MEXICO – More and better promotion of the area, expanded job opportunities and a committed community working together for the benefit of all were the top three goals set for the region’s improvement and growth at Thursday’s River Valley Healthy Communities public forum.

More than 50 people worked for nearly four hours to identify the area’s assets, needs and goals.

Now, the healthy communities coalition board will sift through the data to try to find ways to meet some of the needs and goals.

“We’re asking you what you want to do with your community,” said coalition member Deb Gorham at the start of the session. “The forum provides a chance for people to tell the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition what to focus on. We want to keep going back to the community to learn of priorities and then develop partnerships.”

This was the seventh such forum sponsored by the coalition since its inception nine years ago.

At other forums, input from residents has led the organization to battle the dangers of lead paint, operate a youth anti-smoking campaign and smoking-cessation programs for adults, provide a boost to the growing arts community, and play an important role in other programs.

“Every facet of the community is part of a healthy community,” Gorham said.

Participants split into four topic areas, then looked at potential goals from that perspective. The topics were youth, recreation, elder issues and education.

For the top three goals, the coalition’s director, Patricia Duguay, said her organization could work with the River Valley Growth Council to help bring jobs or with the River Valley Chamber of Commerce to promote the area, for example.

Businessman Lem Cissel suggested that if the area’s natural beauty and resources were more emphatically promoted, then new jobs would follow.

Mexico resident Louise Arsenault, said regionalism could make a big difference.

“Our No. 1 problem is Rumford saying our people, and Mexico saying our people. We’ve got to have a River Valley rather than each town,” she said.

Some participants said River Valley people should focus more on the positive and encourage young people to become more involved in community service, while others thought more gathering places for both young people and senior citizens should be established.

Jean Hersey suggested a greater sharing and acceptance of all cultures and religions, while others said affordable public transportation was needed for older citizens and young people.

Many agreed that the local paper mill was important to the education and the future of youngsters.

“A thriving mill provides an opportunity for youth to return to the area,” said Rumford resident Wayne Gallant.

Many others agreed that the area is full of caring adults and that a strong sense of collaboration between agencies exists.

Duguay said the board will meet on May 25 to discuss Thursday’s forum. From there, committees may be created to work toward one or more of the goals.