Here in the holiday season our thoughts turn naturally toward giving. And on Whidbey Island there’s a special form of it that reflects the character of our island community.
According to the database TaxExempt World, there are 673 registered nonprofit organizations in Island County. That’s astonishing: one for every 124 residents of Whidbey and Camano Island.
Some of these are familiar names nationally: Big Brothers Big Sisters, Little League Baseball Inc., Habitat for Humanity (which operates a retail store for donated “gently used” furniture in Freeland, eight miles up the road from The Highlands at Langley).
But many others are homegrown here on Whidbey Island. And their stories illustrate not only Whidbey Islanders’ generosity of spirit, but also our imagination and ambitions. People don’t just settle here to enjoy peace and quiet and vegetate. Whidbey Islanders crave to do interesting and useful things.
The Whidbey Institute, created in 1997 on 100 scenic and hilly acres of forest and farmland, offers retreats and workshops dedicated to personal growth and reflection, social justice, and environmental activism. In keeping with the friendly and open spirit of the island, its excellent nature trails are open to visitors from dawn to dusk every day.
Goosefoot, named for the plant and not the fowl, works to preserve local rural traditions and enterprises, such as farmers’ markets and volunteer-run gardens that supply South Whidbey schools with fresh vegetables for school lunches.
Hearts and Hammers rounds up a remarkable horde of tool-savvy volunteers (420 last year) and dispatches them for an annual spring workday. The volunteers build wheelchair ramps, repair roofs, fix plumbing and electrical problems, and even clean up landscaping for South Whidbey residents who don’t have the skills or means to maintain their homes themselves.
For the past ten years the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts has operated the only nationally accredited Master of Fine Arts writing program in North America that’s not attached to a college or university. Twice each year students converge from numerous states and Canadian provinces for ten-day residencies at the Captain Whidbey Inn, then return home and complete their semesters online. NILA also oversees the Whidbey Island Writers Association and offers intensive Saturday writing workshops with well-known writers and editors for the general public.
With such a crowd of nonprofits on the island, organizations often struggle to find enough financial contributors and volunteers to do the work. But that’s where our unique spirit kicks in. An island is a self-contained community, and we all figure we owe something to it.
Living on Whidbey Island isn’t just about enriching one’s own life. It’s about sharing the richness.