Author Archive | cefleadership

Advocate Spotlight: Brianne

We got a chance to talk to one of the latest members of the CEF family, Brianne Marino. Bri is a newly trained Advocate that has begun diving into all things CEF related!

When did you get involved?  How did you get involved?

I got involved in the beginning of this year. I heard about it through Grace Harvey who’s working with CEF right now and how it’s one of the best things that she’s gotten involved with so far. I heard about it at the Campus Y Open House and decided to try it out!

What made you want to actually get involved in the first place?

I was working with another student group last year that was helping out with people who already had jobs that were having a hard time with that and I was enjoying my work with that group. So I thought that CEF was like that except approaching from different stages, further back or different areas that people needed help and it interested me.

What’s the most important lesson you think you’ve learned from working with CEF?

People who come here seem so kind and so willing to work with someone who doesn’t have any experience. And I know I don’t have any experience, so it’s just great that everyone we work with are so patient and that everyone around is willing to help you help them sort things out.

What skills do you think you’ve developed by working with CEF?

I’ve been doing some research on my own and I’ve been doing the financial teaching fellows thing with Maggie and with that, I’ve learned a ton. I’m learning how to build good budgets and how to save– I haven’t had much experience. I’m learning things with like direct deposits and other really cool things. I’d say I’ve learned a lot myself and happy that I can help other people with that knowledge.

Is there a skill or knowledge of a concept that you want to develop through CEF that you haven’t already?

I would say a lot of the financial stuff- navigate the building system, developing a budget system myself, and good credit and things like that. I just want to use that to help other people at CEF. I just want to feel like I know what I’m talking about so I can help people more confidently.

Are there any future aspirations that CEF could help you achieve?

I’m actually thinking about possibly going to get my Masters in Public Administration or Law School or something like that. But I’ve always been interested in interacting with people or the human side of thing sso I might be interested in working with an organization like CEF in the future… good practice for that

If you ran CEF and could change one thing, what would it be?

I think it would be cool to have Members to come to the general body meetings. I know it’s difficult and it might not be as effective, but it would be pretty cool.

What’s the funniest, craziest thing that’s ever happened to you in the office?

When Amanda telling me I was in the cool club because I could name the Bruno Mars songs that she wanted me to. And I just like the fact that I feel like I’m sort of gaining people’s trust as I’m coming in more. It’s crazy and funny at the same time.

What’s your favorite memory in CEF thus far?

So far I’m actually really excited because I think I’m going to start working with Norman today, but I haven’t been able to do anything with that yet. I was working for a few weeks with a woman who hasn’t come back in since then. She was sort-of having a bit of a hard time with a whole bunch of random things. So she was pregnant and was asking for advice and help on how to take care of her baby for the holidays, which was when the baby was due, and she asking about finding housing and a job. She was just such a sweet person and actually the same age as me, which was shocking at the same time. I’m hoping the reason she hasn’t come back is because everything is okay. She was just so kind to me even though I didn’t even know what I was doing. It was just nice. I liked working with her for the bit of time that I did. And I’m sure it will be the same with Norman.

What’s your least favorite moment in CEF?

I guess the feeling that I don’t know what I’m doing. But like I said, with the classes and everything, it’s getting better. The feeling came more at the beginning of my time here.

I heard that you wanted to become more active in the Latino sector of CEF. What brought that about?

I started thinking of at the beginning of the year. I just wasn’t sure what the time commitment was and I didn’t feel like I was adequately prepared for that. I love Spanish and one of my majors is Spanish. I was also really nervous because I’m good at Spanish but my speaking isn’t all that great. But I realized that there’s enough in the team or the group and not everyone is fluent and so it’s okay and I’ll probably be able to improve, hopefully. I’m interested in Spanish culture and the way it is, and I’m even thinking about immigration law in the past like going to law school for it. So working with this part of CEF seems like it’ll really help me out.

Is there something that CEF doesn’t offer/ isn’t well versed in that you think we should develop?

