Archive | November, 2013

Member-Advocate Feature: Kevin & Erin

All of us have been hearing about the cookie cakes that Erin and Kevin have been crafting up in the CEF office, so we decided to meet up with them and talk about their experience with CEF thus far and growth of their relationship since being paired.

ErinKevinHow did you find out about CEF?

Kevin: I’m in a Freedom House and one of the things we have to go through is an orientation, and they tell you about the organizations that will help us, and CEF is one of them.

Erin: Somewhere along the line signed up for the listserv and was getting emails the whole semester while I was abroad, actually, and I was like “This sounds really awesome!” It’s the one [listserv] that I didn’t unsubscribe from, so I decided I’d check it out whenever I got back to Chapel Hill, which was last semester and I’ve been involved ever since.

What were your first impressions of CEF?

Kevin: I think it was a good impression because they helped me with my resume right off the top, and they were always willing to go above and beyond to help. Whatever I needed done, they helped me with it was.

Erin: It was awesome, with everything that’s happening here… a little overwhelming my first time in the office, just like all the things CEF does, which is what makes it so awesome, but at the same time it’s like, “Wow, we can help people get cell phones, transportation, housing, and all these things. How is it possible to do all this? I know nothing.” But then you learn it’s all a learning process and everyone is kind of in it together.

What kind of relationships have you built within CEF?

Kevin: That’s a good question that I can answer off the top. It’s like having a family, where you really cherish someone. I cherish the fact that I can come here and look forward to seeing Erin; she helps me out tremendously. As well as Jon, Sarah, Daniella, and everyone here is really helpful, and I look forward to coming here.

Erin: The same goes for me, both in the relationships that I have with other Advocates and Members as well. They’re so strong because they’re based on such deep compassion for issues… like helping people, and working through very real life problems, and the nature of those relationships is what makes them so strong and unique. Specifically, in working with Kevin, the things that we’ve been working through and talking about, I learn just as much from him as he does from me, so it’s mutually beneficial for sure.

Do you have any advice for Advocates and Members who come to CEF?

Kevin: My advice to anyone coming here would be to just lay down all your cards on the table, let them know what you want, what you’re looking for, what your goals are, and try to build a relationship from there. Do the footwork and everything else will fall into place.

Erin: I think Kevin said it perfectly, it’s all about the relationships really, and you kind of have to let your guard down sometimes and put it all out on the table. It’s all about getting to know the other person that you’re working with and seeing how you can help each other.

Do you have a favorite CEF moment(s)?

Kevin: Yes, I do. I think it was last week that I asked Erin to come to one of my meetings, as I’m in a recovery program. She told me she that would come and she shocked me and came up with another CEF participant… that overwhelmed me and I was filled with joy, almost having tears in my eyes. That was my favorite one by far.

Erin: Honestly, I think that’s been my favorite too. That was a really awesome experience to take things outside of the office and be present in a different space and witness other people that are experiencing different kinds of problems and it’s a whole different kind of support group. Like CEF is a support group, and it’s such an awesome thing to see the way that people are people are able to work together and help each other through their problems. There was a guy in the meeting that was clearly struggling a lot, and someone else in the meeting was like “Come talk to me after this, I want to help you, we can work through this, we’re here for you,” and that’s really what it’s all about.

Do you have any goals as you continue working with CEF?

Kevin: I’m open to new suggestions every day, and like I tell Erin all the time, I’m new here in Chapel Hill and any time I’m around people and they’re trying to help, I’m trying to better myself everyday. Only thing I can do is take good advice and I’m sure I’m in the right place with Erin. Erin has been my #1 supporter and my #1 friend, and she helps me line up jobs and applications because I’m clueless on the computer. My goal is to fix what’s broken in my life.

Erin: My personal goals are your personal goals and whatever you want to accomplish, I want to accomplish.


Kevin with his masterfully crafted cookie cake

Kevin with his masterfully crafted cookie cake.


Advocate Spotlight: Sean

We recently spoke with Sean McClung, a newly trained Advocate, on his time and experience with CEF thus far! Sean first got introduced to CEF via his Service & Leadership LLC and we’re very excited to have him working with us.

When did you get involved?  How did you get involved?

That’s kind of a difficult question. I officially became an advocate this semester but I worked with CEF before, because last year I was a member of the Service and Leadership Living Learning Community- and this year I’m the leader of that community. So, Dr. Charles Price does a class for just us called Action Research and we did a project for that class last semester when I was just a member of S & L. It was called HOPE for a Home and if you talk to Jon or Maggie they’ll know what you’re talking about. We split our class into groups and each dealt with different things like long-term support for grads, like alumni council meetings; going around Franklin and Triangle Transit asking getting lifetime discounts for graduates; and planning the actual event. We had the event and we just had a raffle going and announced the discounts—it was a recognition/ mini-fundraiser night.

