The Great Falls Citizens Association knows that a bigger membership means a bigger voice. That’s why they’re holding a membership drive, trying to encourage residents to join and provide a better representation of their community.
“The Great Falls Citizens Association was formed over 30 years ago to preserve the low-density, rural character of Great Falls,” said Mary Anger, chairwoman of the membership committee.
“It is imperative to have as many citizens involved as possible in order to best represent the community,” she said. “We feel our membership is low, considering there are 6,000 households in Great Falls and our membership is around 200 people.”
In the past few years, Anger said there’s been a dip in membership, reflecting the town’s “transient” nature.
“We need to let people know who we are and what we do,” she said. “We try to work with local groups to resolve issues in the community.”
Association president David Olin said that most issues that come before the Association deal directly with life in Great Falls from various viewpoints and topics.
“We struggle with membership because it hasn’t grown with the population,” he said. “We realized we want to represent more people and we can’t do that unless we have more members,” he said, adding that if the numbers remain low, “it will make it seem like we’re only speaking for a few of our residents.”
He has declined to set a specific goal for overall membership, saying that he “would like to see everyone aware that there is an organization looking out for the citizens of Great Falls.”
“I hope people will come to the meetings if there’s an issue that comes up and concerns them,” he said, adding that “we know if we have 2,000 members we’ll still only get 40 people or so at meetings.”
He agrees with Anger that the membership numbers are low because of a lack of resident knowledge about the group.
“PEOPLE AREN’T AWARE of the association, they might think that the county will take care of the rural atmosphere of Great Falls,” he said. “But we need to stand firm for the rural character of our community.”
For example, it was t the Great Falls Citizens Association who worked to prevent the Virginia Department of Transportation and Fairfax County from changing the traffic flow on the Georgetown Pike.
“If they had every curb or de-acceleration lane on the Georgetown Pike that they wanted, it would be a chopped-up, urban street,” Olin said. “I don’t think people recognize that fact, and if they do appreciate it, they should come and join us.”
“The only reason residents don’t see big neon signs here is because the Citizen’s Association has kept them from encroaching on our rural character,” he said.
New member Jackie Taylor said she became involved with the association after retiring.
“I was taking a course with Landmark Education and spoke with Eleanor Anderson who invited me to a meeting,” she said.
“It seemed they were involved with everything I was interested in, preserving wildlife and their habitats, keeping lots big,” she said.
“You can go anywhere in Northern Virginia to find a townhouse or apartment, but Great Falls lets you have open spaces, abutments to parks, and animals running around,” she said.
But the organization’s low profile belies its influence on local policies.
“The local politicians will come to Great Falls Citizens Association for input before voting on things,” she said. “But the group is so small, if they don’t grow that voice will become almost insignificant.”
“By becoming a member, you get a four page newsletter that’s so concise, everything that was talked about in the last meeting or will be discussed at the upcoming meeting is in there,” Taylor said. “At least you’ve got something to go to for information and it takes all of five minutes to read it,” she said.
OLIN SAID that “membership is great, but understanding of what we do is better. Higher membership is higher revenue that we can donate to charities or use to buy water bags for trees,” he said. “It would be nice to say we represent 2,000 voices instead of 500 people.”
“We do encourage people to speak their opinion about the issues,” Anger said. “The more dialogue we have the better we’ll be able to represent our community.”
“Ideally, we’d like to have all our citizens involved,” she said. “When they’re not involved, things happen and people complain after the fact.”
Olin agreed. “We’re constantly being accused of not taking action and people say they didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “We want and need to be the voice of this community.”
“Great Falls Citizens Association has no political power. We can’t vote for or against anything but we do have a voice,” Taylor said. “The value comes out when you look at what this organization has accomplished historically.”
Members of the Association will be in the community in upcoming weeks, passing out information during Halloween activities and on Election Day.
“We’re trying to get the world out and get people to join up,” Taylor said.
There may also be a newsletter sent to all residents in the 22066 zip code to let people know about the organization and upcoming meeting topics, she said.