Archive | December, 2016

CEF Member: Mark

“I’ve been cutting hair for about 30 years now, since I was 19 years old.” Mark is skilled in his trade and has been working consistently, but nonetheless found himself facing homelessness after he had to move out of his previous apartment and without enough savings. Mark shares, “I didn’t have any way to save my money because I couldn’t open a bank account… because when you have an account and you close it out and you still owe money to the bank, it’s pretty hard to get an account.”

Mark did not have a bank account for over seven years. Self-employed as a barber, saving without an account was incredibly difficult. Now, with his CEF matched savings account, Mark faithfully makes deposits every week. Mark shares, “I’ve been there in the shelter now for about 4 months and I’ve managed to save my money. And I’m looking for a place now and my money is right, so I’m shooting for January to start the new year right in my own place.”

Mark not only built savings to move out of the shelter immediately, but also built a real habit of savings. “I make my deposits every Wednesday. On my job we pay booth rent. We pay booth rent on Fridays, and I come here on Wednesdays and I make my deposit, usually $200-$260, and I try to hold on to at least $150 to pay my booth rent on Friday. So once I pay my booth rent on Friday then I can start saving Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday to make my deposit on Wednesday.” Perhaps the best part about this habit is that Mark also always squeezes in time to go fishing – one of his absolute favorite pastimes – right around his Wednesday meeting with his Advocate.

He is a huge proponent of the CEF savings accounts. “Where else can you save money, and they give you 10% of your savings after you meet your goal, and the only requirement for the goal is to educate yourself on how to be independent and take care of your bills and stuff of that nature. It’s phenomenal.”

Mark not only surpassed all of his savings goals so far, but also improved his credit and achieved a broad range of goals. His Advocate Kevin reflects on learning from Mark’s astounding progress, sharing, “We’re doing the financial coaching sessions together, and he actually was the first member that I’ve worked with about checking credit. And I realized that I should really know more about my own credit if I’m going to be working with him on his. I started checking my credit at the same time and we have been able to talk each month when it comes out and it changes and working on improving it together, and the same with saving as well. It’s been cool to be able to apply the financial coaching together with my own life, and really kind of share what we learn as we are doing it together.


Mark has a dream of completing his Associate Degree in counseling, and already has 49 credit hours towards this goal. “I’m just trying to finish that for my mother. She’s passed but she liked the idea of me getting an education… It would be something really special for me to have an Associate’s after coming from my past.” He and Kevin took the first steps towards this career goal by exploring transferring credits to a local college and by saving successfully for a laptop computer, which enables him to upgrade his computer skills as he prepares to go back to college.

While Mark prepares to move into his own place soon and to take the next steps in his career, Kevin and the whole CEF team are glad to be at his side.  After all his work, Mark says that CEF has “given me the confidence to know that I can save money… And the services they’ve provided have been helpful, not just to get housing but also… to not find myself in this situation again.”


Wisdom Overheard: SOWO 490

Quotes from Advocates and Members at the final SOWO 490 – Tools for Financial Coaching class at UNC.


“There is this sort of magic and common-ground found when people start to talk about the people they love.”

“I had a stumble in my life, but I’m back now, I’m all the way back. I just thank God that there is a CEF as a whole, and for getting me to open up about my life because I’m normally guarded, even with the positive stuff. Basically, this is thanksgiving after Thanksgiving. I’m in a good place now.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about how… no decision you make or thing you do is going to guarantee you any outcome.”

“This is my baby, the attributes that she has, all the suggestions… she does a lot of homework for me, but I do work with her. I look forward to our weekly meetings, she knows what I’m going to talk about next week. I like her analytical mind and frame of thought, she looks at me as an individual and I look forward to seeing her prosper!”

“I was reminded that everyone has a story and everyone has been through different experiences and learned through them.”

“No two people are alike — we all have challenges we have obstacles we have strengths — and I think all of us would agree that we would not know where we would be without CEF — true, we all fall down, but we have someone who can assist us. We are all grateful and thankful.”

