Chapel Hill is giving residents the opportunity to learn more about their town and its services this fall with the Peoples Academy.
The Peoples Academy is a five-week program in which citizens attend sessions and go on group excursions focused on the city’s departments. Sessions include meeting law enforcement, learning about the Parks and Recreation Department and a comprehensive tour of the town to conclude the program.
“We were tasked with developing an academy that would illuminate the town’s services for residents and connect them with engagement opportunities,” said Beth Vazquez, project manager for the Peoples Academy.
Vazquez and her colleagues worked with faculty from the UNC School of Government as well as the town council to design the program.
“We tried to combine the council’s interests with the academic research on citizens' academies and the unique needs of our community to design what we hope to be a program that’s really responsive to the town and hopefully exciting and engaging for the people who live here,” Vazquez said.
Nancy Oates, Chapel Hill Town Council member, said that the program is also designed to encourage citizens to join advisory boards. Oates said that these groups, which include the Historic District Commission and the Environmental Stewardship Advisory Board, would benefit from a more diverse membership.
“The idea is that when we have an advisory board that has a more diverse mindset, we are going to make better decisions,” Oates said.
Sarah Poulton, project manager for the Peoples Academy alongside Vazquez, underscored the importance of selecting a diverse group for the program.
“We really want to make sure that the group we select is very diverse, that it includes people from all parts of the Chapel Hill community,” Poulton said. “Whether that’s UNC students, UNC staff, people being served by town partner organizations—a diverse geographic smattering of people across the town to make sure we're not getting everyone from one neighborhood.”
Poulton said that the academy was originally expecting to admit 30 community members and 30 town employees but the town received so many applications that they have raised the number to 60 community members.
“Very early on we started thinking about how we could bring people to the program who aren't already at the table,” Vazquez said. “One of the things that’s really neat is that the applications we’ve already received are from people we aren't necessarily familiar with. These aren't folks who serve on boards of commission or that we recognize from town council meetings, so that’s something that we’re really excited about.”
Applications for the Peoples Academy are open until August 31. UNC students are encouraged to apply. More information can be found here.
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