Summit celebrates NCW successes

| By Karen Larsen |

The fifth annual North Central Washington Community Success Summit, sponsored by the Initiative for Rural Innovation and Stewardship (IRIS), was held at Okanogan Middle School on Nov. 20. This year’s summit was given the title “Okanogan — Small Town, Strong Community.” The themes for the summit were, “Cross Generational Relationships,” “Bridging Culture, Strengthening Community,” and “Connecting Land and Water.”

The summit included an update on success stories mentioned in previous summits, presentations from around the region, lunch provided by Slow Food Okanogan and roundtable discussions in which small groups had the chance to discuss and report on one of four topics. The topics chosen for this year’s roundtable were: recruiting volunteers, developing leaders, engaging youth and community, and reducing waste and increasing recycling and repurposing.

Attendance at the summit has steadily climbed over the five years of its existence. IRIS coordinator Nancy Warner said that 160 people attended this year, in comparison to 45 in 2009.

Marilynn Lynn, who is mayor of Bridgeport and a past president and member of the IRIS board of directors, said that IRIS had worked with the town of Okanogan and with the school for almost the whole year before the event.

Lynn said these efforts were very apparent. “This year you could really get the sense of how much the community was supporting this,” Lynn said.

Angela King, who is the program coordinator for Douglas County Solid Waste, was one of those who attended the summit. King said that one thing she really liked about the summit was its focus on the successes that have occurred in our communities. “It’s very challenging with today’s economy, and we can become very frustrated when we focus on our limitations,” King said.

King said that she appreciated the roundtable topic “reducing waste and increasing recycling and repurposing.” “It’s a really good format for my job,” King said, “It’s something I’m always trying to work on.”

King said that different people, depending on their particular commitment in the area’s communities, probably left with different insights from the summit. However, she said, “I think the underlying message is the same. We care, we’re committed and we want to be part of the solution.”

One area of networking that participants found helpful was the chance to hear the viewpoints of people from the three main cultures represented in our area: Caucasian, Native American and Hispanic. For many, the presentation of Waterfalls Okanogan Immersion School stood out among the agenda of presentations.

“We have three such vibrant cultures here,” Lynn said. “It was really great to see representatives from all those cultures sharing and supporting each other. When people focus on success and sustainability, labels fall away.”

Doug Provo, business manager for the Port of Douglas County, also appreciated the presentations given by Native Americans. “It’s a very good reminder to those who aren’t Native Americans to understand our very close association and history,” Provo said.

In addition, Provo appreciated the cross-generational exchange that the summit provides. Being held at the public school, the youth and teachers are an integral part of the summit. Provo felt that the youth and the elders were mutually inspired by each others’ successes.

“They’re our future,” Provo said of the youth, “They’re learning from these success stories. They’re inspired to be a part of the deal, and to contribute to the success of their own communities.”

Provo said that the roundtable discussions at the end of the day stood out to him as an especially helpful aspect of the summit. He appreciated the grassroots approach: the chance for people from all walks of life to talk together about ways to improve our communities, and to come up with possible solutions.

Warner said that following the holidays, IRIS will be approaching the Mansfield and Waterville town councils to explore interest for hosting the summit in 2014. A decision on the location of the next summit will be made a few months after that.