Nothing I’ve really noticed—it seems to me really, really well organized. I’ve been amazed at how much has been thought out and how everything seems to work so well. So I would say no for right now.



Featured Staff: Sarah

Sarah in her spiffy polo!

Sarah in her spiffy polo!

We got a chance to sit down with Sarah Cohn, CEF’s first AmeriCorps VISTA, to talk about the growth of her involvement and where she is now. We’re incredibly happy and lucky to have her, as she’s been an amazing asset to the CEF family!

How did you get involved with CEF, how did it all begin?

It all began when I was studying abroad actually, which doesn’t sound like it makes much sense. I got an email on the Spanish Minor listserv about doing CEF Latino and responded to it, planning to get involved with that once I got back. I met Linda over that summer and then I started doing CEF Latino business classes that summer and continued doing them that fall. Then I saw how cool the rest of CEF was and wanted to get involved in the bigger picture.

How would you describe your time with CEF while still an undergrad? How did your involvement develop?

At first I was just doing CEF Latino– at that point CEF Latino was not very connected to the rest of CEF and so I mainly just went to the small business classes and went to CEF Latino meetings every week. I started meeting with a member Sonya during business classes and that was pretty much it- it was something I was involved in, but wasn’t spending a lot of time on it.

Linda asked me to apply for an open admin position as CEF Latino Co-Coordinator, because she was working a fulltime job at that point, had graduated, and was very overstretched.  I started getting a lot more involved when I started coming to admin meetings, which I previously didn’t know existed and [began] learning about the rest of CEF.

Clearly you’ve had a good time with CEF since you’ve decided to continue your work after graduation. What motivated you to work for CEF full time and were there any hesitancies?

Last year, my senior year, was the first time I started spending a lot of time in the CEF office and I just really liked it. I wasn’t that fearful working full time for CEF, because I know it was something I love doing… spending time in the office, working with Members, and working with other people in CEF.

I really wasn’t that worried about it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation. For a long time I did not want to stick around and anyone who knew me last year knows that I preached a lot about leaving Chapel Hill. It kind of dawned on me one time that I could do the AmeriCorps position with CEF and it was just a great opportunity

Did someone bring up the possibility of working for CEF?

People did– I remember people joking about it. I was one of the few people graduating that did not have plans. They told me I should do it and I literally laughed in their faces the first couple time, saying, “No, no I’m leaving.” I don’t know what happened it was seriously one day I was like “Wait I could do this!” It went from being a joke to a possibility, then reality.

What is your position within CEF?

My position is Member-Advocate Coordinator, and that means working to support Members and Advocates and their relationships. There are two other student volunteers who are also Member-Advocate Coordinators and the three of us work together to pair members and advocates and follow up with those relationships and make sure they’re going well. My job is to spend a lot more time in the office and keep an eye out for possible pairings, and also just provide structure and support to teams and everything that involves Advocates.

What are some goals you have for the year?

Technically I have a VISTA Assignment Description that lists the goals that I have to accomplish this year, which they call a VAD. So my main goal for CEF is to accomplish everything on my VAD. A big part of that is redefining the Advocate program, especially in terms of training and support for advocates. So, one of my main goals right now is to create a better training for Advocates, and throughout all of that make what I’m doing sustainable for the next year. One of the main goals of VISTAs anyway is to build capacity, and make it so that they’re not needed within a couple years.

I definitely want to develop myself professionally, just because this is my first full time job.  Just working on skills that are necessary for lots of jobs like speaking, grant writing, and things like that.

Do you have a favorite CEF moment(s)?

One thing I love the most about CEF is that a lot of things that you would expect to be awkward aren’t awkward. So, working with people that are older than you, that have a lot more experience than you, and offering them financial advice, you’d expect these interactions to be awkward and sometimes offensive, but 99% of the time it’s not. Members are really open too since they came to CEF for advice like that, so I’m always impressed with Members.

I don’t know if there is one particular moment- most of the things that I’m thinking about are when Members find jobs or something exciting happens for a Member and everyone in the office is really excited. It’s an accomplishment for everyone and people are so genuinely happy for the person, like when people meet savings goals and that’s cause for celebration.



