Group acts to improve life in Washington County

Posted Jan. 15, 2009, at 9:33 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Close to three dozen people attended a Thursday meeting of the Washington County: One Community organization, a 3-year-old grass-roots coalition aimed at improving life Down East. The meeting was held at the University of Maine at Machias.

Participants included representatives from a broad range of business, government, social service and educational agencies interested in advancing services in this rural region. Topics of discussion centered on economics, infrastructure, wellness, youth, social capital and communications.

Washington County: One Community was formed in 2006 with a grant from Maine Rural Partners, based in Orono, and received a $179,000 grant from the USDA the next year. Its 12-member board of directors, appointed by the county commissioners, is drawn from a variety of communities.

The organization compiled a survey last year from more than 1,000 individuals, families and businesses to find what issues are important to residents in their communities, and what difficulties need to be overcome to live here.

Forming focus groups during the five-hour meeting, individuals addressed specific quality-of-life elements that need enhancement. Better health care access and transportation services as well as better jobs and higher incomes were among the issues addressed. Also discussed were the importance of social relationships and community activities.

Other topics included a call for emphasis on proper nutrition, with childhood obesity cited as a major problem in Washington County, and concern over the high cancer rate. The farm-to-school program that has been implemented in some districts was noted as a valuable program.

Youth development and leadership programs also were mentioned as important, and educational direction to meet the modern job market, including high-speed Internet access, was considered.

In addition, the problem of homelessness and the availability of affordable housing were cited as problems. On the other hand, participants noted the need to make people who live here as well as those who visit more aware of the advantages of life here, from environmental quality and natural resources to recreational opportunities.

Information about Washington County: One Community can be found on a link at www.washingtoncountymaine.com.

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