Welcome Vashon, the nonprofit that aims to welcome and connect islanders, recently interviewed several high-profile Vashon residents on the idea of welcoming. Jenn Reidel, a member of Welcome Vashon, conducted the interviews and wrote articles about what welcoming means to various islanders.
By JENN REIDEL
For The Beachcomber
As executive director of the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce, Jim Marsh is in the business of welcoming. He is originally from Evanston, Ill., where he ran a marketing company and was president of the local chamber. Marsh, who is currently in the throes of planning for Strawberry Festival, remembers many welcoming things happening in the first months after he and his partner moved to the island.
In our interview, Marsh shares his perspective on the joys and challenges of his welcoming work on a small island where the gap between the pros and cons of “tourism” is a big one.
Jenn Reidel: So your job is pretty much about welcoming. What is important about welcoming to the Chamber, beyond being good for business?
Jim Marsh: Yes, we do run the visitor center. However, our work at the Chamber is not just welcoming new people; it is welcoming people’s talents, ideas, criticisms and stories.
It is not just about directing a visitor to a place to dine or shop, although that is important. It is about sharing what is cool and what you are passionate about on the island. If someone comes in and says they like horses, food or art, there are places I can talk to them about. If someone comes in and they are looking for something unusual, I tell them where the UFO is.
Reidel: Well I’ve lived here 20 years and never heard about that. Where is the UFO?
Marsh: That’s it! What we experienced right there is what is so cool about this. I’m new here, and I just told you something you didn’t know. If the dynamic was set up to make me feel less than you because you have been here 20 years and I have only been here two years, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to share that. There is a dynamic that is creative when people are welcoming to each other — a creative energy gets built.
Part of welcoming is making where you live more fun and engaging. If it is a fun place to be, people will be able to make their living here and do well.
Reidel: Sounds like you have met lots of people in the two years you have lived here. Have you had any unwelcoming experiences?
Marsh: What I find unwelcoming are interactions with islanders who have a sense of privilege about living here. I’ve had conversations with people, and they shut down the conversation when they say, “You haven’t been here long enough.”
Since I haven’t lived here that long, I have the gift of a beginners’ mind or ignorance. History is important. But it is a red flag to me when someone says, “You don’t know the history of it.” When someone says that, more often than not, they are trying to prevent change from happening. So I say, let’s talk about the history, but let’s also talk about what we want to do with it.
Reidel: What experience do you remember where you felt particularly welcomed and special?
Marsh: One time was when we went to the Gravity of Kindness, a performance event on someone’s property. People walked around with trays of fresh blackberries. Kids did circus acts; my favorite barista danced. People told me it was a gift to the island. I felt pure joy there. Something shared for the love of it.
I think we are all very lucky people on this island. We are influenced by the fact that we live here. By the beauty that surrounds us in nature and in people. By the fact that we have to take a boat to leave. That has an effect on a person. We are not inherently special. We create it with each other. And that is why it is important to be welcoming.
— Jenn Reidel is a freelance web designer, fine art photographer and writer who lives on Vashon. To read more of her Welcome Vashon interviews, see www.welcomevashon.org.