They are among us, and that is good. The things that are closest to us are easiest to overlook. Where I live the economy continues along uncertainly. Some businesses are thriving. Others are shuttering. Many live on a knife edge. The same is true of the people, with one particular twist. Young people tend to leave this rural community, just like in every small town. They hunt for opportunities or even just work, and realize it is easier to find it in town, in the city, away from home. In the meantime, the very character of small towns is defined by the very people who must find successors if the character will be maintained. But who will help with that? You’ve probably already realized where I’m going. Let’s go there.
The economy is growing, oops, except for last quarter’s hiccup. Corporate profits are up. The total wealth of the US continues to grow. Yet wages aren’t growing. Long term unemployment continues, and encourages people to relocate to job centers or to jump into entrepreneurship; both of which are risky options.
Small towns, or isolated communities like Whidbey, have a tough time holding onto young people. The jobs tend to be in the cities. With every young person that leaves, a small town’s social scene becomes noticeably less appealing. I bought my house from a young woman who realized that as long as she was on Whidbey she’d have to stay single. Commuting to an urban social life becomes even less appealing when it costs $30 which is added to higher urban prices while being paid from a rural wage. It works for me, but then, I am older, somewhat gregarious, enjoy throwing parties, and have a social network that is similarly ensconced.
Small towns can quickly trend to an aging population. In Whidbey’s case that is very nicely balanced by substantial discretionary income, impressive artistic talent, a sense of style, and a long list of good local food and wine. A lot of the people are also actively advocating for their causes, sometimes even in conflict, but definitely equally passionate. That may be a characteristic of the Boomers because, at least on Whidbey, they’ve created a long list of charities.
Click. If the young people are hunting for jobs, but not finding them; and if the community needs young people to continue; and if there is a lot of passionate work to be done; and if the non-profits want to continue beyond another decade; and if the resources are here to fund the non-profits; then maybe the young people and the Boomers can get together as a model of what may be necessary across the continent – a succession plan that spans generations.
The local folklore has claimed that South Whidbey has the highest concentration of non-profits per person in the US. If so, then maybe this is a great place to start such a societal succession.
Folklore is not enough. I wanted data.
Trust your local librarian. Do you realize that librarians look forward to people coming in and asking them to help with research? Librarians went to school for that very reason. Watch them light up with the right question. I asked around at my local branch, where most of us know each other because it is a small town and because I give talks there frequently. Within a couple of days I had a list of every non-profit on the island. They knew just which database to query.
For the entire island, there is about one non-profit for every 280 people. Ah, but the northern end is dominated by the Naval Air Station, which has an impressive supply of non-profit services delivered by the non-profit service that is the Navy. The rest of the island has about one non-profit for every 150 people. Drop into the trendiest and most stylish center of Langley and that drops to one for every 102. If, on average, a non-profit could sustain two people (and yes, many can’t sustain one; but many can sustain several) that’s two more people living on the island and helping to maintain its character. In real numbers, that is 156 non-profits from a population of 23,957 (221 from 61,780 if we include the northern end). Two people per non-profit is 312 jobs, which therefore employs more than one percent of the population.
Of course some of those young people already have those jobs. Many of the non-profits can’t sustain their web sites, so a staff person won’t fit in the budget. But many of the remaining jobs are handled by volunteers, frequently by founders, and usually by people who prefer having someone else do the work within the next decade.
If it remains even remotely true that the Boomer generation will pass along $41,000,000,000,000 in wealth within the next decade or so, then there is a remarkable opportunity to also pass along passions for causes, transfer hope to youth, and continue or even accelerate good works that remain undone.
On Whidbey the numbers may be small, but the percentages are large and will be noticeable. I know that I’d like to see my community maintain its style, and continue doing good work. But I also worry. Saturday night I went to my favorite concert of the year: The Rural Characters playing at Mayfest, a fundraiser for the local community hall. The music was fun and excellent as ever, especially if you like ferry jokes. (It’s an island thing.) Sitting in the back it was also apparent that I wasn’t the youngest, but I was far younger than the average. The thought of generational succession was already in mind, but the event placed it in front of my eyes too.
