Archive | November, 2014

Annie's Advocate Story: What inspired you to become a CEF advocate?


Quinn for blog

By Annie Lott

I discovered CEF in my freshman year through my friend, RA, and mentor, Quinn Holmquist. Quinn is one of the most enthusiastic and friendly people I know, and I liked him instantly from the first time I met him, when he introduced himself as “majoring in Romance Studies, the science of human love and affection.” Although Quinn wasn’t actually an RA for my floor, I would often go to his room, lounge on his couch, and talk to him about grades, classes, and life aspirations. Quinn is a fantastic listener. Soon enough, I learned that Quinn wasn’t actually majoring in the study of romantic relationships, but instead in the study of romance languages. When asked why, Quinn responded that he wanted to develop his communication skills so he could more effectively support others and strengthen his community. Quinn has the noble life goal of raising standards of living for individuals in adverse circumstances, by helping people help themselves. I realized he was already accomplishing this goal with his work for CEF.

Although Quinn suggested that I join CEF, I didn’t commit immediately, thinking that I didn’t have time. Yet throughout my first semester at Duke, Quinn and I would talk about community service, reminding me how much fun it was to volunteer in high school. When my second semester rolled around, Quinn encouraged me once more to join CEF, and I was again impressed by his passion for working with others. Dispelling any ideas that involvement in the Community Empowerment Fund was limited to raising money for local charities, Quinn explained that the objective of CEF was to empower individuals to solve their financial problems by building relationships and providing one-on-one aid. This simple yet novel approach to addressing community issues interested me, as I’d never experienced it before. With Quinn’s persuasion I decided that CEF, its members, its methods, and its goals were worth volunteering for.

It seems that many other advocates have similar stories to me, all tracing their involvement in CEF back to Quinn Holmquist. At the first meeting of the new advocate house course, we went around the room introducing ourselves, saying our names, which house we worked in, and how we joined CEF. Unsuprisingly, the most common answer to the last question was, “Yep, it was Quinn”. Quinn managed to convince quite a few people in my freshman dorm to join CEF, as well as several of my dormmates’ friends. Although Quinn is studying abroad this semester, he left a legacy of enthusiasm, participation, and support behind him with CEF, helping make the organization what it is today.


A Durham Member’s Reflections on Womanhood and Work

women at work

By Gabi Stewart

Khaki pants, trusty tennis shoes, a bright, collared t-shirt that sports the company logo — all of these things are typical pieces of CEF-Durham member Sharon’s uniform for her housekeeping position at a local inn. However, without another piece — one imperceptible to the eye — Sharon’s outfit is incomplete. It’s a mindset, a personality feature, and it’s something that working women across all sectors feel that they’re defined and restricted by.

It’s her bossiness.

Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of sitting down with Sharon and discussing what it means to be a working woman in Durham. As a college freshman constantly immersed in the university environment, I find that engaging in discussion of gender in the workforce is pretty commonplace for me — whether in the form of a drafting a research paper on working women in Disney films, participating in class discussion on gender roles, or simply conversing with older students about their experiences, this sort of analysis frequently enters my world. However, what I’ve realized is that my insight on this topic is theoretical at best; it lacks the raw, honest power that only comes with experience. Experience and power that Sharon definitely has. Though usually soft-spoken and laid-back, Sharon kindly and passionately shared this insight with me as we spoke.

My first question was simply, “What does it mean to be a woman in the workforce?”

Ruminating on the super broad question, Sharon paused for a moment. Eyes narrowing with realization, she looked directly at me and said, “You gotta be bossy, you know.”

Intrigued by her answer, I asked her to explain.

“You have to let your co-workers know you’re in control and that you can do it.”

Jumping a little bit, I replied, “So would you say that women are bossy in the way that men are powerful?”


The bossy/powerful distinction is definitely something that’s gained some media coverage over the past few years. And that’s great — coverage raises awareness. However, having never worked in a position outside of a summer job, I never really felt aware of this issue until I heard it firsthand from Sharon. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks; I was angry. Outraged, even. Sensing this, Sharon spoke up.

“But it’s all good in the job I have now, though. My boss, he’s really good.”

After that, Sharon went on to detail how her boss really empathizes with his workers. Instead of being hired immediately as a manager, Sharon’s boss had to “make that bed and clean that room” before being promoted. He shares a common experience with his workers. He understands. And he respects them when they assert themselves and their opinions, regardless of their genders.

