Author Archive | keith pulling

How It Works

Mike Wood Holiday Party 2012

How it works is the 1st of a monthly column by our very own ( Member, Alumnus, BBQ Master, CEF Opportunity Class Teacher, Sage of Sayings) Mike Wood.

            Let’s get right to it. I first thought I should tell you the all too familiar tale of mine but thought better of it because how I came to be homeless is far less important than what I was willing to do about it. But it is my life experiences that qualify me to do what it is I attempt to do.

I watched the Academy Awards last night so I would first like to thank all the county jails, the treatment centers, the Community House and a special shout out to Craven and Duplin County Correctional. How cool is it to have a job where you want to highlight all the mistakes you’ve made on your resume.

There are many organizations out there that teach these life style courses but I am not aware of any that provide the follow up and support provided by our advocates.

In most cultures it is the old that teach the young folks how to achieve success within that community. It did not work that way for me. Forty years of drinking and drugging had taught me but one thing. What I was doing was not working. The good news there is that in my acceptance of my utter failure as a human I would become teachable.

The way I see it we have two major goals for this organization. The most obvious is to provide assistance to our members. While the other is to provide an experience for the advocates that is taught in no class room on any campus. I believe that it is one thing to read about the importance of being of service to others while another to actually get out there and do it.

My approach to teaching the curriculum of our Opportunity Class is always centered in trying to make the subjects relevant to their current lives. That is something of a hard sell when you’re trying to tell them the importance of straightening out their credit when they spent last night on the ground.

They’re all adults and as such I try hard not to tell them what they should do but I am never reluctant to tell them what I did. This approach seems to work pretty well and I look forward to a long involvement with this group that has done so much for me.

I could tell you a whole lot more but I will save the rest for future news letters. In closing I would just like to say that sometimes I feel like the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I find it hard to conceive that my redemption could have happened but for my association with CEF and for that I will be eternally grateful.


Encouragement from Old Advocates!

Matt Kauffmann 2013

We recently received an email from one our former Advocates, Matt Kauffmann (UNC ’12). Matt is currently working in LA with employment services for the homeless. His email was filled with compliments and kind words for CEF. Thanks, Matt! We miss you. Here’s what Matt said about CEF and our strengths:

“The community and partnership created in the CEF office, opportunity classes, and Coffee Hours, picnics, etc. The equality in the member-advocate relationship and the sense of care for the whole person invite members to open up and build self-efficacy, creating space for positive change. Many organizations do not have time, money, or motivation to do this. Community is an area in which I think CEF benefits greatly from advocate-member parity in numbers as well as from the train-the-trainer facilitation model. The point is: CEF is awesome. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it for a short while. Keep up the good work.”


Advocate Stories: Sophie and Ian

We just trained over 50 advocates and have been so impressed by them so far! They have been volunteering in the office, meeting with members, participating in team meetings and overall just being amazing at what they do.

For this blog post, I interviewed two new advocates who have been working with a CEF member for around two weeks. Here’s what they have to say about their experiences advocating thus far.

Thank you Ian and Sophie for your input and thanks to ALL of our new CEF advocates for your involvement and enthusiasm!

CEF Love,
Member Advocate Coordinator

Tell me a little about yourself! Year in school, what you’re studying, favorite past time and… your middle school AIM screen name 🙂

My name is Sophie Mohajerani, I’m currently a Sophomore here at Carolina and loving every second of it. My potential major is business and economics and I like to spend my free time involved with a variety of student organizations and volunteering. My favorite past time would have to be ice skating, I was a figure skater in elementary and middle school. My middle school AIM was TarheelBBlue, I grew up in a Carolina household so I’ve been a fan forever.

I’m a freshman music major studying classical piano. I enjoy hiking and fishing, indulging myself with the romantic travails of the literature of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and playing Frisbee/ t-ing the d/ seshing the mellow earth biscuit. I’ve also enjoyed the move from New Hampshire to North Carolina and the chance to share a different vernacular with my new North Carolinian friends.

What caught your eye about CEF? In other words, what drew you in to volunteer with us?


What caught my eye about CEF was the emphasis on forming relationships that are long lasting. I was looking for an organization that I could feel a part of and it seemed like it would be a great fit! I was hesitant at first because the tasks of handling someone’s future in my own hands is a bit daunting but knowing I would be trained and guided each step of the way made me feel at ease and excited about CEF.

I was interested in finding a way to work with the homeless and underemployed community in Chapel Hill, and when a friend told me about the interest meetings at the beginning of the year for HOPE Gardens and CEF I was eager to get involved. I also thought that getting some experience doing practical work with people might help me determine what I want to study in the next four years.

Have your initial impressions of CEF been changed since you started to volunteer? If so, in what way?


Yes, I had made assumptions about CEF members that I quickly experienced to not be true. I came into CEF assuming that members would be hopeless and have negative attitudes due to the hardships that they have had to experience. However, what I have discovered was completely the opposite, my current member is proactive and constantly being positive about his future with the realistic goal in mind that he can attain it over some time. This outlook on life and reaction to challenges that life brings was truly inspiring to me.


