Approximately 200 people ignored the dire warnings of inclement weather to attend the first in a series of community meetings to address county growth issues at the Turner Lake Recreation Complex Saturday morning.
Held as part of the Martin Luther King weekend celebration, the packed room was filled with residents from a wide variety of backgrounds: black, white, young, old, elected officials, community organizers, lifelong residents and newcomers to the county.
"We were very pleased with the turnout and the diversity of the people who attended," said Laura Bertram, program director for the Newton County Community Partnership and an organizer of the event. "We felt with the inclement weather that the number far exceeded our expectations, they hit exactly the number we wanted to reach."
Attendees were at random assigned to tables of six to eight people which then brainstormed both problems and solutions to six selected topic areas which have experienced new burdens and challenges as a result of the county's growth. Those six topic areas were: transportation, crime and safety, education, employment, housing and health.
Led by program facilitator Dr. Dionne Rosser-Mims, interim site director for the Covington Campus of Troy University, conversation at the tables on Saturday was brisk and enthusiastic with participants throwing out many suggestions.
After the brainstorming session had ended, each breakout group shared with the room one issue they believed posed the greatest challenge to the community. Of the six topic areas, education was raised as a chief concern more than any other issue.
"Our education affects everything we do in this community," said Covington Mayor Kim Carter who participated in the day's brainstorming.
Other top concerns were transportation, the desire for a more inclusive community that reached out to newcomers, the need to raise more funding/revenue to address the county's growing pains and reaching out to disengaged youth.
Nearly all attendees were in agreement that one of the county's greatest strengths/assets is its sense of community pride and spirit of volunteerism.
Josephine Kelley, director of Main Street Covington and one of the organizers of the event, said the brainstorming responses will be compiled into a document to be distributed to all attendees of the meeting within the next week.
A follow-up meeting has been scheduled at Eastside High School at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 9. The public is encouraged to attend.
"This is really a first step," Bertram said. "We really want to be intentional about gathering community members around the issues. The focus is on being part of the solution. We all can have a voice in this."
For further information and to become involved contact the Newton County Community Partnership at (770) 786-0807.