CEF Hits the Road: Lend for America Summit


Olivia, Emerson, and Chiraayu

By Olivia & Chiraayu

Over the weekend of October 10th to 12th, five brave CEF-ers took a fateful journey into the heart of Pennsylvania to meet some of their institutional role models. After seven hours in the car together (during which Chiraayu caught up on lots of sleep, Jon caught up on lots of Bo-Berry biscuits, and Emerson, Maggie, and Olivia engaged in enriching conversation) the group of five arrived first in Lancaster, the charming town that TABOR calls home.

TABOR is a non-profit organization that has been working in the Lancaster community for several decades, performing many functions such as financial education, housing assistance, and saving services. CEF has had its eye on TABOR for a few years now, primarily because of their well-developed and successful protective payee system and IDA savings program. The kind employees at TABOR gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of their facilities, shared their philosophy with us, and more than anything else, provided us with a concrete vision of what a young organization like CEF can become.

Following an afternoon in Lancaster, we headed north to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to attend the annual Lend for America Summit, where we had the opportunity to engage with fellow campus-based microfinance organizations. This year’s summit brought over 200 people from 53 universities across 26 states. Lend for America was started in 2010 to provide more support to students practicing microfinance and community development. CEF was one of the original members of Lend for America and sends students to present and collaborate with fellow students at each yearly gathering. This year, Emerson and Jon gave a presentation titled “Unbanked in America, while Maggie discussed community assets as an integral component of community development. Jon also had the opportunity to talk to tech nerds about Salesforce.

Maggie Jon


The weekend involved as much learning as it did teaching. We had the opportunity to learn from our peers from universities like Fordham, Yale, and Tulane about recruitment, retention, taxes (getting excited about them!), and organizational identity. The conference gave us the chance to connect with other students from the South and develop greater potential for collaboration. We loved conversations with students from UNC Greensboro and Elon, who are looking to start their own community development organizations, as well as with University of Alabama representatives who have a well-established MFI. There were many chances for reflection on CEF’s direction for the future and new programs that align with our mission.

Furthermore, we had the chance to reunite with CEF’s 2012 summer intern, Peter Woo, who has since started a campus microfinance initiative at Notre Dame. We’re pleased to report that Peter seems to be doing splendidly, and JIFFI (Jubilee Initiative for Financial Inclusion) is off to an excellent start. (And what would a conference be without good food? The food was dope. A huge shout out to the delicious cupcakes, soft pretzels, pizza, and wings that were enjoyed this weekend!)


How It Works: Opportunity Class

A monthly column by CEF’s very own:

Mike Wood

Mike recognizing Olivia for her commitment to Opportunity Class

Mike recognizing Olivia for her commitment to Opportunity Class

I thought it might be a good time to speak on something that I really should know a little something about. That would be the Opportunity Class, for which it has been my supreme good fortune to be involved with right from its very inception. The goal for the class then as it is now is to give our members the information we think helpful in the transitioning out of poverty and homelessness.

Any successful endeavor requires a vision of how you wish for things to turn out. Mine was to use the principals set forth in the 12 step programs and adapt them in a way that might achieve our goal of transitioning our members from the fringes of society and back into the mainstream. In other words to help them to acquire the knowledge and the motivation to seek a more meaningful and abundant life. Financial independence, self-reliance and enhanced self esteem being chief among the many goals I had established for the group.

Having overcome poverty and homelessness in my own life I have always been keenly aware of the need to keep the topics and curriculum relevant to the members and where they are collectively in their personal lives. Though my results have all been positive I am mindful that others may require a different strategy for their own recovery. I would like to think that the results for the majority of our members have all been positive.

As in the 12 step model we place great emphasis on honesty and personal responsibility because I believe that only by confronting the mistakes of our past can we hope to take full advantage of the present. There is great power that is unleashed when a group of people get together to try to help one another. I have also come to believe that no one can help a homeless person as much as another homeless or formerly homeless individual. But having said that, the real secret to the success of the class lies in the many advocates that give of their time to support and encourage the members through what can be very discouraging and challenging times. To that end I am always trying combine what we do in the class with the efforts of the advocates.

