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The McLean Chocolate Festival will return this Sunday, Jan. 28 (photo by Thomas Mangan)

The McLean Chocolate Festival will be back in action for a 12th year this Sunday (Jan. 28).

Organized once again by the Rotary Club of McLean, the annual celebration of all things cocoa will take over the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Avenue) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For a $3 admission fee that includes a tote bag, attendees will be able to peruse various regional chocolate vendors. The festival will also feature live music by the Sunshine Gang Band, a return of sponsor Mars Inc.’s “History of Chocolate” presentation, and a children’s room with face-painting and other activities.

As of press time, the festival had confirmed 14 vendors, per its website:

In addition to supporting local businesses, the festival’s proceeds go to the Rotary Club of McLean for community and charity projects. Here’s more from the nonprofit on the initiatives that will benefit:

The projects supported by the festival include scholarships for graduating high school seniors, books for Timber Lane Elementary School, McLean Project for the Arts, playground equipment at the Fairfax Children’s Center, hygiene products for school-age girls, medical equipment and clean water initiatives in several African countries. The funds will also support global initiatives such as eradicating Polio abroad, medical needs in Central America, food insecurity across the globe, helping find abused single moms a safe place to live, and many other community projects.

The McLean Chocolate Festival will be followed a week later by Fairfax City’s Chocolate Lovers Festival, which is set to return on Feb. 2-4. A few vendors are scheduled to appear at both events.

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The Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company will perform at The Alden on Feb. 10 after the McLean Community Center’s Year of the Dragon Festival to celebrate the Lunar New Year (photo by Anthony Alverez)

The Year of the Rabbit is about to give way to the Year of the Dragon.

To welcome the Lunar New Year, which will officially begin on Feb. 10, the McLean Community Center is inviting the public to a free Year of the Dragon Festival and a show by the New York-based Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company on Sunday, Feb. 4.

The festival will take place from noon to 4 p.m. at the community center (1234 Ingleside Avenue) and feature local musicians, dancers and artisans as well as food samples. In a press release, MCC teases that attendees should keep their eyes peeled for an appearance by a dragon.

The festival will be followed at 4 p.m. by the Nai-Ni Chen Dance performance in The Alden, the community center’s performing arts theater. Currently available online, tickets for the roughly 90-minute show cost $30 for general admission, $25 for seniors and students, and $20 for MCC tax district residents.

Here’s more on the company from MCC:

The Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company is a professional touring company founded by the visionary choreographer Nai-Ni Chen. Her company’s legacy blends contemporary American and traditional Chinese folk dance styles, creating a unique and captivating experience that reflects the inspiring hope and energy of an immigrant’s journey.

This performance will feature dance, a live musical performance on traditional Chinese instruments as well as lauded company repertoire:

  • “Lion in the City,” a collaborative work by Hip-Hop legend Rokafella and Kwikstep with the company’s Director of New and Contemporary Dance, Peiju Chien-Pott.
  • “Dragon Path,” a new work by emerging choreographer Aloe Ao Liu.
  • “Mongolian Festival,” a new work created by resident choreographer Lawrence Jin.

“This festival is great for those who have never celebrated the Lunar New Year before as well as those who have grown up with this tradition,” The Alden Director of Youth Theatre Programs Danielle Van Hook said. “We love having additional cultural experiences prior to performances to provide a more complete picture of the cultures that art comes from.”

Spanning the 15 days between a new moon and full moon, the Lunar New Year is generally celebrated in late January or early February in China and other Asian countries with a significant Chinese population, like South Korea and Vietnam. Specific traditions vary between cultures, but they often involve family gatherings, food and musical performances.

Northern Virginia’s Vietnamese community kicked off festivities early this past weekend with the La Vang Lunar New Year Festival, which was expected to draw over 20,000 attendees to the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, according to the Washington Post.

Other scheduled events in Fairfax County include a Feb. 3 celebration at Tysons Corner Center, organized by the Asian American Chamber of Commerce, and the 21st annual Lunar New Year Celebration at Fair Oaks Mall, which will unfold over two days on Feb. 17-18.

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McLean Pet Fest will return this Sunday, Oct. 15 (courtesy McLean Community Center)

Dogs, cats and other household critters in McLean will get an early taste of Halloween when the McLean Community Center’s annual pet festival returns this weekend.

The McLean Pet Fest will unfold at McLean Central Park (1468 Dolley Madison Blvd) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 15). MCC says costumes will be “welcome” at a pet parade scheduled for 3 p.m.

