The Chapel Hill Peoples Academy, meant for people that "live, work, play, pray or study" in Chapel Hill to become immersed in Town services and operations, is coming back for its second year this fall.
Beth Vazquez, Chapel Hill’s ombuds, said the goal of the a five-week, 10-class program is two-fold.
“Part of the goal was to improve civic understanding and how to share ideas with and influence the outcomes of town government, and also to increase diversity on the Town’s boards and commissions,” she said.
The academy is divided evenly between classroom sessions and field trips, and highlights local services and departments, including the Chapel Hill Fire Department, Public Works and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority.
Sarah Poulton, the Town’s downtown special projects manager, said the classroom sessions feature interactive activities and that the presentations of some departments, like Public Works, stand out to her.
“They had a very detailed tour and presentation, and they had all this equipment pulled out and they really rolled out their red carpet,” she said. “Some departments are maybe a little drier in their content, not quite as interactive, but it’s still very valid and important for them to be included.”
Vazquez said the academy reaches out to underrepresented communities, including in Chapel Hill’s public housing units and the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services’ shelters. Four or five residents of these transitional housing programs enrolled in the academy last year, she said.
The academy provides childcare, meals, interpretation and transportation as needed.
Natalie Gauger, a sophomore at UNC, participated in the program during the afternoon sessions and helped watch over other participants’ children during the evening sessions. She said she appreciates the program’s focus on diversity and accessibility.