A town hall-style meeting designed to find out how to make Calaveras County a better place to raise children over the next 10 years drew nearly 40 citizens to Copperopolis Elementary School gymnasium last night.

Parents, teachers, children, senior citizens and at least one high school student gathered to share their ideas.

Sarah Boxx with Social Entrepreneurs, a consulting firm based in Reno, led the lively discussion, listing all the ideas for improving children's lives in Copperopolis.

Boxx said this was the last of seven town hall meetings held throughout Calaveras County as part of developing a strategic plan for spending Proposition 10 funds, the 50-cents-a-pack cigarette tax.

First 5 Calaveras appointed by the county Board of Supervisors in 1999 and then known as Calaveras Children and Families Commission is the agency conducting the meetings in preparation for developing a 10-year strategic plan.

Similar meetings have already been held in Angels Camp, Arnold, Mountain Ranch, Murphys, San Andreas and Valley Springs.

Boxx said through the meetings and more than 1,000 interviews with county residents, certain needs have been consistently identified as important: slow, planned growth, recreation opportunities, community centers, family-oriented services and facilities, available and affordable medical, dental and mental health services.

For nearly an hour last night, people raised a range of ideas such as building bike paths, getting reliable public transportation and building affordable homes.

Bret Harte High School senior Rebecca Nesler said she wants to get shelters built at each school bus stop in the county because during the rainy season, lots of students are soaked by the time the bus picks them up.

The group finally settled on one main goal pulling the community together to build and maintain a park for children and families. Using a phased approach, the park would eventually include a playground, pool, sports fields and a library.

After the meeting, Boxx said three critical issues she has heard about again and again in meetings and interviews are the needs for affordable housing, transportation and more parks and recreation centers.

She said she will take the town meeting results to the next First 5 Calaveras planning team meeting, May 12.

"They'll review everything, see what themes emerged and look at the strategies required to accomplish these goals," she said.

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