Other attractions planned for the free event include a Fido’s Bone Bar, live music, pet tricks, a photo booth, giveaways, demonstrations and pet-related vendors, such as trainers and rescue and adoption organizations.

Three gourmet food trucks have also been lined up: Arlington-based Ribeye Philadelphia Steak, the frozen yogurt chain Sweet Frog and a new mobile cafe called Frothy Mug Coffee.

MCC Special Events Manager Catherine Nesbitt says the goal of McLean Pet Fest is to provide some entertainment and an opportunity for humans and their pets to spend time outdoors, while also educating community members about adoption, animal health and safety, and other topics.

“McLean Pet Fest is an inclusive community event that brings people and their pet companions to McLean Central Park to learn, be enriched and have a joyful experience together,” Nesbitt said.

Other events coming to the community center this month include a screening of the original Broadway show of “Sweeney Todd” next Thursday (Oct. 19), the McLean Community Players’ production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Proof” starting on Oct. 27, and a Festival of Frights and Trunk or Treat at the Old Firehouse on Oct. 28.

A full calendar of events can be found on the MCC website.

As it develops a budget for the next year, the McLean Community Center is seeking feedback on its programs and services with a community survey. The survey is available in English, Spanish and Korean, and the results will be shared with MCC staff and the governing board.

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The McLean Community Center at 1234 Ingleside Avenue (courtesy MCC)

(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Operations at the McLean Community Center (MCC) are starting to look a lot more like 2019 — at least as far as its budget is concerned.

The center’s governing board will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) to gather community input on its proposed budget for fiscal year 2025, which will begin July 1, 2024 and end on June 30, 2025.

The draft funding plan will represent MCC’s return to full operating levels after a few years of reduced capacity and programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, before that, a full renovation of its facility at 1234 Ingleside Avenue.

“Due to various circumstances, the past several years’ budgets have been anomalies,” MCC Executive Director Betsy May-Salazar said by email. “…It wasn’t until the second half of FY23 that MCC began to see a recovery in operations and programming. FY24 (the current budget year) is picking up to pre-Covid levels of program revenue and FY25 is budgeted, and expected to be, a full year of return-to-normal operations.”

Maintaining the current tax rate of 2.3 cents per $100 of assessed value that has been in place since 2015, the proposed budget projects that the community center will bring in $7.5 million in revenue, a 9.5% increase over the final fiscal year 2023 numbers. More than 82% of that will come from the real estate tax, but over $1 million is expected from programs and events.

The $8.3 million in anticipated expenditures includes $800,000 for capital projects.

In addition to carrying over $557,023 for upgrades to The Alden theater from the current year, the draft budget has added a $800,000 request to make the Old Firehouse Center entrance and bathrooms accessible in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That amount will be reduced after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved $500,000 for the project yesterday (Tuesday) in a carryover package.

MCC has also proposed reallocating $50,000 that had been set aside for an electric vehicle charging station to instead fund an overall energy study.

(Correction: The story originally stated that the full $250,000 placeholder for the EV charging station had been reallocated to the energy study. Just $50,000 is reallocated, while the remaining funds have been removed from the budget, MCC says.)

The governing board has suggested undertaking a study in accordance with the prioritization of sustainability in MCC’s five-year strategic plan and its involvement in the county’s Interagency Climate Team, according to May-Salazar.

“The intent of the study is to explore and make a full assessment of the center’s facilities to see how they can become more energy efficient,” May-Salazar said. “We expect to receive a report with recommendations of best practices for MCC to adopt and/or maintain.”

A timeline for the study hasn’t been set yet. It’s slated to be approved by the governing board when it meets tonight, May-Salazar said.

Other planned projects include $40,000 to improve stormwater drainage behind the community center, $50,000 for an OFC sensory room, $25,000 for new signage, and a $50,000 contribution to the campaign for a new McLean Central Park playground. Read More

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McLean Community Center (file photo)

The newest exhibition curated by the McLean Project for the Arts (MPA) is all about painting.

The local arts organization will launch the 14th iteration of “(Not) Strictly Painting” — its biennial showcase of work from artists based in the Mid-Atlantic region — with an opening reception from 7-9 p.m. tonight (Thursday).

According to MPA, the exhibit will highlight the “depth and breadth” of paintings and other pieces that are somehow related to painting from 50 different artists. It’s being juried by Tim Brown, director of the D.C.-based nonprofit art gallery IA&A at Hillyer.