“Young people have in their mind, that things can happen; but you need to have a plan B, C, D, E… go all the way to Z, because anything can happen.”

“No matter what level of what it may be, it’s how you come back from it that matters”

“We take everything for granted that it’s going to be the same way the next day, but you could have a stroke while you’re sleeping and everything will change for you. But learn to be yourself and to love yourself. I used to work hard and have 3 jobs working all the time, but then a little simple thing like riding a bus took my job away. And then I got sick and I had to juggle it, do you want the medicine, or your food, or the lights? But I’m a proud individual today because I love myself, even though I’m not able to talk 100% the way I want to, I’m able to stand in the middle in the storm because I made it!”


Member Story: Lindsey

Meet Lindsey

Lindsey is instinctively hospitable and welcoming, but if you really want to get her talking, just ask about her son. “That, I could talk to you about for hours! ” Josh has played the saxophone since he was 6 years old and “got a scholarship for music at the University of South Carolina. He’s amazing, he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met, and of course I’m a little biased, but not much.”

Right before Thanksgiving, Lindsey moved into her own apartment after staying in transitional housing for nine months.

For as long as she can remember, Lindsey has identified as “Josh’s mom.” Now an empty-nester, she is glad to actually have her own nest in order to continue to form her future as her son continues to build his own.


Working with CEF

Lindsey connected with CEF while she was living in the Dove House, a transitional housing program run by Housing for New Hope in Durham. She was living with her parents prior to the Dove House, but when her parents moved into assisted living to support her aging mother’s dementia their family home was in foreclosure. For the first time in her life, she found herself facing homelessness.

While at the Dove House, Lindsey worked with her CEF Advocates to accomplish a whole list of goals. “Literally everything that I could have wanted, they figured out a way for me to do it. I don’t know of any other organization that could probably claim that.” Lindsey detailed a quick list:

  • Making resumes and submitting job applications. “We went from having no prospects of employment to 3 at one time!”

  • Expunging a dismissed felony charge from her record through connections to legal assistance, which enabled her to get the apartment where she now lives and opening up additional employment opportunities in the future

  • Saving successfully to attend her son’s graduation and to move into housing. “Working with CEF has actually gotten me to build up a savings account so when I did move out, I had the money to do it.”

  • Finding housing by searching all around the city and ultimately finding a great one-bedroom near her work, and getting furniture for her new home through community resources

And more! “These are resources that I didn’t even know were out there, but thanks to CEF I was really fortunate to be able to pull things together… And as a result, I have everything I need.”  

lindseytuttle-jby16-11Saving Early and Often

Lindsey is a big fan of the CEF matched savings account. Lindsey works as a waitress, and shares that “I come home with tip money, and it’s a good and a bad thing, because you’ve got your money right on you if you need it, but it makes it that much easier to go through it .” Yet she is a steadfast saver, quickly reaching her first goals with CEF!

Her advice for other CEF members? “Yes. Save. That’s all I can tell you, even if you think you just might take out a little just to order a pizza. That adds up.” Lindsey’s first savings goals helped her to decorate her house to really make it a home, hanging photos to “remind me of the support network that I have, and that whenever I get flustered I’m not alone, that I have people I could reach out to.”

And she is still saving even after her move! “My savings goals are to make sure that I can live day to day, and cover what my power bill is going to be and what my water bill is going to be so I can estimate and budget for that amount. But short-term I’m saving for Time Warner which will be $150, and I’ve got about $125.”

Goals and Confidence

We are delighted to see Lindsey in her own home, but we are even more thankful to hear her talk about the self-confidence she built while working with her advocates. “Your confidence gets eroded over an amount of time, especially if a lot of bad things continually happen… I became more confident!”

Janet and Yuliya work with Lindsey as her CEF Advocates, and shared what a delight it continues to be. The team would set up on the couch in the living room of the Dove House with their laptop to work with Lindsey through all the steps of her proactive plan during each weekly meeting. Yuliya, a senior at Duke, reflected, “We just learned to break it down into smaller goals because those are much more manageable and easier to accomplish, and that kind of helps build confidence. Because once you reach the first goal, you’re like, okay, that was doable, and I can reach the next step and the next step.”

