Archive | August, 2011

"A Lifeline to Financial Freedom"

The following beautiful letter was recently submitted by our dear and beloved CEF member, Ms. Aneice McClary. Aneice has been a joy to get to know through the savings program and is making incredible progress towards her goals. Aneice, thank you for inspiring all of us!

“The Community Empowerment Fund is a lifeline to financial freedom. I believe as my Pastor says, “When you know better- you will do better.” CEF’s definitive goal is to equip you with enough knowledge & resources to sufficiently aid in all efforts to create success/ security.

“Knowledge is indeed power. CEF has assisted in my empowerment beyond measure. My American dream is to epitomize the essence of self-sustainment. But I had to learn how. My very first lesson was to abandon my naïve notions regarding my debt, (ignoring them). Next it was necessary to dismantle my method of approach in dealings with my creditors (hiding from them). Finally, I simply had to mature. Through CEF, an eager sense of responsibility-accountability rose up within me—which prompted me into action. Hence, my ultimate race for the cure!

“I began my beloved financial “therapy” with CEF back in Mid-MAY of 2011. I continue to value our weekly classes. Each training course has become a catalyst for me to become efficiently sustained within the near future. Topics/ education on credit building/ re-building, budgeting, creditor negotiations, tracking cash expenses, pros & cons of credit card usages, pros & cons as consumers of banks & credit unions, debt ratios, overall financial planning that benefits our tomorrow- as in the importance of saving, (i.e. Savings Circle). Each class takes you one step closer to the realistic goal of debt relief and abounding financial health. Yet such a triumph could not occur without the assistance of the CEF staff & associates.

“The faces of CEF are remarkably dedicated to the individual client and their adjoining purpose. It is apparent within every interaction; their greatest concern is our success. I entered the program feeling helpless-believing my only viable solution toward debt relief would be to file bankruptcy. CEF gave me an alternate perspective; along with a second chance to clean up what was once defiled-my good name. For this I am forever grateful. Thanks CEF!”

*Sincerely submitted by:

Aneice McClary


CEF Invited to the White House

A view of the White House from the front stoop

The Community Empowerment Fund was invited to the White House for a Community Leaders Briefing Series. Alongside social justice and grassroots activists from all over the country, CEF was there to provide our perspective and feedback on issues facing the Obama Administration.

The best part? We got to meet incredible people from nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups, public schools, and neighborhood associations from Missouri, Michigan, California, Kentucky, and many of the nation’s 50 states. This gave us the invaluable opportunity to learn from creative leaders doing important work in their towns, and to spread the word about CEF and our missions and methods.

For example, we met Donnie from reStart, Inc. reStart is a 78,000 square foot shelter facility in Kansas City that provides residential services to families in a manner that upholds their personal lifestyle, housing whole families, unmarried couples, same-sex couples, and single individuals. We were thrilled to hear that reStart just recently launched a financial literacy program for their residents. CEF looks forward to sharing our curriculum and experiences, and supporting their new efforts!

CEF also connected with the Lancaster County Council of Churches in Pennsylvania. Offering an array of social services, the council runs a smart and simple “Wheels to Work” program that sustains itself financially and provides motor vehicles or bikes to those who need transportation to become self-sufficient. Transportation is a huge barrier for many of our members, and a program such as this is an exciting model to learn from as we explore potential matched savings account options to meet this need.

And this is just a small sample of the community visionaries we met in D.C… Advocates for Pell Grants, school teachers, counselors for Latina youth – everyone we met inspired us and reminded us that the nature of the movement for economic justice is national in scope, and that even though we as a country have a long way to go, when we look on the local level, we see that grassroots leaders are continuing to fight alongside their communities and are making real change.

Briefing participants in a Health and Human Services session

The experience solidified for us that the stories and voices of CEF members must continue to be heard on the national level. We look forward to staying engaged with the White House, using the new tools for communication we learned about at the briefing.

We were honored to be invited, and grateful to Chapel Hill Mayor Kleinschmidt for recommending us to the White House staff. Thank you, Mayor Kleinschmidt, for this great opportunity!