I can report that we have gone from averaging about 5 members a class to now when the average is better than 15. I would like to presume that this growth is indicative of the fact that my vision was correct. I know that we have helped an awful lot of people but none more than me. If all our members get as much out of the class as I have then I guess that we soon will become famous. But before I prepare for my interview with 60 Minutes I will continue to be open minded about ways that we can improve the effectiveness of the curriculum and how I deliver the message of optimism and empowerment.

Lately I have placed a greater emphasis on discussion and hearing the members share their experience strength and hope for the future. I am confident that the class will continue to evolve and become even more relevant to the needs of our members. It has certainly been the greatest privilege ever bestowed upon me to take part in helping to develop this program.

As always I will continue to suggest to our members that they consider making changes as opposed to excuses. And although there is no way that we can hope to carry the message to all that need to hear it, it sure has been fun trying. We can’t hope to get to every member that attends but maybe we can plant a seed that will bare fruit later on down the road for them.



CEF Health

by Krunal Amin

In a series of conversations with CEF members during the past few weeks, I was surprised to learn just how large of a delivery gap there is between the healthcare resources offered to those who are financially disadvantaged and the number of people who are actually positively affected by these resources. One member, who recently moved to the Chapel Hill community, told us that she often has no choice but to go to the emergency room whenever she has issues with her asthma – a common chronic condition that can usually be well controlled with drugs. When asked about her medication, she reported that the Piedmont Clinic in Carrboro filled out a prescription for her – but the medication ended up costing her around $90 so she never even bothered to pick it up. As for the cost of her multiple emergency room visits? She has a stack of bills from the hospital adding up to over $5000 that she simply can’t afford and doesn’t know how she plans on paying off. Had she known about the UNC Health Care Pharmacy Assistance Policy, she could have completed an application to prove that she qualified for financial assistance and ultimately could have reduced her $90 prescription to a much more manageable $4 co-payment, thus allowing her to not only have access the to the medication she needs to stay health but also potentially saving her thousands of dollars in medical bills. Unfortunately, applications to programs such as UNC Charity Care and Pharmacy Assistance are not always the most user-friendly forms to fill out as there are often many hoops to jump through to prove that you qualify. Additionally, many of the members we spoke with were unaware of other avenues they could be using to get better care.

In his bestselling novel, The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon and healthcare reform expert Atul Gawande points out that “medical innovation is less about discovering new inventions than it is about properly executing the ones we already have.” CEF Health is an initiative that aims to do just that by employing advocates to better connect our members to the resources they need to stay healthy. Over the course of the semester, our team has been working to compile all the healthcare resources available for financially disadvantaged members in the community. Our goal in the coming months is to train advocates in what resources are out there and how to access them in order to use them as health navigators for CEF members who are struggling to get the quality, affordable healthcare they deserve. We are excited to get this initiative off the ground, and hope that anyone interested will join us!


It's Raining in Durham

by Quinn Holmquist

CEF-Durham Co-Coordinator

Ricky, a CEF-Durham Member and Drew, an Advocate, hanging out at our end-of-year celebration last spring

Ricky, a CEF-Durham Member and Drew, an Advocate, hanging out at our end-of-year celebration last spring

Of all the weather-related metaphors I could make about my work with CEF this year, a rainstorm seems most pertinent – sometimes heavy, always reminding me that life is neither fair nor comfortable, and refreshing for precisely those reasons.

In August, Anne Yeung (Duke ’14) and I became the Co-Coordinators for CEF-Durham. Since then, we’ve settled into something of a rhythm: weekly meetings with community partners and various members of our Admin Team, outreach into the Duke community, fielding calls to the CEF-Durham phone line, hanging out with Members and with one another. I’ve never really had a “job” before, but my position right now is as close as I’ve gotten. How fortunate am I, to have my first job experience doing work that I actually want to do with my life!