Will it work? I don’t know. I’m not a millennial. I’m so close to the edge of the Boomer generation that I’ve never felt a part of it. I admit that one motivation is that I want to stay on the island too, and if I have a thirty year mortgage I have to think thirty years ahead, not just three. If nothing else though, I realized I could provide the list (thanks again to Sno-Isle Libraries), make the suggestion, and see what happens. Besides, do you realize how much fun a party would be if an extra 312 happy people showed up? Gotta get a bigger dance floor.
For those who want the details, here’s the list, and a few factoids.
Which ones do you want to help maintain and sustain?
Total (non-profits = 221) population = 61780
Clinton (18) 5635
Animal People Inc.
Tune in to Nature Org
Chinook Learning Community
Kids First – Island County
Washington Assistance Dog Education Center
Whidbey Island Youth Soccer Association
Citizens in Support of Useless Bay Community
Lakeside Bible Camp Association
Whidbey Island Waldorf School
South Whidbey Youth Soccer Club
Friends of the Clinton Library
La Bella Coro
Adoption Network A Charitable Trust
Shoes for Kids Foundation
North American Motor Officers Association
Langley (52) 5278
Heartbeat Serving Wounded Warriors
Giraffe Project Inc.
Whidbey Childrens Theater
Sister Island Project
Langley Community Club
South Whidbey Good Cheer Inc.
Oasis for Animals
Saratoga Chamber Orchestra
Island Christian Academy
Experience Food Project Cascadia
Langley Main Street Association
Whidbey Island Nourishes
Elizabeth George Foundation
South Whidbey Commons
Mother Mentors of Whidbey Island
Power of Hope
Hub – Youth Central
Young Skandia Dansers
Wild Works Conservation Foundation Inc.
Northwest Language Academy
Hope- Horsemanship Opportunities for Potential Equestrians
Parent Child Cooperative of South Whidbey
South Whidbey Childrens Center
Island Arts Council
South Whidbey Historical Society
Baby Island-Saratoga Club
Helping Hand of South Whidbey
Whidby Community Hall Association
South Whidbey Elementary PTA Island Co 7 7 15
South Whidbey High School Performing Arts Boosters
Hearts & Hammers
Whidbey Island Center for the Arts
Whidbey Environmental Action Network
Whidbey Watershed Stewards
Whidbey Dance Theatre
Langley Middle School Ptsa
Readiness to Learn Whidbey Foundation
Keepers of the Game
Goosefoot Community Fund A Not for Profit Corporation
Friends of Friends
Island County Fair Association Inc.
Friends of the Langley Library
New Road Map Foundation
Morris Family Foundation
Freeland (41) 4561
Island Affordable Housing Tr
Association for Veterinary Family Practice
Brothers of Saint John the Evangelist Osb
Living Success Center
Fund for Personal Liberty
South Whidbey Parks and Aquatics Foundation
Veterans Resource Center
Mellison Family Foundation
Calling the Circle Foundation
Island Rowing Association
Friends of Holmes Harbor
Rotary Foundation of Whidbey Westside
South Whidbey Bible Chapel
Senior Services of Island County
Christian Life Ctr of Whidbey Island
Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens
Service Education & Adventure
Otherworld Media Inc.
Foundation of Senior Services of Island County
Friends of the Freeland Library
The Arise Charitable Trust
One Drop Zendo Association
South Whidbey Church of Christ
South Whidbey Rotary Club Foundation
South Whidbey Schools Foundation
Mano Con Mano Health Beach
Whidbey Island Garden Tour Inc.
Northwest Institute of Literary Arts
Genealogical Society of South Whidbey Island
Northwest Venture Drum and Bugle Corps Inc.
