Land Trust: Wendy Crawford
For Wendy Crawford, after a childhood of moving from state to state — including five years on the island — life on Block Island now is exactly what she wants for herself, her husband and her children. Their choice to settle here, she suggests, has created a secure sense of place for all of them.
It is here that she and her husband Callum have lived and worked for over a decade and their three daughters, aged 8 to 12, have grown up. It is here that Callum runs his painting and renovations business, C.T.M. Services, and it is here that Crawford manages the day-to-day multiple responsibilities that go with being a young working mother and wife.
Now that her youngest child is in third grade, Crawford explains, “I finally felt I needed to get involved in the community,” noting that with more time on her hands, she wants to do something for the island. Since she works in real estate, she believes becoming part of the Land Trust board is a natural connection for her to make.
Moving four times in eight years
Born in Burlington County, North Carolina, where her mother was attending Elon University, Crawford says, smiling broadly, “She was studying home economics in the hope that she would someday be a TV chef!” From there, Crawford’s family moved four times in eight years, finally landing on the island when she was in the seventh grade and when her father took up the post of superintendent/principal of the Block Island School.
She remained at the island school until after junior year, when her folks returned to New Jersey, having lived there some years earlier. She spent her senior year at a large multicultural school, and was so comfortable and able to adapt, she recalls students mistaking her for a teacher’s assistant.
She believes this was directly a result of having attended the small island school, where she says, “You do develop a sense of maturity. Mostly it is because with a small numbers of peers, you have to interact with everyone — all your classmates — and that makes you more comfortable with yourself.”
After graduation, Crawford enrolled at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, but left before her first semester was half over, feeling it wasn’t for her. Within a year and a half she was attending the University of Rhode Island, where she earned a bachelors in art.
During her senior year at URI, she met Callum Crawford, who was living in Boston at the time, and she says, “That changed everything!” After graduation, she worked in restaurant service and was an admissions counselor at a university for a time, in between which the couple were spending their summers on the island. “We worked here, there and everywhere,” she says.
After a two-year stint at Bear Stearns in New York City, Crawford determined that “the corporate world was not for me.” It was then she and Callum made their decisive move to the island.
At the advice of Jennifer Phillips, Crawford studied for and earned her real estate license, eventually going to work for Phillips in 1999. Continuing that work to date, Crawford has become intimately acquainted with the 3-percent transfer fee on sales of real estate that goes to the Land Trust for buying land to set aside for conservation.
She has encountered mixed reactions from home buyers, some of whom appreciate the need for the conservancy tax, while others object. She says she understands both sides. People want to live out here and may stretch themselves financially, not understanding the urgency felt on island to protect the land. Others, she says, immediately empathize and want to be part of that protection process.
Though she finds it natural that adults may express some uncertainty about their environmental values, what she especially loves about living here is that for the children, there’s no question. They develop a close relationship with nature and quickly come to understand how important it is to preserve the land. She attributes their development in this area to the close interaction between the island school and both The Nature Conservancy and the Block Island Conservancy.
This insight was vividly illustrated in a recent trip she and her children made to Brooklyn. While they initially enjoyed the excitement of being in a city, her daughters quickly turned to her and said they missed the island and, “We can’t wait to get back home.”
It does take a village
The other very special quality of island life that has impressed her from the time her children were very young is the way in which friends and neighbors help each other. She recalls the other mothers on Baby Beach, who immediately jump into the fray when one of their friends finds herself stretched. Crawford says, “They just close ranks around you and say ‘Don’t worry. Do what you need to do. We’ll watch the kids!’”
She adds, “It really does take a village, and when someone’s ill or in need out here, I see it time and time again. This is that kind of community and the kids see it as well.” Crawford breaks into another irresistible grin; “The girls have already told me, ‘We’re never leaving, Mama.’”
Though she’s not so sure about that, she reiterates that this is exactly the kind of community she wants for her own and her friends’ children, and she hopes that her efforts on the Land Trust will continue the extensive work already done to conserve island land.