CEF is now five years old, and every year that we grow we work to refine the recipe for our “secret sauce.” The essence remains the same, and yet still somewhat a mystery–embedded in the relationships and collaborative work of our members and advocates. But each year, we as an organization continue to learn, grow and change together with all the unique members, advocates, partners, supporters, friends (and you!) who make up the CEF family. Thank you for caring for this community and for CEF, and making all the results shared through this report possible. We appreciate you!
Archive | July, 2015
–Read all about it : Here!
“Family” is the word that comes to mind when I think of Ricky Reams— it means the world to him. When Ricky and I met two years ago at Housing for New Hope’s Phoenix House transitional housing program, the first goal we tackled was saving for housing. Ricky saved with remarkable fervor, stunning me by reaching his goal of $500 in just four months. But what I will never forget is that the only time he ever deposited less than planned into his Safe Savings Account, it was in the name of family: he wanted to give his grandchildren gifts for the holidays.
Family was also essential to Ricky’s ability to work. Two months after he successfully moved into his own place, we reconnected to work on job searches. After revamping his resume, drafting a cover letter, and practicing tricky interview questions, Ricky was able to find work – he just had trouble keeping it. He confided that ever since moving away from his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, he had been struggling to hold a job: “I get depressed because my family always in Connecticut and I couldn’t go check on ‘em and see ‘em like I want to. So I just get isolated and shut the world down.” Knowing that being separated from his family made it difficult for him to maintain employment, my co-advocate Stephanie Colorado and I set about making sure he knew he could have “family” in Durham, too. Every Thursday morning, we met Ricky at Whole Foods to play cards, talk about life, share stories, and just spend time together.
Today, Ricky will have been employed as a Donations Ambassador at Habitat ReStore of Durham and Orange Counties for almost half a year and will proudly tell you, “Everything been going so good at that job! I love to go to work … I come in there smiling and happy every day.” He will also gush about the newest addition to his family, a childhood friend who he only recently found the courage to approach, “We gonna get married – I’m talking ‘bout we gonna jump the mop, we ain’t gonna jump the broom! Right now, we feel like we 40 years married. She’s a beautiful woman and I love her to death.”
Hanging out with Ricky was my small part in helping to make sure depression wouldn’t keep him from doing what he loves – but, selfishly, it was also my way of basking in his good nature. He’s the kind of person who, when I vented about people who I thought were being nasty, reminded me, “You know what you do to people who make you feel that way? You pray for them.” If you ask him his secret, he will shrug, “I’m like the same person every day, try to uplift people, ask them how their child doing, how’s your day – that’s just me.” It is infectious. Each time we met – whether it was to open an affordable credit union account, sign-up for e-statements to reduce fees, budget for his new housing expenses, file back taxes to avoid garnishment, stow the cash he had from selling his van into his Safe Savings account, or connect to Legal Aid for help dealing with an exploitative landlord – he uplifted me with his spirit. He became somebody I could call if stressed or angry. He became somebody who, when I share with him that I’m scared to head to medical school but am trying to be brave, he tells me “I’m proud of you, Anne” and I choke up. Ricky is family.
– CEF members, advocates, and staff enjoying Financial Independence Day!
By: Katie Wiley
Traveling alone, the climb toward financial independence can seem longer and higher, with brambles lining the curves of the gravel roads. Building credit and savings takes both time and persistence, as well as the grit to continuously set and work toward new goals, knowing that no step is insignificant. Yet, one does not need to seek this independence alone. Instead, members and advocates of the Community Empowerment Fund have chosen to recognize the strength in each other and in their relationships with one another through Financial Independence Day. On the evening of Friday, July 10th, 2015, the CEF community came together once again to celebrate each other. Under the cool shade of the trees at Chapel Hill Community Center, folks enjoyed tangy cole slaw, flawlessly charred hot dogs, brownies and other sweet treats at the picnic tables.
