Carolina students who live off campus make a few new friends at the start of every school year.
More than 100 community members go door-to-door the day before classes to meet their new neighbors during the Good Neighbor Initiative’s annual Neighborhood Walk. Volunteers visit near-campus communities such as Pine Knolls, Northside, Davie Circle, Cameron Avenue and McCauley Street to welcome students and share information on town rules and ordinances.
The goal of the Neighborhood Walk, organizers say, is to introduce the students to the broader community they are now a part of and set the Tar Heels up to be good neighbors.
“I think students sometimes get a sense that even if they’re living off campus, that it’s just students that they live around,” said Aaron Bachenheimer, Carolina’s executive director of off-campus student life and community partnerships. “It’s important for us to help them appreciate that there are small children, elderly, working families and young professionals who live right next door and that they literally live in a neighborhood not dissimilar to the one they grew up in.”
The annual community event is one of the signature events of the Good Neighbor Initiative, which is a partnership between Carolina, the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and several community groups. Now in its 16th year, the Good Neighbor Initiative aims to create stronger connections between Carolina students and Chapel Hill residents.
“The Good Neighbor Initiative really is focused on building on the vibrant and inclusive environment that we have here,” said Megan Peters, the Town of Chapel Hill’s Community Connections Coordinator. “We really want to get the students involved in the neighborhoods in which they live. They’re really part of the community and we want to be able to support them.”
Essentially, Bachenheimer said, the goal is to do exactly what the program’s 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.
The Neighborhood Walk serves as the initiative’s first contact with students. They plan to visit more than 1,200 residents on Aug. 19 to discuss town laws, set expectations and highlight resources available to residents.
“This really has a yearlong impact in terms of getting out there, getting these resources in front of students and letting them know that the community is glad that they’re there,” Bachenheimer said. “My hope of the students is that they are connected to the information that will help them have a positive experience living off campus.”
But most of all, it’s a chance to begin building relationships.
“We want to be out there and build community with our off-campus students and our long-term residents in the neighborhoods,” Peters said. “It’s a great way to have them meet town staff and have them meet UNC staff.”
While the Neighborhood Walk may be the first time students interact with the Good Neighbors Initiative, it won’t be the last. In addition to a community cookout on Sept. 19, volunteers will set up stations near Franklin Street on busy evenings to share information, take time to talk with students and provide water and sandwiches.
“It’s really about building the relationships — getting out there and putting a face to who the town is and who the University is — and connecting with students on a personal level,” Peters said.