The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday November 27th

Making Chapel Hill 'teen-friendly' one step at a time with the Youth Initiative

The Chapel Hill Town Council hopes to make improvements by engaging more youth in the community by utilizing resources like the Teen Center on 179 E Franklin St.
Buy Photos The Chapel Hill Town Council hopes to make improvements by engaging more youth in the community by utilizing resources like the Teen Center on 179 E Franklin St.

The Chapel Hill Town Council discussed an update on their Youth Initiative Report at its Jan. 30 business meeting.

In fall 2018, the council gathered data from 14 focus groups with 180 youth aged 11 to 18 and convened several youth-serving organizations. Based on the research results, the council proposed the next two steps regarding youth spaces.

One is to create a “teen-friendly” training and designation program to create a safe and welcoming space. The other next step is to involve teens to make improvements to Town-owned facilities, such as the Teen Center. 

Hongbin Gu, a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, said the update made the report more complete by including more information about the middle schoolers and high schoolers in Chapel Hill. 

“After the initial report, the council commented that they would like to see a larger population, and especially a sample that will represent the diversity of our town,” Gu said. “So after that, we reached out to more youth organizations and youth groups and some more people from all different backgrounds in our town.” 

Allen Buansi, member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, said the purpose of the report is to have some feedback from teenagers on a few different issues, including the future of the Teen Center. 

“From what the Town staff gathered and its focus group of teens, it seemed like there were a number of teens that did not know about the Teen Center, didn’t know where it was and teens that did know where it was had some concerns about its condition,” Buansi said. 

“There have been some discussions about possibly creating a new Teen Center, but Town staff really won’t get into details about the Teen Center until the next stage where they are actually getting feedback from teens on their ideas about spaces.”

Beth Vazquez, town manager of the Ombuds Office of the Town of Chapel Hill, said the town council can better understand the lives of youths of different backgrounds by asking them questions and receiving feedback. 

“We set out to learn more about the experiences of youths in Chapel Hill, so we weren’t specifically asking them programs about what they want — we were asking them more who they are, what kinds of places do they visit, where did they feel safe, who did they spend time with, what are their goals in life, whether some of the challenges that they identify is barriers to reaching some of the goals," Vazquez said. 

Sarah Viñas, assistant director for housing and community for the Town of Chapel Hill, said mental health issues were another theme that emerged from the focus group. 

“Another thing striking was that young people we’ve talked with spoke about mental health challenges and the pressure that they face in school to succeed and how that concept attributes to things like anxiety and depression and sometimes low self-esteem,” Viñas said. 

By implementing programs and collaborating with other organizations, members of the council said they strive to create a safer, youth-friendly environment for Chapel Hill. 

Upcoming collaborations with youth-focused organizations include the annual LIGHTUP with the Chinese School at Chapel Hill and the Chinese American Friendship Association, which will focus on aspects of Chinese culture, including dances, art and food. The event is on Feb. 24 at 11 a.m. in downtown Chapel Hill.


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