Chatham County will celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2021. This week, we speak with Hilary Pollan, the Community Partners Analyst at Chatham County, who’s coordinating the efforts to observe the event.
Pollan works as the liaison between Chatham County government and human services nonprofits to form partnerships and align goals and services to achieve more effective and equitable outcomes for families and individuals experiencing poverty in Chatham County. She also manages the county’s nonprofit allocation funding process and designs and implement the county’s approach to support new and existing community building and community engagement efforts. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and Mount Holyoke College.
The official term for Chatham County’s 250th anniversary is semiquincentennial, which technically means half (semi) of five (quin) of a century. It’s taken me six months, as of last week, to learn how to accurately pronounce this long and exciting word. It’s taken my computer’s spell check the same amount to learn how to autocorrect it for me — which it has to do most of the time.
Recognizing that Chatham County is older than the United States offers a great sense of magnitude for how special and worthy of celebration this milestone is. We are unsure of how many counties, in addition to Chatham, are older than the United States. That is a great question that we hope to further research.
April 1st is Founding Day. It’s the day that legislation introduced to the Colonial Assembly on December 5, 1770, was finally ratified, and effectively established Chatham County as its own county. Chatham 250 is hosting a Founding Day celebration in Pittsboro on April 10th, 2021 to honor our past and current founders — including some of our more established founding names like Governor William Tryon and Mr. John Brooks. But the main focus of Founding Day will be to celebrate all of the people who have helped shape Chatham County and its communities since its founding in 1771 and into today.
Founding Day will also be the kickoff for Chatham 250’s Passport experience. Our Events and Activities committee has been hard at work to prepare five different Passports to Chatham County, with a sort of scavenger hunt meets self-guided tour feel. Chatham County residents and visitors alike will have from mid-April to mid-October to travel around Chatham County to experience a variety of community events, fun locations, and hidden gems. We hope it will encourage people to explore and discover new parts of Chatham County during the warmer months of the year, and as people complete the passports they’ll be working their way towards earning special prize packages!
The Chatham 250 Passport will culminate with a Carvana/parade in October of 2021. We hope it will be a grand final celebration that everyone is able to participate in.
As we have done with all Chatham 250 decisions, the more than 60 Chatham 250 planning committee members went through a collaborative process to agree upon our five celebration themes. Chatham 250 has representatives from local businesses, community organizations, non-profits, faith-based organizations, government, and the public at large. We made sure that everyone in the planning committee saw themselves and their organization’s work in these celebration themes. Once they did, we knew the celebration themes captured the many elements of Chatham County.
Chatham 250 is truly a cross-sector, collaborative effort. We invited folks from organizations across the county, and were very intentional about having geographic, gender, age, race, ethnic, and class diversity present in our planning efforts. We welcomed and prioritized participation from groups that maybe hadn’t been as involved in other anniversary celebrations. All in all, we are really proud of the broad community leadership behind Chatham 250.
The Chatham 250 co-chairpersons are a really special bunch, and I feel so honored to work alongside them. Very early on into our planning efforts, we asked for folks for their recommendations for co-chairs. We were looking for the most highly respected community leaders, who represented the great diversity of Chatham County and, like you said, share an unwavering passion for the county. These three names were mentioned multiple times and supported unanimously by our planning committee.
Our three esteemed co-chairs are Dr. Carl E. Thompson Sr., the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Christian Outreach Center and former Chatham County Commissioner; Renee Paschal, retired Chatham County Manager and local government budgeting consultant and Chatham County Council on Aging Board Member; and Ms. Lendy Carias, Chatham County Schools teaching assistant.
We conducted a county-wide contest for the Chatham 250 logo design. We ended up receiving eight unique designs from a range of different artists — from a wide age range, and from professional and amateur artists alike. Our youngest contestant was from a 12-year-old from Pittsboro, and they submitted a very nice entry.
Sally’s design really stood out to our core planning committee not only for its attractive and unique design, but also because the postage stamp and her explanation of it fit so nicely with the themes and activities of Chatham 250. As Sally described in her contest submission, she chose a postage stamp because “communication links a community.” With the Chatham 250 Passport also having a theme of movement and connection between places and connecting, Sally’s design clearly emerged as the right fit for Chatham 250.
Like our Celebration Themes, our Guiding Values were created through a collaborative process among our planning committee members. We use these values to guide every decision we make about Chatham 250 — from the types of activities we organize to how we approach engaging residents. Our Guiding Values are:
• Equitable Engagement. We are making a focused effort to engage Chatham County’s communities of color, and other minority communities. This includes having members of our African-American/Black communities, Hispanic/Latinx communities, and a variety of ages of people involved in Chatham 250 planning and engagement.
• Community Centered. We want to uplift and build community in all that we do with Chatham 250.
• Culturally Responsive. We want to celebrate in ways that are meaningful and relevant to the many communities of Chatham County, and ensure they are accessible for anyone who wants to participate.
• Authentic Celebration and Preservation. We want these celebrations and our work in preserving the history of Chatham County to truly reflect the people and communities of this county.
• Transparency. We want to be forthcoming so that people understand what we’re doing and how we’re doing things.
One project I’d love to share about is our Plant-a-Tree fundraiser. We’re working with Mallow Marsh Farm and Century Farm Orchards to make native trees available during our 250th anniversary. The reason we’ve chosen to plant trees is because trees gain value over time, they further beautify the landscape, help clean the air, and we hope the trees planted during the semiquincentennial will be around for Chatham County’s 300th anniversary.
With thoughtful guidance from Chatham County Cooperative Extension, we’ve chosen to offer native Southern Red Oaks from Mallow Marsh Farm, and David Vernon at Century Farm Orchards will be grafting Aunt Rachel apple trees in honor of Lee Calhoun’s legacy in Chatham. The Aunt Rachel, if I’m not mistaken, is the only apple tree native to Chatham County. Pretty cool, if you ask me. Cooperative Extension will also be offering educational workshops in the fall on tree planting and care.
One more project that I’m also really excited about. We’re hoping to bring the N.C. History Museum’s “Los Jets: Playing the American Dream’’ Exhibit to Chatham County in 2021. The exhibit is based on Paul Cuadro’s book, "At Home on the Field", and shares the stories of the young men on the 2004 state championship winning Jordan Matthews Jets soccer team. Los Jets is a powerful story about determination and resiliency that I know will inspire and bring hope to Chatham County residents.
This pandemic is certainly an unusual time for celebrations. Chatham County residents’ health and safety is at the forefront of all of Chatham 250 activity and event planning, which means we may not have as many large-scale, in-person events as originally anticipated. The Chatham 250 Passport is a great vehicle for offering self-guided, asynchronous, virtual, contactless, and/or small group activities that should still be really fun and interesting. Our events and activities committee is also wildly creative, and is always thinking of new ways to adapt events to be safe and more accessible during the pandemic. I don’t think people will be disappointed.
The best way to learn more about Chatham 250 is to follow Chatham County’s social media channels — Facebook and Twitter. In early 2021, we’ll also be launching the Chatham 250 website, so keep a look out for that!
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