Even though Sharon’s experience is certainly not a reflection of the entire work world of Durham, it stands out of a pocket of light in a sphere of society that can seem like a dark place. Yes, the societal construction of women’s bossiness versus men’s power and confidence is an outstanding issue that absolutely needs to be addressed. However, it’s not an ubiquitous, all-consuming issue; it’s something that we can tackle on a grassroots level. Together, as a community, we can empower one another and lift one another up on an individual level. And that’s an amazingly encouraging prospect.



Renter’s Savings IDA Pilot: Phase II

This July, five new savers joined CEF’s Renter’s Savings IDA program to begin Phase II of our Renter’s Savings IDA Pilot. The Savings Team here at CEF would like to welcome the newest members of the program and thank these five new savers for making a new commitment to saving and dreaming together with CEF.

The Renter’s Savings IDA program was originally piloted in 2012, specifically with renters in mind. Through CEF’s Safe Savings Accounts, the CEF Savings Team noticed that members who moved into housing often find it very challenging to continue saving when faced with so many new expenses. With utility bills and rent taking up such a large portion of income, it can be difficult for renters to put anything aside. Even after saving, unexpected emergencies would make it hard to hold on to that money. The Renter’s Savings IDA is meant to serve as an “Emergency Fund”—money set aside for financial security and peace of mind.

The new program was piloted with ten members currently in housing and ready to save for the long-term. While similar in set-up to our current Safe Savings Accounts, this program lasts at least 2.5 years and can be matched at 50% (up to $1,000 in matching funds). Additionally, savers may draw on the 50% match when the emergency occurs. This way, one emergency won’t wipe out all their hard-earned savings.

Over the past two years, advocates and savers participating in the program have learned a lot from the program that they have shared with the Savings Team so that we could adapt and improve the program for the next group of savers.

Here are some of our lessons learned from Phase I of the Renter’s Savings IDA Pilot and tweaks we’re making in Phase II of the pilot:

  • Auto-Save: In the first pilot phase, we’ve seen that participants using the “Auto-Save” feature were able to save much more than their counterparts who made deposits via online transfers or by cash. Auto-Save automatically deducts savings deposits from a personal bank account on payday–making saving cheaper, easier, and quicker! Our newest Phase II participants are all signed up for Auto-Save with CEF and have already started working towards their long-term goals.
  • One-on-One Financial Coaching: In the first pilot phase, we attempted to meet together as one large group to do an “Opportunity Class 2.0.” We soon found that with varying schedules and interests, meeting at least once a month in one-on-one meetings would be a much more effective way for Renter’s Savings IDA participants and their advocates to learn about relevant topics. Advocates and members participating in this program are learning and working on a variety of topics relevant to their long-term goals, including:
    • Building Credit
    • Preparing for Homeownership
    • Preparing for Car Ownership
    • Budgeting
    • Entertainment & Avoiding Scams
    • Retirement 101
    • Going Back to School & Making Sense of Financial Aid
    • …and more!
  • The Value of Multiple Accounts: In Phase I, several of our savers opened up their Renter’s Savings IDAs but maintained their Safe Savings Accounts as well. Having two accounts at CEF, in addition to a personal bank account, helped the savers to budget and use each account for different purposes.  Donna, for example, told us the following about how she uses her two accounts at CEF:

    “I have things coming up like my renter’s insurance; it’s $130 right off the bat, and I don’t have that just out of a check. So Safe Savings is for that — I save for stuff that I need and take it out when it’s time. The Renter’s Savings account, I don’t take that out for anything. That is going to be for when my car breaks down or I need another vehicle. And I am just not allowed to touch that. It really makes me feel better, knowing that’s there.”

In Phase II of the pilot, we’ll be encouraging members that already have a Safe Savings account to consider using both of their accounts, instead of just the Renter’s Savings IDA.

  • Long-term Goals: When we began the first phase of the pilot, the Savings Team had been primarily thinking of the accounts as emergency funds that may complement other goals like homeownership, but pretty strictly emergency-focused. With the first pilot phase, we’ve seen that the first ten participants didn’t necessarily think of their accounts this way. Santiago bought a dairy cow for his family when he met his goal. Here’s what some of the other Phase I participants said about “Why We’re Saving”:
    • Purchase a home, build up savings, save in 401K, start building college savings for my four children, and getting healthy!”
    • “My own transportation and starting a business”
    • “Finishing school and paying off student loans”
    • “Build my income. My goal is to help others become stronger in their faith, to not give, and stay motivated.”
    • “I’m just taking it one day at a time. I am trained not to try to think that far ahead.”
    • “Getting my GED and saving for a car”
    • “Be in school and nearer to graduation”

Saving towards emergencies is still the purpose of the account, but the way that we frame the accounts is important. At CEF, advocates and members aren’t just working towards financial security, but overall well-being for our community. That means following dreams and building community, not just budgeting and saving our last pennies. We have to know what we’re working towards together, and focusing on our long-term goals helps us to do that!

