Author Archive | Jonathan Young

Sharing news from Maggie for the CEF family

Message from Maggie, CEF Co-Director

Hello dear CEF family,

I am writing to share the news that I will be transitioning out of my position at CEF this summer.

CEF has been a place where I have felt an overwhelming sense of call. Called in a daily way to show up, heart and soul, surrounded by a community of people filled with a common purpose. Almost ten years later, I am feeling a need to respond to a different call—albeit one I don’t know yet! I’m sad to leave, and more than a little bit terrified. But I also know it’s the right thing for me in this moment.

I am writing to say thank you. Working alongside all of you has been a gift—filled with people and moments and experiences I will cherish always. Thank you, from my heart and soul, for the ways that literally every single one of you has been a part of co-creating this transformative place. Sometimes, when people ask me how CEF started, I simply laugh and say, “Magic.” So many people have come into CEF and added their magic to this place—their hopes, gifts, prayers, wisdom, labor, and their love. Thank you. The sheer miracle of this experience will never leave me.

CEF is a strong, beautiful organization, filled to overflowing with an incandescent grace. The MembersAdvocatesstaffboardpartnerssupporters, and friends that make up the whole of the CEF family are a glory to witness. As I prepare to transition out of this daily work, I find myself simply saying, “Wow.” How amazing, what we can do and who we can be together. I stand back in particular awe of the CEF staff team, who daily inspire in me an overwhelming sense of peace and confidence that, someday, the world will be right.

I want to say a special thank you to my fellow Co-Directors—Jon Young and Janet Xiao. The three of us have done this work together for almost ten years now, and they will continue to lead CEF beyond my transition. Working with and learning from Jon and Janet has been one of my most sustaining joys throughout CEF’s growth. Their grounded, thoughtful leadership will continue to strengthen CEF as an organization, and our communities as a whole.

I’ll be transitioning out of my position on May 31st. In the meantime, I will work closely with the Transition Team, Board of Directors, Co-Directors, staff team and all of you to make this transition healthily, and in ways that continue to strengthen this ever-growing organization.

All of that said, while I’m taking off my staff member hat, I’ll still certainly be a member of the CEF family. Though I don’t know yet where my soul will lead me next, I do know that I’m not going anywhere geographically; this is home. I hope to stay connected to the CEF community and to be supportive in any way I can. This place is transformative and impactful beyond words, and I know I will love staying in touch and witnessing all of the accomplishments ahead for CEF and our amazing Members and Advocates. Thank you all so very much.

With gratitude, blessings, and love,


Message from the CEF Transition Team


Eric Breit, Stephanie Barnes-Simms & Brian Smith (CEF Board Members, Current & Former)

Jon Young & Janet Xiao (CEF Co-Directors)

Maggie has played an incredible role in the transformation we’ve all experienced since CEF started as an organization in 2009. She has brought immense dedication, vision, soul, and entrepreneurial gumption to her work. Maggie, thank you. While we can’t help but feel sadness about this change, we are also excited to take this next step with the organization and begin a process of discernment and transition.

CEF is a vibrant and growing organization that now includes over 1,000 Members and 250 Advocates each year. In 2017 alone 153 Members gained jobs, 132 Members moved out of homelessness, and the first 9 Members even purchased their own homes! In exciting news, CEF Members have now saved over $900,000 collectively towards their personal goals. We are growing in impactful ways, and we remain deeply committed to our mission and community. With your active presence and support, CEF will continue to thrive.

The transition team will be seeking input from a wide range of stakeholders, including Members, Advocates, staff, partners, and supporters. We are designing a process and an interim strategy that gives us the space and time we need to be thoughtful during the period following Maggie’s departure. Our goal is to have a third new Co-Director in place by September 1st. You can learn more details here:

We’re so grateful to the whole CEF family for being an amazingly supportive community. As we enter another big year for CEF, and as we continue to adapt and grow, we hope you’ll keep doing what you do best at CEF—whether that’s volunteeringdonatingcoming to meetingsbuilding program partnerships together or singing with the Advocacy Choir. Or, if you are looking to get more involved,we hope you’ll reach out!


Meet Krista: CEF Staff Interview

Krista: CEF Durham's Neighborhood Engagement Specialist

What made you interested in working for CEF?

I really admire not only the heart that goes into all of CEF’s work, but also CEF’s dedication to constant self-improvement.  As an organization, CEF is always looking to do better and more conscientious work, and that’s something I really wanted to be a part of.

Why do you feel connecting with people is so important?