So that worked out really well and it was really cool because we got to help CEF. So that’s where I started getting involved and while that was happening, I was like “Yeah I’m going to be an advocate!” but I just didn’t have time for it at that point, so I came in this year knowing this was something I wanted to do.

What about CEF interested you?

Long story short– It makes a positive impact on people’s lives and it’s very different from other organizations because it makes that impact in a personal way. Usually it’s very bureaucratic, but CEF’s emphasis on personal relationship and the fact that we do so much interested me. There’s no reason I wouldn’t want to do it, really. I want to make a positive impact on people and the world and this is a fantastic way to help those people who can’t get themselves where they want to be or just need an extra push to get there. There are just so many good reasons to be in CEF because it’s just incredible.

What is/are the most important thing(s) you’ve learned by working with Members at CEF?

You definitely learn about primarily the things you’re doing, first and foremost… but that’s just like physical life things- like how to apply for this or apply for that, which is great, since they’re good life skills for you to have.

I wouldn’t say that just CEF taught me this but CEF really helps you realize that connotations that come with the kinds of people we help are almost always completely unfounded. These are real people who have just found themselves in really unlucky situations and far too many people don’t realize that it could literally be them tomorrow. There’s nothing wrong with these people and sometimes they deal with circumstances outside of their control and some of them may have gotten themselves into situations by their own fault, but the fact that they’re here shows that they’re growing and learning. We’re all just people. I’ve learned over time from CEF and other places that no single person ever deserves judgment. Everybody makes mistakes and everybody deserves love. There’s no reason to not give that to somebody. They don’t deserve your judgment even if you could because absolutely nobody wants to be in the situation where you have to ask for help and the members we work with have, which shows something. And if more people realized that, I feel like most of the problems in the world would disappear.

What skills do you think you’ve developed through working with CEF?

I’ve become better at navigating these strangely arcane, bureaucratic things. I can’t say I’m good at it because I don’t think anyone can be good that them, but I’ve definitely learned to throw myself around in all of these systems and try to get things out of them as opposed to getting lost in cyberspace. I’ve learned how to apply for jobs and stuff—and I helped someone open a checking account, which is something I didn’t know how to do three weeks ago. It’s definitely a work in progress- you learn as you go.

Is there a skill or knowledge of a concept that you want to develop through CEF that you haven’t already?

I can’t really think of anything specific. It’ll come when I need it, that’s how CEF rolls.

Are there any future aspirations that CEF helps you achieve?

After graduation I plan on going into the Peace Corps and I’m considering doing business development as a career. Although CEF isn’t directly applicable to that, it’s very similar. Essentially you’re helping people restructure their lives and get them to where they’re supposed to be. We also learn about job markets and financial things, which are important skills to know and have. It’s nice to know how systems work even if you don’t directly work with them. But it’s also to know the types of people that you’ll be working with when you actually get into those types of careers. Experience trumps the classroom.

If you ran CEF and could change one thing, what would it be?

I would change that stupid printer on the other side of the room that always prints off wingdings… it’s really annoying. Like I just want something to print and all of a sudden there are symbols and wingdings on the paper. I just don’t understand.

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you in the office?

So Ian Gallager and I had to move this copy machine where the savings center is now, and we were actually moving it to make room for the saving center. And we wanted to see if it worked, so we turned it on and it worked. It was really cool. Oh, but I bet if I had eaten Caleb’s kimchi that would be the craziest thing to ever happen to me… it wasn’t real kimchi, it was his take on kimchi.

What’s your favorite memory made in CEF?

That’s hard, but the first moment that popped into my head was this time I spent two hours working with a guy in one sitting; his name was Daniel. We started applying for a job, wrote a cover letter and resume. We finished the cover letter and this sounds really cliché but he got really happy and thanked me for being so efficient. And I wasn’t being really great or anything, he was just so happy that we were able to do that. It just made me feel so good because it sort of just validates why we work there.

What’s your least favorite moment from working at CEF?

I hated calling the Wake Tech financial aid office… I got put on hold for seven minutes

I hung up on them after seven and a half minutes and decided that an email would be a better usage of our time. It still took them a week to get back, but at least I didn’t have to stay on the phone for that long.



Advocate Spotlight: Brianne

We got a chance to talk to one of the latest members of the CEF family, Brianne Marino. Bri is a newly trained Advocate that has begun diving into all things CEF related!

When did you get involved?  How did you get involved?

