Member Story: Sue and Howell

Spend as little as five minutes with Sue and her son Howell Brown III and be prepared to fall immediately and deeply in love. Little Howell, with a thick Appalachian accent and black cowboy hat covering his head, talks in that lively way that only a 12-year old boy can about the RC cars that he races at Northgate Mall and his service dog Bo. He is the epitome of exuberance. He is one of those rare people you feel blessed to meet, who breathes in the same air as the rest of us, but then manages to breathe out pure joy.

Sue and Little Howell came to Durham when Howell was diagnosed with a brain tumor. They left everything behind at their home in Asheville, and were sleeping in hospital waiting rooms at first. Howell shares, “When I got diagnosed, we had to leave right away – no messing around.” After relocating to Durham, Howell and Sue were very fortunately connected with the Ronald McDonald House to live while Howell received his first year of chemotherapy and treatment.

During this time of upheaval and crisis, Sue ran into financial troubles. Howell’s oncologist encouraged Sue to “put everything on hold” while taking care of Howell through his treatment, meaning that Sue has been unable to work consistently. To help with bills, she took out a payday loan, not knowing the neverending debt trap the loan would lead to. Since then, Sue has received numerous threatening collections calls – and paid back her loans with exorbitant interest – all the while navigating the complicated health system and making sure Howell was receiving all the care that he needed.

Sue has been an amazing advocate for her son throughout his treatment – seeking out resources within the hospital and within the community that could support her son’s well-being as well as their future as a family. She learned about CEF when attending a resource panel offered by another local organization, and jumped at the opportunity to work with CEF to get her finances back in order.

Sue and Howell truly joined CEF as a family. Sue and Howell worked with their advocates to strive through their financial crisis as Sue focused on her son’s healing and treatment. Of CEF, Sue shares, “They’re helping me find hope by getting my financial security back… Before, we were struggling so much, and now I feel like I am breathing again.”

With CEF, Sue has opened a new account at Self-Help Credit Union, allowing her a fresh start with banking, and she is also working towards a personal savings goal through CEF’s Safe Savings Account. She has also connected to many local resources, filed back taxes, and better understood her credit situation. Her Advocates also help to investigate when she suspects she is receiving phone calls and emails that are financial scams. With her tireless CEF Advocates, “I can reach my goals,” says Sue.

And Sue has made this progress and tackled these issues concurrently and alongside traveling back and forth to Florida for special treatments for Little Howell, countless appointments at Duke Hospital, and dealing with news that is sometimes good and sometimes not what they hoped to hear. What’s more, going above and beyond super-mom status, she has found ways to give Little Howell the opportunity to be the exuberant, joyous, full-of-life child that he is, approaching a glimmer of normalcy, by doing everything from racing RC cars to attending Duke football games through the Ronald McDonald House.

Sue and Little Howell have been a joy to work with in CEF, and we are delighted to share a little bit about their journey here. As they reflect on their time with CEF, Little Howell shares, “I just hope we can do something for them some day, they’ve really helped us out a lot.” We hope he knows that they already have.



Meet Anthony: “CEF All-Star”


(Anthony sporting his CEF “People Helping People” hat in front of his new home!)

Anthony raised four boys as a single father – two his sons and two of his sons’ friends who he raised as his own. He was an All-American football star at Chapel Hill High and went on to coach football for 19 years. In his own upbringing and as a parent, Anthony emphasized “Hard work, showing them you can do anything, and family – I was always at their events, reading, football games, I was always there.” With all 4 of his sons now grown and successful in business and public service, you can tell when talking to Anthony that family is at the center of his life.

Anthony became homeless after a large lay-off at the assisted living facility where he was housekeeping manager. “I had an apartment, a car, and slowly I started losing those things.” After spending some time staying with family, Anthony moved into the IFC shelter.


(Anthony’s 2014 Holiday Party Graduation)

He shares, “I found out there was a lot of social help here in Chapel Hill. Of course CEF was one of the first groups that I was led to… I mean, I had become kind of down in life, things not going well for me, and thought nobody really cared about what happened to Anthony Sharp. But when I walked into CEF it just changed. The enthusiasm the college kids had, you know they’re wiling to help, and just the care that they had – that made me feel different about myself.”

Anthony began working with Karla, a CEF advocate and current senior at UNC. Karla shares, “In our first meeting, he had so many plans for himself, ranging from academics, finances, employment, business, and service. And of those things, I feel like he always emphasized the service he would perform.” Karla and Anthony built a resume, completed countless applications, and connected with legal services to address issues on Anthony’s background.


(Anthony goofing around with fellow CEF graduate Robert at the 2014 Holiday Party)

Anthony highlights that in his struggle to “defeat homelessness… you know it wasn’t just me or one group, it was the whole community that came together.” He engaged in Orange County Literacy programs, many groups that meet at the shelter, and all of CEF’s programs, including Opportunity Classes. As he accumulated certificates along the way, he began including those with all of his job applications – and it all paid off!