“Now in it’s 14th incarnation, (Not) Strictly Painting will exhibit works by some of the most interesting and innovative artists currently active in the Mid-Atlantic region,” Nancy Sausser, MPA’s director of exhibitions and curator, said.

Recurring every two years, (Not) Strictly Painting last returned in September 2021, when MPA was still capping its galleries at six visitors at a time to encourage social distancing and limit the spread of COVID-19.

Located in the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Avenue), the organization’s Atrium Gallery is open during the community center’s operating hours, and the Emerson Gallery is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

In addition to tonight’s opening reception, MPA will celebrate the new exhibition with an in-person artist talk at 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19.

Artists featured in the current iteration of (Not) Strictly Painting include:

Maremi Andreozzi, Sondra Arkin, MK Bailey, Julia Bloom, Maria Brito, Nikki Brugnoli, Tory Cowles, Pamela Crockett, Delna Dastur, Anna Davis, Thomas Drymon, Gayle Friedman, Genie Ghim, Jane Godfrey, Pat Goslee, Reni Gower, Freya Grand, Lou Haney, Amelia Hankin, Tom Hill, Andrew Hladky, Leslie Holt, Sabiha Iqbal, Barbara Januszkiewicz, Wayson Jones, Joanne Kent, Pamela Keravuori, Chee Kung, Ruth Lozner, Matthew Malone, Nicole Maloof, Nipun Manda, Sasha-Loriene McClain, Begona Morton, Olivia Niuman, Cory Oberndorfer, Sookkyung Park, Judith Pratt, Sharon Robinson, Violet Simulation, Kanika Sircar, Marsha Staiger, Ann Stoddard, Monica Stroik, Terry Thompson, Roderick Turner, Jessica van Brakle, Ashley Joi Whitley, Sharon Wolpoff, and Debra Wright.

The exhibition will be on display through Nov. 11.

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From left to right: Kathleen Cooney-Porter, Gloria Marrero Chambers and Katie Gorka have been elected to the McLean Community Center’s governing board (courtesy MCC)

The McLean Community Center (MCC) has a new governing board after a relatively quiet election cycle.

A total of 1,473 McLean residents voted in the race, which saw Kathleen Cooney-Porter, Katie Gorka and Gloria Marrero Chambers emerge victorious from a slate of five adult candidates.

The preliminary vote totals, tallied by the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area, are as follows:

  • Kathleen Cooney-Porter: 1,047 votes
  • Gloria Marrero Chambers: 729 votes
  • Katie Gorka: 629 votes
  • Matt Colsia: 582 votes
  • Lincom Thillaichidambaram: 500 votes
  • Write-ins: 18 votes

The top vote getter, Cooney-Porter has lived in McLean since 1998 and has worked in intellectual property law for nearly 30 years, including as a senior trademark policy advisor for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

“I believe my experience will advance the programs of MCC and increase representation of our diverse community,” she said in a candidate statement. “I enjoy cooking, reading, tennis, walking and spending time with family and friends and our beloved French bulldog.”

In her candidate statement, Chambers highlighted her volunteer work, including serving as board vice president for The Langley School. A McLean resident since 2013, she’s also a past president of the Greater McLean Republican Women’s Club and was appointed in April to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Citizens’ Advisory Council on Furnishing and Interpreting the Executive Mansion.

“As a member of the MCC Board, I will ensure that programs and events engage every member of our community,” Chambers said in her statement. “I will be a responsible steward of your tax dollars, and I will commit my decades of leadership and board experience to give back to our community.”

A second campaign turned out to be the charm for Gorka, who also sought a MCC governing board seat last year.

A resident of McLean since 2008, Gorka served in Donald Trump’s administration as a senior advisor in the Department of Homeland Security and press secretary for Customs and Border Patrol. She also had stints as a columnist for the right-wing media outlet Breitbart and as a research fellow for the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank.

“My priority is to support the McLean Community Center, which is a treasured community resource; to ensure that it provides programming of interest to all members of the community; and to ensure fiscal responsibility,” Gorka told FFXnow by email. “Organizations that receive taxpayer dollars, as the Community Center does, should use resources responsibly and transparently.”

Gorka didn’t respond to a follow-up asking for her stance on MCC’s stated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, concepts she has criticized as “Marxist-inspired ideology.” During her tenure in the Trump administration, she reportedly pushed anti-Muslim policies and cut grants to address right-wing extremism.

