Archive | October, 2014

An Interview with Shawn

cef photoBy Jill McMahon

As an intern at CEF this summer, the highlight of my weeks was coming to Sunday’s Opportunity Class. CEF’s Sunday Opportunity Class is specifically for women at HomeStart shelter in Chapel Hill. In the hands of class facilitators Shawn and Alex, Sunday’s class is a warm, safe, and treasured space for us to come together and share our stories.


Shawn, a Philadelphia native, has just surpassed her one-year anniversary with working at CEF. Shawn’s journey to Chapel Hill began in 2012. After getting laid off from a job, Shawn was looking for a new start. After an extensive search of different cities up and down the East Coast, Shawn landed in Raleigh, NC. Shawn got connected with CEF when she stayed briefly at HomeStart. Shawn started to attend Opportunity Class and worked with Alex on resumes and job searches. After a month at HomeStart, Shawn landed a job at DSS and eventually, earned her job as an administrative support associate at UNC, where she works today.


Shawn’s positive energy and welcoming demeanor sets the tone for the inspiration and interaction we have at Opportunity Class. When I asked Shawn what CEF means to her, she responded that CEF has changed her perception of how she views the world. She feels that CEF truly cares about people and it reinforces her belief that we are all connected. No matter what our situation is, Shawn says “it does not define who we are.”


Shawn’s favorite aspect of opportunity class is the overall support and encouragement we all receive from attending. Shawn said, “we share things without judgment and everyone’s opinions are valid.” Shawn believes the topics we talk about in class are essential experiences. The shared connection we get from each other in that space provides an environment for growth. Getting to know Shawn and the other women from class this summer has been a great privilege. At CEF, change is facilitated through relationships. Shawn exemplifies the work of CEF through her passion for others. Shawn said, “Being able to work at CEF makes me feel good. The hardships we face are just something that we pass through on our journey in life. We all want each other to succeed.”



Member Spotlight: Jasper

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 5.51.08 PMBy Sam Rains

Nine months ago, I met Jasper Washington for the first time. He was living at the IFC Homeless Shelter and trying to get a job. For four months, Jasper, Michael Caragher and I applied to any job we found online. In the midst of this time, it seemed that there would be no fruit for our labors and it became very frustrating for me.

However, Jasper was so calm one would have no idea that he did not have a job. As a college student who hears that a job leads to a career, which leads to happiness, or lack thereof, Jasper’s demeanor provided the other side of reality. My original plans rarely work the way I design them to, and I think that may be an indication of how the rest of my life will work. Seeing my guy, Jasper, come in every week with the same get-after-it mentality that is quick, but not rushed, gave me a glimpse on how to handle pressure.

Fortunately, the story does not end at stress-management techniques. Two months after school ended, I got a call from Jasper. He called to tell me he had TWO jobs. It made my week. Looking back on those six months, it doesn’t surprise me that he has moved into an apartment. His calmness derived from a confidence that everything would work itself out and that the process of getting something is more valuable than attaining one’s goals.

The most exciting part of this story, though, is the fact that I do not know anything regarding Jasper’s savings. I never helped him deposit money or set up an account. I did not know that he had an account or that he was putting money into it. He was so focused on getting to his goal that he did not need me to get him there. The lessons he learned about savings and being smart with one’s money were applied immediately. Jasper took what he had and ran with it, and has an apartment, along with a plethora of options for his future that will come sooner, rather than later.

Get to know him sometime, he cooks food in Lenoir and has to take breaks. There are numerous resources to learn from at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Jasper is one that will prove very beneficial to me after I graduate.


Staff Reflection: A Year at CEF

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 5.53.10 PM

By: Sarah Cohn

The thing about working with CEF is it’s not a job. It’s not even a great job, nor is it the best job. It’s something entirely different. Working with CEF is being part of a community every day, for about eight hours (give or take some), while also doing your job. From my very first day at CEF to my last, I felt a stronger sense of community than I’ve ever felt before. Maybe it’s sharing a common dream of what all people should have, or perhaps it’s simply caring to get to know one another. All I know is there is something unique that bonds everyone in this community – advocates, members, and staff alike – with a unifying strength I hadn’t known before. (Maybe this is the “special sauce” I hear reference to at CEF board meetings…) And only in reflection have I been able to realize that above all else, above the professional skills I gained, the challenges and resulting growing experiences I had, and even above the projects I accomplished, working with CEF has given me the opportunity to know what community feels like.

I got my first taste of the CEF community the summer after my sophomore year at UNC, when I began volunteering with CEF Latin@’s small business classes. A semester later, I joined the CEF admin team as a CEF Latin@ co-coordinator, and my involvement only grew from there.  As a part of leadership, I started spending more time working with members in the office, and the more time I spent there, the more I wanted to spend. Then, during one of the many moments in the Spring of my senior year that my mind spent wrestling with what I was going to do after graduation, it became suddenly clear to me that I was not ready to leave CEF. Applying to work full-time with an organization I wanted to spend all my time with anyway seemed so right, despite my resolve to leave the town I’d grown up in. More than a year later, I can’t imagine having done anything else.

