Together We’re Better: The origins of the South Whidbey Community Center

This story originally appeared on the Readiness to Learn website and is used by permission.  You can read the original story here.

All photography by ML Harris.

By Lauren Flynn

A family lays a blanket in a field, opens a basket of snacks and prepares to be entertained by a traveling circus. A new Whidbey resident makes friends when they have their first social outing helping to paint the largest mural on the south end. A young boy plays with a moving art sculpture on the front lawn. The sounds of the marimba fill the air. All of these scenes are the product of the revitalization of the former middle school, now known as the South Whidbey Community Center.

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When the middle school campus closed in 2017, Readiness to Learn Executive Director Gail LaVassar - who is also the Director of School and Community Partnerships for the school district - was asked to lead the repurposing of the campus into a Community Center. The school district’s goals for the campus aligned with those of RTL: to have it remain accessible to the community with affordable opportunities for students to engage in extracurricular activities, easier access to  family support programs, and to be sustained through community partnerships. 

In 2018 Readiness To Learn programs moved from a portable unit behind the elementary school to front classrooms and offices at the South Whidbey Community Center. During this same time period other community organizations offering additional social services, education, recreation, and art programming also moved into campus.  By summer of 2018 all spaces were full and the collective of campus partners hosted a grand opening.

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With campus partners in place, coordinated efforts launched, providing programming for hundreds of students to experience hands-on learning, community access to social service in a non stigmatizing location, recreation for all, and increased exposure to the arts.  Learning, healing, and communicating through art is a priority at the center. The use of art in different mediums - ranging from the courtyard mural to indoor installations - helps set the stage as we work to create an inclusive and welcoming campus. 
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As we head into the fall and a new school year, we celebrate a successful year. Our largest SummerFUN! Program yet took place over two sessions, providing local students cost-free workshops and camps. We hosted community family entertainment like Family Fun Day and the Up Up Up Crane Truck Circus Ensemble, providing outdoor opportunities for connection and community. Health services like the SmileMobile Mobile Dental unit and Bloodworks Northwest Blood Drive were stationed at the Center with full days of appointments for members in the community.

This week, a mother heads up the stairs and into the hallway to the Family Resource Center. RTL Staff and volunteers greet her and show her around the Back To School store as she fills a bag with supplies for her kids. The reader board along Camano Avenue changes from a Back To School reminder to an inspiring quote for a new school year. The constant buzzing of summer youth programs is replaced by the calm of planning for what’s next at the Community Center.