Whidbey’s Helping Hands: Langley’s Lynn Willeford turns volunteering to art

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Her canvas is Whidbey Island, her brushes and paint the many people she meets, her subjects the missing gaps in services necessary to meet people’s needs. Lynn Willeford of Langley has turned volunteerism into her work of art.

“I thought Whidbey was a small enough canvas that I could paint a picture,” said Willeford during a telephone interview with Whidbey Daily News.  “I thought it was a small enough place where I could have an effect.”

Lynn Willeford at The Clyde's 75th anniversary street dance. Photo courtesy of Lynn Willeford

Lynn Willeford at The Clyde’s 75th anniversary street dance. Photo courtesy of Lynn Willeford

And indeed, in her 43 years on Whidbey Island, she and her husband, Blake, have had a major impact. Perhaps best known as the owners of the Clyde Theatre in Langley, the couple has touched many more lives through volunteering.

“My skill set is in starting things,” said Willeford. “I like to start something, get it rolling, stay on the board three, four, maybe five years, then turn it over to people who are good at running things.”

Overall, Willeford, 67, has had a hand in starting seven non-profits on South Whidbey, five of which are still running successfully, a couple of them growing and expanding into the Oak Harbor and Coupeville areas:  Friends of Friends Medical Support Fund, Hearts and Hammers of South Whidbey, the Back to School Project, Whidbey Island Local Lending and her newest in the works, South Whidbey at Home.

Each of the projects she’s been involved with have been based on her observation of a gap, whether in care or need or whatever, that she felt could be filled by the community.

“My philosophy has always been that if you think of a solution to a problem, then you’re under an obligation to do something about it,” she said.

Friends of Friends, for instance was built upon her experience helping a friend through cancer. The Back to School Project was based on her observation that people in the community would cut back on expenses – like necessary medications – in August in order to purchase school supplies for their children.  Willeford’s newest project, South Whidbey at Home, is aimed at helping people of age with a place to stay to remain part of the community. And she’s proud to say that Whidbey Island Local Lending has loaned about $1 million since it began three years ago.

Lynn Willeford volunteering at the Good Cheer garden. Photo courtesy of Lynn Willeford

Lynn Willeford volunteering at the Good Cheer garden. Photo courtesy of Lynn Willeford

“I can’t draw, or paint or sing, but I have good organizational skills,” Willeford said. “This is my form of creativity.”

She said she doesn’t have to start a project to enjoy volunteering. Willeford said she’s quite happy showing up for a few hours and being told what to do. She does have a pet peeve, though.

“It frustrates me when someone comes up to me and says ‘I have a great idea for you to do,’” she said. “If you have a great idea, own it.”

Pet peeves aside, Willeford said there has always been one thing over and above everything else that she has enjoyed with each and every project.

“I love working with new people,” she said. “With each new project there are new people involved, so I get to meet and work with great new people all the time.

“None of these projects have been accomplished by myself,” she continued. “They have all succeeded because of the great people I’ve been able to work with.”

And people, especially on Whidbey Island, are an abundant resource with which to paint a lovely landscape.

“This Island is rich with people willing to help,” she said. “You just have to ask.”

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