In 2018, CEF has lots of resolutions: To invest in people and their potential. To fight alongside our Members to reach their goals, and against systems that bring us down. To ensure hundreds of our Members maintain stable housing. To be a place that people can belong, no matter what. To build pathways beyond jobs, and into careers. To support Members all along the bumpy road to achieving financial dreams. To spread love and togetherness through creativity and presence. To imagine (and enact) a better community future into being. To stick together.
Archive | December, 2017
Dear CEF Family,
A CEF Member named David recently described his experience here by sharing, “At CEF, no dream is too silly. Any dreams you have, they will help you – and not stop!”
Looking back over this year, I’m in awe of the truth in David’s description. “CEF sticks with the person,” he says. This year, the stick-with-it nature of CEF Members and Advocates has been nothing short of transformative.
Donna has been working with the same 2 Advocates at CEF for 6 years. This year, she left her 3rd shift job at a gas station to move into a full-time position supporting women in recovery – one of her greatest passions. She has also been studying for years to get her GED, and before this year is out she is going to get it!
And 6 years after transitioning out of homelessness, Donna has diligently built her credit score up and saved thousands of dollars. Amazingly, she just might buy her own house in the coming year! “Sticking with it” for Donna means achieving life-long dreams.
Melissa is one of Donna’s Advocates. Motivated by her experience working alongside Donna toward these dreams, Melissa started a Masters in Social Work degree at UNC. Donna has been one of her biggest cheerleaders in turn. “Sticking with it” for Melissa means committing her career to this work.
CEF “sticks with it” in lots of ways. We seek solutions to ending homelessness that “stick,” by creating innovative and collaborative initiatives that really work. We advocate for system changes that “un-stick” our community from cycles of homelessness. And, we stick together, through sorrow and grief, and in joy and jubilation.
By donating to CEF, you are saying loud and clear to the Members we serve: We’ll stick with you. We’ll stick with you until you find a place to call home, and then until you buy a home of your own. “Any dreams you have,” we’ll stick with you. It’s an amazing gift to put your dollars straight into people’s dreams. Thank you for your incredible support.
Maggie West, Janet Xiao, and Jonathan Young
Make Your Gift Today!
Romeo, Romeo! Ms. Laverne adores her Romeo.
She showers him daily with belly rubs and bacon bits. “If you rub his belly, he’ll go to sleep,” Ms. Laverne intimates.
And Romeo has stuck with Ms. Laverne through thick and thin, including the two years when they were sleeping in her car, and in and out of hotels or friends’ homes. “Romeo would let me sleep, and when I woke up, he’d sleep. We would both watch out for each other.”
The day they first saw their new home, Romeo raced up and down the long hallway with barks of approval.
Romeo, Romeo! Ms. Laverne adores her Romeo
She showers him daily with belly rubs and bacon bits. “If you rub his belly, he’ll go to sleep,” Ms. Laverne intimates. And Romeo has stuck with Ms. Laverne through thick and thin, including the years when they were sleeping in her car, and in and out of hotels or friends’ homes. “Romeo would let me sleep, and when I woke up, he’d sleep. We would both watch out for each other.”
The day they first saw their new home, Romeo raced up and down the long hallway with barks of approval.
Ever since she moved into the new apartment this past June, Ms. Laverne has been relishing the daily things: “Opening the door is a blessing. Closing the door is a blessing. Laying in my bed is a blessing. Cooking. Decorating a house. It’s just a blessing not wondering where your next step is going to be.”
Even through homelessness, Ms. Laverne never stopped fighting for what is right for herself and others. She worked with CEF and her support networks to find her stable home! Photo collages of beloved family members adorn the walls of the living room and hallway, side-by-side with school photos of her children and grandchildren, their ribbons and certificates of achievement, baptismal certificates, Bible verses, and a poem written to her by her son. Her home is filled with the people she honors and loves, making space for memory and hope for loved ones who have passed on or are locked away.
Ms. Laverne’s favorite room is the bathroom. It’s large and luxurious-feeling, with a floral shower curtain and plush towels folded in neat stacks. “I came a long way from going around and taking bird baths.”
How Ms. Laverne Found Her Home
Ms. Laverne connected with CEF when she came to a public meeting of the Homeless Services Advisory Council in Durham to advocate for her needs as an individual experiencing homelessness — bearing witness to her own experience and the experiences of so many others, while making a prophetic call to action.
After 9 years of faithfully paying rent on time, Ms. Laverne had been evicted after a dispute with her landlord. For two whole years, Ms. Laverne and Romeo navigated homelessness together — finding food and safe places to sleep, taking “bird baths” in public restrooms, and struggling to find a healthy, non-abusive place to recover from back surgery in the midst of this experience.
