Archive | August, 2014

CEF partnership with Duke University Office of Durham & Regional Affairs Featured in Duke Today!

CEF Durham Program Coordinator meets with Gary, our Opportunity Circles Leader, to plan class sessions

CEF Durham Program Coordinator meets with Gary, our Opportunity Circles Leader, to plan class sessions

Exciting partnership news! CEF is honored to announce a greater partnership with the Duke University Office of Durham and Regional Affairs to expand our programs and services in Durham.

See Duke Today and Durham Magazine article highlighting the partnership!




A Series of Snapshots and Non Sequiturs All Relating to my Eight Weeks Spent at CEF


“Are you ready?”

“No.” I gave my brother a quick hug before walking past the sign labeled, “only ticketed passengers beyond this point” in big, black letters at the Indianapolis Airport. About twenty feet later I looked back to see he had already gone, suddenly realizing for at least the next five hours I would be utterly alone, surrounded only by traveling wanderers like myself. Thinking about the summer ahead, I felt entirely unprepared walking through security, and in fact, I was.

Skip forward one week and I am sitting on my bed, sobbing because of the mistreatment of one of my members. And it wasn’t one of those quiet, beautiful images of a girl crying, her head held high with dignified tears of a broken heart. No, it was an ugly cry, sobbing in the presence of injustice, with red, puffy eyes, gasping for breath, snot coming out of your nose, convulsively sobbing because you can’t protect people from pain and you feel utterly powerless.

Two days later, I went to church for the first time in four years.

Compassion hurts. I have never dealt with anything more difficult than the compassion my soul felt this summer. From a young age, I was taught to help people whenever possible, but to be wary of the evil of the world and to protect myself, which I mainly did by sealing my heart off from the outside. CEF challenges that. As a full-time advocate, it asked for more than my help. It asked that I put myself in situations I’ve never been in, to feel emotions I’ve heard about, but never truly felt, and to solve problems I’ve never faced before. In short, it asked for honest and unfettered compassion for others and it hurt more than I could imagine. It required me to be emotionally raw and available to people in order to build trust and friendship, yet to be empty enough to maintain productive value in the face of some of the world’s prettiest and ugliest moments in order to accomplish the goals set in front of me and to be helpful to others. It’s a balance I still haven’t quite managed to strike.

Two weeks later, I received a phone call in the office from a member who wanted to thank me specifically for helping him find a job after eight months of being unemployed. I was overjoyed.

Community Empowerment Fund is the first organization I’ve worked with that I actually, truly believe is changing the world and making progress towards eradicating poverty. I saw it happen every day.

A few days later a friend rushed in to tell me good news about a person we had been working with and gave me a huge, spontaneous hug. For the first time, I felt like an established and contributing member of the CEF community. Later that week, I went to lunch with a member and friend, knowing I had been accepted as part of her individual community as well.

I knew I would grow this summer. That’s what everyone told me when I shared my summer plans; that’s why I wanted to come down here in the first place. Growth was a fact. Even so, it took me by surprise. Because I haven’t grown up. I haven’t grown out. I don’t feel more mature or more competent. If anything, I am more aware of the fact that there’s a whole lot out there in the world that I don’t understand, but am hungry to experience. Still, I grew.

I grew in. I grew through. I wove myself into the fabric of CEF. I grew, or rather am still growing, independently of my home, separately from my former situations. I can feel myself changing from, “Katelyn, the Lend for America Intern” to “Katelyn”, no qualifier needed. The whole time I thought I was absorbing my surroundings, then one day I woke up, realizing my surroundings had absorbed me. And it is the most beautiful feeling in the world.

The next week a new member I was working with stormed out of a meeting after only twenty minutes because the system was different than she expected and I couldn’t help her as quickly as she wanted. I sat there stunned and guilty, helpless in the face of her adversity.

CEF has taught me that humans are not easily broken. In fact, they’re remarkably resilient and adaptable. It takes quite a lot to break the human spirit. The same cannot be said about life; life is so very fragile. It can be twisted and manipulated by outside pressures and by the people living it. Year after year of a burned life can diminish the human form to pain and reduce the human spirit to anxiety and instinct. But CEF has shown me it doesn’t take much to elevate the human spirit. A kind word, attentiveness, willingness to help. An infusion of optimism. It brings people back to the present moment. The real trouble lies in improving quality of life. I don’t yet know what to make of that, aside from the very obvious conclusion that people deserve your kindness and help whenever you are able (which is always) and whenever they are willing (which, unfortunately, isn’t).