Whether cheering on the fierce competition at the corn holes, dribbling around on the basketball courts barefooted, or jamming to the summertime music playlist, everyone had the opportunity to step away from busy weeks to simply appreciate time with one another. A talent show also featured several artists, including a guitar solo, the reenactment of classic Power Rangers poses, and some joyful singing.
After tasting all of the food, everyone gathered for the Savings Raffle, in which CEF Savers were celebrated for their efforts in the CEF Safe Savings program and working toward their own financial independence. Everyone who had made a deposit in his or her account over the past month was recognized, receiving a prize from local Chapel Hill and Durham businesses.
Financial independence can mean different things for everyone. For Dorothy, financial independence is a car that allows her to drive wherever she hopes to go—whereas for Sharon, it is paying back her school loans. For others, it might be to save for a housing deposit, to declare independence from an unjust financial system, to pay back past hospital bills. It might be to get a laptop, to start a new business, or to save for a rainy day. Each of us may have different goals, but together as a community, we will continue to support each other as we climb.
Happy FID everyone!
– By CEF Advocates Yasmine Miao & Emma Caudle
The past six weeks at CEF have been an incredible learning experience and have given me a new outlook on the world that many members face. Before this summer I had never stepped foot in a CEF office and only had the slightest idea of what it even was, however it did not take long for me to realize that CEF was much more than the typical nonprofit seeking to alleviate poverty and homelessness. Perhaps the aspect of CEF that stuck out most to me was how committed advocates and staff were to be more than just teachers or mentors to the members, but rather friends and companions along the journey towards financial freedom.
Member meetings have been one of the highlights of my time at CEF this summer. I have enjoyed building relationships with other members of the Durham community and have appreciated the experiences they have shared with me. I have been able to work with members as they applied for jobs, created budgets, started saving, and so much more. Although 6 weeks is too short of a time to see big changes I was able to see little ones week to week with many members. Moments as simple as a members enthusiasm for depositing money into their safe savings account or a member working diligently to figure out a new budgeting technique assured me that CEF was in fact helping members reach financial stability.
Aside from the more concrete ways I saw CEF make a difference in the lives of many members, it is evident to me how much CEF means on a more emotional level. CEF is one of the first places many members go in times of crisis and advocates often become trusted confidants. This was one of the most incredible parts of CEF to me because it showed me how successful an organization can be when it cares for an entire person rather than just aspects of their life.
I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to spend a part of my summer with CEF this year. I learned more from the other advocates and staff as well as members than I ever could have expected and gained a newfound appreciation for the kind of work that CEF does. CEF makes a great investment in members who do not always benefit from investments made by the community or government. Therefore, the work CEF does is critical for the lives of so many in the Durham and Chapel Hill communities. Thank you CEF for all you do!
by: Yasmine Miao
Before I came to CEF, I was more anxious than excited.I had no idea what my daily routine would be like for the next six weeks. I had no idea what was expected of me. I simply felt like I was wandering into the known.
I had the vague impression that at CEF, I’d be helping people who are experiencing homelessness or poverty, but again, I had no idea as to how.
First day at CEF was the orientation. CEF rented a nice conference room at the American Tobacco Campus, and offered us a full-day “crash course” of CEF, which introduced CEF and its core programs, gave us detailed training on how to be a CEF advocate, and began planning some weekly projects.
I was a bit overwhelmed by all the information thrown to me, some of which I knew little of, such as the differences between banks and credit unions. As to the core programs, one of them would become the main part of our daily work- the “Member Advocates” program.
At the orientation, we were given some examples of what advocates do. In the past, advocates have helped members write a resume or a cover letter, apply for jobs, find housing, figure out future career path, deal with welfare programs, etc.
But after hearing all these examples, I was even more worried. I myself didn’t even know how to do some of those things. For example, if a member wants to attain a certain certificate, how should I distinguish among the dozens of ads of related training programs that would pop up at once on the Internet? How could I find the one that’s best for the member? I’ve never searched for housing in Durham, and so how could I find the best match for a member seeking help with housing? Thinking about all these, I was simply afraid that I wouldn’t have the extent of expertise that members tend to see in me as they walk into the office.