If you ask me about the job I had for the past year, the first thing that comes to mind is not a literary descriptor, but a feeling. It is a literal, physical feeling in the chest and just a hint of a feeling behind the eyes, though I may not let the latter expose itself if I can help it. And if I have to put into words what that feeling embodies, I think – I’m pretty sure – that it’s the feeling of community. So, in reflection of my past year, I feel it is only appropriate to share what the community of working with CEF feels like.

To me, community feels like knowing everyone in the room and wanting so genuinely that it’s almost overwhelming to hear about all of their most recent triumphs and struggles. It feels like wishing you could slow down time amidst the buzz of productivity to fully celebrate with someone who just signed a lease on an apartment, or to listen and talk with someone who just learned of losing their job.

Community sometimes occupies a physical space in your body, or at least it feels that way when you can sense that the woman you’ve been meeting with every week is finally starting to believe in herself, and when after she moves away you receive a message from her just to thank you for standing by her, you are suddenly made aware that the phrase “heart swell” is not just poetic.

Community feels like an unstoppable smile taking control of your cheeks when you learn of happy news for a fellow community member. And when you subsequently realize that the most joyous moments of your day, as well as the lowest ones, are now most often vicarious, you can be sure that sense of community has something to do with it.

Community also feels secure in having the strongest network of support should you need it, and the mere thought of not being a part of that network feels scary.

Technically, we’re all a part of many communities: our city or town, our neighborhood, maybe our school or family or house or team. And while these communities are important, the one I’m talking about is not concretely defined by a geographic line or even a genetic bond. I think a true community is one that is borne out of love, gratitude, and appreciation for the commonalities of all of our experiences. (In CEF-speak: It really is all about the relationships.) A true community expresses itself in every-day feelings—feelings that build and go on to change the entirety of your expectations. I didn’t know the feeling of a true community until I worked with CEF, and I’m so incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity. Knowing this feeling, I don’t think I can go back. Thankfully, I don’t have to, because community also feels like something that will never leave you behind, no matter where your next “job” takes you.



Workshop on Institutional Power, Privilege, and Oppression (WIPPO)

By Nikhil Umesh and Omar Kashef

10660221_725767320828204_6081790238900184419_nFollowing two days with the Racial Equity Institute’s anti-racism workshop this past May, we left deeply moved and with a heightened sense of urgency. We feel it is necessary for CEF to not only discuss historical and ongoing racism, but begin a thorough exploration of institutional power, privilege and oppression as it relates to our communities in Durham and Chapel Hill. The initiative was Omar’s brainchild and stemmed from a project that he had been working on for the past year through his fellowship with Young People For. It was a culmination of many voices, perspectives, and ideas, and needless to say, was a long time in the making.

As CEF grows, Advocates bring a greater variety of skillsets and backgrounds to our organization. Leveraging the multiple identities and experiences we bring to our work, we posit that realizing one’s own systemic advantages and barriers will allow for a deeper understanding of the institutions that have granted and denied us access to power and resources throughout our lives.

The first Workshop on Institutional Power, Privilege, and Oppression (WIPPO) happened at Chapel Hill’s weekly general body meeting and at the last training for new Advocates. Our primary learning objective was for everyone to get acquainted with key terms (privilege, oppression, intersectionality, etc.) and frame them within commonly known systems of privilege and oppression. We touched on systems from classism to ableism to heterosexism, and discussed how they operate in everyday institutions such as housing and our healthcare system. Still, we aimed to frame our discussion not solely within the confines of CEF.

We are all implicated in these systems. There is no way around that. In discussing these issues, we try not to treat them as abstract or a sort of intellectual pursuit, which often happens in the context of a university. Rather, privilege and oppression continually manifest in our lived experience. So, we pushed beyond CEF, and incorporated tidbits on the university’s white supremacist legacy and its implication in the racialized geography of UNC’s campus. We showed a clip from a documentary by former student Laura Barrios that illuminates the “invisibilized white supremacist narrative that undergrads UNC and the wider Chapel Hill community,” calling to attention the Silent Sam monument, Saunders Hall, and Unsung Founders memorial, among others. Following the workshop, an Advocate mentioned value in highlighting the campus’ racialized geography:

“It emphasized the harm the university structure can have on perpetuating systems of oppression in this town, and that students have an obligation to mitigate or reverse those effects.”

Durham will be having their first WIPPO this upcoming Monday, Oct. 20 at their house course! The next Chapel Hill WIPPO will be held on Nov. 24 at general body, and we hope to see many folks there.

Sound awesome? Want to get involved? Have suggestions, feedback, criticisms? We would love to have you on board as we discuss and shape this workshop for Advocates in the future! Email Omar at to chime in and/or find out more.


Come Join Us for Philosophy Time at General Body!