Cooney-Porter and Chambers didn’t return FFXnow’s inquiries about their priorities as new MCC board members. Read More

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Like in past years, McLean Day will feature a petting zoo (courtesy McLean Community Center)

McLean Day is just around the corner.

The annual outdoor festival will return for a 108th year this Saturday (May 20), bringing amusement rides, live music, food and carnival games to Lewinsville Park (1659 Chain Bridge Road) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Started in 1915 as a school and community fundraiser, McLean Day has taken place at Lewinsville Park since 1988 and draws as many as 10,000 people throughout the day each year, according to the McLean Community Center (MCC), which produces the event.

Like last year, the rides will open ahead of the full festival on Friday (May 19) from 2-10 p.m. Wristbands for unlimited rides are on sale now for $20, a $5 discount from on-site ticket purchases.

Performances will be held throughout Saturday on a main community stage and a more kid-oriented juggler’s stage. The community stage will feature singing, dance and theater, per MCC’s website:

  • 11 a.m. — Art in Motion (MCC’s youth dance class participants)
  • 12:50 p.m. — Noah Asher (low-key covers and originals)
  • 1:10 p.m. — Hull (alternative rock band)
  • 1:40 p.m. — Unruly Theatre Project, The Alden’s professional teen improv group
  • 2:20 p.m. — Minahil Ishaq (singer-songwriter)
  • 2:50 p.m. — Kiril French (Broadway and pop solos)
  • 3 p.m. — Teen Character Awards
  • 3:20 p.m. — Kiril French (Broadway tunes and pop solos)
  • 3:45 p.m. — Hull (alternative rock band)

The McLean Citizens Association, which organizes the Teen Character Awards, shared last week that this year — the 25th annual ceremony — will have four honorees:

  • Alex Abraham: a junior at McLean High School who volunteers at the food bank Share of McLean and runs an annual coat drive for the Virginia Hospital Center
  • Sebastian Herbolsheimer: a senior at Langley High School who volunteers as an EMT for the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department and serves as junior assistant scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 1916
  • Kasim Khapra: a sophomore at the Potomac School who founded the nonprofit MyPy Coding, which provides free, online coding classes to students in second through eighth grade
  • Tatum King: a junior at McLean High School who volunteers for McLean Little League’s Challenger division, a baseball program for kids with physical and mental disabilities

As usual, McLean Day will also have a voting booth where residents can cast ballots in person for MCC’s governing board election. This year, there are five adults and 10 teens campaigning for three adult and two teen seats on the 11-member board.

Other noteworthy activities include laser tag, rock-climbing walls, a petting zoo, beachball corral, an activity called Bubble Ball, a magician and various costumed characters.

No parking will be available at Lewinsville Park, so Fairfax Connector will provide free shuttles from the McLean Metro station and three satellite locations: McLean Baptist Church (1367 Chain Bridge Road), McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Avenue) and Redeemer Lutheran Church (1545 Chain Bridge Road).

All of the shuttles will run from 10:25 a.m. through 6 p.m., according to MCC.

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Fiesta del Sol will feature live music, food and drinks, and local artisans (courtesy McLean Community Center)

The sun will shine into the night this Saturday (March 25), as the McLean Community Center hosts its first-ever Fiesta del Sol.

The inaugural celebration of Latin American and Caribbean cultures will kick off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4:45 p.m. before the doors at 1234 Ingleside Avenue open 15 minutes later.

According to a media advisory, anticipated ribbon-cutting attendees include county officials, MCC staff, and representatives of Latin American and Caribbean embassies, businesses and nonprofits in the area.

MCC partnered with Stafford-based VIP Impressions Event Planning to organize the festival, which will have live music, food, drinks, and local business and artisan vendors until 9 p.m.

“We are looking forward to a super fun evening with a Latin beat,” MCC Special Events Manager Catherine Nesbitt said in a press release. “We will celebrate the cultural wonders of Latin American and Caribbean traditions through live music, dancing, great food and art.”

Admission to the festival is free, but tickets will be sold on-site for food and beverages, including alcohol for those 21 and older. Prices will range from $5 to $15 per item.

The tapas menu comes from Pikoteo, a Latin American eatery that recently opened in the former TAV Mediterranean Bistro spot at 6811 Elm Street.

Proceeds from the festival will go to The Institute for Building Agency, a nonprofit that provides civics education and training to people of color. The woman-led organization was chosen as the beneficiary in honor of Women’s History Month, according to MCC.

