Archive | April, 2014

Staff Feature: Alex

We got a chance to hear from Alex Biggers, our AmeriCorps VISTA (along with Sarah), to discuss her start with CEF and where she is now. We can’t express how lucky we are to have her!



How did you get involved with CEF, how did it all begin?

I originally got involved with HOPE first my sophomore year, through Talking Sidewalks at Homestart Women and Children’s shelter. That really shaped my involvement in CEF, I think, because I got to know the women staying there at the time and other students working with CEF who later helped me process and understand my experiences in CEF. Also, it was probably one of the most fun, fulfilling experiences I’ve had.

How would you describe your time with CEF while still an undergrad? How did your involvement develop?

When I joined, we were just meeting out of the back of the RBC Bank office (now PNC) and had a lot fewer members and advocates (in fact, we were all Borrowers, Savers, Savings Officers, and Loan Officers!).

I joined the Outreach committee pretty soon after and also began coming to Opportunity Classes (then Savings Circles–so many name changes!). In that way, my involvement was always pretty tied to getting to know new people –something I was really uncomfortable doing before CEF. But now most people know I love bugging people all day long.

I really loved Opportunity Class because I really enjoy learning and discussion (well, okay, I love talking…) and got to hang out for two hours a week with people who I really looked up to and we were willing to both share with and listen to me. I would have never taken a leadership role, though, if it hadn’t been for Maggie and others poking me to get more involved and spending countless hours sitting with me and slowly working through things.

After that initial year, I worked for CEF two summers and mostly worked with the Savings committee in an admin role during the year. Through that role, I learned a lot more about asset-building and became really interested in the broader picture of asset-building and housing policy in the United States…and a lot less interested in my actual schoolwork. But, thankfully, there were some interesting classes where I got a chance to study things that applied to my experiences with CEF.

What motivated you to work for CEF full time?

People keep asking me this, and I really don’t have much of a satisfactory answer because, to me, once I knew that it was a possibility, it was a no-brainer. A lot of friends wanted to get away after graduating in May, and I definitely understand that, but for me, if…

1. I have such a wonderful, supportive community here

2.  I have a job that pays me to spend time with people I love and challenges me every day

3. I get to learn and read about things I’m interested in

4. I can hopefully use my experiences with CEF to help it improve

…why would I go anywhere else? I really feel (and am) incredibly lucky to be able to work here!

What is your position within CEF?

I’m the Savings Program Coordinator, which basically means I work on anything related to CEF’s financial services, financial coaching, and financial education.

What does that mean?

I work with the Savings Services team in Chapel Hill who work to improve our systems for savings, savings trainings for advocates, and creating fun ways to celebrate and encourage saving.

I work with the Financial Education teams in Chapel Hill and Durham to troubleshoot and collaborate on Opportunity Class (and I still get to go to class on Sundays!).

I go to finance office hours at Urban Ministries in Durham every week and am learning a lot about ways to improve the ways we partner with other organizations and the way we do financial coaching (also getting to meet so many new members and advocates in Durham!).

I have the great chance to work with Mark Smith this semester, who is interning with CEF through the School of Social Work. Mark has helped kickstart a long-time-coming effort to improve the way advocates and members prepare for, look for, and sustain permanent housing.

Do you have a favorite CEF moment(s)?

I have far, far too many but a few are: going to Sam’s car blessing, when Sam, Equashia, and Amanda came to my graduation party, making empanadas with Garrett, playing survival at Opportunity Class last Sunday (Beyonce was voted off the boat, sorry Paris!), singing all of our favorite Juan Luis Guerra songs with Arnaldo, hearing Amanda speak at her church, Loretha’s speech about CEF last year, Dorothy’s housewarming party, going to Jordan Lake with the Mumeens, and so many more!



Advocate Spotlight: Nura Smadi

Nura Photo CEF 2

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

Although I heard about CEF at the beginning of my journey at Duke, only last semester I finally got a chance to delve into the CEF world and not only learn about the wonderful work that the organization does in Durham, but actually work directly with the members of the Durham community. One of my best friends at Duke, Shafiq, got involved with CEF last year and through him, I noticed the extent of the impact that he was having on the Members that he was working with, and also the impact of the Members on him. Each Wednesday of last semester he would return from his Office Hours at the Dove House in Durham with a smile on his face. Throughout the semester his excitement only increased as his relationships with the Dove House members strengthened and as he got more involved in the critical backstage work that ensures the smooth operations of the organization. That, along with a persistent stream of weekly e-mail reminders from Quinn, really inspired me to step outside of my comfort zone and venture into Durham with CEF.

What about CEF interested you in the first place? 

I have been involved with multiple service organizations in varying capacities since high school, but none have had the personal relationship-based approach that CEF is built upon. In the past, most of my service work has been rather impersonal; holding fundraisers, food-drives, or advocating for a particular cause. CEF has earned a very special part in my life because it provides me with the opportunity to actually connect with the Durham community members that it serves; in fact, I currently feel more in touch and more connected with the city itself due to my involvement.  What I love most is the fact that through the establishment of a collaborative relationship between members and advocates, this really cool and dynamic energy emerges that pushes both parties to set and achieve important financial goals.

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

I think the most important lesson would have to be that relationships matter, and they matter a lot. Some may disagree, but I really believe that strong and powerful relationships can and do act as a catalyst for change, especially the type of change that CEF strives to accomplish. I have not been working with CEF for a very long time, but my experience so far has undoubtedly been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience at Duke. This would certainly have to be because of the relationships that I feel are actively forming with the members that I am interacting with.

Favorite Memory in CEF – Working with Ms. Habibah

Over the past few weeks, I have been meeting and working with such a fantastic member in Durham, Ms. Habibah. Every week I look forward to going to the Saturday Durham CEF Open Office Hours because I know I would see her again. Although I just met Ms. Habibah only a few weeks ago, she was so quick to let me into her life. She has so effortlessly welcomed me as her partner in this process of transition and financial goal setting. She is very inspiring actually; she has set very clear financial targets for herself from the start and since then she has not diverted her focus from reaching these goals. It is a wonderful feeling to know that my contributions and support as an advocate, although small in the grand scheme of things, can amount to something so important and meaningful for members like Ms. Habibah. I am so excited to continue strengthening our relationship and to be there with her as she reaches even more personal financial goals.

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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