Archive | July, 2013

Featured Partner: CTI and CEF


By: Barbara B. Smith, LCSW

Clinical Assistant Professor, UNC School of Social Work

In the fall of 2011, I was working with a woman who was homeless. In one of our sessions, she mentioned that some “college kids” had given her a laptop. Who were these college kids, I wondered? Over the next year, I was very pleased to learn about the Community Empowerment Fund and the great work being done in our local community.

I had a more formal introduction to Jon Young and Maggie West through the 100K Homes Task Force. In January 2012, I started participating on this group, and offered to provide mental health assessments to people who might need them through the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health. CEF advocates took me up on the offer, and brought in a woman they had been providing outreach to for a couple of years. They provided incredible support to her which allowed her to engage in treatment.  We created a team around one person, and helped her access housing through Shelter Plus Care, and to successfully navigate a disability claim. She now has an apartment and income.

In July 2012, Gary Cuddeback, a colleague at the School of Social Work, and I received a grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust to implement a pilot of critical time intervention (CTI). CTI is an intensive case management model that is designed for people with mental illness who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. We work hard to engage people in treatment, and to make sure there basic needs are met. Our CTI team depends on community partners for success, and CEF is a key partner. Many of the people we are working with in the CTI project had untreated mental illness. For those who need it, getting connected to mental health treatment can improve the chances of being successfully housed and employed.

At a time when our formal systems for supporting vulnerable people in our communities are faltering, our connection to CEF gives me hope. I’ve found energetic, committed, smart, and creative people who understand what it takes to help others change their lives: practical tools for financial empowerment, and social connection and support. I look forward to a long and mutually helpful partnership!


A Different Search: Succeeding in our Job Partners Program


If you would like to get involved with JobPartners as a participant or partner employer, please email us at


By Victoria Castillo

A job search can often be a difficult and tedious task. More difficult yet, is the search for the job– your dream job.   Whether you grew up dreaming of becoming an astronaut or a receptionist, your dream job is a treasure that most of us tend to take for granted. Some of us tend to believe that our dream job is simply out of reach. Whether it is due to a lack of education, the correct skill-set, self-confidence or a blemished record, we simply don’t try to go after our dream job.

The vicarious talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, once said, “The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.” We at CEF believe that it is never too late to go after your dreams. It is never too late to go after that adventure.

Our Job Partners program aims to unearth the dusty and forgotten dream jobs that belong to some of our members, and create a path on which they can arrive to them.  Job Partners was created by the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness (OCPEH), “a community effort to fight poverty and eradicate homelessness in Orange County.” CEF is one of several organizations that partner with this county initiative to pair work-ready individuals with an available job in the community.

The Job Partner process begins with the community members serving as employer liaisons who network with local business owners to learn of available job positives and willing employers. Liaisons then refer job openings to the partner organizations, like CEF, who match qualified candidates with those positions. Our Job Partners graduates receive no preferential treatment from the employers. They fill out job applications and schedule interviews, just like everybody else. Their strength, however, is found in the personal recommendations that they receive on our behalf – a voice of support that lets the employers know that we truly believe that our candidate will succeed at their business.

The Job Partner Program motto reads, “Prepare, Place, Prosper,” and we at CEF believe that the program lives up to these three words. We prepare our candidates through job coaching sessions and Opportunity classes, we place them in positions in which we believe they will succeed and we carry the hope and faith that they will prosper in their new job position – in their new adventure.

Q&A with Job Partner Graduate Loretha Greene

When did you first start working on becoming a Job Partner candidate?

I began the process early in 2012.

Understanding that the program was a long term commitment, how did you remain motivated through the process of becoming a Job Partner graduate?

I was starting from scratch in my life. I saw a lot of opportunities in the program, like the Opportunity Classes, that I knew would help me, so I kept a positive attitude. I know that when you have a positive attitude, good things will happen, so that’s what I tried to do.

Were there difficult moments in the process?

