Archive | March, 2013

Celebrating $100,000 Saved!


Amazing. This month members of the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) achieved a significant milestone, surpassing the $100,000 mark of collective savings deposits.

Now, almost three years since the program began, CEF members have cumulatively deposited over $100,000 towards their goals. As a result of all CEF savers:

  •  34  have successfully moved out of transitional housing and into apartments
  •  38 have prevented financial emergencies
  •  40 members have successfully saved to purchase laptops
  •  12 have purchased personal vehicles, achieving greater employability and mobility.
  • Most uniquely, 1 member purchased a dairy cow for his family

To celebrate this milestone, CEF will host a public ceremony on Friday, April 5th at 6:45pm at UNC. The event will take place in the Pit, the center of UNC’s campus, during the 6th annual Box-Out, an awareness raising event about homelessness and a fundraiser for CEF. CEF will honor members in the savings program present members with a plaque to commemorate their collective achievement.

RSVP for the ceremony to Maggie West,, (919) 200-0233.


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

Knitting Patterns

written by: the ever-wonderful Kevin Ji

“Is there a freedom to having no assets?” The question was posed to me by a friend and long-time Member of CEF on a Friday afternoon last year during one of our weekly writing workshops. It has been posed before (thanks, Ralph Waldo and Henry David) but at that moment, I found myself fully embracing – and personally grappling with – its sentiment.

On its surface, the question exposes materialism and its rampant presence in today’s culture. This is nothing novel and we are all guilty of it. I love shopping, especially at Ross and Old Navy. In a few weeks, I will be a proud iPhone owner, with the words ‘it was a birthday present’ serving as the (weak) justification for my compliance with the purchase of a device that will surely enslave me in many ways. In particular, I am already immensely looking forward to Snapchat, Plants vs. Zombies, and to further exploring what absolute dependency on Gmail might look like. Not great.

At its core, however, the question suggests something deeper. Assets are more than just money and possessions; they are things, both tangible and intangible, that we hold close, assigning value to them and deriving value from them. For some, this is prestige, voice, or influence. For many others, it is the stable job, secure home, or supportive family that we so often take for granted. They are things we strive to build and maintain; by admitting their value, we in turn give them the power to define us.

To distinguish us.

To disjoin us.

At the monthly HOPE Community Dinner earlier this month, I shook hands with a twenty-two year old man preparing to spend his first night at the IFC Shelter. To me he looked much older; my own twenty-second birthday is only a few weeks away. Before even mentioning his name or where he was from, he prefaced his greeting saying, “I swear I’m not a bad person, I’m just going through a hard time.”

A number of things went through my head upon hearing this: a compulsion to tell him he had nothing to apologize for, a pang that he had perceived me as someone who might cast judgment on him, and an overwhelming frustration that he felt the need to justify his ‘goodness’ as a person simply due his personal circumstances and those of our encounter.

Does this interaction suggest that we as a society have successfully marginalized homelessness? What about being poor? In many ways, measures of wealth and status have become so central in defining success and what we strive for that we forget other obvious alternatives: happiness, morality, balance, humility – the list goes on (Lao Tse, I’m looking at you). By so closely linking money and success, we fool ourselves into a mode of deficit thinking that has come to falsely and narrowly characterize poverty in this country.

What we don’t talk about enough are the consequences of this characterization, and what it truly means to define a rather large group of Americans (roughly 1 out of 6 of us) primarily by an absence of wealth and income. It certainly isn’t healthy. The story of poverty in this country has always been one of deficiencies: of money, literally, but also of capability and self-sufficiency. We offer charity and develop welfare programs, championing ourselves as providers and calling people free-riders when nothing comes back the other way. We tell the same story over and over again, in our schools, our media, and amongst one another, yet funnily enough never give ourselves the chance to meet any of the characters or to the hear their version of the tale. It’s quite different.

Strength and resilience, gratitude and appreciation, groundedness and perspective, camaraderie and community – these are words that aren’t used often enough. They are not meant to glorify or to diminish, but to give fair and due representation to a group that is too often defined by its deficiencies and hardly ever by its assets. We are all rich in some ways, poor in others. Let’s embrace that notion, and in doing so become more creative in how we perceive wealth, define assets, and pursue success in this country.

And CEF has done just that: what began as a monetary fund to help Members work toward and enjoy the same assets that many of us take for granted has turned into so much more. It is an intellectual fund where students grabbed by traditional teachings and pursuits can borrow from the wisdom and perspective of Members (in exchange for the use of their laptops), a social fund whose loan products range from crisis support to lifelong friendship (scary low interest rates, too), and an emotional fund from which any and all may borrow hope, optimism, and love, so long as they promise to reinvest it.

These two stories come from a pool of many that have accumulated over my past two years with CEF, and join the countless more that take place each day around the globe. They are moments of connection in a disparate world, perspective in a muddled one, and humanity in a, well, human one. They are reasons to stop and question, to listen and learn, to live and refine.

In life, look for the unlikeliest of friends and teachers – you probably have the most to learn from them anyway. Look them in the eye and understand where they come from. Share something about yourself too and reciprocate; there’s a reason why one-way streets suck, and I’m not just talking about traffic. Iterate, and in doing so spread the love.

As Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (Baller quote alert.) Underlying this thought, however, is another reality, that this garment is comprised of large and often isolated patches of color. They are patches of homogeneity, a result of the gravity that pulls together our social circles and guides our interactions. They are easy, natural, and comfortable – all things we love.