Connecting with people is what makes this work continue to feel worthwhile even when systems and structures feel like they’re defeating you.  It’s all too easy to feel hopeless after a while, but having solid relationships with members humanizes the daily and drives our work.

Tell us about yourself/background:  

I’m from South Carolina and came to Durham for college.  I studied French and International Studies in college and am enjoying living and working in Durham as a resident rather than a student.

What inspires you?

My coworkers! Working in the nonprofit sector has found me surrounded by dedicated, passionate, hardworking people who strive to make Durham a better and more accessible city.

What do you think will be your greatest challenge in this position?

Definitely balancing the number of different spheres my job occupies.  I have a bit of a jack-of-all trades job, so managing a variety of partnerships, often with very little overlap, is going to be an interesting logistical challenge.

What projects are you most excited about?

I’ve really enjoyed tackling the overhaul of how we present our laptop referral program.  It’s given me the ability to work through how we create our member goals and look at things through both the member and advocate perspective and to create something that will hopefully be with CEF for many years.


Dear CEF Family 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.

CEF Co-Directors
Maggie West, Janet Xiao, and Jonathan Young

P.S.     We’ll be sharing more stories of “Sticking with it” through the holidays. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!  #CEFstickstogether


Make Your Gift Today!


Meet Joy: CEF Staff Interview

Joy Shaver: CEF's Financial Coaching Specialist & Americorps Literacycorp Member

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.”

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.”

This holiday CEF is sharing stories about how, as CEF Member David says, “CEF sticks with the person.” Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see more stories of how #CEFstickstogether


#GivingTuesday is for Matched Donations!

Giving Tuesday

Join Chapel Hill and Durham Advocates in supporting CEF this #GivingTuesday and get matched 1-to-1!

Today, on #GivingTuesday, all donations made via Facebook to CEF are being matched 1-to-1 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (up to $50,000 💰💰💰)! Please consider supporting CEF and the transformative work that is happening in our community in Chapel Hill and Durham.

CEF is built on relationships. 260 volunteer Advocates (like me!) worked with over 1,000 Members on whatever goals they might have: to gain employment, secure housing, build financial stability, connect to resources across sectors—and everything in between. So far in 2017, CEF Members have moved into 107 homes, secured 104 jobs, and together they have saved over $170,000!

We’ve learned that as students, we can work in collaboration with our community to create meaningful change. Because we have seen the power of filling gaps and connecting people with the right resources, being complacent is not an option anymore.

We show up every week, to work side-by-side with CEF Members to build long-term stability and mutually-transformative relationships. Will you join us and show up for CEF this #GivingTuesday?


CEF Member: Cameron

Cameron has a home of his own for the first time in years.  Read about his experience and why housing matters.

Housing is a Process

“It’s a process, not an event,” says Cameron. After staying outdoors, in abandoned buildings, and shelters over the last 2 years, he’s just moved into a home of his own in Chapel Hill. “I walked in, dropped all my stuff on the ground, that was the beginning.” Cameron was first connected to CEF in 2013 when our Chapel Hill office was still on Franklin Street!  “I heard about it and started talking to people in the [Opportunity] Classes!He met consistently with Advocates, seeking out employment and education opportunities that might expand his natural aptitude and skills for working with all things automotive—all the while, trying to procure and protect a safe place to sleep every night.

He was never really sure that he would have a place of his own.  “I thought it would take basically an act of congress.” An abandoned house that he organized as a temporary shelter for himself and his rescue dog Gizmo was often at risk. “I was actually not sure, because where I was—we were being threatened to have the house boarded up and I was getting a sinking feeling from having to deal with that again—always ill-at-ease.” It was an environment that often left Cameron feeling severely underslept and challenged to navigate tasks of daily survival alongside his ongoing pursuit of education, greater income, and housing. “Having to share with several other guys where I was, I didn’t like it a lot. I didn’t feel like I had much of my privacy.” 

Collaborating to Connect with a Scarce Supply of Housing

Cameron was able to secure his place through a program called Permanent Supportive Housing Voucher (PSH) managed by the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) in Orange County. The program connects individuals that have experienced significant time periods of homelessness to affordable housing and supportive services. CEF identified Cameron as potentially eligible for the program and helped him to navigate each step of the process! Cameron describes CEF as a “force-multiplier.”  “If it hadn’t been for CEF I probably wouldn’t have known [about the voucher].”

