Author Archive | Jonathan Young

Advocate Training Activity

🗣️👂 CEF Advocate Leadership training in Chapel Hill had us all taking turns, being blindfolded and verbally coached through a maze of symbolic barriers that affect Members as they move towards their goals.

It’s so valuable to use this activity to reflect on what it means to work together with people in the community: How do we speak through different perspectives, identities, and experiences? How do we build shared understanding of the barriers that exist and co-create strategies to navigate through them? How can we work together to move or transform those barriers and shape a more equitable system?

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Christina & Rudy

Christina and Rudy were homeless for three years, supporting each other for safety and survival while living in a tent and simultaneously making incredible strides towards stability. Through CEF and a church called Love Chapel Hill, Christina and Rudy found community and a supportive base from which to pursue employment and transition out of homelessness.

As of May of 2017, they have been off the streets and employed for two full years. Rudy shares, “I think the fact that I was in a house really established me in the workforce.” Christina adds, “I have a full-time job, and I love knowing that when I get off I can come home, sleep in a bed and actually have food that I like that I cook.”

And beautifully, Christina and Rudy just got married! At the ceremony, Rudy made his vows not only to Christina, but to her kids as well. They have amazing plans for their whole family. Rudy shares, “We both want to go back to college…get me a better job, get her some transportation, buy us a house, and then we can look into expanding our family.”

This story about Christina and Rudy was featured in CEF’s 2016 Annual Report!

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New Staff Welcome: Jess

Jess Mcdonald joined CEF’s Durham team as Advocate Program Coordinator in June of 2017, and we are so thankful for them!

What made you interested in CEF?

I heard about the Advocate Program Coordinator position opening at CEF, and it seemed like the organization’s values, analysis, and visions of change aligned with my own. I’m really interested in doing social justice work that addresses both the day-to-day experiences of individuals and the larger systems that perpetuate inequalities. I’m passionate about doing this work in the South and in my home state of North Carolina in particular. Durham is where I want to plant my roots, and it’s where I’ve found a really strong community of people who are engaged in social justice work. The city has a really rich history, and so many of the struggles today around affordable housing and other issues are deeply connected to this history. I also have a background in social justice education with college students, and I’m really interested in bridging the town and gown divide between Durham and Duke in intentional ways. CEF really brings together several of my passions, and I’m so excited to be joining the team.

Why do you feel connecting with people is so important?

I feel like life, at its essence, is about connecting with people. Especially within social justice work, it’s all about the relationships we form within communities. So often the systems of power, privilege, and oppression are set up to prevent us connecting on a deep level and building that solidarity across difference. Transforming the world starts with transforming ourselves and our relationships with each other. Changing communities starts with one-on-one connections

My relationships with other people are what keeps me grounded and what reminds me why I do this work. We aren’t doing this work in a bubble, and it has real impacts on real people. In that way, connecting with people is also about accountability. Getting feedback about where we’re falling short, where we can grow, and what we need to be thinking more intentionally about is critical to doing meaningful work. Building that trust and communication is all based on relationships.

Tell us about your background

I’m from the coast of North Carolina, Morehead City. It’s a pretty small town. I went to Elon University, which is about 40 minutes from Durham, and I got involved in social justice work as a student there. When I was in college, I would come to Durham occasionally, and I also had friends from Durham. I studied history and sociology, and I did an undergraduate thesis about the history of LGBTQ life at Duke and UNC, so I spent a summer living in Durham and working in the archives in the Center of Gender and Sexual Diversity at Duke. After school, I worked at an LGBTQ non-profit that served college students across the country. After a year or so of working there, I went to grad school at UMass Amherst and got a degree in Social Justice Education, with a focus on intergroup dialogue. I came back to Durham for a little over a year, taught at NC Governor’s School for a couple of summers, and then spent the past year in a fellowship in Asheville. I worked at Our VOICE, a rape crisis center, assessing their services and making suggestions for how they could better serve the LGBTQ community. That was a year-long position that just ended, and I really wanted to come back to Durham, so I’m glad I found CEF.

What inspires you?

