Orange County Project Connect to Take Place Thursday

As of the last point-in-time count earlier this year, there were 80 people without homes in Orange County. And chances are, those people need the same types of services and resources that people with homes do.

That’s what coalition members with the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness were thinking when they created Project Connect. It’s a chance for those who are experiencing or are at risk for homelessness to stop by and get everything from a winter coat to legal advice to a haircut and makeover for job interviews.

“Our goal this year is to really have quite a festive atmosphere and a joyous atmosphere so of course there’s food… we’re no dummies,” said Corey Root. She’s the Homelessness Program Coordinator for Orange County.

She said the event is a chance for the whole community to work together.

“It’s super important to get services for folks” Root said. “But we also want to have a day where we are coming together as a community and feeling that, feeling that celebration and not that sort of dire, ‘Here are your services.’ But really quite a joyous event for the whole community.”

Thursday, October 27 will be the tenth Project Connect for Orange County. It will be held at the Hargraves Center on Roberson Street from 9:00 A.M. – 3:00 P.M. Root said OCPEH is looking for both volunteers and donations for the event.

“We’re asking folks if they’ve got winter clothing, coats in particular,” she said. “We’re also soliciting for gift cards for grocery stores so we can buy supplies… grocery stores or Walmart or Target or any store where we can buy supplies for the event.”

Root said it’s rewarding to be able to provide these services to those who need them. But she said it’s also rewarding that so many other Orange County residents have been so eager to help out at Project Connect in the past.

“It spoke to me a lot about the values of our community and how just what a great place Orange County is” Root said. “So it was just wonderful.”

OCPEH is looking for volunteers for the following:

  • Parking
  • Guest Intake
  • Recycling
  • Massage
  • Hair Styling
  • Clean-Up

Sign up for a shift between 8:15 A.M. and 5:30 P.M. here.

Orange County Early Voter Turn Out Up 43% Over 2012

It’s currently the fourth day of early voting in North Carolina, but through Saturday, 12% of all registered voters in Orange County had already voted.

Voter turnout is already expected to be high this year. According to a study by Pew Research Center, 80% of respondents said they’ve thought a lot about the election. This is the highest amount measured in the past quarter century. Also, from that same study, 60% of people say they are more interested in this election than they were four years ago.

While interest may be a reason for the spike in early voting so far, it could also be due to the fact that there are more voters. In 2012, North Carolina had a population of 9.7 million. But as of last year, that number climbed to over 10 million. The number of registered voters went up with it: in 2012 111,555 people were registered to vote. This year, so far 116,445 people have registered. That number continues to climb and Orange County Board of Elections director Tracy Reams said stops are seeing more one-stop voters than ever.

County Commissioners Show Unanimous Support For Wegmens

Following in the footsteps of the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Orange County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a $4 million incentive package to bring Wegmans Supermarket to Chapel Hill.

“When we first started talking about incentives years ago, a number of us said informally that we would never provide incentives for retail,” said commissioner Bernadette Pelissier. “Most of retail doesn’t provide well-paying jobs, doesn’t necessarily provide benefits and this is different. Wegmens is different.”

Wegmans is a high-end supermarket that will move into the space on 15-501 soon to be vacated by Performance Automall.

In the first five years after opening in Chapel Hill, the store expects to grow from $62 million in annual revenue to $83 million.

Director of Orange County economic development Steve Brantley said Wegmans would be the single largest financial generator to the county and to the town.

“This project is proposing the creation of 185 full-time jobs with healthcare and other benefits,” he said. “In addition there are 230 to 413 part-time jobs.”

The incentive will go on for five years after Wegmans opens.

Chapel Hill and Orange County will split the cost of the incentive, with each taking half of the $4 million annually.

The incentives are tied to the performance of Wegmans, meaning if the company fails to reach its expected goals, the financial incentives for Orange County would decrease proportionally.

“I do not thing we can repeat enough that this is performance based,” said commissioner Mia Burroughs. “This is revenue positive and it was built specifically to make sure that was the case, which is why I’m very comfortable supporting this.”

Wegmans will also make necessary road repairs and handle environmental concerns to get the site ready for its opening.

The company also has a history of getting involved with nonprofits in the area surrounding its stores. Brantley said this would be a major advantage for the community.

“When Orange County wins a project like this, we gain the relationship with that organization,” he said. “We can introduce nonprofits like PORCH, Empowerment and so forth.”

Performance Automall is not expected to vacate the premises until the summer of 2017. Wegmens is not expected to open until the fall of 2019.

OCRCC Taking Steps to End Bullying, Harassment

Bullying can appear in many ways and in many places ranging from school to the home. But bullying also often shows itself in the form of interpersonal or sexual violence.