The next round of applications for the Renter’s Savings IDA Pilot will be available in November. Any questions about the accounts can be directed to Ariana Vaisey at or by calling CEF in Chapel Hill at 919-200-0233. All CEF members in Durham and Orange Counties who have completed the opportunity class, are a signer on a lease, and are interested in a higher-commitment savings account with CEF are encouraged to apply, although only a few slots are available during this pilot phase.

From the CEF Savings Team and Renter’s Savings IDA participants, we’d like to extend a warm welcome to the newest 5 participants of the program! We look forward to learning and growing with you over the next two and half years.

The Renter’s Savings IDA program is completely supported by individuals like you. Sponsor a Saver and help us get there together! You can contribute to long-term change – Join with our pilot Savers as they continue to invest in their own and their family’s futures.


CEF goes to the Assets Learning Conference in DC

Every two years, the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) puts together a conference to bring together people from across the country to share lessons learned, honor achievements, and create collaboration across the asset-building field. This year, three representatives from CEF had the opportunity to attend the Assets Learning Conference in Washington, D.C. due to the generous support of CFED and the Integrating Financial Capability in Social Services Learning Cluster. Maggie West, Anne Yeung, and Alex Biggers all the had the opportunity to get to know organizations from across the country, swap stories, and even share about CEF’s unique student volunteer financial coaches.

We even got a really cool poster touting all the great work CEF-Durham members, advocates, and Urban Ministries staff have been doing!

CEF got a really cool poster touting all the great work CEF-Durham members, advocates, and Urban Ministries staff have been doing

“Asset-building” is a term that “refers to strategies that increase financial and tangible assets, such as savings, a home and businesses of all kinds. Asset-building policy focuses on long-term development of individuals, families and communities” (CFED). Asset-building provides an important lens for our work at CEF — when CEF advocates and members dream together towards members’ futures, we aren’t satisfied with just an apartment, just a little income, just getting through the month. We want these things, yes, but we also want to work towards something secure, something stable, something to grow on and dream on for members and their families. The systems of power that determine all of our wealth or poverty — capitalism, classism, racism, sexism, ableism, colonialism, heterosexism and many more — work over time and space to steal from some and give to others. At CEF, advocates and members work together to craft new systems that exist to help members build assets. We work against the forces that historically and to this day continue to steal and deny wealth to working-class people, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, women, and many, many others.

This year’s conference focused on “Platforms for Prosperity” — integrating asset-building into the places where we already are — where we live, where we work, where we start businesses, where we bank, and where we get comprehensive services. By bringing services like affordable bank accounts, financial coaching, free tax preparation, and savings opportunities closer to the places we already are, we can make building assets more accessible. CEF is proud to announce that we were a finalist for the Platforms for Prosperity Award (and we are big fans of the organizations who won the awards!).

Anne and Alex with the rest of the learning cluster in front of the gallery walk

Anne and Alex with the rest of the learning cluster in front of the gallery walk

Before the conference began, Anne and I had the chance to meet with the rest of the Integrating Financial Capability into Social Services Learning Cluster at our third in-person meeting. We shared about what CEF has been working on through our partnership at Urban Ministries and learned what other groups are doing to integrate financial capability and asset-building into the work they already do.

The conference lasted three days and consisted of large group speeches and panels, smaller roundtables and concurrent sessions, and even a trip to Capitol Hill to visit legislators. We had the opportunity to learn from experts in the field, hear inspiring speeches, and to share with one another what we’ve been learning.

Here are some of the exciting topics we got to learn about in our smaller sessions:

  • Enhancing the Financial Capability of Persons with Disabilities
  • ACA at Tax Time 2015 and Beyond
  • Working Families Success Network: How to Measure the Impact of Integrated Services
  • Financial Coaching Capacity Building Intensive
  • Driving Towards Impact: Early Results from the Financial Capability Innovation Fund
  • Financial Education 2.0: What is the Way Forward?
  • Housing as an Asset-Building Strategy
  • IDAs in Shelters
  • Building Assets at America’s Community Health Centers
  • Building Assets for Fathers and Families: Partnering with Child Support Systems
  • Leveraging the Transition Back to Work to Build Financial Capability
  • Engaging Direct Service Providers and Constituents as Sensational Advocates
  • What Households Want in a Financial Relationship

You can check out all the sessions and their notes on the Assets Learning Conference website, here.

