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CHHS students raise over $20,000 to buy retiring teacher a new car

Teacher Bill Melega poses with his car. Photo courtesy of Bill Melega.

On May 7, Chapel Hill High School junior Lyla Berman launched a GoFundMe to get her history teacher, Bill Melega, a new car as a retirement gift. By June 9, the community had raised nearly $23,000.

The topic of Melega’s 1996 Saturn originally came up during a classroom discussion about inflation, he said.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, man, people just can’t print money. I’ve been driving the same car for like, 30 years,’ and my students were like, ‘Yeah, okay, that’s funny,’” he said. “I’m like, 'No, seriously, my Saturn is 30 years old.’” 

Berman and her classmates had previously wanted to do something special for Melega’s retirement — like a party or a going-away surprise — and after learning of his car’s age, she decided to create a GoFundMe. 

Melega has been a history teacher at Chapel Hill High School since 1997. Jill Berman, Lyla’s mother and Chapel Hill High School substitute teacher, said that Melega teaches world history through telling stories. 

“He is just one of those people in the classroom that is so inspiring,” she said. “He has an ability to teach history in a way that makes it come alive for kids.”

When Melega heard that his students were going to create a GoFundMe, he thought they were joking. Then, after coming back from his daughter’s graduation ceremony, he checked the page and saw it was a reality, he said.

“It was totally student-driven, I had literally no idea that it was real until I came back,” he said.

The popularity of the GoFundMe was boosted when Jill published it on Facebook. She shared it with a Chapel Hill community group, and later, Lyla began to reach out to news sources to spread the word.

Melega said that some of his favorite parts about teaching in Chapel Hill have been the creativity of the students and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ willingness to let teachers push the envelope.

“You walk out and you look at the murals and the theater program — I'm sure every high school has its share of [creativity], but we’ve just got a little bit more. I’m going to be arrogant. It's been 30 years, I can say what I want,” he said

The GoFundMe has garnered over 300 donations, with some as large as $1,000.

“I haven’t really checked the amount. People are telling me I'm going to be shocked,” Melega said

He said that while he’s not sure what type of car he’ll get, he’s getting too old to climb in and out of sedans. He would like to get a good, reliable pickup truck, he said

“However he uses the money is absolutely fine with us, because the original idea was just to get him a really nice going away gift,” Lyla said

Melega said that, after he retires, he plans on taking time off, getting healthy and regrowing. He said he does not relax well — he’s always lecturing or teaching. He said he plans on taking some time to slow down and enjoy, and then will likely begin looking to open another chapter in his life around October or November.

“I’m too young to quit working entirely, but it’s time for me to hang up the spurs here at Chapel Hill High,” he said.


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