Chapel Hill is one of two North Carolina municipalities to be selected for a multi-year planning process that helps North Carolina local governments successfully engage with foreign-born, refugee and Latinx residents. The Town Council was given a report regarding the project at last Wednesday’s meeting.

Office of Housing and Community assistant director Sarah Vinas said the Building Integrated Communities project, or BIC, aligns with Chapel Hill’s Comprehensive Plan goal of making Chapel Hill a place for everyone.

“Our community is diverse. Seventeen percent of Chapel Hill residents are foreign born. That’s about 10,000 residents,” said Vinas.

Siler City is the other municipality involved in this statewide community planning initiative that is based at the Institute for the State of the Americas and the Center for Global Initiatives at UNC. Principal investigator for the project at UNC Dr. Hannah Gill says the two-year project is currently at the end of phase one of the three-phase project.

“We’re concluding a community assessment to understand the experiences of foreign born residents in Chapel Hill,” said Gill. “As part of this assessment, we’ve reviewed existing data and reports for the school system, local government, county health department, local organizations that work with immigrants and refugees and also the university and research that has been conducted there.”

Gill said that their community assessment included interviews with foreign born residents and the staff of local organizations, conducting surveys with local refugee organizations and analyzing oral histories of immigrant residents of Chapel Hill from the New Roots Oral History initiative at UNC.

The project is in the middle of holding more public meetings for foreign-born residents. As of Wednesday, two public meetings had been held in the Seymour Senior Center and the public library with 105 foreign born residents in attendance having the opportunity to speak with Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger and other elected officials. Another meeting was held last Thursday night.

“They got very enthusiastic response from participants. Many ovations, lots of applause, people were thrilled just to have their elected officials participate in these kinds of meetings,” said Gill.

According to Gill, seven different languages are spoken at the public meetings.

“To make them language accessible, we’ve sought out bilingual facilitators who conduct the meeting in the residents’ native language and many of these facilitators are immigrants themselves, trained in facility and note-taking skills, and I should point out that we are really fortunate to have so many talented and knowledgeable foreign-born residents right here in Chapel Hill,” said Gill.

Council members praised the initiative for both providing language access and offering child care during the meetings to expand the reach of residents able to participate. Gill says the next step will be preparing a report based on findings and then moving on to phase two action planning, creating strategies to improve newcomer integration and phase three implementation phase.

“The committee will collaborate with you, local officials to enact the action plans that they’ve developed and we will also prepare a full evaluation plan for the town to measure the impacts of the strategies in the future,” said Gill.

For more information, visit the initiatives’ web page.