“Then, I guess… well, life throws you curveballs, y’know?”
Indeed it does. When two of his closest family members died in the same year, Laken’s life started spiraling away from him. He lost his business, lost contact with his adult children, lost his place to live.
Working in restaurants and taking odd jobs didn’t pay the bills. Housing costs were skyrocketing. Laken had an uncle who lived on Whidbey Island once, and he wanted to try a new place where he could start over, a place he knew he’d like, a place where he at least had some tenuous roots.
Laken is asked point blank if he came here for the handouts and free charity.
“Oh, no way.” He’s heard this before. “I’d never even heard of SPIN Café, or our local shelter, until I got here three months ago. I’m grateful for the help” – he’s been overnighting at The Haven shelter – “but I want to earn it. That’s why I give back.”
And that’s why Laken dons a neon “SPIN Café” vest every day, grabs a trash bag and broom, and heads for Oak Harbor’s Serendipity Lane. The narrow stairs and alleyway connect Pioneer Way with parking, a restaurant, and SPIN’s future expanded location facing Bayshore Drive.
Laken sweeps the stairs and the area below, where he says sometimes people sleep. He can relate to their pain, their struggles. Again he’s asked a pointed question – do you resent people who don’t try to improve their lives? Do they make places like SPIN look bad?
“No, I don’t. I’ve come to realize, everyone’s different. We all have different things we’re trying to deal with.” Still, when he hears criticism like that from elsewhere, it hurts. He’s quick to note that he doesn’t fit that mold, that he’s trying to improve himself and to represent SPIN in a positive way.
And he has a vision.
“There should be a way for SPIN guests to give back if asked, all over the community. What if we had a volunteer system where seniors and disabled people who need things done, just call SPIN for some help?” Laken knows it’s a little step at a time, and he does his little step every day.
In May, when Oak Harbor’s Main Street Association held the annual “Spring Clean 2019” volunteer day, Laken stepped up and helped out. “It was a start,” he says of reaching out a little further into the community. “It can only help.”
SPIN Café manager Mark Martenson is full of praise for Laken and the way he’s taken to Oak Harbor after only three months living here. “He’s sincere, he’s helpful, he truly cares” about SPIN being a positive piece in Oak Harbor’s social fabric. “His work and humility exemplify the work we do. He willingly cleans up awful messes for no pay, but to be of service, and that speaks volumes. It really sets him apart.”
What’s ahead for Laken? Again he outlines little steps. “I’d like to connect with my kids again. I want my own place to live. But first I need a job, a good regular job. I’d like to work in a restaurant again. With a job, I can find a place to live. Then I’ll be ready to see my kids.”
You get the feeling Laken will be ready for the next curveball. He may not smash a grand slam, but there’s something about that look in his eye. When he takes another swing at the ball, that look says we can expect a clean single up the middle.