Anthony secured a full-time position at UNC with health insurance and retirement benefits, and quickly saved with CEF to move into an apartment of his own. But even more, “For me, I found out I was smarter than I thought I was… I found out how to live again. As a term I have heard a lot from others, I’ve turned out to be who I was really supposed to be.”

Anthony gives back way more than he received. “It has just been a great life change for me, and I want to give thanks to a lot of people, and my community most of all for showing me a different way to live. It’s just great to be able to give back to this cause in Chapel Hill of ending homelessness.”

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(Anthony with State Senator Valerie Foushee at the ribbon cutting for the IFC at SECU Community House where he is a new board member — Anthony delivered remarks about his journey out of homelessness)


Living Generously: Demonte’s Member Story


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Demonte teaches us all to live generously. While living in a tent in the woods of Chapel Hill, he showed up bright and early every Saturday morning to the CEF Opportunity Class, making coffee for everyone and helping with classroom set-up. With a gift for photography he quickly became the resident photographer at CEF, capturing fun daily moments in the office, where he spends time every day of the week. He routinely snaps photos and then runs right across the street to print the pictures and give copies to everyone.

Demonte came to Chapel Hill after his home in Maryland burned down. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go… When I came here all I really had was the clothes that I was wearing.”

Running through a list of all the ways he has worked with CEF, Demonte shares, “When I came down here, everything I needed help for, if they couldn’t help me, they referred me to somebody that could. They just basically helped me put my whole life back together.”

His list of goals he accomplished with CEF includes: Getting his social security card and birth certificate after losing all his documents in the fire; connecting to doctors and mental health; getting help with managing his benefits; and finding housing.

On top of all that, Demonte points to the lessons he has learned from CEF’s Opportunity Classes. “I learned how to budget. I had never made a budget before coming to CEF; now I plan… I had never done that before. Demonte graduated months ago at this point, but he still continues to go to class every week to keep learning and also share with others there what he has learned, “Just to give back, plus I like helping people.

“CEF, it’s just been a lifesaver for so many people. It helped me out a tremendous amount. I just love the people here. I have a lot of friendships here… It is great to have people who you can call your friends, sit down and talk to when something is on your mind. I advise anybody that needs help with finding a house or a job or writing a resume to come check it out.”

Demonte was in a car accident in 1995 and suffered brain damage. As a result, Demonte is permanently disabled and not able to work formally, but he certainly still works hard. He got ordained as a minister and has served churches as their music director, volunteering locally with Love Chapel Hill church. Music is a long-time passion for Demonte from his time in the church as a kid, where he and several other youth started the “Seven Jewels Youth Choir.”

Out of the woods and now in an apartment, Demonte says he is “more restful now, because when I was out in the tent I would always wake up and it was hard to sleep.” Being in an apartment has also allowed him to get a long-awaited knee surgery that was not medically possible when his circumstances were different, as his doctors could not in good practice discharge him from the hospital to rehabilitate in a tent.

So what’s next for Demonte? “Basically all the goals that I had set for myself, I reached them all. The only goal I haven’t reached is the goal for my Safe Savings Account and my goal to get a laptop, but I’m working on that right now. Everything else I set as a goal is pretty much done, mostly from the help of CEF.”


Education + Housing

Made for the Orange County Commissioners as they weigh the value of housing in Orange County, NC.
"The risk of having all the funding support education but not support housing means that you are going to be cutting certain children off from access to that education, and those are the children that are already facing greater challenges. Those are the children that need it most; those are the children that are already at risk for not developing the education they need to live a full and healthy life when they grow up."
Jennifer De La Rosa

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CEF Launches Integrated Services Center (ISC)


At CEF we strive to “alleviate homelessness and poverty” by building relationships with members of the community, encouraging financial literacy and savings, and leveraging the passion and energy of hundreds of student volunteers. To this end, we’re excited to announce that this Fall and Winter, with the help of Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness (OCPEH), we will be launching an Integrated Services Center in our Chapel Hill office that marries our efforts with those of partner organizations in the area.

Many CEF advocates, members, donors, and board members understand deeply that the conditions that lead to poverty and housing insecurity are nuanced and complex. In most cases, there is no “quick fix” to the challenges members encounter. Rather, members must confront a range of issues—systemic, health-related, legal, and environmental—before becoming financially independent and healthy. Organizationally, we understand that in order to provide a quality and whole-person approach to working with members, we must collaborate and integrate services with partners and we are thankful that there are many organizations in Orange County that are able to stand with CEF as we aim to fulfill our mission.

We hope to build on the success of OCPEH’s 100,000 Homes Task Force, which meets monthly and seeks to collectively solve the problems some of our most vulnerable community members are encountering. We believe the next step for our community is direct and continuous collaboration in the service environment.

With financial support and encouragement from OCPEH and our early partners, Housing for New Hope, Critical Time Intervention, Durham VA (HUD-VASH), Orange County DSS, and Love Chapel Hill, we are piloting the Integrated Services Center from mid-August 2015 to February 2016 for the purposes of:

  • Improving program member outcomes in employment, housing, financial literacy, mental health, and health access by providing whole-person support in a setting that reduces unnecessary barriers;
  • Streamlining members’ access to quality person-centered and cross-program services that facilitate the path to self-sufficiency and well-being;
  • Reducing the need for duplication of services between agencies;
  • Leveraging the strengths and capacities of a variety of organizations and their complementary services.

