CHAPEL HILL – Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt is investing his attention in the youth of the town; and he’s asking local teens for advice.

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“The young people in our community have a lot to offer, if we will just stop for a moment and listen to them,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says.

The Mayor and the Town of Chapel Hill are kicking off a new initiative. The initiative is part of Chapel Hill’s Design 2020 plan, and it’s called “Chapel Hill 4 Youth”.

“I have been very engaged with youth and my youth council, and other organizations to prepare for this moment,” Kleinschmidt says, “I’m just really excited to be able to launch this initiative.”

The Mayor says this idea has been brewing for a while.

“It’s taken a long time just getting to this point,” Kleinschmidt says, “This was one of my priorities when I became mayor four years ago; but of course, we immediately hit the recession.”

But as Chapel Hill slowly watches the recession recess in its rearview, the mayor says the town is ready to look forward.

“If we maintain our aggressive attempts at making sure young people are engaged, we’ve reached a point at which we can ensure participation in the future,” Kleinschmidt says.

The Town of Chapel Hill already sponsors a teen center downtown. There are also internship programs for teens, and several community organizations. But Kleinschmidt says there is still room for improvement.  

“In my observation, I think there’s some redundancy,” Kleinschmidt says, “Within our town operations, our youth services aren’t coordinated as well as they may be.”

“There’s some organizations that do some things really well, and some other things not as well. By creating some partnerships with each other and with the town, we can all do a better job at meeting the interests of our young people in Chapel Hill.”

The Mayor says the presence of a major university in Chapel Hill can cause some confusion about who exactly is the young population.

“When it comes to youth, a lot of folks just immediately think of college students, because there’s so many of them,” Kleinschmidt says.

Kleinschmidt says focus on the university distracts town leaders and organizers from the needs and interests of the younger population.

“Sometimes I think that we rely entirely on the school system to take care of whatever people younger than 18 might need,” Kleinschmidt says, “That can’t be the whole answer.”

Throughout the next couple of months, youth are invited to express their ideas for Chapel Hill’s future.

“The best way to address the needs of young people in our community is to ask them; and give them a safe place where they can participate and they know they can be heard,” Kleinschmidt says.

Teens, tweens, parents and stakeholders are invited to join Mayor Kleinshmidt at the first public meeting on October 24. The meeting will be held at the Street Scene Teen Center, 179 East Franklin Street, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.