Imagine a garment, however, where these patches weave and intersect. Zoom in and see individual threads of colors interwoven with one another; zoom out and see the patterns that make it beautiful. I never really tell anyone to do anything, but I’ll tell you this now. Knit patterns for yourself and those around you. In doing so, challenge the status quo and defy gravity.




Double your Donation! Now through May 31

webThanks to a generous challenge grant from the Stewards Fund of $15,000, all donations to the Community Empowerment Fund made from March 1 through May 31 will be doubled!

Donate NOW
to double your dollars and create double the impact in sustaining transitions out of homelessness. 

Simply click here to donate now.

Or give by check, making checks payable to the Community Empowerment Fund
133 1/2 E. Franklin Street, Suite 105
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Why give to CEF? Learn more and read member stories here. 


Meet a CEF Saver: Donna

Meet Donna! CEF Saver Extraordinaire

Donna is an incredibly hard worker with a heart for helping people. She is the mother of two grown children, ages 33 and 30, and a grandmother of two cute young kids. Donna is one of 10 CEF leaders participating in our new Renter’s Savings IDA Program, saving regularly to build an emergency fund and working with advocates to strengthen her overall financial security.

Donna first heard about CEF when she was in the shelter, but didn’t get involved until after she moved out. She came to CEF “just to help me get my finances in order. I’m getting older, so security and future planning are very important to me.”

Donna has been incredibly successful. On March 28th Donna will celebrate four years of sobriety. She has been working full-time at Cruizers for three years and in her apartment for two years. She recently started computer classes, dreaming and visioning for her next career move.

On the savings program, Donna says, “When you’re starting over, it’s hard to know how to live again. The savings plan was a godsend.  I don’t know really how to save because I don’t make a lot of money, so all my money from my two paychecks is really used up. And if I put it in my regular savings that I can take out, then I usually end up having to take it out.

“This gives me an opportunity. If I take $50 out of my savings that is not planned, I owe it back to myself. And you better believe my advocates hold me to it!”

Donna has two savings accounts with CEF – Safe Savings and Renter’s Savings. Here’s how it works for her: “I have things coming up like my renter’s insurance; it’s $130 right off the bat, and I don’t have that just out of a check. So Safe Savings is for that — I save for stuff that I need and take it out when it’s time. The Renter’s Savings account, I don’t take that out for anything. That is going to be for when my car breaks down or I need another vehicle. And I am just not allowed to touch that. It really makes me feel better, knowing that’s there.”

To fully take advantage of her CEF savings accounts, Donna has completely mastered her budget. As Donna says, “I learned that if I don’t stay on track with my budget, I’m lost. I kind of already had a system when I came to CEF, but being in CEF makes me stick to it.” With her CEF advocates, she set up a account (personal expense tracking website) to monitor her income and expenses. Look at how amazingly she reduced her monthly expenses over time! That big dip in expenses in June? That’s when she started saving in her CEF account.

CEF Budgeting in Action

Our major kudos and thanks to Donna for her perseverance, diligence and dedication – to herself, her community, and her family’s future. Keep up the amazing work!


How It Works

Mike Wood Holiday Party 2012

How it works is the 1st of a monthly column by our very own ( Member, Alumnus, BBQ Master, CEF Opportunity Class Teacher, Sage of Sayings) Mike Wood.

            Let’s get right to it. I first thought I should tell you the all too familiar tale of mine but thought better of it because how I came to be homeless is far less important than what I was willing to do about it. But it is my life experiences that qualify me to do what it is I attempt to do.

I watched the Academy Awards last night so I would first like to thank all the county jails, the treatment centers, the Community House and a special shout out to Craven and Duplin County Correctional. How cool is it to have a job where you want to highlight all the mistakes you’ve made on your resume.

There are many organizations out there that teach these life style courses but I am not aware of any that provide the follow up and support provided by our advocates.

In most cultures it is the old that teach the young folks how to achieve success within that community. It did not work that way for me. Forty years of drinking and drugging had taught me but one thing. What I was doing was not working. The good news there is that in my acceptance of my utter failure as a human I would become teachable.

The way I see it we have two major goals for this organization. The most obvious is to provide assistance to our members. While the other is to provide an experience for the advocates that is taught in no class room on any campus. I believe that it is one thing to read about the importance of being of service to others while another to actually get out there and do it.

My approach to teaching the curriculum of our Opportunity Class is always centered in trying to make the subjects relevant to their current lives. That is something of a hard sell when you’re trying to tell them the importance of straightening out their credit when they spent last night on the ground.

They’re all adults and as such I try hard not to tell them what they should do but I am never reluctant to tell them what I did. This approach seems to work pretty well and I look forward to a long involvement with this group that has done so much for me.

I could tell you a whole lot more but I will save the rest for future news letters. In closing I would just like to say that sometimes I feel like the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I find it hard to conceive that my redemption could have happened but for my association with CEF and for that I will be eternally grateful.


Encouragement from Old Advocates!

Matt Kauffmann 2013

We recently received an email from one our former Advocates, Matt Kauffmann (UNC ’12). Matt is currently working in LA with employment services for the homeless. His email was filled with compliments and kind words for CEF. Thanks, Matt! We miss you. Here’s what Matt said about CEF and our strengths:

“The community and partnership created in the CEF office, opportunity classes, and Coffee Hours, picnics, etc. The equality in the member-advocate relationship and the sense of care for the whole person invite members to open up and build self-efficacy, creating space for positive change. Many organizations do not have time, money, or motivation to do this. Community is an area in which I think CEF benefits greatly from advocate-member parity in numbers as well as from the train-the-trainer facilitation model. The point is: CEF is awesome. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it for a short while. Keep up the good work.”

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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