The most difficult experience was simply not being able to find a job right away. But I kept going – every day, I filled out job applications and maintained a good attitude about it.

How did the Job Partner program differ from a regular job search?

I found more connections to local employers, through Job Partners. I felt that my job search became a little easier in that way. I would get to know more people in the community because the people involved in the program had a lot of connections. This helped me land more interviews, and though I did not get a job right away, I was able to meet a lot of people.

What was your biggest take away from Job Partners?

The desire and motivation to help other people who need work. Job Partners made me want to become an advocate myself and help other people.

I also learned to accept suggestions and act on them. My advocates would give me advice, and point out things that I had never noticed! I learned to take these suggestions and work on making those changes in my life.

What advice would you give to others who are unsure about joining Job Partners?

Just try it, and stick with it. Don’t give up, because it is an excellent program.


Featured Member: Amalfi


I remember the first time I met Amalfi.  It was a Saturday morning at Mike Wood’s opportunity class; Amalfi poured me a cup of coffee, pulled out a chair for me, and took a minute to introduce himself.  He was there to learn with everyone else, but it was his enthusiasm and participation in the class that made him memorable.

Amalfi is compassionate, determined, and creative, and it shows in how he carries himself.  Originally born in Cuba, he came to America in a raft with his brother and father when he was 23 years old.  He left his family, friends, and his nursing job in Cuba, and landed in Guantanamo Bay after a large missile carrier picked them up in the waters.  Since arriving in the States, Amalfi has moved to Chapel Hill where he is working towards becoming a nurse – his passion.

Amalfi first heard about CEF while staying at the shelter, and got involved right away with opportunity classes, CEF events, and our Safe Savings program.

He’s especially known around our office for making a paper mache sculpture for a CEF Art Walk event – an art piece that stood out because it was a melding of a woman’s body, a dinosaur limb, and an apple.   In all the chaos and crises that often lead people to come into our office, Amalfi has shown me what being a member of the CEF family can look like in spite of the other commotion.

A couple of days ago, Amalfi came into the office and I asked him a few questions to pick his brain:

What was your first impression of CEF?

I saw that it was a community that wanted to help people out.  I owe them a lot.

How was opportunity class? What did you get from it?

It was a really good experience, I learned a lot there.  I learned how to correct my resume, handle my money, and how to take opportunities in life.  I learned a lot from my classmates and the different cultures.

What kind of relationships have you built with CEF?

I’ve built close and compact relationships.  More than a relationship, I feel like a family member.

In what ways have you been able to give back to CEF or the CEF community?

I would like to give back more than I have received, so that way I can help with financial things or any type of work.  On Saturdays when I have to work, I come before class to set up the tables and make coffee.  Humanity is part of my personality, I like to set things up for others as a service.

Do you have any advice to future our current members?

I want to offer encouragement.  Just follow what CEF has arranged to help you out.  Don’t just take the food stamps and materials and leave, get into opportunity classes and get more involved with CEF.



3rd Annual Financial Independence Day


Signing the Declaration of Financial Independence


View the full Declaration of Financial Independence here!

By: Kate Leonard

On June 29th, CEF celebrated our third annual Financial Independence Day!  Not even the threat of rain prevented members and advocates from coming together and enjoying each other’s company.  Attendees munched on hot dogs, sweet tea, and cupcakes while listening to our multi-talented members sing their hearts out at a talent show.  As if anyone needed more entertainment than that, there were also giant bubbles (seriously giant) and sparklers, as well as the first of many raffles for CEF savers.  At the end of the evening everyone had a chance to sign the original Declaration of Financial Independence!  Thanks to all who attended and we hope you had as much fun as we did!

A big “thank you” to all our wonderful sponsors: Chick-fil-a, Buns, PTA Thrift Shop, Elmo’s Diner, and Harris Teeter.


