Building Integrated Communities (BIC), a statewide initiative run by UNC’s Latino Migration Project, was introduced by the Town of Chapel Hill in 2019 to support its immigrant and refugee residents.
Three years later, the BIC project is still running strong, and it recently received a major boost in the shape of a $375,000 grant, spread over three years, from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.
Director of affordable housing and community relations at Chapel Hill, Sarah Vias, states, “Our goal is to understand the experience of immigrant and refugee residents in the neighborhood and help establish leadership and opportunities for engagement.” The BIC Action Plan will be further advanced with the help of this grant, which we are really eager to utilize.
2019 interactions with hundreds of Chapel Hill people who are immigrants and refugees led to the creation of that action plan. It is a 34-point plan with 12 overall goals spread across five main areas: boosting government communication, particularly for those who don’t understand English, expanding housing availability, enhancing ties with law enforcement, and increasing public transportation.
According to Vias, this last element has been the main focus of a lot of their work from the beginning.
The main complaint we received from immigrant and refugee people, according to her, was that they were unable to interact with the community because the majority of the materials we distributed were in English only.
Since then, hundreds of documents have reportedly been translated into Spanish, Mandarin, Karen, and Burmese, according to Vias. Additionally, they’ve created a 24-hour “language line” that municipal employees may utilize when speaking with people who don’t speak English, employed more multilingual speakers, and offered interpretation for town meetings.
According to Vias, those efforts were successful.
Residents who are immigrants and refugees now attend more of our public meetings, she claims. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go before there is what is known as “language justice,” or the ability for people to speak in the language they prefer.
According to Vias, the BIC program has also been successful in providing affordable housing, collaborating with regional providers like Habitat for Humanity to widen their list of eligible immigrants to include individuals with temporary protected status.
Residents who had a desire of owning a home have provided us with a lot of encouraging feedback, she says. “They may now be able to apply for a Habitat home even though they may not have previously been eligible.”
With the extra grant funding, the BIC program will now be able to do even more, according to Vias, like recruit a second full-time employee, improve town staff training, hire more interpreters, and create more possibilities for immigrants and refugees to assume leadership roles in the community.
Residents who are refugees and immigrants might not be aware of what the town does or how to interact with us, according to her. Breaking down those barriers to allow people to participate in our programs and services as well as decision-making processes is part of what BIC is attempting to do.
For a town like Chapel Hill, where roughly one in six citizens were born outside of the United States, Vias thinks that is a vital purpose.
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