Our Good Fortunes


By Laurie Paolicelli

Franklin Street at Sunrise, Chapel Hill.

Orange County is a remarkable plat of land nestled in the middle of a remarkable state. Just like anywhere else in the world it is a place where we occasionally falter in the pursuit of our aspirations, and where divergent perspectives and conflicting objectives intersect. But as we approach the end of another year, it’s a good time to consider how lucky we are to live here. Orange County is our home. Oh, we have inequity. We need more accessible, affordable housing. We need to provide real solutions for our growing homeless population, and work to improve the downtowns that give us our sense of belonging, community, and pride. But there is also so much good.

We wake up every day surrounded by nature. Trees — there are so many! Pines, magnolias, oaks, spruce, maple, sweetgum, hickory. The oaks grow like giants, creating shadowy canopies and a fuselage of acorns in the fall. Neighborhoods that bloom in spring with azaleas as brilliant as Christmas trees, and dogwoods, roses, hydrangeas. It’s like waking up in Oz.

The North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill.

Memories, like deer, are around every corner. Whether it’s Center Street and the mill houses in Carrboro, the corner of Cameron and South Columbia in Chapel Hill (those fraternities do sure know how to light up a house), or the Riverwalk’s beauty in Hillsborough. There is a place here for us all.

To live in the same neighborhood as one of the greatest universities in America — how many people can say the same? How can we not be inspired by the energy and curiosity of youth? It’s their questions that encourage us, generations older, to ask questions ourselves. Celebrate them and celebrate their professors and remember that if they weren’t here, we wouldn’t be here either. The university is a factory of ideas and dreams, and just being near it makes us all a little bit smarter.

Things we might take for granted, but don’t: that our air is fresh, our garbage is collected, our streets are maintained. There is something to do every day and night. Our history is messy, and how can it not be, but we talk about it. We make hard decisions. We celebrate the big and small revolutions that shape our country.

It’s important to remember that the boundaries of Orange County are drawn on Indigenous land, home of Siouan-speaking tribes who first lived in this area and the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation (OBSN). We would like to acknowledge that we are on the land of the Eno, Tutelo, Saponi, Occaneechi, and Shakori Native people.

Occaneechi Village Replica Site, Hillsborough.

Each of our communities is unique. Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough all embody their own spirits of neighborhood, culture, history and identity. In Orange County, 8.1% of residents are of Asian origin, the highest share statewide. The Triangle has provided shelter for the past decade to 8,000 refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma) as a resettlement area selected by church organizations for refugees in camps in Thailand. Most of the refugees belong to the persecuted Karen (Kah-REN) and Chin ethnic groups. Unlike most people in their homeland, the Karen and Chin people converted to Christianity.

More than 1,000 of the refugees live in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. In 2010, the Orange County Partnership for Young Children received a grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to create Transplanting Traditions Community Farm. The five-acre farm is located just southwest of Chapel Hill, off Jones Ferry Road, on the 269-acre Irvin Farm Preserve, a property managed by the Triangle Land Conservancy.

Carrboro Farmers Market.

The enrolled student population at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is 57.1% White, 11.3% Asian, 8.69% Hispanic or Latino, 8.67% Black or African American, 4.86% Two or More Races, 0.351% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.0695% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders.

This year let’s embrace our diversity, agree that we are more alike than different and give thanks for our blessings, and prepare to pass along this land to other cultures and faiths who represent the next step in the evolution of the soul of Orange County. Share the season.

A Friday Night Art Celebration in Hillsborough.

Laurie Paolicelli is executive director for the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2005. Laurie has worked in tourism and marketing for twenty-five years, having served in leadership roles in Houston and California convention and visitor bureaus. She is a native of the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior Wisconsin. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Communications from the University Wisconsin-Superior and graduate certification in Technology In Marketing from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

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1 Comment on "Our Good Fortunes"

  1. Thank you for this.

    One thing, however. Can I swap my sweetgums for camellias?

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