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Community rallies around Clinton girl on her birthday

Twelve-year-old Vanessa Link of Clinton is approaching a 13th birthday to remember, thanks to her friends, neighbors and fellow congregation members at Unity of Whidbey in Langley.

A special musical performance and birthday-card fundraising drive will be this week for the Langley Middle School student, recently home from Seattle Children’s Hospital following critical surgery.

It was the latest in a series of surgeries in her effort to battle a debilitating disease that has left her wheelchair-bound.

The fundraisers will help offset huge medical bills incurred by Vanessa’s parents, Russell and Kathy Link, said Gerry Simpson, active president of the Unity of Whidbey board of trustees. The Link family are members of Unity.

“She is absolutely lovable,” Simpson said of Vanessa, who he has known for years. “She has a warmth about her and a caring for other people that’s just unbelievable.”

Another longtime family friend, singer-songwriter Beverly Graham, will give a special performance for Vanessa at 7 p.m. Friday, March 12, at Unity’s new church at 5671 Crawford Road.

Admission is by donation of $20. Reservations can be made by calling Simpson at 222-3362.

Friday, the night of the performance, also is Vanessa’s 13th birthday.

“We decided to make it Vanessa’s birthday all week,” Simpson said.

Because the church only seats 60, the congregation is urging others who want to help Vanessa and her family to send birthday cards via Unity with additional donations.

“We can use all the donations we can get,” Simpson said. He said cards can be sent to Unity of Whidbey-Vanessa, PO Box 22, Clinton, WA 98236.

Graham, a longtime South Whidbey resident, musician and community organizer who is in the process of relocating to New Mexico, had planned to do the Friday performance at Unity to raise money for the church’s building fund during a short visit back to the island.

When she learned about Vanessa’s recent hospital stay, Graham eagerly switched gears, Simpson said.

“It was the only night she had available during her visit here,” he said. “It was an amazing coincidence.”

Meanwhile, in anticipation of Vanessa’s latest return from Children’s Hospital, residents of her Clinton neighborhood and students from Langley Middle School attached hundreds of balloons to mailboxes, trees and shrubs leading to her house. They also decorated her front door.

Neighbor and Unity congregation member Linda Garl has known Vanessa for 10 years, and was her teacher in first and second grades at South Whidbey Primary School.

Garl recently retired after 36 years of teaching at the primary and intermediate schools.

She said Vanessa’s family has lived on Whidbey for about a dozen years. Her father is a wildlife biologist with the state of Washington, Garl said.

“The entire family is loved by the community,” she said.

She said Vanessa is “a remarkably creative child” who excels in writing, music and math. Vanessa also has participated in productions of Whidbey Children’s Theater, Garl said.

“She has a beautiful singing voice.”

Garl said that despite the severe state of her health, Vanessa may very well return to school someday, if the soon-to-be-teen has anything to say about it.

“With the spirit that girl has, I’m sure she will,” Garl said.

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