News & Media

Kelly Ryan Blog: South Wood County on National Stage

Fri. Nov 8, 2013

A week ago, the world learned about the people of south Wood County, Wisconsin. They learned of Kristi Anderson, who deferred graduate school to return to her hometown and help transform our riverfront. They discovered Kirk Willard, and how his leadership has contributed significantly to the success of local workforce efforts. And they met Gus Mancuso, the retired principal who’s now a passionate advocate for his community.

Our community’s willingness to experiment and to understand that each of us plays a vital role in shaping a new future by “stepping up, choosing hope, embracing change and modeling new behavior” was given national recognition during The Rockefeller Foundation’s “Celebration of Philanthropy” event in Washington, D.C. on October 30. As CEO of Incourage, I was humbled to be able to represent the work of people like Kristi, Kirk, and Gus to some of the nation’s top leaders in philanthropy and government, like retired Chief Justice of the United States Sandra Day O’Connor and philanthropist/singer Sir Elton John.

Standing just a few blocks from the White House in the American Red Cross building’s “Hall of Service,” I told the hundreds of attendees about our community’s “big bet.” Our big bet was, and continues to be, on the people who live in south Wood County.  How instead of trying to use dated, ineffective strategies that seek to attract the same old, unreliable jobs to our area, people are working courageously and persistently to build sustainable change in the community’s culture – transforming it from a paternal reliance on paper manufacturers, to one that embraces creativity, inclusion and the entrepreneurial spirit of risk and reward. It was a message that resonated with the attendees.   They understood that this is not easy work.  It is not a Band-Aid approach or a short-term fix.  It is long-term work that requires patience and persistence and is the kind of work that many communities should be undertaking.

In the decade I’ve had the privilege to lead this organization; I’ve always carried with me a deep sense of responsibility to our community’s residents and our donors. This is especially true when I am asked to speak on their behalf or accept recognition for our work.  Our work is their work.  Our recognition is their recognition.

It’s also clear that our community is further along than other communities that face economic hardship and challenges. I’ve had the opportunity to see many other communities, development approaches and foundations.  I see how our community compares on the metrics that really count: people and assets.  We excel on both measures.

Thank you to the Rockefeller Foundation for their 100 years of philanthropic leadership,  confidence in us, their invitation and for showing the world that our residents of south Wood County are doing something truly unique – not just surviving economic crisis but adapting in the midst of change and coming together to create a new future.

To view my presentation and the other presenters visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BfIzyTrPog&feature=youtu.be.

Thanks for reading.



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  • About Incourage

    Established in rural Wisconsin in 1994 to serve the changing needs of the south Wood County area, Incourage has become a nationally-recognized leader in place-based philanthropy and community development. Guided by values of equity, opportunity, and shared stewardship, Incourage envisions a community that works well for all people. One physical manifestation of this vision is the redevelopment of the Tribune building, which demonstrates Incourage’s user-centered approach to growing a strong and inclusive local economy.