It may sound corny, and I feel like I keep talking about social justice, but seeing people coming together for a common cause in hard times like the ones we’re in is very inspiring to me. Whether that’s in response to things like HB2, police violence, gentrification, etc., seeing people come together and fight back against these systems is really inspiring. If you think about it, we are really resilient and powerful people, and getting together with folks to remind ourselves of that is really important for sustaining this work. I also look to history for inspiration, especially social movement ancestors like Leslie Feinberg or Audre Lorde or Marsha P. Johnson. To see yourself as part of that arc of history and understand that the generations that come after us will continue this work is really humbling.

What do you think will be your greatest challenge?

There’s just so much work to do in Durham in general, and at CEF, too. The city is changing so quickly, and we need to be one step ahead in making that growth sustainable for everyone, especially when it comes to affordable housing. Managing all of the Advocates and working to be as efficient as we can with our time, while also centering the importance of building meaningful relationships throughout the organization, is going to be a challenge, but I’m excited to take it on.

What projects are you excited about right now?

I’m really excited to co-teach the house course at Duke this fall. It’s been a year or so since I’ve been in a classroom, and I miss it. I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to pedagogy and facilitation. I love creating spaces for people to explore new topics and have critical conversations that they may not get to have in other parts of their lives. I guess it goes back to the idea of consciousness raising and transforming ourselves in order to transform the world. It’s a lofty goal, but we’ve got to start somewhere. The house course seems like a really amazing opportunity to combine social justice education, community-based work, and structured time for continued reflection to inform that work.

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Antonio

Antonio tells a story like no other, weaving in about four other stories on the way to telling the one he started with. The son of a teacher and a veteran, he loves history and has a passion for helping his community.

Antonio came to Chapel Hill after losing his job in Kinston. He moved into the IFC shelter and quickly connected with CEF through two other residents. A chronic health condition prevents him from working full-time, so Antonio’s Advocates helped him navigate the application for disability benefits while also supporting his search for part-time employment.

His benefit application was approved! Next, Advocates connected him with Caramore, a supportive employment and housing program where he now works and lives. “Y’all helped me to save money. Y’all helped me acquire affordable living.”

Antonio loves music and grew up playing by ear on his aunt’s antique piano. He was one of the first to join the CEF Advocacy Choir, sharing, “I think being a part of CEF is a way of showing that you want to make a difference in your community.”

This story about Antonio was featured in CEF’s 2016 Annual Report!

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Merica’s CEF Story

Merica St. John is an artist in both word and deed. In her home, at every turn, there is a handcrafted statement piece with its own backstory—ways her identity and history find vibrant expression. In a conversation, at every turn, Merica weaves stories, bringing her own experiences, feelings, and communities to rich life. 

Merica first met with CEF Advocates in 2014 as she was just getting settled in Durham in a new home. Recently, she purchased that home, and invited her Advocate Valeria, and CEF Co-Director Janet to her housewarming party. Thank you, Merica for sharing your story with us and the CEF community! 

Merica and her Advocate, Valeria, at a housewarming party to celebrate Merica’s home purchase! 

June 27, 2017

Making New Roots

It was a hot day in July when I stopped in at the VA Hospital in Durham to see about help for homeless veterans.  I wasn’t exactly homeless, but I was staying in a hotel while I looked for a place to live in my newly adopted hometown and state. I’d moved to North Carolina from Minnesota that summer of 2014 without knowing anyone.  I arrived with two suitcases and a lot of hope and faith.  It wasn’t the first time I’d moved somewhere new without all the puzzle pieces in place.

My husband and I left Minnesota for Alaska in much the same way eleven years before that.  I had no idea then that I would be a widow a year afterward.  Six years later, I went to Ghana, West Africa in a similar way, knowing only one person on the entire continent of Africa.To many, such moves seem risky and foolish, but I’ve walked with God for thirty-eight years, so it doesn’t seem strange to me when He directs me in this way.  Never yet has He failed to provide for me.