The whole CEF community shares Lindsey’s joy in gaining a job, securing housing, and building savings, and given how much progress this trio made together in under a year, we know Lindsey is only just beginning to build her future with CEF!



Why We’re Founders

From Joe Sircar (UNC ‘12),  Quinn Holmquist (Duke ’16), and Anne Yeung (Duke ’14)

We are writing to those of you who have volunteered with CEF and who may want stay connected—whether you are still in the area or afar. As a volunteer during CEF’s first 7 years, you are a huge part of founding CEF and making it possible, and you’re invited to join the Founders Circle.

We’re a group of CEF old hands who make a small gift of $10 (or $15 or $20) that is automatically drafted each month as a way to sustain and stay connected to CEF and order to help support CEF’s work and sustain its impact in the Chapel Hill and Durham communities. Since we left and now face new challenges in new cities and new communities—CEF has been frequently on our minds.

Joe: One of the things that memorializes my time there is the quote “we are all recovering from something.” CEF is a real community that continues to grow and learn together – and the real impact that the relationships that are forged in CEF continues to make is incredible. I’m sure many of you all would say the same.

Anne: I remember the shared stories, laughs, and meals at Dove House and with Ricky; being invited to try to understand poverty through a human lens; and the opportunity to shape and build a growing organization

Quinn: I’ll always cherish the long car talks on the way office hours, hugs at the Genesis Home, and Wannamaker Common Room 04 (the site of CEF’s house course, which just wrapped up its fifth semester).

Whatever it is that you find beautiful in CEF, we would like to invite you to continue to be a part of that by joining us in the CEF’s Founders’ Circle. You’ll receive a CEF mug specially crafted for Founders’ Circle members Just click here, enter your info, and start giving!  

CEF continues to attract more volunteers, gain more members, add and optimize programs, and make new partnerships. CEF is now serving over 1,000 members in Chapel Hill and Durham, with over 200 active savings accounts, and this year they supported 104 members to secure housing and 155 members to gain employment. In its 7 years of existence, we believe CEF has flourished and exceeded expectations. Let’s stay connected and help them grow.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Joe Sircar (UNC ‘12),  Quinn Holmquist (Duke ’16), and  Anne Yeung (Duke ’14)

Founders Circle - Anne Quinn Joe

P.S Wondering what’s changed since you graduated?  Well, at our core, we’re still the same we think – grounded in the unique relationships between our student Advocates and our Members, and anchored by these consistent Guiding Principles. You can check out these recent Member Stories to see for yourself just how much we’re still the same full-hearted CEF.

In Durham:

Here is a glimpse from then (2012), to now…

  • Then, we visited 3 partner sites and worked with 64 members. Now we work with 350 members in close partnership with 10+ housing and employment organizations, and our very own office, located squarely between Duke and downtown Durham.
  • Then our entire advocate team could squeeze into Janet’s car. Now we have 102 advocates in 10 teams, bussing, walking, and carpooling together to sites throughout Durham.
  • Then we had 0 full-time staff. Then we had half-a-staff. Now we have three dedicated staff people.
  • Then we took appointments and set appointment agendas the day-of. Now, Members schedule meeting in advance, receive systematized appointment reminders, and establish long-term goals alongside to-do lists for each meeting!
  • In 2012, all CEF members saved an impressive $53,091. Last year, they saved a staggering $195,881, and we’ve used behavioral economic best practices to continuously improve the accounts!
  • Then, we were filled with big questions about growth and sustainability. Now, CEF’s work has grown roots and deep partnerships in Durham, charted out in a 3-year Strategic Plan, and featured in national case studies as a model for integrating financial capability into social services.

Thanks to you, CEF has gone from then to now.