“I’ve never been homeless before. This is my first time,” she shares. “I didn’t give up on myself. More people did me wrong, I kept pushing myself. More people lie on me, I kept defending myself. I’m not a bad person, I’m a good person. I live for God, and I like helping people.”
At that public meeting, CEF and Ms. Laverne connected and have stuck together ever since. She connected with staff at the Durham Housing Authority at that same meeting, and worked through the process to secure a permanently affordable apartment with DHA. With CEF, she connected to legal services and addressed credit issues that were preventing her from securing housing. She also got a job at Harris Teeter, where her co-workers have been a wonderful community of support. She gives a special shout-out to all of these groups, and Angela Holmes (Chair of the Homeless Services Advisory Council) for helping with her transition into housing.
About CEF, Ms. Laverne shares, “[CEF] made sure I was okay, and we started working on everything.”
“[CEF] don’t do the talk, they do the walk. And since I’ve been coming here, all I see is friendly faces glad to help you. [They] ask you, ‘What do you want?’ and take everything you say to the heart. And they love my dog.” (Indeed, Romeo charms the entire office when he comes in with Ms. Laverne.)
What’s Next for Ms. Laverne?
Ms. Laverne has new goals to share with CEF. “I’m going to take computer classes, to get a laptop, so that when I go to school I can have it… I want to get my GED.”
She hopes to eventually use it in support and advocacy of other people who are experiencing homelessness. Even while she slept in her car and struggled with issues of discrimination, Laverne never stopped fighting for what is right and helping others. “When I was homeless, I helped homeless people. I paid for a hotel room for a family. So, though I was down and out, I still helped, and I didn’t ask for nothing back in return. I just told them, ‘Do it for the next person.’”
Ms. Laverne dreams of managing her own shelter one day. “I wish I had money to build a place. This would be my shelter: a lot of flowers. A lot of love. Respect. Trust. And a church inside my shelter.” In a way, she has already built this sanctuary space inside her home.
Why do you feel connecting with people is so important?
I agree with Dorothy Day who said, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes in community.” I keep learning over and over that I need connection with others. True relationships where we risk being ourselves and seeing another person or the beautiful mess they are is the only way any of us can thrive in a world that increasingly seeks to divide us.
What inspires you?
The amazing resiliency and willingness to risk that I see every day at CEF inspires me every day. Whether it is a Members risking trusting an Advocate to help them navigate complicated situations, or an Advocate risking looking silly by doing something that they have never done before to accomplish a Member’s goal. I am always amazed by the vulnerability that is embraced at every level of this organization. And if something doesn’t work the first time no one gives up they just get creative and try something new.
Tell us about your background
I was born and raised in Detroit. I spent my undergrad years in Indiana and then moved to Seattle for four years. I moved to Durham in 2013 to start my Masters of Divinity at Duke, which I finished in 2016. I have a diverse background in terms of employment. I have done project management for a small technology company, churches, and relationship driven nonprofits.
What do you think will be your greatest challenge?
Honestly, learning the intricacies of our financial system has been a whole lot more challenging than I expected. I didn’t think I was an expert when I started but I thought I understood our financial system a lot better than I actually did. Every time I learn something new it I’m amazed at how well members are navigating a really opaque system.
What projects are you excited about right now?
I’m really excited to help make our internal system better so that our Advocates and Members have more resources at their disposal! It’s a bit of a learning curve for me but I’m really excited to work with our Resources and Financial Coaching team to make our resources more useful!!
“Six months ago, I was a person that lived in the trees. When (Hurricane) Matthew was running, and you were home safe, I was in the trees. Thinking about if they fell on me, would anyone find me? I was in the trees. I was in the trees because I could no longer afford housing in this city that I had lived for 6 years. I had an income. I was homeless, but not hopeless. I only wanted to trade trees for keys.”
“Six months ago, I was a person that lived in the trees. When [Hurricane] Matthew was running, and you were home safe, I was in the trees. Thinking about if they fell on me, would anyone find me? I was in the trees. I was in the trees because I could no longer afford housing in this city that I had lived for 6 years. I had an income. I was homeless, but not hopeless. I only wanted to trade trees for keys.”
Now, from her new, affordable apartment, Chinita is still surrounded by the trees, but she has keys. She remarks in bursts of joy to see the chipmunks scurry past her window, to see nature as her neighbor, but not her shelter.
Chinita grew up in Greensboro, and received degrees in Journalism and Education from NC A&T University. She built a career based on service and a love of people, working as a teacher and as a Hospice caregiver, and even for several years as a publicist and media sales.
