Cooperation is key to ‘Thinking Like a Community’


Nancy Warner
IRIS Legacy Project Director

IRIS 2020 Legacy Project connects stories to shape our future

Most of us who live in North Central Washington came from someplace else. Except for tribal members whose roots go back hundreds of years, the rest of us either came from families who immigrated from other states and countries or we came here on our own.

Regardless of when and how we arrived, most of us were drawn here by an enticing mix of opportunities, hopes and dreams. Collectively, when we came — from as far away as Ukraine or, in my case, as close as Colorado — we brought values, traditions, knowledge and skills that have helped shape this place. That’s something we all have in common.

As newcomers, we’ve all also experienced the need for help along the way — help in getting oriented to a new landscape and community, help starting a different job and making new friends — help making this place feel like home, a place where we belong and can help make things happen.

To those of us in the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS), this is where the importance of knowing the stories of success in this place comes in. Our sense of belonging, feeling connected to others in the community and to the land, grows in proportion to the stories we know and can share about this place — the story behind the name on a map, the story of how soils and water have shaped settlement and land use, the story of how people have cooperated to increase safety, access to education, recreation, electricity and more all make it easier for us to imagine what impact we might have on the community.

Our connectedness to this place grows stronger every day we spend exploring the diverse landscapes of our region where the joys of encountering wild nature — from warblers and wildflowers to dragonflies and fish — become another part of the story we know, love and share about North Central Washington.

All together, these stories provide a common currency we can use for talking and thinking about the kind of community we want in this place. They serve as reference points that both ground us and inspire us to imagine possibilities — how we might build on earlier successes while enhancing the health of the lands and waters that sustain us and the greater natural world around us.

To increase access to these stories, we have begun distilling lessons gleaned in stories from over 500 interviews IRIS has conducted in North Central Washington since 2005 and using them to create a multi-platform book, “Thinking Like a Community.” With help from people in all corners of the region, IRIS plans to release the print and digital copy of this book at the NCW Community Success Summit that we’ll be convening in the Wenatchee Valley in November of 2020.

As the title suggests, a hallmark of our past and present success is our ability to cooperate — to think and act like a community united around shared needs and values. IRIS has gathered many examples of how collaboration has shaped the region through recorded interviews and written success stories which we’ve compiled for the NCW Community Success Summit series launched in 2009. Some of those, such as the Gathering Our Voice interview Dee Shriner and I did in 2014 with longtime resident and Orondo Fire District volunteer Gordon Brandt point out how we can continue to foster this healthy habit even as our communities grow and change.

“The pride of Orondo was the closeness of the community,” Gordon explained referring to the area that extended from the Auvil Fruit Company to Turtle Rock in the 1950s and 1960s. “When somebody honked and waved it was somebody you really knew,” he said including people from Waterville who would drive by on a daily basis to jobs in Wenatchee or to work in the orchards.

“Now you might know five percent of them,” he said describing how the Orondo community has grown as orchards have gone out and riverfront properties including those at Sun Cove have been acquired by many people from the west side. “There are probably more people there now than there used to be in the whole valley,” Gordon noted.

Other changes have come with the growth of the Orondo community that now extends to Beebe Bridge, including volunteerism he said. “People used to volunteer for so many things,” he said including the Orondo Grange, school board, and fire district. “And they would do it without expecting anything back other than satisfaction for themselves,” he added. “It used to feel really good,” he recalled of his years of volunteering with the fire district, “because you were always helping a neighbor you knew well. Now probably 90 percent of the emergency runs for accidents and fires involve people that we don’t know,” he explained.

Getting to know the new community including those who came from Mexico and other places to work in the orchards, second-homeowners, retirees and seasonal recreationists and providing them with ways to contribute has been the quest of the Orondo Fire District and their Fire Chief Jim Oatey since 2010. Their volunteer base had decreased by then from a stable and sizeable crew with experience in the landscape and knowledge of the community to one with less than a dozen people. By 2015, they had succeeded in increasing their crew to 36 active volunteers including a mix of men, women, young, old, Latino, Anglo-European, and others by building fun and social activities into the program and providing a variety of ways for people to help.

“I’m very proud of what the fire department has done,” Gordon Brandt said noting that they have been recognized by other districts for having well-mannered, well-trained and hard-working volunteers. Other examples of high regard for the fire district have come from those who have benefitted from their help including a retired city fireman from Sacramento who sent a thank you letter and a check in appreciation for what the district did for her parents who had a medical emergency while in the area. “It made our hearts feel really, really big,” Gordon said, “that they appreciated what we’d done for them.” They were thinking like a community.

To sample more interviews about Orondo and the greater Waterville community, visit the Listening Post Network at To read more about the Orondo Fire District visit the 2015 Success Story Exchange at To volunteer or to get more information about the Legacy Project, contact Nancy Warner, IRIS Legacy Project Director, at or 888-7374.

IRIS is proud to acknowledge our 2020 Partners including the Port of Douglas County, Community Choice, Wenatchee Valley College and The Wenatchee World.

The Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS) fosters sustainable rural communities in North Central Washington by gathering and sharing success stories that enhance a sense of belonging, inspire action and build community. We believe that thriving communities in a healthy environment create success. We’re on the web at