South Whidbey Commons seeks uncommon kindness in face of closure

Cafe manager Allma Plakos, workplace training participant Hanna Nielson and AmeriCorps member Keppi Ross work at the South Whidbey Commons.  - Photo by Lucy Brown
Cafe manager Allma Plakos, workplace training participant Hanna Nielson and AmeriCorps member Keppi Ross work at the South Whidbey Commons.
— image credit: Photo by Lucy Brown


The popular South Whidbey Commons with its coffee, books and students in job training is facing financial difficulties that could lead to its closure.

From outward appearances, the South Whidbey Commons on Second Street in Langley presents itself as a thriving community business. The main focus of the nonprofit organization is the youth workplace training program in its Coffeehouse Bookstore, which has benefited more than 500 participants over the past five years and has given local businesses a more experienced labor pool to draw from.

The program has impacted the lives of many local young people, according to a news release, not only by offering an opportunity to acquire skills and experience, but by providing a safe and positive place in which to thrive.

Like most nonprofits on South Whidbey, the Commons has felt the effect of a troubled economy. In addition to the revenue generated by the Coffeehouse Bookstore, the organization has relied on other sources of funding, including increasingly scarce grants.

“Our community has lost cherished programs in the past, and afterward, we’ve heard people say, ‘If only I’d known,’” said Cathy Rooks, president of the Commons board of directors, in the release. “That’s why we’re choosing to let people know now that we can continue to offer the program only if the community it serves rallies to support it — both through donations and making the Coffeehouse Bookstore its gathering place.”

Clyde Monma, a member of the Commons advisory board, agreed. “To invest in our future — the children and youths of today — we each need to give in amounts that stretch our capacity,” he said. “Can you imagine our community without the Commons? With enough people donating just $5, $10, $25 or $50 per month, its survival would be assured.”

In partnership with the South Whidbey School District, the workplace training program at the Commons provides a life application lab that gives middle and high school students school credit for putting classroom concepts and lessons into practice.

“The Commons offers a significant learning opportunity for our students in an outstanding local establishment,” said Jo Moccia, superintendent of the South Whidbey School District. “Students contribute their time while learning and developing new skills. In addition, the Commons offers a place for tutoring and homework as well as computer access. This resource must be preserved. I hope that, just as I have committed to the price of one cup of coffee per day through a monthly donation, others may follow and help support this valuable community resource.”

Funding for the program is generated primarily by the Coffeehouse Bookstore, but it is not enough to offset its cost. “People think workplace training participants act as a free labor force,” said Ron Norman, board treasurer. “But it takes paid staff and about 65 participants each week to run the Coffeehouse Bookstore.”

Some teens who have been active in the workplace training program over the years can’t imagine their lives without it. “I’m thankful for the Commons because of the community it gave me,” said K.T. “It really helped me to blossom into the person I wanted to be. For the first time, I felt like I belonged somewhere, and I’ll always treasure those memories. It gave me a haven from a bad home life, so that I never wanted to leave! I’m thankful for the healthy environment of the Commons. Although I never totally confided about it, the Commons changed my life.”

To donate, visit For more information call 221-0127 or email


About the Commons

Founded in 2002, The South Whidbey Commons was born of a need in the South End’s rural area for a neighborhood gathering place. It was a place people of all ages, beliefs and interests could come together with the common goal of developing a stronger community identity. The mission of the Commons is to establish programs, services and venues designed to meet these needs and to provide opportunities to gather, learn and grow through interactions, education and community connections.

Contact information: South Whidbey Commons, P.O. Box 222, Langley, WA 98260.

Cafe: 221-2414

Office: 221-0127 or



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