The history of the South Whidbey Commons

Commons exterior by Mike BurroughsThe South Whidbey Commons grew out of a 1998 county-wide Family and Youth Summit at which participants came together to create a shared vision and plan toward an increasingly healthy and connected South Whidbey community.

At a three-day conference in 2001, 65 community members identified the need to create new opportunities for people of all ages to gather and connect. After the conference, these community members continued working on the project, and the South Whidbey Commons became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 2002. The original intent of the group was to build a facility in the Bayview area that housed a number of social service organizations serving people of all ages. However, those doors closed, others opened, and the Commons found a home in the heart of Langley, its offerings firmly anchored in a coffeehouse bookstore and workplace training program.

The coffeehouse bookstore originated as a service learning project in 2005–the result of a partnership between the South Whidbey School District and community-minded people. The owner of Golden Otter Books, located in a former home in downtown Langley, had a kitchen that she felt could be used by young people to create an espresso bar and a job-training program. She rented this space to the Youth Connection, a 501(c)3 umbrella organization, which established the training program in the space. A three-year federal grant funded the oversight, management, and implementation of the program. As one facet of that grant, an advisory board was assembled to oversee, develop, and launch a service-learning, community-engagement program, which they called the Island Coffeehouse. A one-time grant from a private foundation funded the purchase of equipment.

In 2006, when the owner of Golden Otter Books died, her family sold her used book inventory to Island Coffeehouse and it became Island Coffeehouse and Books.

Because the South Whidbey Commons did not yet have a location of its own, it hosted programs in a number of locations throughout the community, including Island Coffeehouse and Books. In 2007, the Youth Connection invited the Commons to assume the training program.

The three-year grant expired in 2007, and in the spring of 2008, the owners of the building that housed Island Coffeehouse and Books approached the Commons and offered to sell the building to the organization. The Commons purchased the building and the workplace training program grew from training approximately 12 participants then to training approximately 125 participants each year.

In 2010, Island Coffeehouse and Books was renamed the South Whidbey Commons Coffeehouse Bookstore and the training program was restructured to include adult volunteers who receive training and serve as mentors to students.