Navy crew lending a regular helping hand

By CASSANDRA CALDERON Whidbey News Group Strolling down Coupeville’s historic waterfront early this summer might have meant completely missing the Island County Museum according to Executive Director Rick Castellano. The museum’s front garden had long overgrown since first finding its home on the Northwest end of Front Street 25 years ago. As a result, its identifying faded-red sign had been overtaken by an unruly shrub for much of that time. That was, until STG3 Austin Kenobi and his fellow crew-mates from the USNS Victorious Gold offered to help. On Aug. 5, Kenobi and 17 others from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island lent Catellano a hand with the museum’s landscaping. “Everything about the museum’s exterior was getting to be 25 years old, and with the plants, people couldn’t even see our sign anymore,” Castellano said. “We actually heard someone walking by on the sidewalk say ‘oh, there’s a museum here!’ “That was the payoff, to hear that comment.” The crew volunteered much of their Friday to remove ivy, trim back bushes and repaint the now-visible sign, all improvements that Castellano said will likely bring new visitors. Kenobi and his crew members work together at the Naval Ocean Processing Facility, or NPOF, as sonar technicians that search the bottom of the ocean looking at oceanographic features and tracking marine mammals. When and if they deploy, they do so together. According to Kenobi, his crew has made it a priority to volunteer together throughout the island. It’s important to him and the others to give back to their host-community, Kenobi said. “Volunteering is something that’s been a priority in my own life, and it’s great to have a crew with the same view,” he said.“It’s enjoyable to go out there and use our hands to help make a difference.” While volunteering is encouraged and certainly available to all Naval crews, Kenobi said his crew has tried to take their efforts to a much higher level. The Navy is about serving others, he said, and his crew hopes to uphold that image through volunteering. “Honestly, we all work together, but when we get out there and someone asks for our help, it’s really on us to come out of our comfort zone and work together,” he said. “That’s really powerful and a big part of it.” As the crew’s volunteer coordinator, Kenobi said he tries to plan a volunteer project at least every Friday, though the crew’s work schedule isn’t always compatible with that goal. Since forming two months ago, the crew has already worked on three projects. On July 15, they volunteered at the WAIF Thrift Shop in Oak Harbor, cleaning, organizing and redesigning displays in the store. Kenobi also coordinated a beach clean-up at Flintstone and Windjammer parks the following week. “Our entire crew stormed the coastline and ended up collecting seven industrial size trash bags full of litter scattered along the shore,” he said. “We collected everything from shotgun shells to an entire fire hose that was tangled throughout the driftwood and sand.” Kenobi hopes their next project will be working with Castellano again, this time at Fort Casey. According to Kenobi, the museum plans on obtaining several World War I cannons for Fort Casey and his crew would like to help them renovate the historic site. “We’re really excited about that one, so if we can pull that off, we’d be pretty happy,” he said. With the museum’s 25th anniversary this year, Castellano believes the help couldn’t have come at a better time. He has been working with the waterfront association and others to see how to better utilize the front garden Kenobi’s crew cleaned up as an outdoor extension of the museum. While he and other volunteers have tried working on the garden, Castellano said the large crew accomplished more in half a day than they could’ve in several weeks. And with the crew planning to help with the museum’s next project, he’s looking forward to what else they can accomplish. “It’s amazing to see this group reaching out to see what they can help with,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough.”