And so, on that July day three years ago, I met with a social worker who told me about CEF.  “I know you’re not really homeless and soon you’ll have housing of your own, but you’ll still need to know about community services and ways to make Durham feel like home to you,” she said as she handed me CEF’s number.

I called, and the rest, as they say, is history.  On a Saturday soon after that, I met with Valeria, a lovely young woman attending Duke.  Although far apart in age, we soon found common ground as she was new to the area as well and far from her former home in the West.  She understood my needs, which were primarily for furniture and other basics to set up housekeeping.  By the time we met, I’d found a house to rent.

A Home Meant for Merica

She and others found it a little hard to understand why I needed a 1200 sq. ft. house just for myself, but I knew the place was perfect.  Although I had no one else living with me, I always thought in terms of hospitality.  I needed a room for writing and one for crafting, as well as my bedroom.  I needed a guest bathroom as well as my own.  I considered how many people I could have for dinner, or to come for afternoon tea.  I thought about parties, and even overnight guests I knew the house was just right for me.

What no one knew except me and those who had known me long before was that living in a house was a miracle.  I had suffered for years with clinical depression and severe anxiety, both conditions crippling me in many ways.  I also had PTSD following sexual traumas beginning very early in life.  For nearly a decade in my midpoint of life, I couldn’t live on my own at all.  I spent close to a year in a wheelchair, and almost four years in a nursing home due to debilitating mental and physical issues.  Little by little, with a lot of therapy, I got better and more able to manage life.  When I was at last able to live on my own, I chose apartments so I would never feel alone and vulnerable.

By the time I moved to North Carolina, I had been living on my own for fourteen years.  I was feeling healthier in body and mind than I ever had.  I was ready to try a townhouse in Durham.  I used Rent.com to find a place.  It’s free and a great service that helped me weed out places by looking at them on the Internet.  Even after putting in such criteria as needing central air and a convenient location, there were many that just weren’t right for me.

Coming from the Midwest, one thing I wanted was a porch.  I went to see a townhouse with a porch and a white picket fence.  It looked so charming on the website, but when I saw the interior layout I knew it wasn’t right for me. I went to see another townhome that seemed nice.  It had a fenced-in yard with lots of trees behind it, and I liked that.  Still, I knew it wasn’t “the one.”

A few days later, as I sat at the hotel’s computer, I saw a house I wanted to go see it right away.  The owners wanted to sell it, but they ran out of time before their move, so they put it up for rent.  I knew this was the house for me.  There was a porch across the entire front of it, and there was a fenced-in back yard with trees behind it.  But the way I knew it was my new home was that it had a writing room with built-in desk space.  The layout and location were ideal for me.

Homemaking and Community

Soon, I met my neighbors and found them to be kind and helpful as I settled in.  I rented furniture from a very dear man named Terry at Victory Rentals.  Through CEF, I learned about the Furniture Project, and soon had two nice kitchen chairs, a love seat, a queen size bed, a nightstand, a table, dishes, etc.  Within a short time, I was able to end the rental of furniture, keeping only the washer and dryer.  Eventually, I paid them off and still use them three years later.

Valeria and I focused on other things such as a budget and connecting with other services in the community.  It wasn’t long before I felt like I belonged in Durham and was networking.

It is June three years later, and anyone seeing my home would find it hard to believe I arrived with nothing.  My home is filled with pretty things that make it look like I’ve acquired treasured items over the years.  In reality, most of them came from local thrift stores, but they have happy memories for me as I chose them with care.

I’ve been asked when I became so “crafty,” doing fiber arts and décor items.  I usually just smile and say I’ve been doing it for years.  There is a story to it, though.  I was graduating from high school, and each of us in the Class of 68 carried a long-stemmed yellow rose in the procession.  I was to read the class poem I’d written.  Being a bit nervous, I finished at the podium and returned to my seat afterward and sat on my rose I’d left on my chair.  I sometimes tell people my crafting interests began in high school with pressed flowers!

May 2017 was quite a month.  I bought the house I’ve lived in since moving here, I had a house party and got to see Valeria again along with Janet and many other friends old and new that I’ve made since I came here.