“Several researchers who look into sexual violence prevention have proposed the theory that sexual harassment in middle school is a building block behavior that if unchecked, eventually leads to more severe forms of sexual violence later on,” said Rachel Valentine, Community Education Director for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.

She says the center has a program they teach in elementary and middle schools called SafeTouch. And they have one for high schools called Start Strong.

“We start to shift from talking about how your body belongs to you,” Valentine said. “So no one should be touching you or treating you in a way that you don’t like, to how that applies to other people.”

Rachel Valentine spoke with Aaron Keck this week on WCHL.


After starting conversations like this in elementary and middle school, they switch to discussing ideas of consent and harassment in high schools. Valentine says most bullying in today’s day and age is actually considered identity-based harassment, or expressed violence towards someone based on his or her race, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status and other factors.

“I think we would be better prepared to actually prevent bullying if we stop to really think about what leads children to do this,” she said.

Valentine said having programs in schools and teaching children at an early age about interpersonal and sexual violence, the more students are to be active bystanders, willing to protect others against that violence. They’re also more likely to seek verbal consent in their sexual relationships.

“We’re not in the business of teaching a generation of kids how to protect themselves from harm,” she said. “We’re in the business of teaching a generation of kids how to engage with one another without causing harm.”

Valentine said this can be achieved by activities that encourage school connectedness. She says students who are connected to their schools are more likely to be the ones to step in and prevent violence wherever they can. She also says the first step to preventing all types of relationship violence is to recognize and listen to victims.

“If someone is coming forward to say that they have experienced this type of harm, we need to start by believing,” she said. “And then go from there in terms of what the educative response can be for the person who’s done it to them.”

Even though October is National Bullying Prevention month, OCRCC has informational prevention programs for students, families and community members all year long. More information can be found here.

Arrest Made in Orange County Church Vandalism Case

An arrest has been made in connection with vandalism at two Orange County churches last week.

Orange County Sheriff’s Office investigators have charged Brayden Tyler Swain with “numerous felonies stemming from the vandalism of the Little River Presbyterian Church and the New Bethel United Methodist Church” last Thursday.

Swain, of Person County, has been charged with offenses including breaking or entering a place of worship, injury to real property, injury to personal property and safe cracking.

Law enforcement originally said the damage to the two churches was estimated to be $20,000. Officials said nothing appeared to have been stolen. Instead, officials say “it appears that the suspect(s) only intent was to damage and destroy property at the churches.”

Swain is being held at the Orange County Detention Facility under a $5,000 bond. Swain is set to make his first appearance in District Court on Tuesday afternoon.

While Swain is in custody, authorities are asking for anyone with additional information to contact investigator Jason Nazworth at (919) 245-2925 or investigator Keith Goodwin at (919) 245-2918. Tips can also be e-mailed to

Events Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Chapel Hill

Localities in our community are celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro adopted resolutions in 2015 recognizing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The recognition has been growing in recent years as a counterpoint to Columbus Day, which is listed as a federal holiday.

Events are being sponsored by the Town of Chapel Hill, the UNC American Indian Center and the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation throughout the day on Monday.

Johnny “Blackfeather” Jeffries is scheduled to lead a program on the creation and demonstration of primitive tools and weapons beginning at four o’clock Monday afternoon at the Hargraves Softball Field at 216 N Roberson Street.

A Talking Circle is also scheduled for Monday evening with members of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, Sappony and Lumbee tribes facilitated by the UNC American Indian Center. The panel will discuss the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The panel is set to begin at six o’clock Monday evening in Meeting Room B of the Chapel Hill Public Library.

The documentary Survival of the Circle is also scheduled to be shown at six o’clock Monday evening in the gymnasium at the Chapel Hill Community Center at 120 S Estes Drive.

Controversial Wedding Venue Going Back Before Orange County Board of Adjustment Monday Night

A controversial Orange County project will go back before the county’s Board of Adjustment on Monday night.

Community members near Morrow Mill Road have been concerned for nearly an entire year about a proposal that would bring a wedding venue to the area.

The Barn of Chapel Hill is billed as a wedding venue by the owners but those who opposed the project prefer the term “party barn.” The proposal first went before the planning board last year in a meeting that was attended by many residents voicing opposition.

The owner’s of the 22-acre property applied for a Special Use Permit for the project. That application was denied by the county Board of Adjustment. But the barn owners do not need the permit approval to move forward because the property is classified as a “bona-fide” farm.

A local organization, Preserve Rural Orange, has been leading the fight against the Barn of Chapel Hill. A release from the group says three neighboring landowners are appealing Orange County planning staff’s decision that no zoning approval is required for property owners to construct the venue.

