Archive | In the News

CEF Ribbon-Cuttings! Join us for Housewarmings!

BIG NEWS! And we hope you will join us to celebrate!

A NEW Expanded and Improved Office in Chapel Hill!

A NEW Expanded and Improved Office in Chapel Hill!

A NEW Durham Office!

A NEW Durham Office!

Chapel Hill Office
Housewarming & Fundraiser

When:     Friday, May 29, 2015    5:00-7:00 PM

Where:   At the new office, 108 W. Rosemary St, Chapel Hill, NC

RSVP:    Click here to RSVP or RSVP on Facebook

Durham Office
Housewarming & Fundraiser

When:    Friday, June 12, 2015    5:00-6:30 PM

Where:   Public Square in front of 331 W. Main Street, Durham

RSVP:     Click here to RSVP or RSVP on Facebook

Introducing the Durham Office!

Our sunny new Durham office is in the historic Snow Building on Main Street!

CEF has been working in Durham since 2011, meeting members directly at the partner shelters & transitional housing programs where they stay. While advocates & members will continue to meet there, we now have a consistent hub for members to remain connected to their CEF advocates & savings accounts after they move out of the shelter.

We are grateful for the warm welcome into our community’s spaces, and we look forward to welcoming you into ours.

Expanding & Improving the Chapel Hill Office! 

Our new Chapel Hill location is not just a new office for CEF. It represents the launch of an exciting community partnership. With our expanded space, we will be co-locating services from partners who provide mental health services, supportive employment programs, recovery groups, housing support, and more – collaborating even more closely to ensure that members are connected to the support they need to make their goals a reality. Embedding the services of partner organizations within CEF’s programs enables our members to access these services in an environment they trust and in a holistic, streamlined manner. 

And at long last, we have a Chapel Hill office that is handicap accessible. We were located at 133 ½ E. Franklin since 2011, in a quirky little spot up a flight of stairs that was often compared to Platform 9 ¾ from the Harry Potter series… in its fractional address, lack of a sign and its entry into a magical world. Now, while we get to keep the CEF magic, we are in a visible, handicap accessible spot!

Be a Part of this Big Moment in CEF History!

Here are several ways you can support CEF in this big move:

  1. Celebrate with us! Join us on May 29th in Chapel Hill and June 12th in Durham for ribbon-cutting celebrations at our new offices (Click the links for details!).
  2. Become a Sustainer by pledging a monthly gift to sustain transitions out of homelessness. Give $10, $25, $50, or any amount every month to make transformative change happen every day.
  3. Make a kick-off contribution by making a one-time gift to support this big move.

CEF partnership with Duke University Office of Durham & Regional Affairs Featured in Duke Today!

CEF Durham Program Coordinator meets with Gary, our Opportunity Circles Leader, to plan class sessions

CEF Durham Program Coordinator meets with Gary, our Opportunity Circles Leader, to plan class sessions

Exciting partnership news! CEF is honored to announce a greater partnership with the Duke University Office of Durham and Regional Affairs to expand our programs and services in Durham.

See Duke Today and Durham Magazine article highlighting the partnership!




CEF Leader Mike Wood Receives Chamber Award!



Great news! CEF’s very own Michael Wood is being honored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce during their 2013 Salute to Community Heroes!

Mike received the award for Volunteer of the Year from the Chamber. We are so proud and deeply thankful for Mike’s leadership within CEF and our community. He is such a gift and has had an amazing impact on many CEF members.

Join us at the celebration Thursday, December 12th from 6pm-8pm at the University Mall main stage.

More information here.



Beloved's Lamplighter Award Nomination for CEF

CEF recently received one of the highest honors any organization could possibly aspire to achieve
— one of the members of CEF’s program nominated us for an award! We were truly humbled by her nomination — first, that she thought highly enough of her personal experience with CEF to nominate us, and secondly, because the essay she submitted with her nomination is truly beautiful.

Beloved, a really and truly lovely member of the CEF community, wrote a nomination for the Lamplighter Award, a humanitarian award given annually by 103.9 FM “The Light,” a local gospel radio station. And still even more amazing, CEF was selected as a finalist for the award! Beloved represented CEF at the black-tie event on Saturday! We are truly and deeply honored by Beloved’s nomination and the opportunity to be considered for the award. The Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association won the final award for their great work for racial and environmental justice in Orange County. We are delighted to have been included in such great company!

