One Chatham forum tackles issues of mental health access and reform in Chatham

By Molly Weisner and Ari Sen

On Wednesday, students, advocates and lawmakers came together in Pittsboro to discuss mental health at the One Chatham forum. The event followed the release of The ChatCast, a podcast series launched as a partnership between the Chatham News + Record and Our Chatham to bring mental health to the forefront of community conversation. 

About 60 people attended the event to listen to the conversation. Since the podcast’s release, The ChatCast has been streamed and/or downloaded over 500 times. 

This month’s forum brought together five expert panelists on various issues of mental health in adolescents: 

Chatham Charter School sophomore Abigail Holmes,Wilder Horner, social work supervisor with the Chatham County Department of Social Services,George Greger-Holt, community outreach coordinator of Chatham Drug Free,Tracy Fowler, executive director of student support services with Chatham County Schools, andRep. Robert Reives II, North Carolina House of Representatives. 

Photo by Charlotte Ririe/Our Chatham

Chatham News + Record’s Zachary Horner and Adrianne Cleven from Our Chatham moderated the event, which started with an evaluation of mental health resources in Chatham. 

“For a long time we had a public mental health system that I thought worked pretty well …” Greger-Holt said. “Somewhere along the line we lost our way in terms of being able to provide support for people suffering from mental illness.”

The problem in creating a network of care for mental health is that Chatham is so large and spread out, Gregor-Holt said. He mentioned that services are more available in Pittsboro and North Chatham, but Bear Creek, Siler City and other rural areas are more difficult to reach.

Emmy Little is bringing Chatham together, one donated gift at a time

For Emmy Little, finding people in need is almost instinctual. The 10-year-old student at North Chatham Elementary School has organized homemade charities since she was little. From lemonade stands that helped pay for her horseback riding instructor’s vet bills to random acts of kindness, Little is always thinking about to whom she can bring a smile next. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Katherine Smart, Little’s instructor, wrote in an email. But this year, Little is looking to rise to a new challenge of giving: donating 100 toys by Christmas to UNC Hospitals, the Lineberger Cancer Center and the Ronald McDonald House.

Could tiny homes be the solution for affordable housing and mental health inclusivity?

On Friday, something big is happening to make way for something little. The site for Tiny Homes Village, a community of affordable tiny homes for those with mental health challenges, will begin its groundbreaking. The site will be located on the grounds of The Farm at Penny Lane in northern Chatham County. The village aims to include 15 tiny homes at around 400 square feet each to provide housing opportunities for those on a fixed income, veterans or residents with health issues. Surrounding the houses will be a clubhouse for classes and other activities.

How Chatham is joining forces to combat environmental issues

By Molly Weisner and Casey Mann

The environment is on Chatham County’s mind. With the months-long saga of Pittsboro’s tainted drinking water still unfolding, attention by county officials and local groups to environmental health is heightened. Various county leaders, from planning and development to transportation, are collaborating on the issue of environmental protection and climate change, which has been in discussion for several years now. The creation of the county’s Climate Change Advisory Committee in 2015 has been one major step toward solving Chatham’s biggest environmental challenges, of which several county commissioners have said vehicle emissions is one. Commute times contribute emissions

Commute times in Chatham County average almost 30 minutes, and average car ownership per household is two vehicles.

You Asked, We Answered: Following public meeting, Pittsboro’s water safety is still insecure

The contaminants in the Haw River are a serious issue. The Town of Pittsboro is the only municipality in the Haw River watershed to draw its drinking water from the river. 

By the nature of the river’s proximity to other cities like Greensboro and Burlington, industrial pollutants are a major red flag for environmental groups and regulatory agencies. 

On Wednesday, state officials and researchers from several universities in the Triangle hosted a public meeting sponsored by the Haw River Assembly to discuss the safety of Pittsboro’s drinking water. 

Researchers found contaminants, called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and 1,4-dioxane in the Haw River, among other water sources. PFAS are a type of unregulated chemical that slip by in water treatment processes and can cause health problems. 

The industrial-based chemical, 1,4-dioxane, has been found in Pittsboro’s water and is a likely carcinogen. In Pittsboro, the East Burlington treatment plant seems to be the main source of PFAS, according to a tweet from an N.C. Policy Watch source. 

“Why are we discharging any of these chemicals into the drinking water in the first place?” asked Dr. Detlef Knappe, a professor at North Carolina State University and scientist, at the Wednesday meeting. 

Elaine Chiosso, executive director of the Haw River Assembly, said that through Duke University and Dr. Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist, volunteers from Pittsboro can opt to take blood tests to assess levels of PFAs in their body. 

This testing is part of a larger study examining sources of these chemicals and their health effects. 

Additionally, according to the News + Record, the town will pay $261,268 for six to seven months of water testing.Typical water treatment systems don’t effectively remove the chemicals in Pittsboro because they dissolve in water, according to North Carolina Health News. Advanced water treatment systems are required for that kind of filtration. Just this week, the Department of Environmental Quality announced Shamrock Environmental Corporation is responsible for the 1,4 dioxane discharge into its Greensboro treatment plant.

