EASTPORT, Maine — Forty graduates from the Washington County Leadership Institute over the last 13 years gathered at the Eastport Arts Center as a “Think Bank” to determine how to bolster Washington County and how quickly they could begin.
Linda Godfrey, founder of WCLI, said the day of brainstorming was “a grand success. It was a combination of creative and energetic minds that looked at real-life challenges and potentials.”
The forum concentrated on three areas: leadership development, making connections, and production and trade.
“It is so important to stress the positive without being Pollyanna-ish,” Godfrey said. “As Martin Luther King said, we realize we can’t drive out the negative, so we’ll crowd it out with the positive.”
She said it was time Washington County started looking inward for solutions.
“We don’t have to just be the recipients of others’ power. We can tap into the creative genius already in our communities,” she said.
“It’s like a fog has lifted in the county. The timing for this energy is very right,” Godfrey said.
Collectively, the Think Bank members said they are determined to get rid of any “de” words that stifle creativity and success — words such as desolate, desperate and depressed that are often used to describe Washington County.
They agreed to use a statement by Theodore Roosevelt as their motto: “Do what you can with what you have, where you are.”
When asked to shout out words that describe the sounds, smells and features of Washington County, Think Bank members offered: bumpy roads, bait, clam flats, intolerance, children moving away for work.
But those honest negatives were balanced by many positives, including: salt water and rugged coastline, sweet grass, wind, silence, fog, home, family, roots, resiliency, abundance, potential and strength.
Some of the specific issues tackled by the Think Bank included bringing high-speed Internet to the entire county and using Facebook for countywide networking.
Katherine Cassidy, of Machias, a 2005 WCLI graduate, said one group of participants suggested that Washington County’s marketing message to the rest of the country is that Washington County is “A Place to Call Home,” and a place where you can “Be Who You Want to Be.”
“We developed an impromptu promise that, if you come to Washington County, we promise you can see stars at night,” she said. “We promise you won’t have to drive far to be alone. We promise you will eat locally grown foods. We promise if you step into a store, someone will start a conversation with you.”
Other suggestions included linking with the New England School of Communications in Bangor to create a filmed archive of the county’s oldest residents; creating a locally produced, community radio program; and approaching Domtar in Baileyville to see if it can manufacture new cardboard containers for takeout food, similar to the Meals for Me lunches, which are now delivered in styrofoam containers wrapped in foil.
“We are inventors and survivors,” Brenda Gay-Barker said. “We have a choice of how we are going to be perceived by the rest of the world.”