating Project Dinner Table. From 2010-14, the series regularly brought over 100 guests to a single massive table, usually in an outdoor venue, to enjoy a meal by top Las Vegas chefs and raise money for charity. On Sept. 29, Project Dinner Table will return, with an outdoor meal by chef Geno Bernardo at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Orchard in North Las Vegas. Part of the proceeds will benefit Green Our Planet’s work developing school gardens.

We spoke to Gavan about the series and her general thoughts on the valley.

Review-Journal: What brought you to Las Vegas?

Gina Gavan: I was married, and we moved here when Las Vegas was looking to be one of the suburbs of Silicon Valley and the dot-com world. We moved out here for my husband’s job. And then I stayed.

How did you get involved with local government?

I met the mayor (of North Las Vegas) at an event, and we were talking about community and business. At the time, they were trying to turn around the city, which was a couple of weeks away from receivership. I met his leadership team, and they had a position open. It seemed like a great challenge. I was really ready for something different. And I just thought, “I’m somewhat of a glutton for punishment, so let’s do this.”

What have you learned in government that surprised or intrigued you?

Government is all about people and relationships, and understanding what people care about. That was something that I didn’t quite expect because I’m so anti-bureaucracy and anti-government. What I realized is there are such incredible people who work in government, and how much they care about what they do. It may not seem like that sometimes because of the layers, but that’s probably why North Las Vegas is so magical.

Do you think North Las Vegas gets overlooked?

It’s totally overlooked. It’s really been a stepchild. But (we’re) just now getting people to realize that North Las Vegas isn’t what you necessarily believe it to be when you see it on the news. There are a lot of assets, and great parks and people, and some beautiful neighborhoods that are unexpected. Sometimes you gotta believe in the underdog.

How did you come up with Project Dinner Table?

It started in April of 2009, and it came out of sitting in these meetings and listening to people talk about how they disliked Las Vegas, and how it hadn’t been good to them. This was when everybody was losing their shirts — 2007, 2008, the spillover effect. I just didn’t agree. I was like, “I’ve met some incredible people here. I think that there’s a strong network of community.” That, coupled with my roots — being from Indiana, having cousins who were farmers, being into local food, and this lost art of gathering around the table and having conversations — I (thought) “What would happen if I just kind of combined all of these things together, giving people this sense of community around the table, let people talk and reconnect and fall in love with Las Vegas again?”

Do you think it was successful?

In the four-year gap since I’ve done the last dinner, people have reached out every week in some way or another — text, social media or phone calls – and said “When are you going to do this again? We miss this. This is how we connected with community.” I would have never anticipated the love people have for it. It’s very humbling.

The price tag for the comeback event is $220 a person, which not an inexpensive dinner. Do you worry that with that price, you’re limiting it to a small portion of the community?

I think that’s very valid. I’ve personally struggled with it, because I don’t want people to feel constrained. But the reality is, it’s quite an undertaking when you’re setting up in remote locations and building a kitchen outside. None of that is inexpensive. And then the charitable component, making sure we’re giving enough back so there’s some social impact with those dollars. So I just have to trust and believe that the people who are meant to be there will be there. And it doesn’t mean there can’t be a more simplified version that might make sense for more people.

How is community different now in Las Vegas versus 2009, and how does Project Dinner Table fit in ?

Adding sports into our lives (has had an impact). The Vegas Golden Knights have been incredible for our community, and I think the Raiders will find a place and (help) weave that thread of what community means. (Project Dinner Table) does stay pretty true to its roots: Get outside the four walls, come and meet strangers and leave as friends. Realize that we’re all connected and we’re all one, and nothing of great significance ever gets accomplished in a silo.

Getting to know: Gina Gavan

Everyday ritual

Each morning I pull Angel cards to set intentions for the day.

Favorite book

“Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman, for its insightful wisdom highlighted with humor.

Phobia

Closed-tube MRI machines. When you forget to close your eyes, it’s like being buried alive. Not awesome.

Favorite vacation destination

No specific destination, just travel in general. The adventure, perspective and inspiration that strike when traveling stirs the soul.

Food I could eat every day

Chocolate chip cookies and cheeseburgers

Last concert

I tool took my daughter to Elton John’s last concert, The Red Piano.

Piece of art that truly moved you.

Anything by Mark Rothko. His work simultaneously soothes and stimulates me.

Contact Al Mancini at amancini@review-journal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter.

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