Vote to remove Confederate monument brings relief, frustration to Chatham

But is it just emblematic of the larger divide nationally? By Molly Weisner and Paige Masten

The Confederate monument on the steps of the Pittsboro courthouse is coming down. But the questions that have been suspended in midair are more complicated ones: when, and why? In late September, Mike Dasher, chairman of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, sent a letter to Barbara Pugh, president of the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, saying the county would consider a request for extended time to present a plan for removal. Tuesday was the deadline for the UDC to submit a plan for relocation, but the day came and went with no plan submitted.

You Asked, We Answered: Are Chatham officials planning to meet the demands of a changing climate, and if so, how?

From solar power to energy-efficient buildings, from preserving the ecosystem to minimizing vehicle emissions, the climate change plan specific to Chatham County encompasses myriad initiatives. 

A reader asked us what was being done about climate change in the county. So, we looked at which initiatives have been in place, as well as the long-term goals of the county as population and tourism growth inevitably bring new people — and new developments — into Chatham. 

But first, some context. 

Problem solving climate change is not a new conversation happening among Chatham County officials and community organizations. 

In 2011, the county government commissioned a report on the state of the environment. The 100-plus page report tracked data on land resources, water, air quality and waste management, and it made environmental recommendations to educate policymakers and the public. 

Then, in September of 2015, the Chatham County Climate Change Committee was established to make environmental recommendations to the Board of Commissioners. 

A major focus of this group upon its creation was reducing greenhouse emissions, which poses unique concerns considering the average one-way commute for the county in 2016 was almost 30 minutes. 

Vehicle exhaust and gas-guzzling vehicles are some of the county’s talking points for future investment in electric vehicles and charging stations, for example. The county is even looking at maximizing the efficiency of waste truck routes, which have to span a county that is geographically large, rural in many areas and spread out. Then, in 2016, a gas emissions inventory was released, which revealed that transportation was the highest emitter of greenhouse gas in the county for 2015.

Chatham County businesses gear up to accommodate local tourism boom

Gov. Roy Cooper announced this month that each of North Carolina’s 100 counties saw growth in its visitor spending last year. 

For Chatham County, a largely rural community, that means big promise for its business sector. 

Spending in Chatham County by domestic visitors increased by over 5 percent last year, from about $35 million in 2017 to $36.9 million in 2018. That growth saved each Chathamite almost $38 in taxes and contributed to increases in the county’s tourism-related payroll. 

Neha Shah, director of the Pittsboro-Siler City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that visitors to the county are diverse, and while there are national and international visitors, the majority are traveling from within the state. 

The data, produced with the help of Visit North Carolina, looks impressive on the spreadsheet, but the optimism its creating in Chatham’s marketplace reveals the real ‘wow’ factor. 

For local businesses and agritourism in the county, new visitors mean fresh dollars entering the economy that feed back into supporting vendors and maintaining the county’s attractions. 

Agritourism alone is a particularly strong interest because of the county’s various farmers’ markets, farms, craft beverages and food trails. 

“We’re a county that really thrives with our agritourism because of our farms and venues, so that’s all really grown over time,” Shah said. “That has also lended itself to the farm-to-fork places, and even the restaurants that are not solely focused on farm to fork still incorporate a lot of the local farm products.”

Jon Spoon, director of the Small Business Center and a native Chathamite, said that ecotourism will account for a large part of the travel growth because of the county’s unique landscape. He said the county’s three rivers and Jordan Lake are draws for surrounding communities, especially bigger cities like Raleigh and Durham. “Chatham County, historically, has been largely agricultural, especially the western part of the county, and so there are folks who are positioning themselves well to capture incoming dollars,” Spoon said.

Siler City library closed for repairs, leaving some needs unattended

In recent years, changes have come to county libraries as needs expand beyond books. Libraries have invested in resources on living safely and healthily, enmeshing their importance in the information age. 

But with the Wren Memorial Library in Siler City closed for four scheduled weeks of infrastructure repair, the county’s information needs are now stretched between two branches. 

“It’s a pretty big project, so that’s why the library had to be closed,” said Linda Clarke, director of the Chatham County Public Libraries. “It was something that was badly needed.”

The 50-year-old branch has been closed since July 29. Repairs include a new roof, interior ceiling, insulation, duct work, shelving and carpet cleaning. Mike Cowell, branch manager at Wren Memorial, said the work repairs damage left by flooding and heavy rains from the last hurricane.

New sexual violence helpline connects Chatham County to emergency resources

Chatham County launched a 24/7 crisis helpline for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors last month. 

The new helpline is a partnership between the nonprofit Second Bloom of Chatham and Chatham Family Violence Prevention Services. 

Renita Foxx, of Chatham Family Violence Prevention Services, said that the crisis line arose out of an immediate need. 

Before, Family Violence Rape Crisis, another nonprofit organization that began in 1982, operated a similar phone line. But, local government took over after FVRC discontinued its services in October 2018. The helpline went with it. “You cannot adequately provide services – domestic violence and sexual assault services – if you have no one for victims or survivors to turn to in terms of need,” Foxx said. “So, we came together and we designed the help/crisis line.” 

Cindy Perry, a board member of Second Bloom, said the nonprofit stepped in to provide the trained volunteers and knowledge of resources that had been offered by FVRC.