Cameron worked with CEF Advocates and Debra Vestal, IFC’s PSH Case Manager, to successfully find and move into housing. Permanent Supportive Housing is a key part of the Housing First approach that understands that “people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues.” CEF has worked with the Orange County’s Partnership to End Homelessness  to increase collaboration, assessment, and prioritization for the limited supply of PSH vouchers for people like Cameron in the past few years, yet resources are scarce. The HOME Task Force helps to coordinate services and housing for these vouchers but HOME currently has a list of 60 other families that are waiting and working towards the opportunity to have a foundation to move beyond what Cameron calls “survival mode.”

Foundations for the Now

It’s “surreal, very surreal,”  he says.  “I don’t really show it on the outside but I’ve heard myself say I’m happy—I’m glad.  I know I feel a lot more relieved.” Having a safe and comfortable place to sleep each night is essential. For Cameron, it’s a new beginning and the foundation of things to come. “It felt so much better, I felt like I woke up more refreshed, less stressed. Things just kind of took a 180… When I go to the fridge. I think, ‘Hey I was out in the woods not too long ago!’ I don’t even have to think about that anymore. I can cook my own food, which I like to do. I can have hot-served-food and shelter.”

Cameron sharing his a part of his story at Financial Independence Day last year!
Cameron's art displayed at the CEF Art Show and Social Justice Tour in 2016!

Community and Identity

Sharing in community is a part of how Cameron moves through the world, tapping into his different strengths and abilities. At CEF’s Financial Independence Day this summer, Cameron was honored for his participation and leadership at Opportunity Class and was inducted as a CEF Alumni Ambassador. He has been to over 100 classes, and now often acts as a co-facilitator for class discussions alongside lead facilitator, Mike Wood. He comes each week, helps to set up the room, and is always eager to share and support anyone who comes. “One of my things, is try to be encouraging—to point out the things that they are already doing… ‘Don’t let it discourage you.’”

Cameron is also an artist; his backpack is often filled with a mix of mechanical sketches and abstract designs. The creations were featured in the CEF Art Show last April. “I found it very enriching, I was grateful for the opportunity to show it. Whoever came by seemed to like the flow of it, a lot of people there were able to get a positive result.” His process often combines elements of found-art and collage with vibrant patterns and design.

Cameron is also a regular and co-facilitator at Talking Sidewalks, a weekly gathering of CEF Members and Advocates who come to share life stories, teachings and thoughts in a communal and supportive space. “Here everyone’s giving a voice or an opinion—how we feel—people like that; a soundboard… we come to a place where we can put out our feelings and thoughts and sit and talk and voice.”

Foundations for the Future

Cameron can most always be seen with his sidekick dog Gizmo, one of CEF’s unofficial canine mascots. Gizmo seems to also be enjoying the benefits of the new home that they now share: “I think he’s as happy as I am. I think wherever I am he’s happy to be.” Even more, Cameron doesn’t have to worry anymore about leaving Gizmo at a campsite as he pursues his next step, heading back to school.

“I’ve been working on trying to go to school, and I think having a place will definitely be better, have more advantages. I’ll be more at ease.”   This summer he secured grant funding and enrolled in an automotive program at Durham Tech. Previously, Cameron started an automotive training program while still living in the woods, trying to advance his career and make a way for himself. This time around is really different with a secure place to live. Cameron is doing great in his classes, and is able to focus, concentrate and study.

Cameron’s home is the foundation for greater education and the chance to pursue lifelong dreams of working as an automotive mechanic. It’s also a place where he can just enjoy the small things, like making a good meal for himself and his friends. “[We] bought some peppers, some salmon, a red onion, some oil, some romaine lettuce… They took the romaine lettuce and they cut it in half, and I knew how to cut peppers. I basically made this semi-elaborate meal. A really decent meal that I made with sea-salt! I’m trying to do more healthy eating now—sea-salt, brown rice not white rice… It just makes me appreciate now, having come to a better place now.”

This holiday CEF is sharing stories about how, as CEF Member David says, “CEF sticks with the person.” Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see more stories of how #CEFstickstogether

Cameron celebrating with CEF Member Demonte and Volunteer Dick Bush at the 2015 CEF Holiday Party!
Cameron and his dog Gizmo in their new home!

Give Creatively this Holiday!

5 Creative Ways to Give to CEF this Holiday

1. Give in Honor of Somone You Love!

Give a gift that invests in your community! Donate “in honor of a loved one” and we’ll send them a personalized note to let them know you made a gift in their name!