Beloved’s beautiful essay is included in its complete form here. Thank you, Beloved, for your leadership, care and commitment!

The Light 103.9 FM

“Community Empowerment Fund is a non-profit organization serving the people of Orange and Durham Counties. Co-founded by Jon Young and Maggie West, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduates, CEF’s foundation principle is preserving human and civil rights in the community. CEF connects current UNC and Duke Students who choose to volunteer their time in the organization, with individual members in the community who are seeking aid in any manner. CEF trains its advocates and volunteers, preparing them to serve people with the same dedication and principles it possessed at the opening of Community Empowerment Fund in 2009. Today, CEF is a thriving place, aiding folks of all ages and races, celebrating one another’s differences and empowering them to live above their circumstances.

“CEF is proud of people. People of all walks of life are welcomed. This organization offers a multitude of community resources to help and assist people in their time of need, whatever and however one may need. CEF is a place where individuals come to receive free services such as job seeking assistance, resume building, computer skills classes, cooking classes, sponsored plots in a local garden, along with the seeds and the necessary education needed in order to plant and harvest. CEF has weekly Opportunity Classes where several topics are out in the open, discussed across a meeting table, where coffee and pastries are served along with the uplifting, soul searching conversation. All input is welcome and received; it is a place to speak your mind and listen, a place to sit and build structure into one’s life. Papers are handed out on issues such as conflict at work, budgeting, among many other pertinent, life skill subjects, much needed in our society at hand. Once a member has completed the 8 sessions and reached their savings goal, they are eligible to receive a savings match in their CEF account of 10%. Community Empowerment Fund is built on providing people with the tools they need to be financially independent.

“The most powerful component of CEF is their belief that relationship is the starting point. Advocates are thoughtfully paired with individuals seeking membership and those relationships are brought together in concise ways, acting as friendships over a long period of time; multiple years. The relationships that are provided and strengthened offer peace and trust, where people have lacked it. Accountability is brought to the surface in a pleasant and mature process of ups and downs, and the acceptance therein. Support is offered, cell phone numbers are openly and easily exchanged. One wonders why they ever sought therapy and paid out of pocket for it, when human affairs are exchanged and treated so civilly. Likewise, attention is given foremost to the person who walks in, whether they are homeless, in a shelter, or in stable housing. Fare is given for those in need of public transportation to get to where they are going. Questions are not asked. Phone lines and internet lines are open and awaiting individuals who walk in who need them. Anything that would benefit a member is sought and found by their advocate or the founders.

“‘A tool shop for humanity,’ one could call it. An aversion from the norm. “True southern hospitality”, is perhaps what Community Empowerment Fund embodies. Biblical truth is what is represented and acted out. Works, works, and more works, all outlined in faith, though they are not a faith-based organization. Certainly, they attract many believers and probably turn more people into one than some churches. For one long time member whose iron count went low, a weekly box showed up at her doorstep, abounding with fresh produce from a local farm. Who made this happen? Her advocate and CEF’s co-founder, with their connection to a farmer food share. Another member with a medical issue and no transportation was supported to own her own car with CEF’s partnership with a local car donation organization and through building her CEF Safe Savings Account.

“All around, CEF enables empowerment among the peoples, and is always seeking out more ways to applaud their members who they so diligently support. Eradicating homelessness is their anthem, providing aid to live one’s life to its fullest is their mission.”



Featured Staff: Sarah

Sarah in her spiffy polo!

Sarah in her spiffy polo!

We got a chance to sit down with Sarah Cohn, CEF’s first AmeriCorps VISTA, to talk about the growth of her involvement and where she is now. We’re incredibly happy and lucky to have her, as she’s been an amazing asset to the CEF family!

How did you get involved with CEF, how did it all begin?

It all began when I was studying abroad actually, which doesn’t sound like it makes much sense. I got an email on the Spanish Minor listserv about doing CEF Latino and responded to it, planning to get involved with that once I got back. I met Linda over that summer and then I started doing CEF Latino business classes that summer and continued doing them that fall. Then I saw how cool the rest of CEF was and wanted to get involved in the bigger picture.

How would you describe your time with CEF while still an undergrad? How did your involvement develop?