The property owners told WCHL earlier this year that they believed they did not need county approval but said they wanted to go through an open process to hear concerns from the neighbors.

In that interview, one of the property owners – Kara Brewer – said they were working to develop the barn “without being a nuisance to the community.” Brewer said, at the time, the property had two bee hives with hopes they would begin to sell honey in 2017. They had also had hopes of selling other products, including flowers next year.

The neighbor’s appeal is set to be heard by the county Board of Adjustment at 7:30 Monday night on the lower level of the West Campus Building at 131 West Margaret Lane in Hillsborough.

Cleanup Underway from Hurricane Matthew; Boil Water Advisory in Chatham County

****UPDATE: Chatham County has ended the boil water advisory that was issued on Sunday.****

Cleanup is underway across Orange County and most of central and eastern North Carolina after heavy rainfall from Hurricane Matthew.

Nearly 3,000 Orange County residents were without power for a portion of the weekend, mainly concentrated in the Chapel Hill area, as downed trees and power lines kept emergency crews busy.

A shelter was opened at Smith Middle School for Saturday night into Sunday for residents impacted by the storm. By four o’clock Sunday afternoon all residents who used the shelter had either returned home or relocated, according to county officials.

Officials say about a dozen residents were evacuated from the public housing units on Estes Drive.

Meanwhile in Chatham County, a boil-water advisory has been issued for customers in the Asbury Water District, which is located south of Pittsboro.

That advisory was issued because of a water main break in the City of Stanford’s distribution system.

All residents who pay a Chatham County water bill and live south of Highway 64, east of Pittsboro-Goldston Road/Mays Chapel Road/Rosser Road and west of Haw River are affected by the advisory.

Officials in Chatham County and Orange County declared a State of Emergency due to the flooding.

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood tweeted Sunday that he had ordered some deputies to head to Columbus County to assist in storm recovery.

Hurricane Matthew Knocks Power Out in Chapel Hill

****UPDATE: Smith Middle School has been opened as a shelter for those impacted by the flooding. Many of the power outages in Chapel Hill had been restored as of 6:30 Saturday evening.****

Hurricane Matthew is continuing to dump heavy rain across Orange County on Saturday.

The storm knocked down many trees, which have brought down a number of power lines as well.

Nearly 3,000 Orange County residents were without power shortly after three o’clock Saturday afternoon, according to Duke Energy. The largest segment was more than 2,200 concentrated in Chapel Hill.

Residents reported roads being washed out in areas that are prone to flooding.

Officials in Chatham County and Orange County have declared a State of Emergency in each jurisdiction due to the flooding.

The Town of Chapel Hill released the following areas where crews were responding to down trees:

  • Eastowne Drive near Providence Drive   – both lanes blocked
  • Grant Street – one lane blocked
  • Piney Mountain Road – one lane blocked
  • Hooper Lane – one lane blocked
  • Umstead Drive – both lane blocked
  • Cherokee Circle – both lane blocked – power lines down – Duke Power has been notified.
  • CHFD has also removed at least one down tree – location not reported
  • 2 trees reported down on the new bike/pedestrian trail – secondary needs removal after conditions improve – more than likely tomorrow
  • Standish Road at Old Durham Road – both lanes blocked

Officials say about a dozen residents were evacuated from the public housing units on Estes Drive.

Several area creeks have already crested.

If you see a downed power line, officials say you should avoid it and call 911.

Residents are also being urged to stay home and off the road.

Governor Pat McCrory said in a press conference on Saturday afternoon that three North Carolinians had died during the hurricane. One hydroplaned while driving and the other two were killed in a  submerged vehicle.

A flash flood warning is in effect for most of central North Carolina until 10:30 Saturday night.

Orange County Authorities Asking for Information Regarding Vandalism of Two Churches

Officials with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office say two separate church vandalisms occurred between Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

Authorities say the Little River Presbyterian Church and the New Bethel United Methodist Church, both located in Caldwell, were broken into and “numerous panes of glass” were broken. The doors at each location also sustained damage as part of the incident.

Nothing appears to have been stolen, according to law enforcement, instead officials say “it appears that the suspect(s) only intent was to damage and destroy property at the churches.”

The cost to replace and repair the damage is expected to exceed $20,000, although an exact figure has not been calculated.

The Sheriff’s Office is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those involved. Authorities say anyone with information can remain anonymous, if they prefer.

Officials are requesting information regarding the vandalism be directed to investigator Jason Nazworth at (919) 245-2925 or investigator Keith Goodwin at (919) 245-2918. Tips can also be e-mailed to