I initially thought the CEF was more of a microfinancing group, but learning about the advocate program was really what drew me in. Advocating struck me as a challenging but also very rewarding experience, and I saw it as a chance to try something I didn’t think I was capable of doing.

Tell me about how advocating is going (when you started, what you guys have been working on, etc.).


Advocating is definitely a team effort and I have really been enjoying it. I started last Thursday with my partner Ian and a more experienced advocate, Olivia. We worked on our member’s resume that needed to be updated as well as filled out two job applications for hotel restaurants in Chapel Hill. Our member is in search for a daytime job to have in addition to his nighttime job that he has. The experience overall was very rewarding, we all felt accomplished and our member seemed relieved that there were some jobs available. We also planned what is in store for this week which is to transfer his food stamps to Orange County and apply for the Obama cell phone.


I met my member during my first day in the office, about three weeks ago. He’d already been in a few times and filled out a resume with a CEF advocate, so I worked with Santi to work on a new member plan with him. Sophie and I have met with our member twice now, and we’ve been able to help him apply for a cell phone and a few jobs. He’s hoping to pick up a second job so he can save up to find his own place to live. His long-term goal is to become a Certified Nursing Assistant.

What has been the most challenging about advocating so far?


The most challenging part about advocating so far is trying to learn the multitude of resources available to advocates to help their members. I feel as though I am not familiar with governmental benefits that are available to members and I would like to know more so I can be of more help to members.


I’ve learned that filling out documents and applications is generally a tedious process, and determining how to give “yes or no” answers to questions that may require more nuanced responses can be frustrating. Mostly, I wish I knew more – at every meeting I usually generate a list of things I need to learn about, but I never find time to research them all.

What is your favorite part about advocating thus far?


My favorite part is honestly just listening to our member and hearing his stories and how his perspective of life is yet so bright although he has been through so much. I was told at the beginning of training for CEF that I would end up learning more from member than they learn from me. I believe this to be true and that is why I enjoy being a part of CEF.


The CEF vibes are definitely real. I love going to office hours, hanging out with the other advocates and members and working with Sophie and Anthony, and after our meetings on Thursdays I’m always stoked about everything else I do for the rest of the day.


Teach a Man to Fish

The age-old adage of “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime” at first seemed to me to just be an excuse for not giving anyone your fish, implicitly saying, “handouts don’t help, but I don’t have the time to teach you.” And even giving a man a fish was often a way of buying his loyalty. Too often, fish was exchanged for power, resulting in relationships that were characterized by dependency. In these scenarios, giving food or money to the hungry and poor is really just a means to an end.  These instances of giving do not aim at the restoration of dignity to the less fortunate, but rather, at the establishment of a relationship that favors those with resources.

But recently I began to view this old truth in a new light. By “teaching a man to fish” you not only feed him for a lifetime, but you allow him to contribute to his own livelihood and well-being. You empower him to do for himself. Even more important than this lifetime supply of fish is his participation in his own well-being. Flipping this power structure on its head are the ethics of empowerment. By empowering someone to fish for themselves, people can become self-sufficient and independent.  In teaching a man to fish, and thus to provide for himself, the balance of power is restored and equality is once again a reality. He no longer has to rely on the whims or kindness of those with resources, but rather has the ability to provide for himself.

And as if dignity and equality aren’t enough, empowerment leads to benefits that are deeply connected to the human psyche. Humans have an intense desire to be of use. Employment is not merely about earning a paycheck– it is about the deeply human desire to want to contribute to the good of the community. This is one of the reasons why unemployment so often leads to depression. And this furthermore makes sense of the rather counterintuitive trend of depressed and anxious lottery winners. After winning the lottery, people often quit work because they no longer have a need for money. But in quitting work they unknowingly strip themselves of a source of identity and meaning. They are no longer producing anything for the community, no longer actively working for the good of others. They are no longer of useand this is devastating to self-esteem.

Thus, teaching a man to fish is actually better than merely giving him a fish, but not just because you can feed him for a lifetime. It restores dignity to previously warped relationships and allows others to be of use, which on a very human level is just as important as fish.


Featured Partner: HOPE Gardens

HOPE Gardens is a student-run community garden and urban farm in Chapel Hill, and has long been host to community potlucks and celebrations with CEF members. Their community garden workdays every Saturday have been a great way for CEF members to get active and grow their own veggies.

HOPE Gardens is launching a new program that will ensure CEF graduates who have moved into their own apartments have access to fresh, healthy produce. For a sliding scale subscription payment, HOPE Gardens will deliver a box of fresh produce from the garden directly to the doors of CEF graduates. Low-cost access to fruits and vegetables make a big difference for CEF graduates, many of whom suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure and yet struggle to afford the food best for their long-term health.