Exactly two months after starting the process to buy the house, I began a relationship with a male companion. His name is Harry, and he is a 16-pound Maine Coon cat.  He is over two feet long and still growing.  He not only moved into my home but into my heart as well.  I adopted him from a local animal shelter.  I know what it’s like to need a forever home.

And so, my story goes on.  As each piece fits into place, I feel more settled, and I make more friends.  I treasure all those I’ve made.  Valeria has moved away now, but we keep in touch.  She will always be part of my life, as will others at CEF and elsewhere who helped me get a foothold in Durham.

I am also finding new writing opportunities and hope to see more of my books in print this year besides the two currently in publication.

The only moving I plan to do now is to move my dear Harry off my keyboard so I can keep writing.

Harry, Merica’s new companion. 

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Unlocking Doors for Affordable Housing

 “I’m sorry, we don’t accept vouchers”—this is what CEF Members and Advocates often hear when they call landlords searching for an affordable place to live.

 

Over the past two years, in Durham’s rapidly-changing housing market, CEF has been working strategically to find ways to bring together the voices of voucher-holders and landlords to listen, understand, and work towards systemic change. In 2016, in partnership with Durham Mayor Bill Bell, we began organizing a series of Landlord Roundtables. This created the Unlocking Doors Initiative, a coordinated system of support for both landlords and tenants that includes crisis intervention, assistance with inspections, a dedicated phone line, as well as a risk mitigation fund.

We are proud to share just a few of the things that came out of the 2017 Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable, which was attended by over 165 people (over 50 landlords and 90 community organizations):

  • Restored Access to New Vouchers: As a result of the event, Durham Housing Authority un-froze a referral pipeline prioritizing people who are ending their homelessness. We set a community goal of leasing up 30 households using Housing Choice Vouchers.
  • Prioritized Housing Issues for Mayoral Candidates: All four Mayoral Candidates attended the event and worked with us to articulate and publish platforms specific homelessness and affordable housing.
  • Public and Community Awareness: News coverage in Indy Week, WUNC, and The Durham Herald Sun has increased chatter and public understanding of housing vouchers and affordable housing issues. The video at the top of this page was produced by CEF and has been watched by over 1000 people!
  • Aligning the Durham Housing Authority with Community Needs: More than ever, the Durham Housing Authority has been engaged in community conversations, and landlords have been engaged in mission-driven affordable housing conversations.
  • Drawing Attention to a New Tenant Protection Initiative: The event was a platform for Legal Aid of NC to make a high-impact announcement of their new eviction diversion initiative.
  • Encouragement to Keep Going: The most resonant piece of feedback we heard from the 2017 Roundtable was the affirmation of continued open, honest conversation.

We are committed to continuing to bring a collaborative, relational approach to local advocacy conversations, that create real system changes to preserve and expand housing access for CEF Members.

Media Coverage

  • INDY Week, July 12, 2017 — SECTION 8 VOUCHER HOLDERS ARE HAVING A HARD TIME FINDING HOUSING IN DURHAM
    • “Since last year’s roundtable, landlords have given feedback on the issues they’ve had with the housing voucher program or reasons why they don’t participate. They said it took too long for tenants to move in after vouchers were accepted, that the waiting period for inspections was too long, and that communication was poor with the DHA.
      In response, the DHA has reduced the time it takes to conduct an inspection of a Section 8 property to one week, down from three. Additionally, the Unlocking Doors Initiative has set up a phone line for questions about the program. The program is also starting a Risk Mitigation Fund to help landlords fix damage caused by tenants that will cover up to $2,000 in damage beyond a tenant’s security deposit.”
  • WUNC 91.5,  July 17, 2017 — THE SEARCH FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN DURHAM
    • “So we had about 200-300 available vouchers we actually could lease out, and we had 6,500 people apply,” said Scott. The Durham waitlist for those 200-to-300 available vouchers was whittled down to 1,500 applicants. But landlords have to want to rent to low-income Section 8 tenants.”
  • The Durham Herald Sun, July 12th, 2017 CITY TO DURHAM LANDLORDS: HELP US HELP THE VULNERABLE
    • “‘It’s heartbreaking when I take them place to place to find a home,’ said Tucker, a peer support specialist at Carolina Community Support Services Inc., which helps families struggling with mental health and other issues. ‘Working with them and seeing the hurt on their face.’ The challenges, she said, include finding a landlord who will accept the voucher. Some charge too much. Some fear their property will be torn up.” “The [Durham Housing] authority recently started holding quarterly landlord sessions, Scott said. Later this year, the Unlocking Doors Initiatives will launch a fund that will cover up to $2,000 in property damage beyond the security deposit. The Housing Authority also created new landlord orientation and materials, and the initiative is offering support for tenants before and after the get housing. “

