Author Archive | cefleadership


                                                                                                        CEF FID

                                                                             –  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!


Six Weeks at CEF



                                                                                           – By CEF Advocates Yasmine Miao & Emma Caudle  

By: 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!





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.



An Interview with Shawn

cef photoBy Jill McMahon

As an intern at CEF this summer, the highlight of my weeks was coming to Sunday’s Opportunity Class. CEF’s Sunday Opportunity Class is specifically for women at HomeStart shelter in Chapel Hill. In the hands of class facilitators Shawn and Alex, Sunday’s class is a warm, safe, and treasured space for us to come together and share our stories.


Shawn, a Philadelphia native, has just surpassed her one-year anniversary with working at CEF. Shawn’s journey to Chapel Hill began in 2012. After getting laid off from a job, Shawn was looking for a new start. After an extensive search of different cities up and down the East Coast, Shawn landed in Raleigh, NC. Shawn got connected with CEF when she stayed briefly at HomeStart. Shawn started to attend Opportunity Class and worked with Alex on resumes and job searches. After a month at HomeStart, Shawn landed a job at DSS and eventually, earned her job as an administrative support associate at UNC, where she works today.


Shawn’s positive energy and welcoming demeanor sets the tone for the inspiration and interaction we have at Opportunity Class. When I asked Shawn what CEF means to her, she responded that CEF has changed her perception of how she views the world. She feels that CEF truly cares about people and it reinforces her belief that we are all connected. No matter what our situation is, Shawn says “it does not define who we are.”


Shawn’s favorite aspect of opportunity class is the overall support and encouragement we all receive from attending. Shawn said, “we share things without judgment and everyone’s opinions are valid.” Shawn believes the topics we talk about in class are essential experiences. The shared connection we get from each other in that space provides an environment for growth. Getting to know Shawn and the other women from class this summer has been a great privilege. At CEF, change is facilitated through relationships. Shawn exemplifies the work of CEF through her passion for others. Shawn said, “Being able to work at CEF makes me feel good. The hardships we face are just something that we pass through on our journey in life. We all want each other to succeed.”



Member Spotlight: Jasper

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 5.51.08 PMBy Sam Rains

Nine months ago, I met Jasper Washington for the first time. He was living at the IFC Homeless Shelter and trying to get a job. For four months, Jasper, Michael Caragher and I applied to any job we found online. In the midst of this time, it seemed that there would be no fruit for our labors and it became very frustrating for me.

However, Jasper was so calm one would have no idea that he did not have a job. As a college student who hears that a job leads to a career, which leads to happiness, or lack thereof, Jasper’s demeanor provided the other side of reality. My original plans rarely work the way I design them to, and I think that may be an indication of how the rest of my life will work. Seeing my guy, Jasper, come in every week with the same get-after-it mentality that is quick, but not rushed, gave me a glimpse on how to handle pressure.

Fortunately, the story does not end at stress-management techniques. Two months after school ended, I got a call from Jasper. He called to tell me he had TWO jobs. It made my week. Looking back on those six months, it doesn’t surprise me that he has moved into an apartment. His calmness derived from a confidence that everything would work itself out and that the process of getting something is more valuable than attaining one’s goals.

The most exciting part of this story, though, is the fact that I do not know anything regarding Jasper’s savings. I never helped him deposit money or set up an account. I did not know that he had an account or that he was putting money into it. He was so focused on getting to his goal that he did not need me to get him there. The lessons he learned about savings and being smart with one’s money were applied immediately. Jasper took what he had and ran with it, and has an apartment, along with a plethora of options for his future that will come sooner, rather than later.

Get to know him sometime, he cooks food in Lenoir and has to take breaks. There are numerous resources to learn from at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Jasper is one that will prove very beneficial to me after I graduate.


Staff Reflection: A Year at CEF

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By: Sarah Cohn

The thing about working with CEF is it’s not a job. It’s not even a great job, nor is it the best job. It’s something entirely different. Working with CEF is being part of a community every day, for about eight hours (give or take some), while also doing your job. From my very first day at CEF to my last, I felt a stronger sense of community than I’ve ever felt before. Maybe it’s sharing a common dream of what all people should have, or perhaps it’s simply caring to get to know one another. All I know is there is something unique that bonds everyone in this community – advocates, members, and staff alike – with a unifying strength I hadn’t known before. (Maybe this is the “special sauce” I hear reference to at CEF board meetings…) And only in reflection have I been able to realize that above all else, above the professional skills I gained, the challenges and resulting growing experiences I had, and even above the projects I accomplished, working with CEF has given me the opportunity to know what community feels like.

I got my first taste of the CEF community the summer after my sophomore year at UNC, when I began volunteering with CEF Latin@’s small business classes. A semester later, I joined the CEF admin team as a CEF Latin@ co-coordinator, and my involvement only grew from there.  As a part of leadership, I started spending more time working with members in the office, and the more time I spent there, the more I wanted to spend. Then, during one of the many moments in the Spring of my senior year that my mind spent wrestling with what I was going to do after graduation, it became suddenly clear to me that I was not ready to leave CEF. Applying to work full-time with an organization I wanted to spend all my time with anyway seemed so right, despite my resolve to leave the town I’d grown up in. More than a year later, I can’t imagine having done anything else.

If you ask me about the job I had for the past year, the first thing that comes to mind is not a literary descriptor, but a feeling. It is a literal, physical feeling in the chest and just a hint of a feeling behind the eyes, though I may not let the latter expose itself if I can help it. And if I have to put into words what that feeling embodies, I think – I’m pretty sure – that it’s the feeling of community. So, in reflection of my past year, I feel it is only appropriate to share what the community of working with CEF feels like.

To me, community feels like knowing everyone in the room and wanting so genuinely that it’s almost overwhelming to hear about all of their most recent triumphs and struggles. It feels like wishing you could slow down time amidst the buzz of productivity to fully celebrate with someone who just signed a lease on an apartment, or to listen and talk with someone who just learned of losing their job.

Community sometimes occupies a physical space in your body, or at least it feels that way when you can sense that the woman you’ve been meeting with every week is finally starting to believe in herself, and when after she moves away you receive a message from her just to thank you for standing by her, you are suddenly made aware that the phrase “heart swell” is not just poetic.

Community feels like an unstoppable smile taking control of your cheeks when you learn of happy news for a fellow community member. And when you subsequently realize that the most joyous moments of your day, as well as the lowest ones, are now most often vicarious, you can be sure that sense of community has something to do with it.

Community also feels secure in having the strongest network of support should you need it, and the mere thought of not being a part of that network feels scary.

Technically, we’re all a part of many communities: our city or town, our neighborhood, maybe our school or family or house or team. And while these communities are important, the one I’m talking about is not concretely defined by a geographic line or even a genetic bond. I think a true community is one that is borne out of love, gratitude, and appreciation for the commonalities of all of our experiences. (In CEF-speak: It really is all about the relationships.) A true community expresses itself in every-day feelings—feelings that build and go on to change the entirety of your expectations. I didn’t know the feeling of a true community until I worked with CEF, and I’m so incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity. Knowing this feeling, I don’t think I can go back. Thankfully, I don’t have to, because community also feels like something that will never leave you behind, no matter where your next “job” takes you.


CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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