Questions and answers about the Whidbey Institute’s current status

We understand program leaders, program participants, community members, friends, and donors may have questions about how we’re doing. For all those who wonder about the Whidbey Institute’s status during this unusual time, we’ve prepared this Q&A post!

With appreciation,

The Whidbey Institute team


What is the current plan for reopening the Whidbey Institute?

Short answer: A major update released by Washington State on May 1 indicated it may be possible to open the Whidbey Institute as early as June 15, while maintaining physical-distancing parameters. Our trails and gardens are open for physically-distanced community use.

Long answer:  Considering that program participants need time for registering and planning for their participation at the Whidbey Institute, in-person gatherings have been released through mutual discernment with program leaders on a case-by-case basis through mid-July. These decisions take into account where participants are traveling from, the nature of the gathering, and whether, from the perspective of  WA State phasing, such activities will be permitted. Additional discernments will be made as we get more information about public health needs. 

We’ve been here for 48 years supporting people in exploring what is emerging in themselves, with others and in community. In this time of great change, we are in communication with program leaders, a network of other retreat centers, health experts, and local and state governing bodies to determine our next steps toward resuming programmatic work. We anticipate that we’ll be able to continue operating when Washington State reaches Phase 3 of the reopening of the state’s economy

With new information about the pandemic emerging every day, an Integration Circle including board members and key staff roles meets weekly to adapt to changing conditions. A new COVID Health role has been established to help ensure that we follow best practices that are being developed in conjunction with other retreat centers, and align with CDC guidelines for healthy hosting when we do reopen for indoor, in-person events. 


How is the organization making decisions in this unusual time?

Short answer: The staff and board are sensing and responding to emerging data and have been receiving expert health, financial, and legal advice in order to re-open for in-person hosting with care and integrity. 

Long answer: With new information about the pandemic emerging every day, an Integration Circle including board members and key staff roles meets each week to adapt to changing conditions, including new guidance announced by Governor Inslee of Washington State Governor Inslee on May 1.  Our COVID Health role holder and Legal role holder are working to ensure that we have clear, appropriate practices and agreements in place when we are able to host again. Our Finance Modeler and Treasurer have researched all governmental support programs and we have received the SBA Paycheck Protection Program and Disaster Loan support.  Our Logistics and Client Relations roles are in ongoing communication with program leaders about their sense of when and how to hold programs. Our Fundraising role holder is listening to and receiving advice from our donors, and the Integration Circle is staying up-to-date on our current and potential future hosting status and financial health. 

One of the opportunities of this pause is to go deeply into strategic work, ensuring that what we prioritize now serves our best possible future as a transformational learning center connecting people with nature, with one another, and with their own potential as leaders and learners for moments just like this one.


What is the current staffing?

Short answer: After being on furlough from March 21 through April 20 and thanks to receiving the Payroll Protection Program, we are able to again bring staff up to 80% for May and June. 

Long answer: This return to work allows our team to care for the land and facilities, nurture relationships with program leaders, program participants, volunteers, and donors, and develop new and ongoing ways of serving our mission during the pause in in-person programming. Staff continues to steward the trails and meadows and to support our day-use visitors on the trails. During this extended downtime we’re working to ensure our facilities are in great shape when you return. We are in ongoing communication with program leaders about their upcoming programs and how hosting may change. Some members of our team, with roles pertaining specifically and exclusively to hosting in-person programming, remain unemployed. 


What is the status of the Commons funding and construction plan? 

Short answer: Funds donated and received for the Commons are secure in a reserve account, and are held for that sole purpose. Commons value engineering is underway, and we expect to start construction in the fall. 

Long answer: Funds raised for construction of the Commons are set aside in honor of that purpose, and that purpose only. The Commons is vital for the future of the organization. This is an important moment to build, during which construction does not impact retreat activities. The design of the Commons is currently being optimized to ensure that we can cover the full cost of construction—including design completion, construction, furnishings, and technology—with funds and pledges already committed. The redesigned building will still meet all of our objectives, providing a warm and welcoming space for programmatic gathering and social connection, a kitchen, and bathrooms. 

We expect to start construction of the Commons in the fall of 2020 so that it will be complete in early 2021 and ready to support our ability to serve more diverse leaders and learners of all ages with greater flexibility and capacity.

Because funds for the Commons and Caretaker Cabin have successfully been raised, our fundraising focus for the remainder of 2020—including GiveBIG—is to support operations to maintain our capable and dedicated team, and allow us to be ready to resume hosting as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so. We are working to make it possible for this disruption to open the potential for an even stronger future of service.


What is the status of the Caretaker Cabin?

Short answer: The Caretaker Cabin construction is funded and underway! A small but dedicated crew is hard at work, building with strict attention to public health and social distancing recommendations. 

Long answer: COVID-19 and the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” Order have impacted the timing but not the importance of our WI2020 Capacity-Building Initiative. Next steps include completion of the Caretaker Cabin, still on track and scheduled for Autumn this year. 

Completion of the Cabin will provide a safe, warm home for current and future caretakers and will open the building site that is needed for the future construction of Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, accessible lodging in our heartland.


What is the status of the Legacy Forest Youth Campus?

Short answer: Development of this space is still critical to the future we want to co-create with our young leaders. Last month, with our Youth Campus partner organizations, we decided to reconvene in the fall to determine next steps.

Long answer: We continue to deepen our relationship and vision for Legacy Forest Youth Campus with our partners, Young Women Empowered and Partners for Youth Empowerment. All of our organizations are pausing this work to focus on more immediate needs during the disruptions caused by COVID-19, and are confident that the long term realization of the Youth Campus vision will have even more impact because of the lessons we are learning in this moment—lessons on interdependence, equity, nature connection, and the importance of an approach that honors them all. 


What is the need to cover current expenses during the COVID pause?

Short answer: Fundraising is currently underway to support 80% staffing and care for our land and facilities.

Long answer: Current expenses include 80% payroll for those staff members providing care for our land and facilities, our neighbors and trail users, our other relationships, and our transformational learning work. This includes working to understand and meet Program Leader and Program Participant needs and opportunities now and in the months and years to come, scheduling impactful programming for 2021-2022, convening online conversations with Colleagues in Transformation, and judiciously reprioritizing current and near-future work to minimize our cash expenditures while continuing to serve our mission. 

Current expenses also include insurance, utility bills, property taxes, supplies for facilities repairs, and the construction costs (already raised) for the Caretaker Cabin. 

Donations to the Whidbey Institute at this time, including during GiveBIG, will support operations, and gifts received through the GiveBIG platform through May 6 will be doubled by a $45,000 matching fund donated by the Linda Sue Park Fund for Gaia, Nancy Nordhoff, Julie Beckman & Paul Lippert, and an anonymous donor.

We are eager to resume hosting when it is safe and appropriate to do so, and look forward to seeing you back on the land for a program when that day comes!

May 4, 2020

Public Health