CEF and HOPE Gardens are both projects of the UNC Campus Y committee HOPE (Homeless Outreach Poverty Eradication), and have been closely connected to each other since we both were started in 2009. From CEF’s perspective, this new program at HOPE Gardens is a huge step towards making sure CEF graduates stay connected to resources and can sustain their transitions out of homelessness.


Featured Program: Renter’s Savings IDA Program


Along with housing comes a new set of bills, emergencies, and unexpected “when life just happen” expenses. With utility bills and rent taking up such a large portion of income, it can be difficult for renters to save. Even after saving, unexpected emergencies 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, and for use only in the case of an emergency.

The new program will be 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 will last at least 2.5 years, be matched at 50% (up to $1,000 in matching funds) and participants may draw on the 50% match when the emergency occurs, meaning one emergency won’t wipe out all their hard-earned savings.

Participants in the Renter’s Savings IDA program have a number of requirements including being graduates from Opportunity Class, CEF’s financial literacy course. In addition, all participants will make at least three consecutive deposits to be eligible for the match, and help lead the CEF Alumni Leaders group, meeting monthly to discuss new goals like home or car ownership, building credit, career pathways, civic involvement, and organizing other CEF alumni events.

We are so excited for this new program that will provide CEF members the tools to save more at the next level to have more control over their finances and live more financially peaceful and stable lives. This additional rung on the financial ladder will enable CEF members who have successfully transitioned into housing to maintain that transition for years to come.


Member Story: Amanda Signs a Lease

“He had sneaky eyes,” laughs Amanda. Jon, now used to Amanda’s jabs, chuckles along as we all share breakfast in her newly moved into home. “I didn’t trust anyone at all back then.”

Jon, along with his friend Audrey, have been working with Amanda as advocates for about a year at the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), a local non-profit dedicated to helping people transition out of poverty and homelessness. Amanda first came into contact with CEF a couple of years ago and has been a constant presence ever since, at one point organizing a student-homeless “switch day” event. For the last ten years Amanda has been homeless, spending her two most recent years in a tent in Carrboro.

For the first year or so the trio had their fair share of ups and downs. Their trust problems weren’t resolved until their first fight, remembers Amanda, when Jon stood up to her and fought back. Ironically, it took Jon refusing to back down for him to gain her trust. Over the next year, the group would work on anything from obtaining food stamps to applying for jobs and acquiring a cell phone. Searching for housing was not yet a serious option for Amanda and her advocates, who were still scarred from previous letdowns.

But after the right amount of time, thought, and care Amanda, Audrey, and Jon finally decided to start the long process towards applying for housing. The next month or so would take them on a maddening journey of paperwork and applications, summoning multiple organizations in her quest for a home. Hearing her run down the list of names and groups that helped her brings mind to images of a stringed quartet, which requires every player to be in perfect harmony with the others in order for the music to work. Remembering all the people that had a hand in her success, Amanda takes a deep breath and begins running down her list of shout-outs, fondly recalling Mike from Housing for New Hope, Pamela from CASA, Bebe her social worker, Dr. Schietman, Spencer from OPC, and the 100,000 Homes Campaign, which interviewed the local homeless population to catalogue the community’s immediate needs.

But even with a small army of committed volunteers, the march toward housing was at times frustrating. The amount of paperwork was occasionally maddening. Amanda, never lacking dramatic flair, groans that she felt like she would “drown in paperwork” as another application would seem to appear every time they thought they were nearing the end. The process, Jon reflects, was great but representative of how difficult it is to access community and government resources. It would be “pretty impossible” for any individual to do this on his or her own. The stress of searching and applying for housing added to the everyday struggles of homelessness would be enough to make anyone crack.

And Amanda almost might have done just that, if CEF hadn’t “kept on top of me” and continued to challenge and push her, reminding me of Amanda and Jon’s first trust building fight. Amanda had to fight back past demons, with the threat of possible failure almost driving her crazy. She was always “waiting on the big joke,” for everything to fall apart and go back to her tent in Carrboro.

But the joke never came. Instead, on one early summer afternoon, Amanda was signing the lease for her new home. Finally, she had her own place and her everyday life became “less about survival and more about living.” Having a home was an adjustment at first though. To solve the problem, Amanda decided to throw a slumber party and invite her team of volunteers to celebrate with dinner and a movie at her new home.

The celebration capped off a long process that was full of hope and fear, dreams and doubts. “For anybody that’s having to go through this, just be patient” Amanda declares. “Where do you see your future going,” I ask Amanda as we finish breakfast in her living room.  After telling of her dreams of going back to college and starting a rescue home for cats, she adds one final caveat: “well that’s the good thing about being Amanda, I don’t know. We just have to sit and catch the ride. And hang on for dear life, cause it is going to be rocky.” For Jon, Audrey, and Amanda, the past year has been just that. But whatever the future holds, Amanda knows that CEF will be by her side, and now she can “trust enough to accept help.”

Maybe Jon’s eyes aren’t that sneaky after all.

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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