Community Center for Youth

Everyone comes together to build the center’s ownership for it to become everyone’s space. 
by Vy Khanh Vu

South Whidbey Community Center had its origins as a school as early as 1915 when a wooden Langley Grade School was built. The community center has committed to the mission of serving the youth and the community, providing accessible education and a safe place for children to explore their needs and talents.    

Driving past a portion of Camano Ave toward the center’s front parking, you will see the entrance of the center filled with green grass. A big information board with exciting news for the youth and people in the community: A drug take-back program (on one size) and an Easter Hunt event (on the other). The entrance looks like an ordinary grade school in town, but the welcoming sense is undeniable. 

South Whidbey Community Center front entrance.
Photo courtesy of Vy Khanh Vu

For many years, the South Whidbey Community Center has created several programs to aid Whidbey Island’s youth in accessing education and useful skillsets and activities. People who work at the center believed in assisting the community when they started the program. 

Gail LaVassar has worked as Executive Director of the Readiness to Learn program and the South Whidbey Community Center for almost 20 years. LaVassar recalls how amazed she was by the community that shares the vision of building inclusive service for youth. 

“It has been an engaging and rewarding journey,” LaVassar said. “There are so many people who want to share their gifts and strengths for our community’s youth.” 

The campus is a homely creative space for youth.
Photo courtesy of Vy Khanh Vu

By providing valuable social experience and skillsets on the same campus, the center brings the community together and reduces the stress of traveling for children and parents. At the South Whidbey Community Center, they provide a wide range of extracurricular classes, activities, and a safe and healthy space for the community.

“The children want to enroll in different kinds of activities, so being able to bring a number of different opportunities to the same campus alleviates that stress of spending time in the car,” LaVassar said. “So when they come to the campus, one of the children can do karate, the other could be doing Marimba or they can dance.”

During the social disruption of the pandemic, the campus programs also strive to go online so that the children can have a space to socialize and connect. LaVassar is hopeful about their return to the campus this Summer because the children have stayed at home until before last Summer. The center will soon launch a camping program named Summer Fun which lasts for a few weeks.

“We had something like this last summer, too,” LaVassar giggled. “ It was amazing to see the kids. Kids were still mostly at home until before the last summer, so they would come and be so shy and with their masks, not sure about talking, so nervous. Until the end of the week, and they would be like climbing the trees.” 

LaVassar refers that the people building the community center for the people. Everyone is welcomed at the South Whidbey Community Center.

“Everyone comes together to build the center’s ownership for it to become everyone’s space,” LaVassar said.

The sun comes down behind the campus.
Photo courtesy of Vy Khanh Vu