Residents with an opinion to share on the county's explosive growth and the changes it has caused are invited to attend the first in a series of community development meetings on the subject this Saturday at the Turner Lake Recreation Center.
The morning will begin with a breakfast at 8:30 a.m. followed by a three-hour long breakout discussion on six topics pertaining to growth: transportation, crime and safety, education, employment, housing and health.
Residents are encouraged by organizers of the event to "be at the table to represent the interests of your neighborhood, your church, your schools, your community organizations and your values."
Tamara Richardson, outreach director for the Community Foundation, said the idea for the community meetings came out of a conversation with Josephine Kelley, director of Main Street Covington, on the need for a grass-roots conversation on growth.
"It kind of morphed," Richardson said. "What it has grown into is a grass roots conversation around this big thing called growth and all of the positives and negatives that come with it."
The meeting will be held in conjunction with the other activities of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Richardson said the meeting's message of communities working together dovetails nicely with the legacy of Dr. King.
"This is really an opportunity for just regular folks to come to the table and tell us what their thoughts and concerns are," Richardson said. "We're really trying to involve a broad base of folks in this initiative."
After breakfast and opening remarks from Newton County Superior Court Justice Horace Johnson Jr., attendees will be divided by table into discussion groups and will have 10 to 15 minutes to talk about one of the six selected topics. Each table will have a recorder and a facilitator. At the end of the discussion time each table will share with the room what came up during their conversation on the selected topic.
After sharing, the tables will come back together again to discuss the next topic for another 10 minutes before sharing the highlights from their conversation with the room. A seventh break-out conversation will be a catch-all to cover any other issues which weren't touched on with the first six topics.
"I'm really curious to see what the outcome of this is," Richardson said. "We're kind of shooting in the dark here."
A second community meeting has been scheduled at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 9 at Turner Lake. During this meeting Richardson said attendees will have the option of joining one of the six topic groups to focus on that issue exclusively and to brainstorm ideas to resolve the problems stemming from that topic.
Richardson said she sees subsequent meetings taking place over a 12 month period. According to Richardson, the idea for the format of the meetings came from an initiative called Partners for a Prosperous Athens, which took place in Athens last year to discuss the issue of poverty.
Supporting community organizations include Main Street Covington, Community Foundation of Newton County, Newton County Community Partnership, Washington Street Community Center, Oxford College of Emory University, Turner Lake Park, Hands On Newton, MLK Celebration Committee, The Center for Community Preservation and Planning, the African-American Historical Association of Newton County and the Newton County Recreation Commission.