Archive | June, 2013

Learning Community Through CEF

By: Audrey Boyles

When I entered college, I was determined to become a travelling doctor. I thought I would never settle down, that I would have a nomadic life and that my friends from home would play, “Where in the world is Audrey now?” The idea was very romantic to me (just think of the souvenirs!).

Four years later, I find myself bawling my eyes out at the CEF Graduation ceremony, never wanting to leave the beautiful community of which I have become a member. During the past four years, I have learned what community means to me through CEF. Learning the meaning of community has unexpectedly shaped my post-grad decisions, the relationships I have with my family, friends, and neighbors and even the context of how I see myself.

When I look back over the past four years, some of the happiest memories that come to mind include HOPE Gardens potlucks, having bratwurst and talking about CEF’s future at Milltown, going to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” with CEF-ers at Christmastime and … of course, wobbling at most community events (what would a community event be without the Wobble?).  I come away from these events feeling hopeful and thinking, “now this is what it’s all about.”

A little over a month ago, I was in a car accident and sustained relatively serious injuries to my face and neck. This past month has been a bit of a strange and scary time for me, but there are many silver linings, including experiencing my community showing me a whole lotta love. This is not something I could have gotten through alone and I am extremely fortunate that I have not had the chance to try and take it on alone.

When I woke up in the Emergency Department, my bed was surrounded by my family and beautiful friends made at CEF (also considered family!). I have received countless visits, cards, phone calls, texts, and emails from members of the CEF community and beyond… old babysitters, neighbors, past school teachers, high school friends, parents of friends and friends of friends. It has truly been amazing to receive an outpouring of support from the people I have had the very good fortune of meeting over the past 21 years.

Writing does not come easy to me, so I will stray away from defining community or trying to articulate exactly what it means to me. But what I can say is that I don’t know where I would be without it (read: I don’t know where I would be without you all!). While I hope some traveling here and there is in my future, I don’t believe the nomadic lifestyle is for me (nor is medical school for me! I’m very proud to have graduated in nursing). A beloved community is what I’m here for.


In Memory: Gary

By: David Kayler


Whenever I think of Gary, there are several things that always come to mind: his mischievous grin, his easy laugh, his smiling eyes, and his amazingly thick, beautifully bristling mustache. I doubt I’ll ever forget that mustache and I know I’ll spend years missing that smile, but even more, I know that what I will always remember about Gary is his relentless optimism, his commitment to hope, and his firmly-anchored belief in the possibility of real, meaningful, lasting life-change.

Everyone who knew Gary over these last three years knew that he was a changed man. After 40 years of drinking – 40 years of living in a haze of what he liked to call “fermented thought” – he found himself “homeless but not hopeless” in Chapel Hill (again, his words). After arriving here, Gary made a serious commitment to sobriety and he stuck with it. He got involved with HOPE, CEF, and AA programs right after moving into the IFC shelter. At our weekly Talking Sidewalks meetings it was so encouraging to hear his updates and see him show off each of his new AA chips with pride: 30 days, 90 days, 1 year, 2 years… There was nothing he was more proud of than those mile-markers, nothing he was more serious about than the daily task of moving forward and never turning back.

But what was most remarkable about Gary was not just the fact that he overcame his addiction, but the way that, in the wake of that victory, his newfound hope and faith and joy spilled over to others. For me and many more, those Wednesday night meetings at the shelter were a weekly high point, a much-needed refresher, a refill on hope – and so much of that came from Gary. The story was the same for those who were involved with the Saturday morning Opportunity Classes, and for those who interacted with Gary around the office. The happiness and positivity he found with this new lease on life was infectious – it was something you don’t encounter that often, something simply inspiring to be around.

At his memorial service, we heard story after story of how even in his last few weeks – lying there in pain, consumed by cancer – Gary continued to be a source of light and hope and inspiration in the shelter. Friends, shelter staff, and fellow residents would come to see him, to offer some sort of comfort or encouragement, but always, we were the ones who walked away feeling encouraged. That was just the kind of guy Gary was. Facing a terminal diagnosis, he continued to pour out gratitude, to shine with hope, to offer love.

Gary was a writer and a poet. For him, part of continuing to pursue a changed life was sharing his story with others, sowing “Sober Seeds” in hopes that his own belief in the power to change might take root in someone else. Nowhere, I think, do we get such a powerful sense of Gary’s hopefulness, humility, voice, and humor than in this piece, the first one he shared with us, a piece we like to call “Dear Beer.”

