Reboot of Germantown Alliance to Provide Voice For Community
It began with a conversation over coffee, according to organizers Susan Burkinshaw and Marilyn Balcombe. Some coffee and conversations and the idea to resurrect the Germantown Alliance and restore it to its former glory as both a sounding board and an advocate for the Germantown community was born.
The group took its first steps toward becoming a voice for Germantown last Thursday, when it held its first informal organizing meeting on May 28 at Black Rock Center for the Arts. After sending out open email invitations to community volunteers, organizers expected to have 10 or 15 concerned citizens attend the meeting, but were pleasantly surprised at the turnout of 43 people and the potential for the future.
“There was energy in the room Thursday night,” said Balcombe, who acted as co-chair of the meeting with Burkinshaw.
Once an important part of civic life in Germantown, the Germantown Alliance had all but disappeared in recent years. Formed in the spring of 1976, the Germantown Alliance grew out of an association of local church organizations and other civic organizations, volunteer citizens, and businesses. The Germantown Alliance would work together to be a unified voice for Germantown, it was instrumental in the lobbying the County Council to build Father Hurley Boulevard, but the group has fizzled out for about 10 years leaving Germantown without a unifying voice.
“We have had no community organization and Germantown has been growing like crazy,” said Marilyn Balcombe, president and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce. “It has been frustrating and embarrassing to not have a community organization for a community the size of Germantown. Councilmember Craig Rice and I have been talking for a couple of years about how we didn’t have a community organization to do things like a parade or the Christmas tree lighting.”
While Balcombe and Rice were lamenting the lack of civic leadership in Germantown, Susan Bukinshaw, a Germantown resident and member of executive board of MCCPTA, was having similar conversations with Krista Bradley, executive director of Black Rock Center and Trish Heffelfinger the executive director of the Maryland SoccerPlex.
“Six-months ago I had coffee at Panera Bread with Krista and Trish -- who had never met,” said Burkinshaw. “Here are the two executive directors of two of the lynch-pin organizations in Germantown and they had never met each other. How could two community organization leaders not know each other? Much less how many other people in Germantown should be connected at this point and aren’t anymore? Out of that meeting came the idea to rejuvenate the alliance.”
“A number of Germantown activists including Marilyn Balcombe and Krista Bradley and others reached out to my office a few months ago to talk about bringing the Germantown Alliance back,” said Councilmember Craig Rice, who represents the Germantown area. “My office has long been seeking a voice that would represent the Germantown community as many other areas throughout the county have an organized group that represents the community. This is why I am so excited to see the Germantown allies coming back and such a strong presence at the meeting.”
Soon after Balcombe and Burkinshaw, who knew each other from being on the board of directors at Black Rock Center, agreed to look into using the Black Rock Center as meeting point and convening a community group. “We said lets meet for coffee and talk about it,” said Balcombe. “It was me, and Susan and Trish along with Craig Rice, and Christa Bradley and Cathy Matthews from the Upcounty Services Center.”