A Response to "CEF Love" (see below)

By Swathi Sekar

I saw the picture below and it inspired me to blog! Proud of me, CEF Staff? (Making Swathi blog is like pulling teeth) I’ve been entirely spoiled with “CEF Love”. CEF has completely changed my perspective on how nonprofits should operate, and it’s going to make it really hard for me to find truly enjoyable work these next two years in Atlanta. I’m going to be searching for something that has as much collaboration, joint struggle, and shared successes as CEF, and it’s going to be hard. This summer was the first time, since the start of CEF in 2009 that I was able to stay in Chapel Hill and experience what a CEF summer is truly like. It’s overwhelmingly fun, sometimes emotional, and always a day-to-day learning experience. I learned how difficult teaching is; I learned the importance of being patient with seeing the results of hard work; I learned how CEF is much more than an organization, it’s a community. I’ve learned from my fellow Advocates and from all our Members at large. Everyone has a story, and CEF creates a safe place where people can share their stories, and grow. I’ve definitely grown, that’s for sure, and I have everyone who’s involved in CEF to thank for that. And, what college graduate gets the opportunity to work for an organization they LOVE, with people they LOVE, soon after graduation? This summer was an amazingly unique experience for me, and I will never forget it, and will miss it tremendously, but won’t be far away! I’m excited to hear about all the great things that come out of CEF in these next couple years, and I will forever stay a CEF Member Advocate.


CEF / Homeless Switch for an Hour

By Amanda Abbott

div id=”attachment_2408″ class=”wp-caption aligncenter” style=”width: 179px”>CEF client Amanda Abbott hard at work in the CEF office

CEF client Amanda Abbott hard at work in the CEF office


Okay, so the idea for the CEF/ Homeless switch for an hour was completely mine. I know that CEF helps a lot of homeless people and it occurred to me that none of us really know how or what it’s like to be in the other’s shoes. So, how could we help each other? Well, very simply…. We switch places for an hour. Now I know what you’re thinking. How could anyone learn something this real in an hour? Well I will tell you that I was very glad to have my life back.

I was a CEF member for the hour and I found that it was a headache the whole time. I was trying to help people find shelter and for every door that hit me in the face I was frustrated. I mean the thought that these people would be out on the streets and I was trying but not getting anywhere was the worst feeling in the world. I had to wonder is this what the real CEF staff feels like when they are working with us? I learned that just because we have a lot of good times and laugh a lot the CEF staff really does care and are here to help us in any way possible. I am not saying that I doubted that they were trying to help, but in the back of my mind I did not trust. So, many people come out and say that they are helping people and then don’t. But CEF is real and hard working. This is my experience with Freaky Wednesday.


CEF Goes Global

CEF was started in the summer of 2009 and began recruiting to the larger student body that fall semester. Within this first round of newly recruited CEF-ers, were a few students from the Carolina Microfinance Initiative who in addition to being new to microfinance, were passionate about international development and empowering low income communities to access to financial products and services. Inspired by the personalized work and experiences in CEF, this small, but riveting group set their eyes on taking CEF’s name globally.

At its roots, microfinance was developed, has a prominent presence, and is typically known for being a powerful tool for economic development internationally. In practice, the number of microfinance groups, clients, and funding in developing countries dwarfs those of domestic microfinance. Nonetheless, this group of CEF-ers saw several industry deficiencies they believed a CEF-esc student driven model with relationships at its core, could take microfinance to the next level: A model where the people, not the finances come first.

During this time, these students were beginning to form a partnership with a Raleigh NGO, Lemonade International, who operates two elementary schools in Central America’s largest urban slum called La Limonada located in Guatemala City. While Lemonade International is having a significant impact in La Limonada working with children, they saw a need to engage and work with the adult population with entrepreneurship education and financial services. After failing to target an MFI willing to operate in the community due to the slum community’s violence, social stigma, and lack of profitability, Lemonade International met this group of CEF-ers wanting to do just that.

La Limonada, the Largest Urban Slum in Central America

La Limonada, the largest urban slum in Central America

A “red zone” in the city, La Limonada, is notorious for murder, gang violence, drug addiction, and more to the point that the government itself refuses to enter. A common phrase thrown around by the local kids say that, “not even Santa goes into La Limonada”. Armed with a small library of books on microfinance, an abundance of educational materials, and a myriad of hope and doubt, three UNC students traveled to Guatemala to explore the feasibility and applicability of a CEF-like program in La Limonada.