Saying Goodbye to my Best Friend
By Mark Davidson (Gary’s Pen Name)

Dear Beer,

Around the surprisingly young age of fourteen, we were introduced and became inseparable for nearly forty years. Throughout puberty we trusted in each other, all the good and the bad times yet to come. When serious relationships came into the picture, you were right there for me. I trusted you’d get me through anything. When I got married and had children, I held on to our friendship, in spite of the distance you brought between me and my family. I promised my wife that things would change, but you were becoming the only family I had left. How in the hell could I desert you now? I needed you, so I held on to our relationship even more. Why, you were there for me when my father passed, throughout my divorce, and all the bad times I needed your support or comfort, you were there.

People thought I was insane, and I was, with this obsession that you became upon me. At times, I thought I could moderate the times we spent together, only to find your existence became more apparent. You put me through legal difficulties and I became imprisoned for the times and crimes you bestowed upon me. You’ve cost me my very existence of rational thought and the comprehension of dealing with life on life’s terms. I can’t go anywhere; there you are, squeezing my life out and fermenting my every thought. You used me up and spit me out like there’s no tomorrow.

But I got news for you, we’re through. I’ve got a new friend now, one that’s true. One that I thank each morning when I wake, and one that I praise for blessing me with the courage to rid myself from your sorry ass. So in closing, if our paths never cross, it’ll be too soon and Lord help you if you even try to pull me back into your grasp. With my new found friend, and the meetings I attend, you’ll surely not hold onto me in your clutches ever again. One day at a time, and the Lord’s help, I’m free and sober to live once again.

Never Yours,


PS. Oh yeah, tell brother Whiskey the same!

Good-Bye, Need Not Reply.


Gary Harwell 1957-2013


“The Community Empowerment Fund: A Matched Savings Model as an Innovative Approach to Housing the Homeless"

Journal of PovertyResearchers examine an innovative new program’s ability to help people experiencing homelessness attain and retain permanent housing through asset building and access to financial services.

Peer-reviewed, published article available through the Journal of Poverty: Special Issue on Housing the Homeless

By: Alexandra Biggers, Maggie West, Allison De Marco (UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute), Jess Dorrance and Kim Manturuk (UNC Center for Community Capital).

Prevention efforts, rapid rehousing, and housing-first approaches have been major contributors in addressing homelessness. However, budget cuts may jeopardize these gains. The objective of this article is to use administrative data to examine an innovative new program’s ability to assist those experiencing homelessness to attain and retain permanent housing through asset building and access to financial services to build a more financially secure future. Results suggest that this program does foster savings and the attainment of permanent housing. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

How It Works – "Enlightened Self Interest"

mike wood pic

How It Works is a monthly column by our very own (Member, Alumnus, BBQ Master, CEF Opportunity Class Teacher, Sage of Sayings) Mike Wood.

If we were to poll all the members of CEF as to what they feel the key to their becoming more self reliant, the number one answer would almost certainly be that they need more income. While this is a good answer and one that I do not necessarily disagree with, there are other aspects of our strategy going forward that we would all do well to consider.

If I were asked to characterize the life I led prior to my association with CEF I would have to acknowledge that my most conspicuous defect was that I was so completely self obsessed. The drugs and alcohol that would eventually bring me down with a resounding thud were merely a symptom of a life consumed by ceaseless self-interest. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it and cared not a wit as to who it might harm.

When the consequences of my self-absorbed behavior resulted in rehab, prisons and eventually homelessness, there was but one thing that I knew for certain. What I was doing was definitely not working. While some might consider it to be counter-intuitive, I came to believe that it was in my own self interest to try to help others. As the song goes, “when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.” With this realization I became willing to change.

Believe me I did not wake up one morning and decide that I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Gandhi or Mother Teresa. But through my association with the people at CEF and other volunteers there at the shelter I could observe that their lives seemed to be going a lot better than my own.

I knew that when the only person in my world that mattered was me, the results could only be characterized as tragic. I was determined to change that trajectory. Now it didn’t happen all of a sudden and my life not unlike the rest of us remains a work in progress. But what I am most grateful for is the opportunity I have been given by CEF to try to make a difference in the lives of others and that gratitude has turned to optimism and that optimism to achievement.

The transition to a more meaningful life is never an event, it is a process and part of that process for me is trying to be of service to others. By living a more selfless lifestyle the results have been fabulous. Not to say that I am this heroic figure or anything but compared to the hell I came here from and with all things considered, my life is pretty cool. As one of my favorite humans, Muhammad Ali once said; “Service to others is the rent we pay for our room here on earth.”

Money is good stuff and there is no shame in aspiring to get more of it. But I would encourage anyone wishing to carve out a more meaningful life to consider how they might help others to do the same. Don’t waltz through the door of opportunity only to slam it shut behind you. You would likely end up in a room full of meaningless things that don’t work the way you had hoped they would.


CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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