University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Carolina, community partnership helps Tar Heels succeed in the community

Tar Heels are more than just students at Carolina. They’re also members of the much larger Chapel Hill and Carrboro community.

“It’s not just, ‘Oh, they’re Carolina students who happen to live in the community,’” says Aaron Bachenheimer, Carolina’s executive director of off-campus student life and community partnerships. “They are as much community members who happen to go to Carolina as they are Carolina students who happen to live in the community.”

For nearly two decades, the Good Neighbor Initiative — a partnership between the University, the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and several community organizations — has been working to strengthen the connections between Carolina students and long-time residents to help Tar Heels thrive in off-campus housing.

Bachenheimer says the program’s goal is to do exactly what its name says: create good neighbors. At its core, that means helping students, who may be living in a neighborhood on their own for the first time, understand the responsibilities of community living.

“We want to give students the information that they need to be good neighbors and citizens, and to better connect students and nonstudent residents of near-campus neighborhoods for the betterment of everybody’s quality of life,” Bachenheimer says. “The goal is that students have good experiences off-campus and that neighbors have positive experiences.”

The Good Neighbor Initiative works to do that in many ways throughout the semester. On busy Thursday and Friday nights, volunteers will set up stations near Franklin Street to share information, take time to talk with students and provide water. The program also produces a monthly newsletter for Tar Heels living in the community to share timely information.

One of the largest outreach efforts from the partnership happens in the days leading up to Carolina’s first day of classes. On Aug. 16 and 17, community members will be going door-to-door to meet their new student-neighbors. Over two days, they will visit the Northside, Pine Knolls, Cameron-McCauley neighborhoods, as well as North Street, Davie Circle and the Dawes and Coolidge street areas.

Traditionally, volunteers will knock on 1,200 doors as part of the event.

“It’s a way to let students know that we know that they are here, to welcome them into the community without judgment and to give them an opportunity to do the right things and be a good neighbor,” Bachenheimer says.

Between events like the neighborhood walk and a community breakfast on Sept. 18, the Good Neighbor Initiative aims to provide opportunities for long-time residents and Carolina students to meet and get to know one another. By doing so, Bachenheimer hopes Tar Heels can better understand who they are living around.

“I think it makes a huge difference,” he says. “Perspective influences behavior, and without perspective, you operate in your own zone. I believe in giving students the opportunity for perspective and seeing the neighborhood through a different set of eyes. That happens when you meet your neighbors.”

The same also goes in the opposite direction, Chapel Hill Town Manager Maurice Jones says. The face-to-face meetings help residents connect with the Carolina students and see them not as temporary residents but community members. Mutual respect between students and their neighbors is critical for success in the neighborhoods, Jones says.

“The Good Neighbor Initiative truly connects students and neighbors,” Jones says. “It’s an opportunity for all residents to develop relationships.”