In Chapel Hill:

Here are some fun snapshots of how we have changed…

  • We started an Advocacy Choir to sing for change in affordable housing in Orange County!
  • You might be such a golden-oldies Advocate that you remember when we didn’t even have an office, or when our office was basically just that one table at 133 ½. Now, we have a 2,000 square foot space co-locating services with partner organizations in downtown Chapel Hill!
  • Maybe you remember when our Resource Database was a big Google Spreadsheet. Or maybe you remember when it was in a manila folder in the Campus Y! Now, it is a county-wide, web-based, public, and very fancy tool.
  • Perhaps you were here when we offered micro-loans, and a matched savings program was just a glimmer in the eye of some of the first CEF Members (Borrowers at the time!). Now our matched savings accounts have supported hundreds of members to save successfully for their goals, and we’re using best practices to improve the accounts every year! And what’s super exciting? The first 3 CEF Members just used their CEF savings accounts to buy their own homes.
  • Possibly the Advocate training you participated in was just a one-day thing. Now, training is a semester-long process packed with content and shadowing opportunities, with our Financial Coaching Fellows training now a course for academic credit at the UNC School of Social Work. What!?
  • And maybe you were here when all of this was really just an idea, or barely becoming a real thing. Now, CEF has been featured in national case studies as a model for integrating financial capability services into social services.

Thanks to you, CEF has grown in so many ways.

It’s so fun to reflect on just how much has happened and how far we have come! In part because it helps us imagine just how much is still possible! To keep building towards better, we need your support

P.S. We would love to hear from you! What are some of your favorite or most distinct memories of your time at CEF? What do you remember about your time as an Advocate? What experience still makes you laugh when you think about it, or still breaks your heart? What are you up to nowadays? It would be awesome to stay in touch – please comment below and share or email us at!


Maggie West, Citizen of the Year


CEF co-founder and Co-director Maggie West was honored last Thursday night with the Citizen of the Year award by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce! We are so proud and thankful to be inspired by her example each and every day!


Citizen of the Year: Maggie West, Community Empowerment Fund 

Maggie West helped start Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) in 2009 for a more engaged and sustainable way to help the homeless, which is now a life-changing organization that includes a co-working space to generate additional income. She is always positive and always willing to take a risk to try new things. Ms. West routinely utilizes connections with energetic UNC students, and received the 2015 APPLES’ Community Partner Excellence Award for her service as board chair with Farmer Foodshare, an organization that provides fresh, local food to food insecure individuals while building healthy community food systems and create jobs. She empowers UNC students to become the new social justice leaders, both during their time as CEF advocates and once they have graduated from the university. Ms. West is creative in her advocacy, and is known for her volunteerism in a multitude of organizations, including Highlander Research and Education Center, Project Connect, and Point-In-Time Count. For her daily pursuit of social equity and her uplifting leadership, we are proud to honor Maggie West with the 2016 Citizen of the Year Award.


Julius’ Poems

Julius Reads

Read more about Julius and the story of him and his brother Michael moving out of the shelter and working with CEF here!

Movin On Up: A Tale of Two Brothers

By: Julius (Foot) Alston

We stayed at the shelter, bout a year and a half
Mike and I both, knew that couldn’t last

We went to CEF, for some help,
Couldn’t a did it by ourself

They found us a house, that we could move in
Thanks to CEF and some of their friends

So what’s it like now, you might ask
We’re building a life here, up to us to make it last
We can watch TV, whenever we please
Cook whatever food, we feel like we need
We can shower now, whenever we want
It ain’t nobody to say; “no you don’t”
I tell you it’s nice, and all of that
But we do have them bills, that got to be met

We thank CEF, for our Safe Savings Account
And thank God every day, for making it turn out THIS WAY

To the Angels

By: Julius (Foot) Alston

Leah and Steve. Helped me to find the house we need.
Now all I need is a couple of friends,
To help me get some furniture to move in.

Chris told me, to ask Stephani,
Stephanie had a friend named James
Who helped with a lot of things

Miss Lisa say that she would pitch in
I call them angels, but she call them friends

Stuff started coming from everywhere,
I didn’t know so many people care.

