– 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!