Anne and Alex with the rest of the learning cluster in front of the gallery walk

Anne and Alex with the rest of the learning cluster in front of the gallery walk

Maggie was on the panel at the Financial Coaching Capacity Building Intensive, where she got to share about the wonderful work of CEF’s student volunteers and advice for other organizations looking to leverage the power of volunteers – especially students — to deliver financial coaching services.

We also ran into one of CEF’s first advocates, Michael Chasnow, who spoke in front of the entire conference about his work with the 1:1 Fund, which seeks to match the savings of low-income families saving towards college through matched child savings accounts. You can learn more about the 1:1 Fund by clicking here.

Michael Chasnow addresses the Assets Learning Conference about the 1:1 Fund

Michael Chasnow addresses the Assets Learning Conference about the 1:1 Fund

On Thursday, we had the chance to go to Capitol Hill.  Maggie and Anne, along with our asset-building partners in North Carolina shared the challenges facing individuals and families in our state and pushed legislators to vote for important legislation affecting North Carolinians. Alex shared about the work CEF is doing in North Carolina.

Alex with our colleagues from Self-Help Credit Union and Durham Regional Financial Center

Alex with our colleagues from Self-Help Credit Union and Durham Regional Financial Center

Some of the main talking points Maggie and Anne were advocating for:

  • The ABLE Act, which would have removed some of the barriers for individuals receiving income due to a disability to build assets. Currently, people receiving Social Security Insurance (SSI) due to a disability are only allowed to have $2,000 in assets.
  • The American Savings Promotion Act, which would expand Prize-Linked Savings (like a lottery, but with saving instead of spending!) to more financial institutions across the country.
  • Keeping payday lending out of North Carolina
  • Turning the budget from upside down to “right-side up” by investing in policies that build wealth for families and individuals that need it, rather than policies that continue to give billions of tax dollars to people who are already wealthy.

We want to give a big shout out to all of the hard work of members, advocates, and our community partners here in Durham and Chapel Hill that have shaped CEF’s asset-building strategies, and allowed the three of us who attended the conference to be incredibly proud and excited about all the work we’ve accomplished together.

Anne with other North Carolina colleagues and Congressman Butterfield

Anne with other North Carolina colleagues and Congressman Butterfield

CEF is incredibly grateful to CFED for their support of three of our staff to attend this year’s Assets Learning Conference and for putting together such an informative three days of learning and sharing.

On November 6th, Parker Cohen from CFED will be visiting CEF in Durham and Chapel Hill and sharing some about CFED’s work with asset-building. All of our community partners, members, and advocates are invited to join us to learn more about Asset-Building.

We want to continue discussing and sharing all of what we learned at the Assets Learning Conference so that we can begin putting into place strategies from some of the insights we gained from our four days in DC. If you’re interested in learning more about the conference, CFED’s visit, or to generally just talk about asset-building at CEF, you can contact Alex Biggers at


CEF 5k Sponsored by Duke's Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity



Last week’s Saturday morning, Duke’s Alphi Phi Omega Fraternity sponsored and led a 5K event for CEF. Before the event, APO members and a couple of CEF advocates worked hard on spreading the word and getting donations and registrations throughout Duke’s campus. While some students were happy to just donate, others were looking forward to spending a Saturday morning with a nice workout.

Upon arriving at the main sign-in table, I was surprised to see so many people getting pumped for the 5K. It was Duke’s parent’s weekend, so even parents were sporting their running wear and warming up for the long run. The weather was sunny, although a bit chilly, but everyone was ready to go! We all took a picture at the starting line, and began the run after the hallmark “Ready,Set,GO!”. Some participants immediately sprinted while others took it easy with a walk.

The course started from the field hockey stadium and circled all around Duke’s East campus. As runners, we were instructed to run it twice to complete the 5K. I’m not such a great runner myself, but it was great to be doing it alongside other people who could motivate me to keep going.  At the end, we all met up back at the sign-in table to eat some snacks and grab Google android toys and sunglasses as souvenirs.

Afterwards, I talked to Carlton Adams, a CEF-Durham advocate for Alliance Architecture and APO fraternity brother. He told me how once he mentioned CEF to APO, his co-ed fraternity dedicated to service, they were very willing to name CEF as their non-profit for the semester. A committee of 10 APO members worked on publicizing, tabling, marking paths, purchasing food, getting music, and getting logistics ready for the event.  CEF advocates also participated through tabling,donating, telling friends, and running the 5K. In all, APO raised $300, and 70 runners participated in the 5K. The event was a success, and was a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

As a CEF advocate, I think it is awesome that other organizations such as APO are invested in supporting CEF by fundraising and spreading CEF’s name, and am thankful of their efforts.


CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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