Now it’s been 6 weeks. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed working at CEF. Most of my worries proved to be unnecessary and it’s been a great experience of learning while helping members. It’s always been very rewarding to know that things that might’ve taken others much time and effort could now be done easily with my help. At non-profits like CEF, the accomplishments are always very real and tangible, in the sense that they could be seen directly.
CEF has also given me the chance to see issues I would’ve never thought about otherwise. I’ve been able to see the struggles people face, as well as how much they’re doing to improve their lives. It’s also been a great way to know Durham (outside Duke) in the most direct way.
Working at CEF, I’ve been given a lot of trust even on the first day of work. CEF is a great place where everyone feels useful and can actually contribute. I’ve been very lucky to co-work with a group of tightly knit and absolutely amazing people. CEF provides the friendliest environment to advocates as well as members, and I’ve received just as much help as I’ve been giving.
It’s crazy that my program here has come to an end and that I’m leaving this week. I’ll definitely miss everyone here!
Julius Alston has been working with CEF’s Chapel Hill office since February of this year, and is just weeks away from graduating Opportunity Class. Mike Wood teaches the Saturday class and connected Julius to literacy tutoring that he offers through Orange County Literacy Council (OCLC), helping Julius turn obstacle into opportunity. Please enjoy Julius’ poem, a tribute to Mike Wood and the work they are both doing through CEF and OCLC.
By: Julius Alston
Mr. Mike is a person
That some of you may know
But he’s not the same person
He was a long time ago
He’s looking towards the future now
And not his past
He now holds a pen
Instead of a glass
This I know and I’m the one to tell
Because he is the one that’s teaching me
To read, to write and to spell
He doesn’t brag about it
And he doesn’t boast
But the old Mike is history now
Little more than a ghost
When Mike get tired now
He can go to his home
Not like when he was at the shelter
Now he’s got a place of his own
So listen to Mr Mike now
And you can do it too
He’ll have you doing things
You never dreamed you could do
I got to go now
Back to Mr Mike’s class
Because I want to do more with my future
Than I did with my past
Jasper has a great deal to be proud of. “Today I have my own apartment, I have transportation, I have a job, I’m on the board for IFC… And I have a great job. I’m a cook for UNC.”
Jasper came to Chapel Hill in January 2014. Born and raised in Kinston, Jasper left his hometown to shake addiction. “I was about 14 when I started down that road of drugs and alcohol.” Now at the age of 55, he is feeling “grateful and blessed,” and clean and sober for over a year. He shares, “I just think that if I had kept going, I wouldn’t be on this earth right now.”
He joined CEF just a week after moving to town, and says, “I met my best friend, one of my best friends, his name is Sam.” Sam was paired with Jasper as his Advocate, and “Just hung in there with me from day one, we’re like glue… I always think about him, and say ‘How’s your mom?,’ and he says the same thing to me. He’s just like family to me now.”
“When we first started it was mainly job-hunting. We would put in applications for 4, 5, 6 jobs every time we met. My motivation was always to work in the kitchen. I just set my mind on getting a job at UNC. And fortunately it happened.”
Working with CEF, “Another one of the things I learned is how to save my money. When I put down the drugs and alcohol, I realized I needed to always have a nest egg. And CEF taught me that.” Just a couple of months after moving out of the shelter, Jasper was hit by a car on his scooter. The accident broke his foot and he was unable to work for over a month. Fortunately, Jasper had that “nest egg” he built through CEF and didn’t miss a single bill payment during his recuperation.
Above all, Jasper is most proud of his newly trusting relationship with his 91-year old mother. Jasper goes home often to visit his family, sharing “It’s fortunate that today they see a new me, a better me, an improved me. I am grateful that at that age, [my mom] gets to see me this way.”
What’s next for Jasper? “One day I want to own something, my own place, you know. It’s alright to rent, but this ain’t the final stop here. I want a yard, I want a dog.”