Special thanks to:

Mayor Bill Bell
Anthony Scott and Denita Johnson (Durham Housing Authority)
Grace Mok (Community Empowerment Fund)
Terry Allebaugh (NC Coalition to End Homelessness)
Nigel Brown (Housing for New Hope)

Sally Wilson (Project Access of Durham County)
Steve Schewel (City Councilperson, Mayoral candidate)
Ryan Fehrman (Families Moving Forward)
Self-Help Credit Union and the Center for Responsible Lending
Valaria Brown (Alliance Behavioral Health Care)
CEF Volunteers

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Terry Eaton: My Story

Terry with his Advocate Brittany and CEF Co-director Maggie!

We first met Terry in January of 2017 when he was staying in the shelter at IFC. That day he told us his goals was specifically, “to complete the 12 opportunity class and take advantage of all the benefits that come with it. I’m ready to get started with the savings plan. I’m ready to start with the laptop savings plan, and use savings for security deposit once I secure a unit.”  Three months later he had accomplished his goals and wrote this story to share with the CEF Community. 

May 09, 2017

My name is Terry Eaton, I am a disabled Veteran. I was born in Wake Forest, North Carolina.  My Grandmother raised me, for my parents. They were divorced. So my childhood was pleasant, as I grew older I began to hang out with friends that drink and use drugs. Mind you I was raised well but made bad choices.

My Grandmother made sure I went to school and church, she was a Christian lady. Bless her soul. I graduated from high school but dropped out of college after the first year. I got a grant, didn’t make good grade’s there; again bad choices followed me. I eventually joined the United States Army, managing to keep myself together in order for a better life for myself.

During that time I lost my real father, my mother had remarried long before.  I went on with my life but I began to abuse alcohol and drugs. I became a patient in rehab centers in different States trying to overcome that Demon. It just wouldn’t let go. Even today I am a gratefully recovering addict and I thank God for my life changes. At one time I was a convicted felony, but today, I haven’t been in any legal trouble in over 7 years because of faith and belief in change.

I pray each day to my higher power to guide me and show me the way he wants me to live.  Today I am a member of White Rock Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina where I am a resident. To get to where I am today is a miracle within itself, and the IFC Shelter and the CEF  (Community Empowerment Fund) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina gave me most of the spiritual belief that things would get better for me.

This is how I got there, from my last and hopefully never again relapse from the Demon  I mentioned earlier in my story. They are great people there at both organizations, who care for men and women in need of a second, third, or an even fourth chance at life. I know because I was one of those men, who reached out for help and they gave it unselfishly. I thank all of you. Today I have a new apartment and am about to start classes at Durham Tech, in Durham, North Carolina. Soon I will be getting back to work. God is merciful.

P.S. I hope my story was inspiring to whoever needs hope.

Good Luck!!!

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We’re Hiring: Financial Coaching Specialist

The Community Empowerment Fund (CEFis seeking applications for 1 Americorps Member focused on financial coaching for individuals experiencing homelessness or financial insecurity. In this position, you will work to deepen the impact and expand the reach of CEF’s Financial Coaching program while working directly alongside CEF Members as they strive to gain employment, secure housing, and build financial stability. You’ll serve as a key leader for CEF in Durham County and collaborate with CEF’s Chapel Hill office to shape programs that work for the organization as a whole.

Click Here to learn more about the position and to apply!

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CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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

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