Here’s more from the community center on the evening’s scheduled performers:

Following a ribbon cutting and official opening of the event at 4:45 p.m., the festival kicks off with Salsa Guy Richmond, who will offer a demonstration of basic bachata, salsa and merengue dance steps. He will present a demonstration 20 minutes before each band performance. D.C.-based DJ Leo will work his magic to keep the party going. Laura Sosa and the Pa’Gozar Latin band will perform bachata, a form of Dominican music, at 5:30 p.m. Originally from Peru, lead singer, Laura Sosa, has created a band that emulates the rich and varied music of South America and the Caribbean. These talented musicians and excellent vocalists are sure to get patrons on the dance floor.

At 6:30 p.m., Izis, La Enfermera de la Salsa performs. Originally from Puerto Rico, Izis is now a nurse in the United States Army, where she has served for 15 years. The band recently released a new Christmas album, “My Favorite Things,” that features a salsa beat. Pablo Antonio and La Firma rounds out the evening with a performance at 8 p.m. Originally from El Salvador, Pablo Antonio began performing at age 10 in Arlington. His band generates a celebration of merengue that has won fans nationally and internationally.

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Clockwise from top left: Amirthalingam Thillaichidambaram, Matt Colsia, Katie Gorka and Kathleen Cooney Porter (courtesy MCC)

The McLean Community Center’s efforts to attract the attention of a younger generation appear to be paying off.

Earlier this week, the organization announced a robust slate of candidates for its upcoming governing board election that includes five adults and 10 teens — more than tripling the number of kids who competed in last year’s elections.

Voters will once again choose three adult board members and two teens, one representing students in the McLean High School boundary area and the other representing the Langley High School area.

Open to all residents of MCC’s tax district, absentee voting began today (Wednesday) and will continue through 5 p.m. on May 17. The official election will be held at the annual McLean Day festival from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 20, at Lewinsville Park (1659 Chain Bridge Road).

Absentee ballots can be requested online, by phone (703-744-9348) or by email at elections@mcleancenter.org. They can be dropped off in-person at the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Avenue) or sent by mail.

The candidates certified for this year’s election are:

Adults

  • Gloria Marrero Chambers
  • Matt Colsia
  • Katie Gorka
  • Kathleen Cooney Porter
  • Lincom (aka Amirthalingam Thillaichidambaram)

Teens — Langley High School

  • Sophia Bruno
  • Cabot Fisher
  • Charlotte Loving
  • Duy Nguyen
  • Ethan Pwu
  • Sonya Thott

Teens — McLean High School

  • Eleanor Ague
  • Rafik Hanna
  • Katy Perez-Nesmith
  • Philip Rotondo

The slate features a couple of familiar names. Current Langley representative Charlotte Loving is seeking another term, and former Trump administration official Katherine Gorka is making another bid for a seat after falling short last year.

Personal statements submitted by each candidate can be found on MCC’s website.

The 11-member governing board oversees the community center’s budget, programs and facilities. Adults serve three-year terms, while the youth members serve for one year.

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The McLean Community Center’s Alden theater will host a performance of the one-act play “Freedom Flight” (courtesy MCC)

The spirit of Black History Month will extend into March at The Alden in McLean.

For tomorrow (Saturday) only, the McLean Community Center’s theater will host a one-act play by the Ohio-based company Mad River Theater Works “that brings the history of the Underground Railroad to life,” according a news release.

The sole performance of “Freedom Flight” will be held from 4-5:30 p.m. Featuring original music, the play is based on the true story of Addison White, who escaped slavery in Kentucky and later served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

“Freedom Flight” is a one-act play with music by Mad River that revolves around Ohio’s most famous incident in the history of the Underground Railroad: the story of Addison White, an escaped slave, and his rescue by the citizens of the town of Mechanicsburg, Ohio. When Evelyn, a descendant of Addison White, confronts her own difficulties with racism, an array of characters tell and relive their family history.

Founded in 1978, Mad River Theater Works produces original plays that “challenge racism, sexism and intolerance” by finding inspiring stories in American history, according to its website.

Tickets for tomorrow’s play cost $15 for all residents of MCC’s tax district and $25 for non-residents, though seniors and students pay just $20. The Alden is a 383-seat theater in the community center at 1234 Ingleside Avenue.

In February, MCC marked Black History Month with a performance by the all-female, a capella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock. The center also hosted “The 1619 Project” creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, who was invited to speak by Fairfax County Public Library.

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