Patch sat down with Ana Lopez van Balen earlier this week to discuss her goals for the new year.
“I want to build Wheaton pride,” the director of the Mid-County Regional Services Center said. How does she want to do this? By promoting events, by working with small businesses, by focusing on redevelopment and revitalization, and by renewing interest in Wheaton as an Arts & Entertainment District.
“Yes, we’re an Arts & Entertainment District,” she said. “But there’s nothing really going on right now.”
However, van Balen sees Wheaton’s collection of small, ethnic restaurants as one of the community’s greatest assets--and something to build on.
The D.C. chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier, which organized a culinary walking tour of Wheaton in mid-November, would surely agree.
Van Balen said she has had two conversations with the Arts & Humanities Council, but so far everything is in preliminary stages.
“It’s going to be dependent on the artist community,” she said. “We’re not going to build an AFI like in Silver Spring, but a big part of it is attracting people to come to Wheaton.”
When Patch asked her in October about the biggest challenge she faces, van Balen responded, “That it’s just me right now,” referring to the cuts in the center’s one-time staff of eight people.
And she’s not just responsible for Wheaton; the mid-county area stretches as far north as the Howard County line. The Beltway forms the southern border, with Rock Creek to the west. And on the east, there’s Sligo Creek Parkway to Dennis Avenue to the Northwest Branch Creek, and finally north to Ednor Road.
One of her goals moving forward, she said, is to “change the perception of Wheaton.” Van Balen talked about the kidnappings in late November at Wheaton Plaza and the heavy media coverage for the crimes. In the community, she hears an increasing fear that Wheaton is repeatedly painted as a negative place--and that some residents write Silver Spring instead of Wheaton as their mailing address because of these negative associations.
“I hear it all the time, and it’s unfortunate,” she said.
Another goal for 2012 is to increase the Latino representation on the mid-county boards and commissions. In fact, van Balen noted a current opening on the Mid-County Citizens Advisory Board.
Van Balen hopes to pull down the real and perceived barriers for underrepresented groups in Wheaton to engage in the community. She will be co-teaching a civic engagement class starting in February, of probably about 15 advanced English learners at the Gilchrist Center, which focuses on reaching immigrants in Montgomery County.
Youth issues are also close to her heart, and she wants to revitalize the Youth Advisory Committee for Mid-County. She said that her office has been communicating with several organizations that reach young people, such as Arts on the Block.