I got involved in the beginning of this year. I heard about it through Grace Harvey who’s working with CEF right now and how it’s one of the best things that she’s gotten involved with so far. I heard about it at the Campus Y Open House and decided to try it out!

What made you want to actually get involved in the first place?

I was working with another student group last year that was helping out with people who already had jobs that were having a hard time with that and I was enjoying my work with that group. So I thought that CEF was like that except approaching from different stages, further back or different areas that people needed help and it interested me.

What’s the most important lesson you think you’ve learned from working with CEF?

People who come here seem so kind and so willing to work with someone who doesn’t have any experience. And I know I don’t have any experience, so it’s just great that everyone we work with are so patient and that everyone around is willing to help you help them sort things out.

What skills do you think you’ve developed by working with CEF?

I’ve been doing some research on my own and I’ve been doing the financial teaching fellows thing with Maggie and with that, I’ve learned a ton. I’m learning how to build good budgets and how to save– I haven’t had much experience. I’m learning things with like direct deposits and other really cool things. I’d say I’ve learned a lot myself and happy that I can help other people with that knowledge.

Is there a skill or knowledge of a concept that you want to develop through CEF that you haven’t already?

I would say a lot of the financial stuff- navigate the building system, developing a budget system myself, and good credit and things like that. I just want to use that to help other people at CEF. I just want to feel like I know what I’m talking about so I can help people more confidently.

Are there any future aspirations that CEF could help you achieve?

I’m actually thinking about possibly going to get my Masters in Public Administration or Law School or something like that. But I’ve always been interested in interacting with people or the human side of thing sso I might be interested in working with an organization like CEF in the future… good practice for that

If you ran CEF and could change one thing, what would it be?

I think it would be cool to have Members to come to the general body meetings. I know it’s difficult and it might not be as effective, but it would be pretty cool.

What’s the funniest, craziest thing that’s ever happened to you in the office?

When Amanda telling me I was in the cool club because I could name the Bruno Mars songs that she wanted me to. And I just like the fact that I feel like I’m sort of gaining people’s trust as I’m coming in more. It’s crazy and funny at the same time.

What’s your favorite memory in CEF thus far?

So far I’m actually really excited because I think I’m going to start working with Norman today, but I haven’t been able to do anything with that yet. I was working for a few weeks with a woman who hasn’t come back in since then. She was sort-of having a bit of a hard time with a whole bunch of random things. So she was pregnant and was asking for advice and help on how to take care of her baby for the holidays, which was when the baby was due, and she asking about finding housing and a job. She was just such a sweet person and actually the same age as me, which was shocking at the same time. I’m hoping the reason she hasn’t come back is because everything is okay. She was just so kind to me even though I didn’t even know what I was doing. It was just nice. I liked working with her for the bit of time that I did. And I’m sure it will be the same with Norman.

What’s your least favorite moment in CEF?

I guess the feeling that I don’t know what I’m doing. But like I said, with the classes and everything, it’s getting better. The feeling came more at the beginning of my time here.

I heard that you wanted to become more active in the Latino sector of CEF. What brought that about?

I started thinking of at the beginning of the year. I just wasn’t sure what the time commitment was and I didn’t feel like I was adequately prepared for that. I love Spanish and one of my majors is Spanish. I was also really nervous because I’m good at Spanish but my speaking isn’t all that great. But I realized that there’s enough in the team or the group and not everyone is fluent and so it’s okay and I’ll probably be able to improve, hopefully. I’m interested in Spanish culture and the way it is, and I’m even thinking about immigration law in the past like going to law school for it. So working with this part of CEF seems like it’ll really help me out.

Is there something that CEF doesn’t offer/ isn’t well versed in that you think we should develop?

Nothing I’ve really noticed—it seems to me really, really well organized. I’ve been amazed at how much has been thought out and how everything seems to work so well. So I would say no for right now.



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!)


How It Works: Opportunity Class

A monthly column by CEF’s very own:

Mike Wood

Mike recognizing Olivia for her commitment to Opportunity Class

Mike recognizing Olivia for her commitment to Opportunity Class

I thought it might be a good time to speak on something that I really should know a little something about. That would be the Opportunity Class, for which it has been my supreme good fortune to be involved with right from its very inception. The goal for the class then as it is now is to give our members the information we think helpful in the transitioning out of poverty and homelessness.

Any successful endeavor requires a vision of how you wish for things to turn out. Mine was to use the principals set forth in the 12 step programs and adapt them in a way that might achieve our goal of transitioning our members from the fringes of society and back into the mainstream. In other words to help them to acquire the knowledge and the motivation to seek a more meaningful and abundant life. Financial independence, self-reliance and enhanced self esteem being chief among the many goals I had established for the group.