I feel like a little boy, on Christmas with a brand new toy

If this is a story, you all played your part,
Because you are all angels in my heart.

That had to be Santa Claus who came down
From Greensboro and haul it all around
I ask him could I pay, he just shook my hand and say,
Let’s do this again another day.
But not so soon

All you people that I didn’t mention your name,
My love goes out to you just the same.

Mr. Mike

By: Julius (Foot) 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


Mike and Julius Alston

Meet the dream team! Julius and Mike Alston are brothers who for the first time in their lives have their very own home.

The Alston brothers are a beloved duo, Julius as the honorary Poet Laureate of CEF and Mike as a reliable friend and jokester. Both connected with CEF Advocates while living in the shelter. “Now we all got started from IFC. They fed us, they clothed us, they sheltered us. It all got started from there. But if you go there, you’re going to CEF, they’re going to tell you that,” says Julius.

Both Mike and Julius got involved in CEF within two weeks of the time they each moved into the shelter, jumping feet first into all of our programs. Since joining CEF, Mike has attended 80 sessions of our Opportunity Classes and Julius has attended 64, earning the coveted accolade as “Alumni Ambassadors” for their over-the-top attendance and achievements through the class (only 8 classes are required for graduation!). Meanwhile, Mike and Julius have both met with Advocates over 200 times each! And wow, has their engagement ever paid off…

Before joining CEF Mike was unemployed for about 5 years after a layoff shortly into the Great Recession. He and his two Advocates, Matt and Hannah, submitted dozens of resumes and applications. Mike is dependable, easy-going, and kind, and was overwhelmingly perseverant throughout his job search. When Hannah spotted a new restaurant opening in Carrboro with a “Now Hiring” sign, she alerted Mike and he and Matt filled out the application immediately. Mike says, “I was the first one there when they first opened.” He got a full-time position in the new, growing restaurant! Still doing well there almost a year later, Mike shares, “CEF did a lot for me, because if it hadn’t been for CEF I wouldn’t have that job up there.”

mikejuliusalston-jby16-9Meanwhile, Julius is the older brother of the two, and retired a couple of years ago. He worked with his Advocates, Steven and Leah, to search for affordable housing. When the Housing Choice Voucher waiting list opened up for just 3 days in Orange County, Julius submitted an application, and several months later he was actually selected for a voucher! His Advocates helped him to pull together all of the necessary paperwork to receive the voucher alongside Rapid Rehousing assistance for his security deposit. Since Julius and Mike wanted to live together as well, the team worked to add Mike officially to Julius’ voucher.

Then the search really began for a landlord willing to accept their housing voucher. Advocates assisted Julius and Mike in applying for rentals that would keep Mike within bus or walking distance from his job. Over and over, this amazing duo was turned down simply because so many landlords in our community do not accept housing vouchers. Ultimately however, this whole team coordinated with several partners to find a stable home for the brothers. The Jackson Center and Self-Help Credit Union had recently acquired a duplex through all of their efforts with the Northside Neighborhood Initiative, perfectly located for Mike’s job, and were thrilled to rent to the Alston brothers.

In their new home together, Julius cooks every day since Mike works most days. Last we heard, what was on the menu? “Beef roast and creamed potatoes and pinto beans last night, tonight I’ll probably cook chicken and a pinto bean salad. Every morning we have bacon and eggs, or sausage and eggs.” Julius and Mike are definitely making their house a home. Julius even wrote a poem about their move out of the shelter into their home. Read it here!

Both brothers continue to set and reach goals. Julius saved throughout his time at the shelter to prepare to move into housing and continues to reach his monthly savings goal with CEF even now that he has bills to manage. Julius has achieved 5 ambitious savings goals with his CEF Account! And since getting his job, Mike has made a deposit into his CEF Safe Savings Account literally every week — sometimes twice a week! Their advocates are working with them on their next big goals, including better health, getting a scooter, building credit, getting a GED for Mike and getting a part-time job for Julius. Given their success so far, we’re sure they’ll reach these next goals just the same!

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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