At first I was just doing CEF Latino– at that point CEF Latino was not very connected to the rest of CEF and so I mainly just went to the small business classes and went to CEF Latino meetings every week. I started meeting with a member Sonya during business classes and that was pretty much it- it was something I was involved in, but wasn’t spending a lot of time on it.

Linda asked me to apply for an open admin position as CEF Latino Co-Coordinator, because she was working a fulltime job at that point, had graduated, and was very overstretched.  I started getting a lot more involved when I started coming to admin meetings, which I previously didn’t know existed and [began] learning about the rest of CEF.

Clearly you’ve had a good time with CEF since you’ve decided to continue your work after graduation. What motivated you to work for CEF full time and were there any hesitancies?

Last year, my senior year, was the first time I started spending a lot of time in the CEF office and I just really liked it. I wasn’t that fearful working full time for CEF, because I know it was something I love doing… spending time in the office, working with Members, and working with other people in CEF.

I really wasn’t that worried about it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation. For a long time I did not want to stick around and anyone who knew me last year knows that I preached a lot about leaving Chapel Hill. It kind of dawned on me one time that I could do the AmeriCorps position with CEF and it was just a great opportunity

Did someone bring up the possibility of working for CEF?

People did– I remember people joking about it. I was one of the few people graduating that did not have plans. They told me I should do it and I literally laughed in their faces the first couple time, saying, “No, no I’m leaving.” I don’t know what happened it was seriously one day I was like “Wait I could do this!” It went from being a joke to a possibility, then reality.

What is your position within CEF?

My position is Member-Advocate Coordinator, and that means working to support Members and Advocates and their relationships. There are two other student volunteers who are also Member-Advocate Coordinators and the three of us work together to pair members and advocates and follow up with those relationships and make sure they’re going well. My job is to spend a lot more time in the office and keep an eye out for possible pairings, and also just provide structure and support to teams and everything that involves Advocates.

What are some goals you have for the year?

Technically I have a VISTA Assignment Description that lists the goals that I have to accomplish this year, which they call a VAD. So my main goal for CEF is to accomplish everything on my VAD. A big part of that is redefining the Advocate program, especially in terms of training and support for advocates. So, one of my main goals right now is to create a better training for Advocates, and throughout all of that make what I’m doing sustainable for the next year. One of the main goals of VISTAs anyway is to build capacity, and make it so that they’re not needed within a couple years.

I definitely want to develop myself professionally, just because this is my first full time job.  Just working on skills that are necessary for lots of jobs like speaking, grant writing, and things like that.

Do you have a favorite CEF moment(s)?

One thing I love the most about CEF is that a lot of things that you would expect to be awkward aren’t awkward. So, working with people that are older than you, that have a lot more experience than you, and offering them financial advice, you’d expect these interactions to be awkward and sometimes offensive, but 99% of the time it’s not. Members are really open too since they came to CEF for advice like that, so I’m always impressed with Members.

I don’t know if there is one particular moment- most of the things that I’m thinking about are when Members find jobs or something exciting happens for a Member and everyone in the office is really excited. It’s an accomplishment for everyone and people are so genuinely happy for the person, like when people meet savings goals and that’s cause for celebration.



CEF Hits the Road: Lend for America Summit


Olivia, Emerson, and Chiraayu

By Olivia & Chiraayu

Over the weekend of October 10th to 12th, five brave CEF-ers took a fateful journey into the heart of Pennsylvania to meet some of their institutional role models. After seven hours in the car together (during which Chiraayu caught up on lots of sleep, Jon caught up on lots of Bo-Berry biscuits, and Emerson, Maggie, and Olivia engaged in enriching conversation) the group of five arrived first in Lancaster, the charming town that TABOR calls home.

TABOR is a non-profit organization that has been working in the Lancaster community for several decades, performing many functions such as financial education, housing assistance, and saving services. CEF has had its eye on TABOR for a few years now, primarily because of their well-developed and successful protective payee system and IDA savings program. The kind employees at TABOR gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of their facilities, shared their philosophy with us, and more than anything else, provided us with a concrete vision of what a young organization like CEF can become.

