FARMINGTON — People envision Franklin County as a place where everyone is literate for their own empowerment, where children go to school with full bellies, and diversity is welcomed.

They would also like to see an improved economy without damaging natural resources, a vibrant forest and natural resource-based economy with value-added products, and the county connected through high-speed, broadband internet service and better cellphone service.

These are some of the visions more than 30 people had for the county during a Community Conversation held Thursday morning by Maine Community Foundation at the University of Maine at Farmington.

The foundation is conducting a series of conversations throughout the state to learn how it can help build on community strengths and improve the quality of life for people who live there. The Western Mountains Committee hosted the conversation, which was facilitated by Steve Rowe, president and chief executive officer of the foundation.

The foundation’s mission is to improve the quality of life for all Maine people, Rowe said. The foundation works with donors and other partners. 

Attendees were asked what their vision was for the county, what the greatest strengths and challenges are of its communities, and how they could build on those strengths to address those challenges.

The answers were written on oversized sheets of paper and hung on the walls of the room.

More visions mentioned for Franklin County included the use of arts to bring people together, making sure older people are not alone or isolated and having children enjoy and appreciate the outdoors and natural environment.

Participants could also envision the county as a place where youth can stay or return, attracting people from all over the world to appreciate its unique resources. They would like to see more affordable housing, and to assist young people as they explore local employment opportunities. They also would like to see more protected factors than risk factors, and for people to focus on assets of the area and not its deficiencies.

Among the greatest strengths mentioned were people’s strong sense of volunteerism, kindness and collaboration efforts, as well as the area’s numerous ponds and lakes, recreational opportunities, natural resources, cultural heritage and robust nonprofit sector. Other strengths included integration of high school and technical education, strong family connectors, a four-year university and support for children and families.

Challenges listed included limited public transportation, lack of employment opportunities, economic division, lack of programs for teens, a growing opioid addiction problem, high taxes and food insecurity.

More challenges listed included protection of natural resources, services in place to help keep older people in their homes, lack of capital improvement funds to repair aging infrastructure, and explaining to grant-funders about rural poverty being hidden poverty.

Rowe asked participants to come up with strategies to build on strengths to address the challenges.

Among the answers were to do more marketing and research for the forest products industry, foster infrastructure, develop agricultural opportunities, change the public view of poverty and increase opportunities for teenagers. They also added the need to increase affordable housing, market the county more, find ways to connect people to address their needs, attract people and private transportation to the region, improve communication strategies, discover what the new traveler or tourist wants, and create non-athletic opportunities for young people.

Communities are more than a geographical location, Rowe said. Communities are about people having a connection and showing kindness and respect and helping people feel good about themselves, he said.

The information will be typed and sent back to participants.

“We are going to use it in a lot of ways,” Rowe said.

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