CHAPEL HILL – Thursday evening at the Hargraves Community Center, you’re invited to come out for the Good Neighbor Initiative’s annual Neighborhood Night Out and Block Party, an event designed to build connections between UNC students and Chapel Hill residents, particularly in neighborhoods near campus.

“We plan all year long for this program,” says Aaron Bachenheimer, UNC’s director of fraternity/sorority life and community involvement.

It’s a free event, co-sponsored by the Town of Chapel Hill, UNC-Chapel Hill, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, Empowerment, Inc., and LUX Chapel Hill (formerly Bicycle Apartments). Buns and Ben & Jerry’s will provide food; there’ll also be music, games, kids’ activities and prizes–plus information about local and community resources.

“It’s just a great event,” says Bachenheimer. “Get there early, because (at 5:00) we actually do a fun little community pride walk…(and) folks who participate get a free t-shirt and get first place in the food line.”

The Block Party is one of the biggest projects of the year for the Good Neighbor Initiative, which works all year long to promote strong relationships between longtime Chapel Hill residents and students living off-campus–especially in neighborhoods like Northside and Pine Knolls, where the influx of students has sparked some tension.

“We visit students and non-student residents and talk about what it’s like to live in a neighborhood, what community involvement and good neighborliness means, (and) some of the rights and responsibilities of living off-campus,” Bachenheimer says. “(And the Block Party) is a really important event, in terms of helping to set the tone of what it means to have a positive community relationship.”

Bachenheimer says the initiative has been successful, though there’s still work yet to be done. “These events make a difference,” he says. “They help inspire both the year-round residents and the students to reach out to one another, to get to know one another–which ultimately helps build relationships and improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.”

The Neighborhood Night Out and Block Party runs from 5-9 pm Thursday at the Hargraves Community Center, located at 216 N. Roberson Street. Bachenheimer says it usually draws several hundred attendees every year.