Following an afternoon in Lancaster, we headed north to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to attend the annual Lend for America Summit, where we had the opportunity to engage with fellow campus-based microfinance organizations. This year’s summit brought over 200 people from 53 universities across 26 states. Lend for America was started in 2010 to provide more support to students practicing microfinance and community development. CEF was one of the original members of Lend for America and sends students to present and collaborate with fellow students at each yearly gathering. This year, Emerson and Jon gave a presentation titled “Unbanked in America, while Maggie discussed community assets as an integral component of community development. Jon also had the opportunity to talk to tech nerds about Salesforce.

Maggie Jon


The weekend involved as much learning as it did teaching. We had the opportunity to learn from our peers from universities like Fordham, Yale, and Tulane about recruitment, retention, taxes (getting excited about them!), and organizational identity. The conference gave us the chance to connect with other students from the South and develop greater potential for collaboration. We loved conversations with students from UNC Greensboro and Elon, who are looking to start their own community development organizations, as well as with University of Alabama representatives who have a well-established MFI. There were many chances for reflection on CEF’s direction for the future and new programs that align with our mission.

Furthermore, we had the chance to reunite with CEF’s 2012 summer intern, Peter Woo, who has since started a campus microfinance initiative at Notre Dame. We’re pleased to report that Peter seems to be doing splendidly, and JIFFI (Jubilee Initiative for Financial Inclusion) is off to an excellent start. (And what would a conference be without good food? The food was dope. A huge shout out to the delicious cupcakes, soft pretzels, pizza, and wings that were enjoyed this weekend!)


CEF in the Summer!

We Need Advocates this Summer:  Sign up here! 

CEF Advocates work side by side with individuals struggling with underemployment and unemployment, saving for affordable housing, and sustainably working their way out of poverty.

As a CEF Member Advocate:

You’ll have the opportunity to work closely alongside one of our Members (homeless, unemployed, or underemployed individuals), helping to provide financial support and access to resources, as well as to build a supportive environment.

No experience necessary- we will provide training to all new volunteers!

Ready to get involved? Sign up HERE!

Member Advocates will:

  • Believe In Possibilities
  • Budgeting
  • Resume Building
  • Job Search Assistance
  • Find Ways to Increase Income and Decrease Expenses
  • Housing Search Assistance
  • Connections to Community and Government Resources
  • Small Business Plan Preparation
  • Personal Coach for Economic Independence
  • Bond with Each Other! And Strengthen Relationships
  • Stand Up for All People
  • Explore Pathways to Higher Education
  • Fight for Financial Freedom
  • Create Positive Community

"University Students Changing Landscape in Domestic Microenterprise"

The Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) was featured as one of two case studies in a national publication on student-led microfinance programs. The report was written and published by FIELD at the Aspen Institute.

Titled “Catching Fire: The University Microenterprise Movement in 2012,” the report documents the growth and creativity of this unique model of service delivery in the microenterprise sector.

More info from Elaine Edgcomb, Director of FIELD and co-author of the study:

“University students delivering microenterprise services and microfinance? With some scale and effectiveness?

“Over the last few years, university-born and student-powered microenterprise organizations have emerged offering direct services (both training and financing) to low-income individuals and small businesses in their local communities. FIELD has closely watched the movement evolve, and FIELD’s latest study “Catching Fire: the University Microenterprise Movement in 2012″ describes the contributions this movement is making both to individual communities and the larger field. The paper provides two case studies of the Community Empowerment Fund in North Carolina, and Capital Good Fund in Rhode Island that illustrate its potential, and points out the next challenges that the movement must address if it is to fully capitalize on that potential.”

Our thanks and appreciation go out to FIELD, the Aspen Institue, and the Mott Foundation for their thorough research and thoughtful interviews. Thank you for documenting this work!


Finally, Amanda Has a Home

Check out this recent article in the Chapel Hill News, a guest column CEF published to highlight the fantastic and collaborative work we are participating in through the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness’ 100,000 Homes Task Force.

“How Amanda Got a Home” Read the full article here. 

Excerpt: “Amanda had been homeless for more than 10 years. Only 28 years old, this means she had been homeless for the entirety of her adult life – living with her sister in Houston, a shelter in D.C. and, for the past two years, a tent in the woods of Carrboro.

Amanda signing her new lease!

