Suzanne Tawil-Betlach
Suzanne Tawil-Betlach in front of the Botanical Building in Balboa Park. Courtesy of the Balboa Park Conservancy

As the year draws to a close, I’m grateful for the incredible momentum our young organization has gained. This is due to a dedicated board of trustees, and a small, but talented team working behind the scenes of the Balboa Park Conservancy to make San Diego’s crown-jewel park shine a little brighter.

One of the best examples of this collaboration can be found in the Balboa Park Visitors Center, where we serve more than half a million visitors each year, and is the source of our original volunteer corps established in 1964.

Fifty-five years later, in 2019, we became a certified Points of Light National Service Enterprise. This official recognition underscores our commitment to best practices in volunteer stewardship, and places us among the top 11% of nonprofits in the nation, reporting some of the highest volunteer numbers and volunteer labor hours in the country.

Glenn Rossman, trustee and chair of the volunteer committee, and Suzanne Tawil-Betlach, now-retired director of the Balboa Park Visitors Center Center and Gift Shop, led the charge on this extensive assessment and organizational initiative.

Creating a best-in-class visitor experience is integral to the conservancy’s mission and achieving this requires a knowledgeable staff and a corps of dedicated volunteers. Over the past year we have grown our volunteer corps with new park-wide programs such as the Tree Stewards who are now monitoring and caring for the 500 plus new trees we established in the park over the past two years. Our volunteers provide visitors with extraordinary hospitality, helping them to plan their perfect visit to Balboa Park.

A critical resource for all of our park’s guests is the Balboa Park Visitors Center, the busiest in the region and host to more than 500,000 park visitors annually. Our team welcomes visitors from across the globe. They provide up to date information on museum exhibitions and programs, serve as a liaison to Park Rangers in case of emergency, share park history and hidden gems, and offer both free and custom tours.

Tawil-Betlach, who retired this month after 12 years of service to Balboa Park, played a central role in recruiting and training new volunteers to staff the Visitors Center information desk, lead guided tours of the park, and staff major community events. More recently, her long experience in the cultural tourism industry proved instrumental in the launch of a new park-wide volunteer initiative in partnership with the City of San Diego, our Park Ambassadors.

Balboa Park is a global destination, and it’s important to recognize the many incredible individuals that fuel this economic engine. In honor of Tawil-Betlach’s dedication to the visitor experience, the Balboa Park Conservancy has created a new annual award for employees and volunteers in Balboa Park. The Suzanne Tawil-Betlach Hospitality Award is designed to recognize individuals who exemplify a commitment to extraordinary hospitality and visitor experience.

While it will be difficult to top 2019, I am excited for 2020 and beyond. Individuals come together as a team to achieve success. We have a lot of work ahead of us to keep moving our park to be the best it can be, for San Diegans and visitors alike. Here’s to more good things happening in the year to come.

Tomás Herrera-Mishler is CEO and President of the Balboa Park Conservancy. He is a Mexican-born landscape architect with experience managing conservancies and parks in Buffalo, Boston and Philadelphia. To keep in touch with the conservancy, sign up for their monthly newsletter.