Ten days later, someone I had been working with all summer told me she trusted me and I couldn’t understand why.

CEF pushed me to be ready for any and all situations- ordinary, bizarre, and brilliant alike.

And now I’m approaching my last week here at CEF, having my heart broken multiple times (in a good way) by more than one person who has told me I need to transfer to UNC and to relocate to Chapel Hill so I can stay with CEF longer. Instead, I find myself saying goodbye to my friends, people who I have come to love and admire more fervently than I thought possible in eight short weeks. I find myself in the difficult situation of having roots grown in two completely different parts of the country, and being thankful, so very thankful, to have had experienced something wonderful enough to make leaving this hard.

This isn’t a “goodbye”, Chapel Hill. It’s a “see you later”.

Until next time,

With love,



Interview with Doug and Katelyn


Since mid June, CEF has been brightened by the eager spirits and tireless efforts of Doug Chan and Katelyn McCarthy, our Lend for America (LFA) Fellows. Both jumped right into CEF. If this were the Summer Olympics, they would have received top scores for their seamless dives into the program. Summer intern Lucy Manning sat down with Doug and Katelyn over a meal of Cosmic Cantina to talk about first impressions, memorable experiences, why they are here, and what they have learned in their time as Lend for America Fellows.

To start, Doug and Katelyn are here through an organization called Lend for America, a group that supports students who are starting their own campus microfinance institutions (Campus MFIs). [Quick term breakdown: An MFI is any group that provides financial services on a small scale. A campus MFI is an MFI run and/or started by students]. The fellowship gives them a stipend to participate in the operations of one of three MFIs (CEF being one), and to absorb and learn what it takes to be successful in this sector. As Doug said, “Part of the LFA Fellowship is learning from the very best, which is CEF.” So for those of you who didn’t know, CEF is a pretty big deal: one of the best and most successful organizations of its kind. People from outside of Chapel Hill and Durham have heard about us. Doug knew about us his senior year of high school! In fact, he almost went to UNC for the opportunity to work with CEF.

Both were shocked by the emotional strength required for work at CEF. They had very wise insights on the balance between emotional attachment and productivity.

Katelyn McCarthy will be a sophomore at Indiana University, majoring in Economic Consulting and Sustainable Practice, and is part of a budding MFI called Hoosier Social Impact Fund. She chose CEF to go out on a limb, travel to the distant land of North Carolina, and experience a culture different than the one in which she was raised. Despite any differences between the Midwest and the South, Katelyn sees universal truths she has learned here that can be applied back home. She was most struck by the strong bonds between Members and Advocates, and how quickly these bonds can be formed. Katelyn recognized early on that the relationships formed were more than client relationships. When asked what elements of CEF she will take home to HSIF, Katelyn mentioned the organizational culture, and the particular terminology (member, advocate, team leader, etc.) that creates an inclusive environment, fuels volunteers’ passion, and motivates them to keep coming back.

Doug Chan will be a third-year (junior) at the University of Virginia, and is studying Finance and Economics. Through a social entrepreneurship class, Doug and two others created Community Honor Fund, which is focused on providing financial services to UVA employees. Doug is particularly passionate about solving the problem of predatory payday loans, and hopes to offer a better alternative. Doug pointed out a great aspect of CEF in our conversation about what he will take back to UVA and Community Honor Fund: he heralded the focus on the client, and has learned that the outcomes that are most important to the client should also be the most important and central to the organization. In addition, he noted the relevance of an organization being the best at what it does. As he said, if someone else does what we want to do better than we do, then we ought to be giving our money to support them.

Thank you Doug and Katelyn for everything you have done and will continue to do with the rest of your time at CEF! We wish you all the best in your endeavors!


Job Partners


A reflection on CEF’s Job Partners program, by Priya Sreenivasan

This summer, I’ve had the chance to work very closely with the employment side of CEF, which includes Job Partners! Throughout the summer, Doug, Hannah and I have been contacting employers in the local Chapel Hill area to see if they would be willing to sign on and be a partner employer. By joining as a partner employer, businesses have the opportunity hire qualified, work-ready candidates who have graduated from CEF’s rigorous employment program. Through persistent outreach, we’ve recruited several amazing new area employers to bring our list of Job Partners Employers to include:

– Elmo’s Diner

– Carolina Coffee Shop

– Lime Fresh

– Top This Burger

– Carol Woods Retirement Community

– Carolina Brewery

– The Franklin Hotel

– Fosters Market

– Bagels on the Hill

– Ben and Jerry’s

– Right at Home

– UNC-Chapel Hill Temporary Services

– PTA Thrift Shop

We are so excited by the community investment these employers are making by signing up as Job Partner Employers, and we hope others will follow their lead. Doug and Hannah have been hard at work contacting potential employers, and I know we all agree that it’s all worth it when someone gets a great job they love with a Job Partner employer. I’m excited to see the program grow this upcoming year, and I know with CEF behind it, it’s going to turn out some great results!

