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FairfaxNew MCC head aims to 'learn as much as I possibly can'

New MCC head aims to ‘learn as much as I possibly can’

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Two weeks into her new job as the McLean Community Center’s executive director, Betsy May-Salazar has been heartened by the welcoming she has received and eager to soak up the scene before charting a course of action.

“My intention definitely is to come in and learn as much as I possibly can about the community center from the staff, the board and community members and really get a sense of pulse of the community and what people are looking for,” May-Salazar said.

“It’s definitely too soon to talk about any changes,” she said. “I’m not coming in the door with any priorities where I want to go in a different direction.”

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May-Salazar on Jan. 3 succeeded acting executive director Evan Braff, who had served following the resignation last July of Daniel Singh.

Her central objective for the next few months will be to review and help finalize the center’s strategic plan. Center officials finished a draft of the plan last June, but because of Singh’s departure decided to pause and let the new executive director review it and give her perspectives.

The draft plan’s goals call for the center to be visible and welcoming, invite discovery, showcase excellence and model sustainability.

“It’s pretty strong,” she said of the document. “It’s a breadth of programming strengthening [and] focusing on making sure that we’re a warm, inclusive space.”

May-Salazar also must start gearing up for the center’s 50th anniversary in 2025.

“I just think having that plan in place will be such a great springboard as we go into that anniversary year and beyond,” she said.

May-Salazar and her family have lived in McLean for 22 years. Her children were “strongly anchored” in McLean Community Center’s summer camps every year they were eligible and took advantage of programs at the Old Firehouse Center, she said.

May-Salazar’s career has focused on arts management, including most recently as senior vice president and chief operating officer at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. In that job, she concentrated on strategic leadership, operational and financial management, and developing programs and audiences for them.

“We positioned ourselves there as a town square,” she said. “We wanted to be a place where people could gather and there could be important conversations taking place and dialogues with various views coming together. I feel like all that is really applicable to the community center.”

One key difference: MCC has a defined, primary audience of McLean residents that is augmented by patrons from elsewhere in the region, she said.
May-Salazar describes herself as a collaborative leader who is accustomed to working with a team, investigating pros and cons of various issues and, with luck, moving forward with a consensus.

“But that doesn’t always happen,” she said. “I’m able to be a strong leader and make decisions.”

Her late father – a Fulbright professor, dean of fine arts, architect and planner – is one of the key people she admires.

“He was a wonderful, gentle leader,” she said. “I learned a lot from him in watching the way he led and the way he brought consensus. He also didn’t weigh in where he wasn’t asked to.”

In her spare time, May-Salazar belongs to the New Dominion Women’s Club and enjoys exercising at McLean Racquet & Health Club.

“I like to have a balance and I’ve definitely worked over the past year to sort of have a holistic view,” she said. “That’s why this job is so appealing to me, because it touches on everything from wellness to arts interests to connections with community members and cultural experiences.”

May-Salazar enjoys city life and trips to New York City, but also likes to venture abroad and especially was wowed on a trip to Japan.

Growing up in Glendale, Ohio, near Cincinnati, she lived in many places as a youth, including Turkey and Luxembourg. She also has connections in Peru via her husband.

“I think all of those experiences help you have a desire to reach out, get to know different people and celebrate different cultures,” she said.

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