The Chapel Hill Youth Council has been working on plans for a new teen center for the past year. Within the next three months, they hope to ask Chapel Hill Town Council to approve their ideas.
Chapel Hill Youth Council is a group of around 20 high schoolers who meet twice a month to address issues that affect Chapel Hill teens. Their job is to advocate for the interests of teenagers by speaking with Chapel Hill Town Council as well as different Chapel Hill boards and committees.
Jonah Perrin, a senior, joined Youth Council this year. He values the group because of the voice it gives teenagers.
“Even though we can’t vote, we are important,” said Perrin.
There is already a teen center in Chapel Hill, located in the basement of the historic post office on Franklin Street. However, the space has myriad issues.
There are no doors on the boys bathrooms (making them unusable) and the lights flicker. The ceiling leaks, the walls are graffitied, and the room is home to a number of random, even dangerous objects: electrical spikes that stick out of the walls, an assortment of old microwaves and an exposed fire-hydrant.
“It is not a functioning space,” said Susannah Broun, president of Chapel Hill Youth Council and a senior at East Chapel Hill High.
“There are parts of [the basement] that are kind of scary,” said Perrin.
The teen center is currently a home for local youth-centered organizations, including Blackspace — a recording studio and self-described “hub for Afrofuturism” — and One Song Productions, a youth-run theatre company. It also hosts rotating summer camps and afterschool programs.
Chapel Hill Youth Council hopes the new teen center will continue providing this meeting space while also including new amenities. Possible additions include ping-pong tables or a basketball court, college/career counseling services, art or language classes and an open study space.
More broadly, Youth Council hopes to create a space where teens from across Chapel Hill/Carrboro can come together.
“The teen center should be a place where teenagers can meet, collaborate and foster youth engagement,” said Broun.
Designs for the new center will in part be inspired by the Seymour Center, an Orange County center for Senior Citizens.
The Seymour Center is a newly renovated building on Homestead Road that contains a theatre and restaurant, hosts guest lectures, provides social workers and offers classes in fitness, arts, dance and languages.
While Youth Council does not intend to completely replicate the Seymour Center, they think it reflects the goals they have for the new teen center.
“Senior citizens have this really nice place where they can get the things they need. It’s well funded, and it looks really nice, and [the teen center] is not,” said Perrin. “We’re trying to make progress towards a center that fits our needs.”
The location of the proposed new teen center is not yet set, but Youth Council isn’t picky.
“We’ll take whatever land Town Council will give us,” said Broun.
Individuals interested in supporting the new teen center can sign Youth Council’s online petition. Broun also suggest attending Town Council meetings whenever possible and speaking with adults about the importance of the teen center.
Photos courtesy Jonah Perrin and Susannah Broun.