Parker Palmer and Discussing Philosphy

By: Yuman Wang

philosophy time

CEF leadership philosophy encourages “meeting each other halfway” where members and advocates struggle side by side. As the boundary between members and advocates fade, personal matters become community issues. I realized that in the CEF community, leadership takes many forms, from the simplest gestures to dedicated efforts to help others get back on their feet.

 “If you can’t get around it, get into it…. Having relationships in which we protect each other’s aloneness” – Parker Palmer philosophy reading

In the office, we work on tangible, practical aspects such as job searching, housing and anything else members need. It seems that we seldom directly help members probe their inner selves. But realistically, helping someone self-reflect is difficult and quite honestly, daunting. However, there are definitely snippets of Palmer’s idea in action, whether through exchanges between advocates and members or conversations in opportunity class. Sometimes it can be as simple as listening to another’s inner thoughts or figuring out why someone’s life has been the way it is. Even solving problems side by side can be very healing to one’s inner self.

I found that most of these inner discoveries are coincidental and natural outcomes of conversations. Once, I was helping a member make a decision that seemed straightforward enough: choosing whether to attend a school or not. However, the conversation turned to inward reflection when we started to list pros and cons of going to the school. When I asked my member for some possibilities, he struggled to pinpoint them. I realized that he never really thought through the decision. As we progressed further in analyzing the decision, he started to slowly realize that he makes decisions in a fast and absolute fashion. As a result, compromises were often left out of the picture.

This discovery was a mutual effort and as unintentional as it was, I found it extremely rewarding to be someone’s companion in inner reflections. For once, the external world is not the focal point and the member can finally sit down with himself and have a conversation. I realized that to protect this “aloneness”, I could not tell someone who he is or what he should do, but I can be there step by step, asking questions that may lead to self-reflection.

There was one line in Palmer’s reading that struck me as a very fitting description of CEF: “the community we share beneath the broken surface of our lives”. Many, if not all members have suffered tremendous trauma, but to gather in a small space to share stories and take steps toward recovery is a powerful communal healing process. As Palmer has stated, this community is the result of overcoming darkness and our care for one and another.

Of course, it’s not an easy feat, considering the danger of projecting shadows rather than light upon others. Projecting light is not challenging because it is a difficult concept but rather that it takes time and solidified trust between individuals. If I am not mindful of these aspects, I may fall into the path of “setting someone straight”. A better approach may be pausing for pockets of casual conversation during meetings with members, even if they seem irrelevant. Though it’s inevitable that I will project shadows from time to time, I want to leave a little room for mutual understanding and story-sharing. After all, those are the moments we remember and connect to the most.


How It Works: Changes

Master of ceremonies at 2013 Box-Out!

Master of ceremonies at 2013 Box-Out!

A monthly column by CEF’s very own:
Mike Wood

There was a phrase I learned in prison. It was in a class designed to teach me and my fellow inmates how not to re-offend. “If nothing changes then nothing changes.” One of my fellow inmates would express that thought cast in a slightly different way. “If you keep on doing what you always done, you’ll keep on getting what you always got.” Makes a lot of sense don’t it ?

But as is the case in all the little catch phrases we learn along the journey. It’s easy to change, the difficulty lies in staying changed. By lunchtime on the day of my release I was right back to doing the very same thing that had always gotten me locked up in the past. You see I am an addict and my addiction follows me even when I am not actively using. The whole time I was in prison, staying sober but gorging myself on Honey Buns and Reese Cups, my addiction was on the weight pile and running laps in preparation for my release.

While I readily accept that not all the members of our class took the same road to homelessness as I did. I have come to believe that we share more in common with one another than the relatively small ways in which we may differ. It would seem to some that it’s simple, if something is not working for you, just change it. My confounded non addicted friends would often tell me, “all you need is more willpower.” Fair enough; but towards the end of my addiction I always felt like someone that had taken a whole bottle of laxatives and was now trying not to go to the bathroom.

I know full well that my willingness to change was the key to my recovery. But how do I get others to come to that same conclusion? There are times when I feel totally inadequate for the task. But I don’t spend too much time lamenting the complexity of my goals. That would not be good for my own vulnerabilities. I don’t spend a lot of time telling them what they should do. But I am never reluctant to tell them what I did.