This is a new and exciting endeavor, which will undoubtedly test the ways in which agencies and organizations effectively share information. However, we are certainly not starting from scratch. The ISC is modeled after the templates, research, and rich experiences of leading national agencies and foundations like the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), United Way, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, et al. We believe, with these examples and extensive research to guide us, the ISC will be an innovative mechanism for social service delivery in the area.

To be sure, we will be scrupulously measuring ISC’s impact and results, compiling academic research and gathering our own data and metrics as we move forward. Collaboration, integrated service delivery, and collective impact are essential for success in a non-profit environment that has very limited resources for myriad worthy organizations and projects. CEF aims to expand strategically through its ability to collaborate and problem solve alongside community partners so that we can fulfill our mission.

Please stay tuned to our blog, newsletters, and social media over the next few months where we will post Integrated Services Center updates!



Board of Directors Approves 3-Year Strategic Plan

Click here to read a summary of CEF’s 2016-2018 Strategic Plan

After almost a year of meetings with the Board of Directors, the Alumni Advisory Council, Advocates, Members, and Staff CEF is pleased to present the “signed, sealed, and delivered” summary of our 2016-2018 three-year strategic plan. As a blueprint for our future growth and development, over the next three years we plan to:

✓ Work with partners to further integrate financial services into shelters, workforce development, and housing services

✓ Improve our ability to provide holistic support to members

✓ Solidify and strengthen job partnerships to help members achieve satisfactory employment

✓ Promote sustainable transitions into housing that keep members in stable housing

✓ And ensure that we stay happy and healthy as an organization to continue to serve members effectively

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The Music Man — Jay Miller Helps CEF Sing

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The following is a profile of a CEF donor/partner who was kind enough to sit down with us and talk about his life, his motivations, and his experience with CEF. We’re happy to introduce him to the CEF community and to thank him for his support, in all of its forms. We hope to continue to feature partners and donors in our newsletters to thank them and to help tell our story.

To create a musical harmony, the artist stacks pitches on top of each other to produce a chord — a simultaneous sound that is pleasing to the ear. As a result, harmony has come to be used as a descriptor of symbiosis, a relationship where elements work and exist well together, in many different forms.

CEF donor Jay Miller understands intimately the difficulty and beauty of harmony. A Duke graduate (‘80), Jay spent his undergraduate years as a “gopher,” or administrative helper, for famous jazz musician and Duke “artist-in-residence” Mary Lou Williams. Jay, a bass player entering college, happened into Williams’ “The Beginning of the Blues” class in his freshman year.

“I was so taken with that,” he remembers fondly, “I was totally into jazz.” Williams was Jay’s inspiration to start playing the saxophone, and, referencing the time spent working for Williams, he admits, “I was willing to do anything because I could sit in there [Williams’ office] and listen to her practice.”

Music, both playing it and selling instruments, turned into a profession for Jay upon graduation. He opened a small music shop off of Ninth Street in Durham, which he spun into a chain of very successful music stores that spanned North Carolina (“Winston-Salem to Wilmington”).

However, Jay noticed a dissonance in his early post-graduate years while he was playing music professionally, a sound was out of place in his life: “I developed a drug and alcohol addiction.” He explains, “I don’t mind talking about it because I think the stigma is really unfortunate around a lot of mental health issues and I would rather just talk about it and maybe it will help somebody.”

Fortunately, Jay sought help early, consulting a substance abuse counselor in Durham and starting to attend regular Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings at the age of twenty-five. He is quick to note, although he maintains sobriety, “I have not really moved past my addiction issues, they are with me every day — it’s something that has to be managed for life for most of us.”

Ever cognizant of the value of the help he received from Durham County, and grateful for his good fortune, Jay wants to give back, “That’s kind of formed my basis in mental health interest.” Helping others, he says, has the added benefit of keeping him “on track” in his daily effort to manage his addictions.

Jay has given back in a big way since selling his music business in 2002. He and his wife Ebeth Scott Sinclair — a visual artist herself ( — started the Shared Visions Foundation to help non-profits in Durham and Orange County, especially those that serve individuals with mental health issues.

Jay’s musical ability to listen for missing notes and fill that space, creating harmony, has equipped him well in the non-profit sphere. To him, creating harmony means offering essential business advice and financial counseling to non-profit organizations and leaders, “I feel like a lot of non-profits suffer from not paying attention to the business of the business, if that makes sense. And so my original idea is that was how I would help non-profits.”

A perfect match for CEF, Jay has already participated in Opportunity Classes and will be assisting with training our volunteers in financial coaching. We are so grateful for the gift of his time and energy, in addition to his generous financial contribution through the Shared Visions Foundation. We’re looking forward to continuing to make music together!