2. Donate Monthly – Become a Sustaining Donor!

Monthly Donors are a part of CEF’s Founder’s Circle. They are the monthly sustainers of our work and they provide CEF dependable monthly funds that ensure CEF Members continue to receive 1-on-1 that supports sustained into housing and financial well-being! Click here to join the Funder’s Circle:


3.  Amazon Smile – Donate When You Shop!

Amazon Smile is a program where Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase to any charity of your choosing at no additional cost to you! Click here to support CEF when you shop online. Click here to start using Amazon Smile:

4. American Express Giving – Donate Your Points!

Do you have an American Express card with a bunch of credit care points that you would consider donating a portion of to CEF? Click here to donate your points:


5.  Ebay – Make a Sale and Donate the Proceeds!

Do you have some clutter that might be worth something? Do you need a motivator to clean out? You can actually sell your things on Ebay and donate 100% of the sale to CEF! :


CEF Receives GSK Impact Award!

The Triangle Community Foundation and GSK honored CEF and 9 other amazing Triangle nonprofits at the GSK Impact Awards last week! The CEF Advocacy Choir performed “Smile” to open the ceremonies and CEF Staff Member, Yvette Matthews, received the award on behalf of all of CEF.
The award comes with $40,000 to deepen CEF’s work in Orange and Durham Counties, working together with communities to transform financial and housing opportunities!  CEF was recognized for our innovative work in “making homes and neighborhoods safer, connecting families to support services, and preparing people of all ages for successful careers – all important factors to improve health outcomes in underserved neighborhoods.”

Meet JV: CEF Staff Interview

JV Alencar: CEF Workforce & Finances Specialist

The oppressive structures that exist here in Durham and in this country are always transforming and creating bigger barriers. I believe that long-lasting change happens through radical human connections like those at the core of CEF, and networks of support can be sources of fuel for us as we navigate through everyday challenges. We need energy, love, and encouragement, and we can gain those from positive interactions with our community.

How did you get involved with CEF?

I initially got involved with CEF my freshman semester at Duke in 2013 at the recommendation of upperclassmen who were involved with student leadership. At the time, I was looking for a way to engage with the local Durham community in which I would be living for the next four years. Over the years, I have grown to cherish this group of passionate folks who are so committed to building financial independence. When I found out about this opportunity to continue with CEF after graduation through AmeriCorps Vista, I knew I had to apply!

Why is connecting with people important?

The oppressive structures that exist here in Durham and in this country are always transforming and creating bigger barriers. I believe that long-lasting change happens through radical human connections like those at the core of CEF, and networks of support can be sources of fuel for us as we navigate through everyday challenges. We need energy, love, and encouragement, and we can gain those from positive interactions with our community.

Tell us about your background

I was born in Recife, Brazil, but I have spent the majority of my life in Columbia, South Carolina.  I graduated from Duke University in May 2017 with a degree in Economics and Global Health with a focus on sustainable community development both domestically and internationally. In college, I worked in projects focusing on topics like access to education and affirmative actions in poor neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro, innovative methods to increase human resource capacity in the hospitals of rural Ghana, and the historic preservation of communities of color living in the coast of the Carolinas. I was an advocate with CEF concurrently with my studies, and my time here has definitely influenced my pursuits.

What inspires you?

I like looking to art and music when I need to be reenergized. Whenever I see a piece that I really connect with, it gives me the push to pursue my own creativity. I also love hearing people talk about their passions which is why I am subscribed to over a hundred podcasts on my phone! I think history is so important in work like CEF’s. It is important to acknowledge that we don’t work in isolation but in dialogue with people who have come before us. Revisiting and retelling those histories keeps the energy alive.

What do you think will be your greatest challenge?

Currently, a big personal challenge is switching from a student Advocate perspective to one of a Staff member and an AmeriCorps Fellow. A lot of my time with CEF has been spent focusing on Member meetings and Office Hours, as a regular advocate and as a student leader in MAC team. My position now is focused on developing the resources behind those meetings. It is definitely a different way of thinking about things, but I am excited about the challenge.

What projects are you excited about right now?

I am looking forward to further developing data methods and systems for evaluation. CEF has a lot of space to grow in the ways that it uses data to analyze and inform program decisions.  CEF prioritizes and values the very human and vulnerable side of our work. Bringing numbers and statistics to these conversations has historically been dehumanizing, so we want to be extremely careful in how we integrate data alongside the experiences and feedback of CEF Members. I am curious to explore and imagine an approach that respects and contributes to our collective values and stories.  

Fun Fact: in 2016 JV was still a DUKE student and he very bravely stepped on to UNC’s campus for the “Pie-A-Dookie” Fundraiser!


CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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