What Chapel Hill Means To Me — A youth perspective
Every week or so, we’ll post personal stories from Chapel Hill residents about what living in this town means to them. This story is the second in the series.
by Keren Goldshlager, UNC Journalism Student
It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon, and João Ritter had just walked into McAllister’s Deli on Franklin Street and ordered a soda from the counter. Dressed in a white t-shirt and jeans, he looked like the average teenager. But his enthusiasm about the town’s new comprehensive plan is anything but average.
Ritter, 17, is a student at Chapel Hill High School and a member of the Chapel Hill Youth Council, a 12-person group associated with the town’s parks and recreation division. Last year, the mayoral aide spoke to the group’s members about the comprehensive plan. That speech, said Ritter, sparked something inside of him. Since then, he has taken an active role in the planning process.
Oscar Marszalek, another member of the Youth Council, has also taken an interest in Chapel Hill 2020. Marszalek, 16, has lived in Chapel Hill for almost a decade – and although he isn’t even old enough to vote, he believes he represents an important demographic.
“The kids we represent now will in all likelihood form a bulk of the town’s population 10 years from now,” Marszalek said, “and we think that their opinions should definitely be taken into consideration in shaping the plan.”
So what issues are important to high school students?
Marszalek said he is most passionate about the community prosperity and engagement theme, which focuses on economic development, tourism, and affordability.
Ritter pointed to public transportation. The bus routes don’t reach out to neighborhoods with large populations of teenagers, so it’s difficult for students who can’t drive to get to Franklin Street.
But getting there isn’t the only problem. Because Chapel Hill is a college town, there aren’t many activities for teenagers in the downtown area.
“A lot of my friends do come out and walk around on a Friday night,” said Ritter, “but there’s not that much to do, honestly, as a youth.”
As the plan progresses, Ritter and Marszalek hope to inspire their peers to be advocates for the key themes they care about.
“Although my age causes me to stick out,” said Marszalek, “everyone has been excited to speak with me. The conversation I’ve had make me confident that the youth’s opinions will be heard.”
To these two involved teenagers, this town is a place that welcomes the views of residents of all ages. To them, Chapel Hill means not only recreation but also education, ambition, and participation. What does Chapel Hill mean to you?