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Council discusses Covington Cares ideas
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Mayor Ronnie Johnston and the Covington City Council joined the city attorneys, the city manager, assistant city manager and communications manager Monday night to discuss how to move forward with the city's newest initiative -- Covington Cares.

Covington Cares, according to Johnston, is a way to “make sure we’re giving our entire town hope.”

“I think this all sprung from conversations revolving around what we need to do to improve our communities,” said City Manager Leigh Anne Knight. “Obviously, that started with the [neighborhood] cleanup."

Earlier this summer, council members and some city staff joined residents of the Stone Mountain Street neighborhood to clean up the neighborhood.

“There were good things and bad things [about the event],” Knight said. “Now we really want to kick off. We want to create a pseudo-department [requiring] no additional staff. We’ll run the department with no additional staff.”

Knight, along with Communications Manager Trey Sanders, was asked by the council to put together some ideas about what issues Covington Cares could address. She said the mayor had discussed reading to children and eradicating unemployment.

“Trey and I kind of took that and tried to develop something to move forward,” said Knight. “We’ve come up with what we label as Covington Cares. It’s a three-pronged approach to hitting things that were the mayor’s concerns.”

Sanders delivered a PowerPoint presentation, outlining the three prongs, or pillars, of Covington Cares. He prefaced the presentation by saying the suggestions were broad picture ideas. The three pillars were Covington Cleans, Covington Reads and Covington Works.

Covington Cleans would work towards creating cleaner, safer neighborhoods residents would be proud to call home. The proposal is for the city to work with different neighborhoods by providing and removing dumpsters and publicizing the event, while neighborhoods would be responsible for providing volunteers for cleanup day.

Because illiteracy has far reaching effects on unemployment and crime rates and poverty, Covington Reads would be a program where volunteers read to children. Knight and Sanders suggested the city could stock a “rolling reader,” a bus or other vehicle,  with books, interactive material and possibly computers that would go from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Covington Works would be a program to reduce unemployment rates while bolstering the local economy. Workshops would be offered in workshops in resume writing, dressing for interviews and interviewing skills, and basic computer skills. Eventually, the city would host a job fair, inviting local employers to participate.

Johnston said there were entities in Covington which were addressing some of the issues. “The idea would be to put them under an umbrella where we can help,” he said. “We can become a connection that identifies the people who need training and get them there. Transportation is a challenge.

“We have the resources in the community,” he said. “It’s getting folks tapped into those resources.”

Council Member Kenneth Morgan, Post 1, West, suggested the city could think about helping adults earn their GED. “People can’t get a job without a high school diploma or a GED," he said.

“We are experiencing job growth right here in Covington,” Johnston said. “With Project 3-Ring, he is totally [onboard] with helping us do this … Basically, we are eliminating everyone’s excuse. It’s a challenge that we’re trying to figure out a way to put together a network of resources. Let’s work together and put together a game plan to help a person become more successful.”

Johnston’s concern that lack of transportation was one of the things preventing people from some resources, such as GED classes at Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC), prompted Council Member Chris Smith, Post 1, East, to ask if Johnston was advocating providing that transportation, and what the city’s liability was if children were transported in a bus or other city vehicle.

Sanders said the bus or vehicle wouldn’t transport children. It would park in a neighborhood, and children could come to have stories read to them, or get books.

A suggestion was made to provide a computer that adults could use for resumes and job searches while their children were hearing stories. Assistant City Manager Billy Bouchillion suggested using two classrooms at the Conyers Street Gym, which is currently being refurbished.

“It’s a good location that people can get to easily and have access to GPTC,” said Bouchillion.

Johnston said another of his concerns was reaching people who didn’t get emails, read the newspaper or had Internet access. He said he was struggling trying to find ways to reach people.

Smith suggested approachingCovington First United Methodist Church, which runs one of the regional food pantries, and Action Ministries to see if food packages would something that could be taken to sites to “attract more people. If you can get the parents to come with the children, and let the children have reading time while parents take classes, work on the computer or get food.”

Following the discussion, the council asked Knight and Sanders to create a list of possible ways to continue moving forward, and to put together suggestions about the rolling reader and other possible projects.