This past May, Amanda and her two cats moved into their own apartment in Chapel Hill. How? First, Amanda’s own determination and follow-through; second, a symphony of community partners, orchestrated by the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness’ 100,000 Homes Taskforce.

The story began for me about a year ago when Amanda walked into the office of the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) on Franklin Street with her very cute little dog, Paso. I can’t remember what brought Amanda up to our office that day, but from then on she became a daily presence at CEF. She began leading our weekly creative writing workshops, helping with outreach, working on her own goals, making savings deposits, and, sometimes, just hanging out on the computer. Through CEF Amanda was paired with two volunteer advocates, Audrey Boyles and Jon Young, who began partnering with her and working one-on-one to help her reach her goals.

Amanda with Audrey, one of her volunteer CEF Advocates

This past January the Partnership to End Homelessness held its annual Point-In-Time count, documenting the number of homeless men, women, and children in Orange County. This year as a part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, the count included a survey to identify the most medically vulnerable homeless individuals in our community. Based on these surveys, a collaboration of 15 local agencies joined together to create person-specific plans to help the most vulnerable individuals in our community find housing.

Amanda was one of the surveyed individuals and the 100,000 Homes Campaign prioritized her to receive services. A network of community services and organizations came together: A supportive housing voucher through OPC Shelter Plus Care; an affordable apartment through CASA; a security deposit from Housing for New Hope; comprehensive health services through the Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health; vaccinations for her cats through POP; household furniture from a graduating senior at UNC; and one-on-one support from her CEF advocates, as well as her community and church friends. It was stressful; it was mountains of paperwork.

Amanda with Mary Jean, COO at CASA, the affordable housing agency renting Amanda her beautiful apartment

“I kept waiting on the big joke,” says Amanda, “for everything to fall apart.”

On Amanda’s first night in her new apartment she hosted a housewarming party. A family of friends, case-workers, advocates, pastors, jogging-buddies, therapists and community supporters came together to share a meal and celebrate Amanda’s accomplishment. A few of us even brought sleeping bags and stayed with Amanda for her first night, so she would be comfortable sleeping in this new environment – spending her first night in her own bed in over a decade.

Amanda says having her own home means “constant baths, air conditioning, a bed, and a lock. I can lock my door, that’s a very big deal. Oh, and I can cook!”

It’s the things we take for granted. It’s the distance between surviving and living. It’s doors opened for Amanda to continue her education at Durham Tech and become a Nursing Assistant, or to one day open a rescue home for abused and abandoned cats and support them through recovery.”

Read the full article here. 


CEF Savings Program Featured by CFED Blog!

Check it out! Alex Biggers, CEF’s Savings Program Coordinator, was invited to write a guest post on the CFED Inclusive Economy Blog. We’re famous!

Read Alex’s entire and beautifully written post on the CFED Inclusive Economy Blog by clicking here, or check out the excerpt below.

“While traditional Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) work towards three main asset purchases – homeownership, education, and small business development – we recognized that savings and housing were in themselves assets to the homeless living in and transitioning out of shelters. While staying at shelters, expenses tend to be minimal. However, when it comes time for many residents to move out, they find that despite their best efforts, they still don’t have enough money – for a rental deposit, furniture, utility deposits, and a financial cushion for emergencies. Though some may have enough funds to move into proper housing, many people have a hard time keeping up with their rent while dealing with volatile incomes and unexpected expenses, and many even return to homelessness.

“Based on the unique need of our members, we structured the savings accounts to incentivize savings towards anything the CEF members see valuable, be it $2000 for an emergency fund, $150 towards a refurbished laptop, or $900 to move into new housing. CEF members define both the amount of the goal and the asset. Unlike a traditional IDA, the CEF match rate is only 10%. Although low compared to other match savings programs, CEF staff has found that this rate truly does incentivize saving, while still allowing the program to remain flexible and easy to administer.

“…Through a network of strong relationships, assertive individualized support, flexible accounts and matches, holistic education, and self-selected goals, CEF continues to facilitate savings, promote asset-building, and create access to a mainstream financial world for a population normally deemed “too poor” to be served by most IDAs. By continuing to listen to and believe in our members that have believed so much in us, we hope that we can move our community closer to realizing their own self-defined goals and promoting financial stability.”

Our thanks to the folks at the Corporation for Enterprise Development for spreading the word about the Community Empowerment Fund and our savings program!