I think that the best thing that I can do for them is create an environment in which they will choose to do the right thing. If I want them to think a certain way I know it best if I leave the book open to the chapter that I want them to read. But I also know that there is great therapy in a good example. And I make every effort to be that good example. Because as much as I must accept my powerlessness over them. I can and I do have power over my own behavior.

I’m sure they must think me boastful when I talk about how well my life is going. But it’s not the house nor the possessions that I most cherish. It is my self respect that gives me the most pleasure and of course the respect of my family and friends. What I want for them is just that. That thing that till now was not there for me. Because I have had the housing and the money before. But today I have learned that the best things in life are not things at all.

Don’t get me wrong, housing and money are precious commodities and what I want for all our members. But character is destiny. Had I taken my same bad habits into the house that I currently reside I would not have been one bit better off. If all I do all day is sit around the house and stay sober, pretty soon I’ll be drunk. So thanks CEF for giving me the fantastic opportunity to try to help others. It keeps me grounded. It is in my self interest to do just exactly what it is that I try to do.


DukeEngage Reflection

DukeEngage provides Duke undergraduate students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in a community over the summer via service based work. DukeEngage Durham takes place in Durham, NC and its sister city in Durham, UK. Participants in this sister cities program volunteer at various non-profits that focus on economic development in the community.

Christine Costello was one of three DukeEngage students placed with CEF this summer. She recently published a post on the DukeEngage blog that we wanted to share with the CEF community… See below for the full article!

“Buzz Word: Advocacy”
By: Christine Costello

At the Community Empowerment Fund, my official job title is “advocate”. I even have a business card that says it (note to self, find business card). What this title means to me evolves as I spend more and more time with CEF. When I first looked at the title “advocate,” I sensed a daunting level of responsibility. I still feel this responsibility, and I think that it’s important. It makes me accountable towards the members that CEF works with. However, in April when I began getting to know CEF and what they did, I was pretty intimidated by that responsibility. I could not understand how a group of students could do the kind of work that CEF does. CEF-ers sit down with low-income individuals in Durham and Chapel Hill to work on financial literacy, job applications, budgeting, and housing. The members that CEF works with have real life problems in these areas. They have endured the blow of Durham’s economic issues. I became keenly aware of my lack of years and experience.

I expressed this concern to a speaker that CEF brought in for our job orientation. His name is Mike Wood, and he is a member, alumnus, and mentor in CEF. During his time with us at orientation, Mike agreed that I might be unable to express true empathy (note: not sympathy) towards members due to a lack of shared experiences. He disagreed, however, that I could not take on the responsibility of advocacy. And without even knowing the name “DukeEngage,” he stated that in order to be successful in CEF all I needed to do was to be engaged and to mindfully encourage the engagement of others. In that moment, as he has been for so many others, Mike was my advocate.

I have several advocates at CEF. Janet Xiao, my supervisor (though I think she would dislike this name) at CEF Durham advocates for me on a daily basis. Without micromanaging, Janet gives me the tools and encouragement to complete independent projects. One of them has been setting up a partnership between CEF and the Durham Crisis Response Center, something close to my heart.

Duke Engage meeting

Above: An impromptu group meeting at Urban Ministries

Most of my advocates at CEF are the CEF members themselves. Just yesterday I sat down with a member at Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization. He introduced himself and told me that he would like help starting up a side business of hair styling. I blinked at him, not knowing the first thing about starting a business and really just afraid of messing up this very real, very big step towards financial independence. After a suggestion from Janet and encouragement from the member, we were well on the way to setting up his business plan, making business cards, and working out a marketing strategy. We were all advocating for each other, and I don’t think I’ve ever left a day of work with such positive feelings. I know that it can be cliché and somewhat philosophically complicated to say that you get more out of civic engagement than you put in, so I won’t. But I can’t help but think it.

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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