‘One Chatham’ community conversation focuses on county’s socioeconomic inequalities

Posted 5/3/19

The economic disparities in different regions of Chatham County are well-documented. On May 15, “One Chatham” — a community conversation about the issue and a look at ways to bridge the …

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‘One Chatham’ community conversation focuses on county’s socioeconomic inequalities

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The economic disparities in different regions of Chatham County are well-documented. On May 15, “One Chatham” — a community conversation about the issue and a look at ways to bridge the socioeconomic gap — will be held. It’s a free public forum sponsored and produced by Our Chatham and co-sponsored by the News + Record. This week, we speak with the two organizers of event – Our Chatham’s product manager, UNC-Chapel Hill senior Alexis Allston, and Our Chatham Editor Eric Ferkenhoff, a lecturer at UNC’s School of Media and Journalism.

Allston will graduate this month from UNC with a degree in reporting, as well as a second major in political science. A graduate of Enloe High School in Raleigh, she’ll start her career at the Texas Tribune later this month. At Our Chatham, she’s worked to promote the new site’s reach so readers in Chatham can benefit from its inquisitive, reader-focused community journalism.

Prior to coming to North Carolina, Ferkenhoff lived and worked in Kansas City and Chicago, working for various news organizations, including the Chicago Tribune, ABC-Chicago, The Boston Globe, Time and The New York Times. His main role at Our Chatham is recruiting students to engage the community, making sure all stories are accounted for and assigning enterprise pieces, as well as editing all copy. Ferkenhoff has been a journalist for 27 years.

“One Chatham” begins at 6 p.m. on May 15 in the Holmes Room of the Chatham Community Library, located at 197 N.C. Hwy. 87 N. in Pittsboro.

What is Our Chatham and where does it fit within the Reese News Lab?

Our Chatham is a project at the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Reese News Lab in the School of Media and Journalism. Our project is funded by the MJ-School’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, which was created with a grant from the Knight Foundation. Working with Our Chatham provides UNC journalism students with the opportunity to learn about a new model of reporting, a model that focuses on listening to and engaging the community that you’re writing for in order to best serve them. Our mission is to fill the unmet information needs of the people who live, work and play in Chatham County, North Carolina. We do this by collecting questions from the community and answering them with news stories — examples of questions we’ve been asked that we have answered include, “Why is broadband Internet so poor in rural Chatham?” and “What can the county do to keep our water clean?” We want to fill the need for longer-form journalism in Chatham County, and teach UNC student journalists about sustainable local journalism at the same time.

Why have a community conversation event?

Our Chatham’s mission is to “connect the curious across the county.” We believe the best way to do this is to bring everyone together in person. You all have intelligent questions, and it’s about time we all came together to discuss a few answers. It’s easy to become disconnected when reading about an issue on a screen. Being part of a real-time community discussion is much more engaging, and we believe it’s more likely to generate real solutions to a serious issue Chatham County is facing: a socioeconomic divide between the east and the west.

Why is the topic of economic inequality so significant in Chatham County?

We’ve heard from many of our readers that the economic inequality in Chatham has done nothing but rise as the years have gone by. Concern is particularly rising with the looming construction of Chatham Park in Pittsboro, a development that is sure to bring affluent newcomers to Chatham. Other well-off neighborhoods like Governors Club, Briar Chapel, and Fearrington are also located in the east side of Chatham. On the other hand, Siler City and west Chatham are experiencing a completely different type of growth. The opening of Mountaire’s chicken plant has opened up hundreds of jobs, many of which are for unskilled labor. People moving to west Chatham for these new jobs may find that the cost of living is too expensive, driven up by the presence of wealth in east Chatham. Such a stark divide in socioeconomic status between east and west Chatham could impact cost of living in Chatham, the availability of affordable housing, and the local economy.

So what’s going to happen on May 15?

We will have four panelists present for a Q+A style discussion:

• Alyssa Byrd, President of the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation

• Tami Schwerin, Executive Director for Abundance NC

• Susan Levy, member of the Chatham County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee

• Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, Policy Analyst for Chatham County

The discussion will be driven by the audience! Throughout the forum, we ask our audience members to submit questions to us. We will choose questions to ask our panel of experts, who will facilitate discussion on socioeconomic inequality based on the questions from the audience. This is an excellent opportunity to hear answers to your exact questions. The discussion will take place from 6-8 p.m. at Chatham Community Library. It is free and open to everyone, and light refreshments will be served.

How can folks take part and learn more?

Mark yourself as “going” on our Facebook event by going here: https://www.facebook.com/events/835249176845161/

It has all the details of the date, time, and location of the event. The forum is free to attend for everyone, so all you need to do to take part is bring yourself, your questions, and your curiosity! And, bring your friends, of course. Be sure to invite anyone that you think would be interested in attending. We want to hear as many voices as possible; it’s a community discussion, after all!






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