Member Spotlight: IRIS, Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship – How to fall in love with a community

In a world that is steadily becoming more mobile, the communities of North Central Washington have discovered a great asset in how rooted their culture of community is. Many residents have a practice of cherishing their stories and passing down wisdom. These stories create a very connected community, despite people being spread out over an area that includes Okanogan, Douglas, Grant, and Chelan counties.

The Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS) is building on this strong sense of place by gathering and sharing stories that enhance a sense of belonging, inspire action, and build community. They intentionally gather stories that can help others be successful, regardless of how long they have lived there. And, through their format of sharing successes of the community, they promote the nonprofits and other organizations that support it.

From the beginning, they wanted to document what is working well. IRIS has collected over 600 stories, both written records and full interviews recordings. At IRIS’s annual Success Summit, community members assembled to celebrate achievements—a day dedicated to honoring forward-looking, positive endeavors. After experiencing devastating wildfires that severely impacted the area, the 2018 summit host town of Pateros showcased their resilience and hope, with over 150 community leaders coming together to share their stories. Featured topics ranged from wildfire awareness campaigns to the construction of a wildlife crossing under a busy highway to a YWCA facilitating conversations about racial injustice.

Nancy Warner, IRIS program coordinator, reflects on the energy produced from the summit, talking about the powerful buzz of positivity in the air. Attendees articulate their experience as “falling in love” with the community over the day. Before, if they passed through the area, they might have noticed the landscape and moved on. After hearing the stories from that community, they can see the region’s true beauty. This year IRIS is gearing up to replicate this model of connection across the region, creating a new series of mini-summits, made possible in partnership with the North Central Washington Regional Library system.

Check out these insights from IRIS’s celebration through stories:

  • When you focus on what is good in the community, on the successes, you develop respect for that community and solidify a positive identity. This encourages constructive relationships and motivates leaders to find new solutions.
  • Stories lead to success in many ways. Brooklyn Holton, board chair for IRIS, talks about how her experience of listening to stories supports her personal growth and exposes her to communities outside of the ones she lives and works in. In addition to those benefits, it also helps her professional growth and is a useful tool at her job. 
  • One of IRIS’s most useful aspects is their openness to change. They recognize that the Success Summit is different every year, because the the host community is new every year. They prioritize being receptive to the world and rolling with changes as they come.
  • IRIS is actively incorporating the network leadership model in their services. After attending the 2018 Central Washington Conference for the Greater Good, they attended a follow up day-long deep dive in Yakima led by the conference key-note speakers. The goal being to strengthen the entire nonprofit community by facilitating leadership through collaboration. They are eager to attend the 2019 Central Washington Conference for the Greater Good, featuring a keynote about stories as a way to bring people together.

Calling all endeavors in North Central Washington: IRIS invites you to share your story. They are enthusiastic about promoting nonprofits and love to highlight the good work they are doing, along with personal and community stories. Read some of the stories from the 2018 Success Story Exchange and learn how to host your own mini-summit on their website.


IRIS’s mission is to foster sustainable rural communities in North Central Washington by gathering and sharing success stories that enhance a sense of belonging, inspire action, and build community. They have been a member of Washington Nonprofits since 2018.

In our monthly Member Spotlight, Washington Nonprofits features members who are doing something worth sharing. It can be a best practice, implementation of a new idea, or something that may help others to tackle a challenge. Do you have a story that you would like to share? Contact us! We would love to hear from you.
About Julia Hunter 24 Articles
Julia Hunter is the Membership & Learning Coordinator at Washington Nonprofits.