Interested in becoming a partner employer or know of an employer who you recommend we contact? Let’s connect! Contact


Meet Gary Bradley, CEF Opportunity Circle Leader

Gary Bradley — CEF-Durham’s Opportunity Circles Leader, Phoenix House Graduate, and Social Activist:

**Many thanks to Gary Bradley for taking the time to share his story**
Written by Stephanie and Zoey from CEF-Durham.  

Gary is a character – he loves to talk and gives great motivational advice. Gary is CEF-Durham’s Opportunity Circles Leader, and he is adamant about making it an open discussion to give everyone the opportunity to bring what they have to the table. As he facilitates the class, Gary never hesitates to bring in his own life experiences to make the concepts more relevant to everyday life. The summer interns discovered that Gary is a never-ending story book!

One Monday before Durham’s Beyù Caffè office hours, Gary shared his story with advocates Stephanie, Zoey, and Jennifer. This is what he shared with us.

From New York to Durham

Gary is a native New Yorker, hailing from Harlem and South Jamaica Queens. About 14 years ago, he visited his American Indian cousins (his father is American Indian) at a reservation in North Carolina, and he dropped by Durham and liked it. He paints it as a place with a much slower pace but still maintains a “city-twang” to it. He moved two years later and has been living in Durham ever since.

Connection to CEF

At the Phoenix House, a recovery home that was managed by Housing for New Hope, Gary recalls how he used to see these kids from Duke University come in every Wednesday through CEF. His first impression towards the advocates was distrustful, as he describes, “why are they coming from Duke to talk to us – why are you all being so nice to us?” He felt confused and needed to know. Eventually, the advocates, especially Will, won his trust, as they showed loyalty through their work with him.

Gary started cooking every time the advocates came to the Phoenix House, and they noticed that he was very good at it. He had a talent for cooking. So, Gary and CEF advocates started applying for restaurant positions. That same skill landed him a job in Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, where he still currently works. It’s hard work, but he loves his job. He tells us how he has a knack for meeting good people- it’s a magic. Along with that, he found another knack – a gift for mentoring. Gary discovered his love for motivational speaking, and feels like his true strength is helping people.

Gary’s Goals

Gary strives to be a counselor, and is considering working for an organization or even starting his own program to mentor others. He wants to use his experience from the Phoenix House to create a similar space. Gary says that CEF has given him the opportunity to strive for equality, by the way he is able to give his “brothers and sisters an opportunity to step up, to get a job, to get resources for their kids.” He calls the Opportunity Circles his baby, as it is dear to his heart to see people get the opportunity to do something for themselves.

CEF appreciates what Gary brings to the CEF community. He is creative, and through his creativity he is able to inspire those around him to achieve their sense of self and their goals.

Gary’s beautiful reflection continues! Click here to read the full article!

Hobbies and Connections

With Others After learning about Gary’s life story. Stephanie, Zoey, and Jennifer decided to steer the conversation towards a lighter topic- Gary’s favorite hobbies and past times. This is what he shared with them: “I like to draw, play b-ball, and build model cars and ships. I draw from scratch. We used to build our own cars as kids, and race them. I didn’t draw anything special, just ideas that popped up in my head. I drew a hand coming out of space, making the world. I drew trees, splitting them up and colored it red, white, blue, orange, with stripes, and I put it on an island on a rock. I was feeling some kind of way, and the colors represented all kinds of people living as one, being part of that tree. I don’t know what made me draw it- some days I just get in the mood to do something. One time I drew a leaf, and I had everyone I knew sign it. All my friends from every borough signed it-someone still has it hanging in their house. I don’t know what it meant. I just did it.”


Gary’s advice for CEF

At the end of our conversation, Gary gave a great word of advice to CEF. He appreciates that CEF is driven by a group of young folks who are trying to help other people find resources. He hopes that CEF can find a way to reach out and get more people under the CEF umbrella, and that means getting the word out a little more. Gary mentions that this could be helpful for the organizations and people CEF reaches out to, and to CEF as well. CEF appreciates what Gary brings to the CEF community. He is creative, and through his creativity he is able to inspire those around him to achieve their sense of self and their goals.




CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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