Victor B Sheffer Foundation
Whidbey Island Land & Shore Trust
Friends of Freeland
Impact Teams International
Greenbank (9) 1837
International Association of Home Staging Professionals
Native Plant Stewards
Washington Association of Land Trusts
Romainia League in Defense of Animals
Whidbey-Camano Land Trust
Greenbank Farm Management Group
Ulmschneider Educational Foundation
Coupeville (36) 6646
Capt Dans Farmstead
Gifts From the Heart Food Bank
Globan Ent Outreach
Small Miracles Coupeville Medical Support Fund
Auxiliary of Whidbey General Hospital
Coupeville Booster Club
Pacific Rim Institute for Environmental Stewardship
Central Whidbey Hearts & Hammers
Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association
Magic Macintosh Appreciation Group of Island County
Kwpa Whidbey Public Radio
Penn Cove Water Festival Association
Citizen Corps Council of Island County
Alcohol 24-Hour Help Line
Whidbey Island Hospital Foundation
Central Whidbey Cooperative Preschool
Friends of the Coupeville Library
Quilters on the Rock C/O Joanne Van Patten
Coupeville Lions Foundation
Concerts on the Cove
Island County Amateur Radio Club
Coupeville Arts Center
Island County Master Gardeners
Whidbey Animals Improvement Foundation
Coupeville Elementary PTA 777 C/O Washington State PTA
Lighthouse Environmental Programs
Washington Imagination Network
Community Foundation for Coupeville Public Schools
Whidbey Weavers Guild
Western Education & Stewardship Trust
Broken Arrow Memorial Fund
Stellar Arts Foundation
The Wildlands Restoration Society
Island County Historical Society
Coupeville Community Bible Church
Oak Harbor (65) 37823
Medical Safety Net of North Whidbey
Animals in Need
Anglican Fellowship of Whidbey Island
Oak Harbor Youth Sailing Inc.
Deception Pass Park Foundation
North Puget Sound Dragon Boat Club
North Whidbey Christian High School
Whidbey Playhouse Association
Whidbey Community Chorus
Oak Harbor Musical Youth Boosters
Beeksma Family Foundation
North Whidbey Caregivers Cove
The Valley Calvary Chapel
Swan Lake Watershed Preservation Group
Caleb-Joshua Education and Humanitarian Project
Mighty to Save Ministries
Pit Stops Here
Ballet Slipper Conservatory of Oak Harbor
Oak Harbor Music Festival
Word of Everlasting Life and Faith Ministries
Rural American Scholarship Fund
Interfaith Coalition of Whidbey Island
Oak Harbor Christian School Society
New Leaf Inc.
United Way of Island County
Bible Baptist Church of Oak Harbor
Lutheran Outdoor Ministry Assn Inc.
Family Bible Church of Oak Harbor
North Whidbey Help
Grace by the Sea
Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse
Oak Harbor Church of Christ
Oak Harbor Firemens Association
Toddler Learning Center Association
Pregnancy Care Clinic
Suzuki Association of Washington State
The Lords Garden Association
Friends of the Oakj Harbor Library
Calvary Chapel of Oak Harbor
Oak Harbor Wildcat Booster Club
Development Companions International
Oak Harbor Educational Foundation
Olympic View Orca Parent-Teacher Organization
Whidbey Island Genealogical Searchers
Oak Harbor Rotary Foundation
Oak Harbor Senior Center Foundation
Heritage Valley Foundation
Prowler Memorial Park Association
Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Island County
Hillcrest Elementary PTA
Pby Memorial Foundation
Cascade Warbird Eaa Chapter
Oak Harbor Elementary PTA
Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor Foundation
Impaired Driving Impact Panel of Island County
North Whidbey Middle School PTA
International Association of Lions Clubs
Friends of Home Health Care of Whidbey General Hospital
Oak Harbor Christian School Foundation