In 2010 Chinita relocated to Chapel Hill to be closer to her doctors, and shares, “I had been living in the same place since I came to Chapel Hill — for six years. It wasn’t the best place, but it was home, it was comfortable, it was safe.” Each year, Chinita says, “I would go through the annual time to renew your lease and it’s nothing abnormal, normally it’s anywhere from $20 – $25 more but nothing shocking. Last year was shocking.”
Last year, her rent went up from $680 per month to $2,110 at her lease renewal. More than triple. This was more than she could possibly afford, and forced her to seek new housing with short notice. She moved into her housing of last resort: her Jeep.
“In this city, I found trees that would cover me, that would protect me, so that I could be close to my doctor.” The social worker at her doctor’s office actually first referred her to CEF.
Chinita describes using a fan plugged into her car lighter as her source of cooling down in 100 degree summer weather. She describes meeting the “golden warriors” of the Meals on Wheels team that delivered her daily meal to her in a parking lot. And she describes coming to CEF each week during the two months of her homelessness to find the resources to move back into a safe home.
About her work with CEF Advocates, Chinita shares “Every element that I’ve needed them to assist me – glasses, legal services, housing, food…I think they look at the whole person, and their whole needs, and if they don’t have an answer, they have a wealth of resources.”
“When you go to other services you feel like you’re given a band-aid. But the difference is with CEF it’s more of a healing process.”
For Chinita, this meant staying connected to CEF while finding an apartment she could afford, and eventually signing a lease with a senior housing community where she can sustain her housing for the long-term.
“I appreciate you being here at my lowest point, but I’m more appreciative of helping me find the resources that I can hold my head up again, and hope again. I don’t think there’s anything more grateful than feeling like you’ve got someone’s hand that’s holding you through the storm, and that’s what CEF has been for me… They have been the anchor in my life.”
To listen to Chinita speak is to listen to the voice of a poet, whose first love and first refuge was found in words – the world of words a place of connection and relief ever since she was a young girl. To listen to Chinita speak is to hear the “caged bird” sing, to quote a sentiment she references often, as you hear in her lyricism and in her powerful voice the influences of Dr. Maya Angelou (or “Mother Maya,” as Chinita lovingly calls her).
And Chinita is sharing the gifts of her inspirational speaking and her love of stories with the CEF community. Chinita now volunteers to lead CEF’s new member orientation sessions every week, to help others gain the financial stability she has found and to be the first person to welcome people into the community she loves. She shares, that for her, “The faith is restored, the hope is restored, the homes are obtained, the jobs are obtained, the glasses are obtained. I feel better about me. About life. I feel so great about it that I want to tell everybody about it. And I enjoy being orientation coordinator working with our new members in orientation, because they get to see Chinita over and over again. And I get to see individuals who come and they look like there’s no hope, but I get to tell them that there is.”
Chinita encourages you to join her in supporting and being a part of CEF. “When you can be with an organization that pulls out dreams that you’ve never even considered, that’s priceless.”
“It’s tax deductible, but it’s priceless too. I think that all of our givers should know that giving to CEF is not just putting band-aids… I want to say my spine and my neck is up higher, and I feel more confident and my faith is restored, and not only can I make it, but I can be a hand for someone else.”
Dear generous and brilliant advocates,
If we haven’t met yet, I am Grace, the Special Initiatives Coordinator in the Durham Office. 🙂
I am writing to invite y’all to intern at CEF this summer. 🏖
In addition to 10-15 hours of office hours, you would take on a ✨special project✨ to help us effectively and sustainably improve our work in the Durham community. You can read more about these ideas in the application below. (If you have your own idea that we haven’t thought of, there will be a section in the internship application to pitch it to us!)
Some of you might be thinking, “Oh, but I already work with CEF during the school year. What more can I learn from working at the same organization?”
As someone who has worked at CEF for two summers, I am delighted to answer. Here are just a few of the benefits unique to intensive engagement with CEF:
- Stronger relationships with CEF members from the availability to see members more regularly → more successes and stories!
- Unique nonprofit shadowing experience– CEF’s model of shared decision-making and power is quite different from other, hierarchical non-profits. (Can you find another non-profit with a co-director model?) CEF is also explicitly committed to racial and economic justice.
- Explore Durham! Durham is more than just Duke and the community members that we meet in office hours. For me, Durham is also spicy hot chocolate at Cocoa Cinnamon Lakewood and a ~~ free ~~ bike earned at the Durham Bike Co-Op. Complicate your understanding of Durham to advocate better.
- Concentrated practice in trauma-informed care and advocacy- To talk the talk, you need to walk the walk…a lot. Practice makes perfect!
Ready to leap into Summer @ CEF?
For returning CEF advocates, this application is due February 1 and for CEF advocates enrolled in the Spring 2019 House Course, this application is due February 8.
If you have any questions about the application process or my summer experience, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.