On ground, the three students soon realized that huge need and potential for CEF International (known as FAC in Spanish)—there were countless entrepreneurs wanting access to capital and education to jump-start their businesses, but couldn’t find it at fair and affordable rates. After hearing horror stories of the different predatory lending schemes practiced by local and national Guatemalan MFI’s, El Fondo de Apoyo Comunitario Internacional officially launched in August 2010 with support from CEF, the Carolina Microfinance Intiative, the UNC Campus Y and the Carolina Center for Public Service. This 2010 pilot program consisted of 1 loan officer, 1 education coordinator, 2 borrower groups—two joint liability 5 to 6 member loan group—and 1 savings circle—a 6 member solidarity group that strives to build assets and community.

The second FAC borrower group at a weekly meeting where they discuss topics ranging from budgeting to managing a small business

It’s been a long year for us, full of trials and triumphs the whole way, and we thank CEF for all its continued support. Aside from the name, organizational structure, and focus on relational support, CEF and FAC have something else in common: a propensity for growth, change, and empowerment. As CEF has recently acquired 501(c)(3) status and continues to enlarge its ever-growing database for meeting clients’ needs, FAC is also renovating and expanding. We’ve recently started up a CEF-inspired Savings Program with a 20% match for those who meet their savings goal. Our nine savings clients are all teachers at the Limon School in La Limonada, allowing us to build relationships with various community partners and change agents. On the loans side, our third borrower group is starting to materialize, and our two current groups who have seen their income and savings increase significantly, are set to receive their next round of loans in the next few weeks.

As we formalize our Operations Manual, the web of FAC services and products is starting to interlink nicely, and a newly developed Emergency Fund will dedicate 10% of all incoming donations to those of our clients whose emergency needs are the greatest, such as one of our borrowers whose husband recently had his appendix removed and was bedridden for a month. Finally, our Business Incubator program transforms clients’ ideas for a logo and marketing strategy into advertisement vinyls using UNC volunteer resources and local connections. As FAC continues to mature, we at “The Community Empowerment Fund International” can never forget the parental guidance we received from domestic CEF-ers as we took our first baby steps. Check out CEF’s international arm at


Featured Member: Maria

By Jonathan Young

“You are the only person that holds you back.
It’s up to me to accept it and try to do something about it.”

We first met Maria through Talking Sidewalks. She was living in the HomeStart women’s shelter in Chapel Hill but she was full of ambition. “I learned that a place is what you make of it,” she says. Maria had had a long career in Information Technology in Maryland, and moved to Raleigh, NC for a better job in the field. The job was great, but at the same time Maria was battling with a rare disease called PCD that caused her to get frequent lung infections. She was hospitalized after one of the infections, and her doctors told her she couldn’t keep working with her health conditions.

After leaving the hospital, Maria was without a job and money to pay rent; she had no other option but to turn to a shelter. “When I walked through the doors of the Homestart Women’s shelter, I was afraid, and because of fear I was expecting to be on my guard,” says Maria, but the staff embraced her and within her first weeks she got involved with the CEF Opportunity Class that was being held weekly in the shelter.

Working with CEF, Maria was able to connect with SSI and the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program and find an affordable place to live in Durham, NC. “It was like magic,” says Maria. “I wish the world would stop looking at a person that has been in a homeless shelter like it is a bad thing; personally, I’ve grown so much since I went through that and I’m forever grateful for the experience.”

Maria says she has learned a lot about savings and financial responsibility through working with CEF. “I was always used to living in the ‘right now’… but now that i have a savings plan and a goal, It makes me think twice.” Using CEF’s Safe Savings Accounts, Maria met her first savings goal of a personal emergency fund within just two months and is now saving to start her own small business: Picc Me By Design, creating stylish and comfortable Picc Line covers for medical patients.

Maria remembers her father always saying, “ You’ve got to have a backup plan in whatever you choose to do in this life,” and now she does. “I’m happy now,” says Maria, “from the shelter to here is just a beginning point in my life. With the help from CEF I’m ready to change the world one person at a time!”

*update 9-2-11
Last week, the women at the Homestart shelter threw Maria a send-off party because she had landed a fantastic job in Washington State in the IT field. She’s absolutely thrilled to be going back to work, and it was inspiring / beautiful / overwhelming to see how much the women at homestart respected, cared, and looked up to Maria. She’ll be greatly missed, but we know she’s moving on to do great things in her life!

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

Chapel Hill: 919-200-0233 Durham: 919-797-9233