What’s new at CEF General Body meetings, you ask? We have started incorporating Philosophy Time into our Monday night meetings. What is Philosophy Time? This is a time during which we create an open space intended to facilitate deep contemplation and open dialogue concerning CEF’s role in the community. In the most recent Philosophy Time discussion, we talked about the links between shame and poverty. We discussed how people in poverty are shamed through institutionalized cultural perceptions and beliefs regarding what it means to be “poor.” We discussed how CEF fights against the perpetuation of these perceptions and whether CEF sometimes unintentionally propagates the feeling of shame and embarrassment that members may have.

You can check out the article here:

Here are some thoughts shared by advocates who attended our most recent philosophy time meeting:

“Philosophy time has brought meaning to our work at CEF, and allows at least myself to bring more perspective to meetings with members and relationship development.” –John Sincavage


Philosophy time means a lot to me because:
a) I think just considering these issues is worth so much because then you’re not fighting a battle without knowing the enemy; and I think many of these issues are the actual adversaries we’re fighting against.
b) I think we all need to look in a mirror and evaluate some times. And talking about these things give us a chance to kind of see where we fit in in the grand scheme of poverty.” –Anonymous


At first, I hesitated to speak because I wasn’t sure how everybody would react to my thoughts. I thought back to my high school days when people would say what was expected and not stray far from popular opinion. However, the more I listened to my team members speaking, it dawned on me that holding an unpopular opinion is not unusual. It’s typical and even encouraged to voice substantive arguments because we’re all open minded people who enjoy being challenged. In short, philosophy time may become one of my favorite aspects of CEF General Body meetings if I remember to read the article before coming to the office.” –Anonymous


Spotlight: Meet Matt Kauffmann, CEF's new Advocate Program Coordinator!

Matt Kauffmann

My name is Matt Kauffmann, and I am CEF’s new Advocate Program Coordinator. My primary role is to support our Advocate program in Chapel Hill, including training Advocates and pairing them with Members. I am serving in this capacity as an Americorps VISTA sponsored by North Carolina Campus Compact in partnership with the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the UNC School of Law.

        I first came to CEF as a junior transfer student to Carolina in 2010. In the first few weeks of classes, I saw a flyer in my dorm advertising a loan officer training for a student-run domestic microfinance operation. This sounded socially innovative and smart, so I went to the training. As has been well-documented on this blog, CEF was and is much more than microfinance. I spent four semesters and a summer as an advocate before graduating in 2012. Then it was off to Los Angeles to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. There, I worked for a large homeless services agency, first as an employment services case manager and then as the staffing coordinator for the agency’s in-house social enterprise. When presented a few months ago with the opportunity to return to CEF, my first thought was that I would love nothing more.
        Because if I were to stay in the so-called helping professions, I wanted to do work that was authentically compassionate.  Many organizations that seek to help people claim compassion as a value and motivating factor. But this is often not a psychological reality in those organizations. The philosopher Aristotle discussed compassion becoming “watery” in the context of a city where each citizen is asked to care for all. Care, he argued, is best exercised in small family groups and is predicated upon the fact that people belong to other people in a unique way. A father’s son is his and his only one (or at least one of a few). I cannot feel compassion for the entire city. The same goes for modern social service agencies. Unfortunately, the valiant effort of agencies to maximize their impact and the concomitant cult of efficency often leads to the watering down of compassion. I know from my time as a case manager tasked with assisting hundreds of clients each year that I could not care for each of those clients equally, much less devote the time and attention needed to effectively help each person. My efforts were watered down by the volume of my caseload. I imagine that many other helping professionals feel similarly.
        But at CEF, we leverage student Advocates at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill to give the necessary time and attention to our Members. Advocates are paired with members one-on-one or two-on-one. There is a sense as an Advocate that the Member you are working with is yours and your only one, to use Aristotle’s terms. This sense inspires compassion. And importantly, in an age of ever increasing inequalities in wealth and income, CEF extends our Advocates’ compassion beyond their usual social circle. I remember accompanying one of our Members, who had a serious intellectual disability, to court in Hillsborough a couple of years ago. We sat in the courtroom for a few hours until we figured out that we weren’t actually supposed to be there. Her court date had been rescheduled and the notification had been sent to her daughter’s address. I was annoyed at the situation and embarrassed that I was complacent in wasting our time. In that moment, I realized that this inconvenience was a sort of bad thing for both of us, that this situation was out of the Member’s control, and that I was just as vulnerable to being confused and having my time wasted as she was. Moreover, I realized that for this particular Member–with all the systems she has had to navigate over the course of her life–this sort of inconvenience was a normal occurrence. This realization saddened me. It is in these moments, where we’re able to walk a little ways in our Members’ shoes, that Advocates become a little more compassionate.
        With such experiences in mind, I am excited to be back and I look forward to growing with the many Members and Advocates who make up our CEF community. This year, I’ll be focusing on scaling our Advocate program to meet the increased demand for our services while maintaining our unique culture and the quality of the relationships that make us tick. In other words, I’m working to keep us from getting too “watery.”

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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