Wait, what? you might be asking. There’s two different CEF’s? How is CEF in Durham different from CEF in Chapel Hill?

            Good questions. Let me catch you up on what’s been going down at CEF-Durham.

CEF: A Short History

  • 2009 – CEF launches in Chapel Hill
  • Spring 2011 – Janet Xiao (Duke ’12) takes class with UNC CEF-ers. Wants to know how they became friends with people who are homeless.
  • Summer 2011 – Janet meets with CEF-Chapel Hill Admin Team. CEF begins expanding to Durham.
  • Fall 2011- Spring 2012 – Janet and a team of about 10 Duke students begin working in Durham transitional houses.
  • Fall 2012- Spring 2013 – Under the guidance of Janet and Priyang Shah (Duke ’15), CEF expands to around 25 student Advocates and 40 Members.
  • Summer 2013 – Six summer interns work for CEF-Durham (three from DukeEngage, one Pathways Intern, and two veteran CEF Advocates)
  • Fall 2013 – CEF-Durham has grown to 45 active Advocates and nearly 90 Members

…which brings us to today.

Where We’re Going

Outsiders think we’re kidding, but you all know that I’m not when I say that the coolest people in town hang out with CEF. CEF-Durham is composed of Members, Advocates, Board Members, an Admin Team, and community partners, all of whom both push CEF-Durham forward and encourage us to step back and reflect.

A few examples:

  • Shreyas Bharadwaj (Duke ’16) and Simar Nagyal (Duke ’15), the Opportunity Class Coordinators, have worked with Gary, a graduated CEF-Durham Member, to revamp our Opportunity Classes. Inspired by Chapel Hill’s successful Train-the-Trainer model, they have created a program that better meets our Members’ needs.
  • Matt Hamilton (Duke ’16), our ever-professional Development Coordinator, has applied for at least four grants (and is already preparing more!).
  • Parit Burintrathikul (Duke ’16), a dedicated CEF-Durham summer intern who enjoyed walking from meeting to meeting in downtown Durham this past summer, recently revised the curriculum for Laptop Classes, reflecting Members’ desires and his own experience.
  • Apart from the four transitional homes where we already work, we’ve expanded to a fifth site for Members who’ve graduated (yay!) from the homes. Beyú Caffé has partnered with us, generously opening their space up for our weekly “Open Office Hours.”

What Guides Us

We naïve, visionary idealists (some call us college students) at CEF have a tendency to move forward with lots of ideas, lots of enthusiasm and only a little bit of a plan. As such, at CEF-Durham, we’re engaged in continued conversation with the whole CEF community, reflecting on what we do well already and how it can be made even better.  From these conversations have sprung our overarching goals:

  • Emphasizing a “culture of savings” – one Advocate at each home site (the Resident Savings Expert) receives specific training on CEF savings programming. We’re also streamlining our deposits and withdrawals, and plan on setting every Member up with a Self Help bank account the moment they join.
  • Consistent Member-Advocate pairings – we want CEF to be a place where friendship just makes sense. So, having the same Advocate and Member work together every week just makes sense. This is why we created the Member-Advocate Coordinator position, filled by Anna Qiu (Duke ’15) and Nick Martin (Duke ’16).
  • Thinking about the bigger picture – why do we do what we do? Is it even working? Who gives us permission to do our work? We come together twice a month to think through these questions (over home-made snickerdoodles, of course) at our Philosophy Times.
  • More intentional times for Advocates to be together – we just had a wonderful first Philosophy Time and there are some fun CEF hangouts in the works. We just can’t get enough of each other!

It’s with these goals in our minds and in our hearts that we at CEF-Durham find direction.

It’s from these friendships, in community, that we derive our strength.

It’s from one another that we learn

And it is the rainstorm of CEF-Durham – the sometimes-overwhelming struggles we take on with our Members, the frustrating delays, the hard-fought successes – that puts our existences in the Duke bubble into (or blows them out of) perspective.

It’s from the rainstorm of CEF that we grow.

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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