The Mid-County Service Center in Wheaton is the principal liaison between the county and businesses, communities and neighborhood organizations in the county's middle area. Patch sat down with Ana Lopez van Balen, who is taking over the center’s leadership from former director Natalie Cantor, who retired in June after 16 years.
Prior to taking her current position, van Balen was executive director of Community Bridges, a leadership and empowerment organization for low-income girls. She has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work, and a bachelor's from Vanderbilt University in human & organizational development.
Patch: If a citizen walks through the door at the mid-county center looking for help, what can you do for them?
Ana Lopez van Balen: We want to connect them to the right people or the right resource. We might not be directly providing that service (that they're looking for). At a minimum, that's what citizens can expect. That's something I want to ensure continues. As it pertains to the community, I certainly want to know both the strengths and the challenges. They have a representative (of the county executive) in their local community that's there to listen, to help.
Patch: As you settle into this position, are you looking forward to it?
A.v.B: Absolutely. One of the things that attracted me to the position was that I could continue my involvement with the community.
Patch: What is the biggest goal for Wheaton right now?
A.v.B: In general, it's the full development of this community. I think someone said it best - the revitalization is economic, environmental, social and physical. That is very much what I'm interested in.
Patch: What's the biggest challenge you face?
A.v.B: That it's just me right now (down from a one-time staff of eight.) And yet in some ways, what that does is it encourages me to reach out to groups and to the community. I need their help to make this (revitalization) a reality. This is going to encourage us that much more to say, ‘We need you to step up. We need you to get involved. We need you to provide resources, including manpower, to make this a reality.'
Patch: What's the biggest challenge Wheaton faces?
A.v.B: Finding commonalities. We need to unite this community as the community changes. That will require work - and not just with neighborhood associations, all the different sectors. How are we all working together, building bridges across each other so we can strengthen what's here?