Having overcome poverty and homelessness in my own life I have always been keenly aware of the need to keep the topics and curriculum relevant to the members and where they are collectively in their personal lives. Though my results have all been positive I am mindful that others may require a different strategy for their own recovery. I would like to think that the results for the majority of our members have all been positive.

As in the 12 step model we place great emphasis on honesty and personal responsibility because I believe that only by confronting the mistakes of our past can we hope to take full advantage of the present. There is great power that is unleashed when a group of people get together to try to help one another. I have also come to believe that no one can help a homeless person as much as another homeless or formerly homeless individual. But having said that, the real secret to the success of the class lies in the many advocates that give of their time to support and encourage the members through what can be very discouraging and challenging times. To that end I am always trying combine what we do in the class with the efforts of the advocates.

I can report that we have gone from averaging about 5 members a class to now when the average is better than 15. I would like to presume that this growth is indicative of the fact that my vision was correct. I know that we have helped an awful lot of people but none more than me. If all our members get as much out of the class as I have then I guess that we soon will become famous. But before I prepare for my interview with 60 Minutes I will continue to be open minded about ways that we can improve the effectiveness of the curriculum and how I deliver the message of optimism and empowerment.

Lately I have placed a greater emphasis on discussion and hearing the members share their experience strength and hope for the future. I am confident that the class will continue to evolve and become even more relevant to the needs of our members. It has certainly been the greatest privilege ever bestowed upon me to take part in helping to develop this program.

As always I will continue to suggest to our members that they consider making changes as opposed to excuses. And although there is no way that we can hope to carry the message to all that need to hear it, it sure has been fun trying. We can’t hope to get to every member that attends but maybe we can plant a seed that will bare fruit later on down the road for them.



CEF Health

by Krunal Amin

In a series of conversations with CEF members during the past few weeks, I was surprised to learn just how large of a delivery gap there is between the healthcare resources offered to those who are financially disadvantaged and the number of people who are actually positively affected by these resources. One member, who recently moved to the Chapel Hill community, told us that she often has no choice but to go to the emergency room whenever she has issues with her asthma – a common chronic condition that can usually be well controlled with drugs. When asked about her medication, she reported that the Piedmont Clinic in Carrboro filled out a prescription for her – but the medication ended up costing her around $90 so she never even bothered to pick it up. As for the cost of her multiple emergency room visits? She has a stack of bills from the hospital adding up to over $5000 that she simply can’t afford and doesn’t know how she plans on paying off. Had she known about the UNC Health Care Pharmacy Assistance Policy, she could have completed an application to prove that she qualified for financial assistance and ultimately could have reduced her $90 prescription to a much more manageable $4 co-payment, thus allowing her to not only have access the to the medication she needs to stay health but also potentially saving her thousands of dollars in medical bills. Unfortunately, applications to programs such as UNC Charity Care and Pharmacy Assistance are not always the most user-friendly forms to fill out as there are often many hoops to jump through to prove that you qualify. Additionally, many of the members we spoke with were unaware of other avenues they could be using to get better care.

In his bestselling novel, The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon and healthcare reform expert Atul Gawande points out that “medical innovation is less about discovering new inventions than it is about properly executing the ones we already have.” CEF Health is an initiative that aims to do just that by employing advocates to better connect our members to the resources they need to stay healthy. Over the course of the semester, our team has been working to compile all the healthcare resources available for financially disadvantaged members in the community. Our goal in the coming months is to train advocates in what resources are out there and how to access them in order to use them as health navigators for CEF members who are struggling to get the quality, affordable healthcare they deserve. We are excited to get this initiative off the ground, and hope that anyone interested will join us!


Holiday Party – Dec. 7th, 2013

Holiday Party


CEF Holiday Party!


We hope you will be able to join us for CEF Holiday Party festivities tomorrow, Saturday, December 7th! For the fourth year in a row, CEF will be throwing a joyous holiday party.


Who: The whole CEF Family (that’s you!)


When: Sat., Dec. 7th, 4pm-8pm (Graduation ceremony at 6pm)


Where: Chapel of the Cross, 304 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514


What to bring: 

  • In the CEF tradition, we will host this event as a (no-pressure) potluck. If you are able, please bring your favorite holiday dish to share with your neighbors and community. But don’t let the potluck part stop you from coming — no pressure!
  • Your dancing shoes.

RSVP: We’d love for you to RSVP so we know how many of our friends to expect!
Click here, or contact CEF at (919) 200-0233.


We look forward to seeing you at the celebration!

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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