Author Archive | Maggie West

Ms. Laverne

Romeo, Romeo! Ms. Laverne adores her Romeo

She showers him daily with belly rubs and bacon bits. “If you rub his belly, he’ll go to sleep,” Ms. Laverne intimates. And Romeo has stuck with Ms. Laverne through thick and thin, including the years when they were sleeping in her car, and in and out of hotels or friends’ homes. “Romeo would let me sleep, and when I woke up, he’d sleep. We would both watch out for each other.”

The day they first saw their new home, Romeo raced up and down the long hallway with barks of approval.

Ever since she moved into the new apartment this past June, Ms. Laverne has been relishing the daily things: “Opening the door is a blessing. Closing the door is a blessing. Laying in my bed is a blessing. Cooking. Decorating a house. It’s just a blessing not wondering where your next step is going to be.”

Even through homelessness, Ms. Laverne never stopped fighting for what is right for herself and others. She worked with CEF and her support networks to find her stable home! Photo collages of beloved family members adorn the walls of the living room and hallway, side-by-side with school photos of her children and grandchildren, their ribbons and certificates of achievement, baptismal certificates, Bible verses, and a poem written to her by her son. Her home is filled with the people she honors and loves, making space for memory and hope for loved ones who have passed on or are locked away.

Ms. Laverne’s favorite room is the bathroom. It’s large and luxurious-feeling, with a floral shower curtain and plush towels folded in neat stacks. “I came a long way from going around and taking bird baths.”

How Ms. Laverne Found Her Home

Ms. Laverne connected with CEF when she came to a public meeting of the Homeless Services Advisory Council in Durham to advocate for her needs as an individual experiencing homelessness — bearing witness to her own experience and the experiences of so many others, while making a prophetic call to action.

After 9 years of faithfully paying rent on time, Ms. Laverne had been evicted after a dispute with her landlord. For two whole years, Ms. Laverne and Romeo navigated homelessness together — finding food and safe places to sleep, taking “bird baths” in public restrooms, and struggling to find a healthy, non-abusive place to recover from back surgery in the midst of this experience.

“I’ve never been homeless before. This is my first time,” she shares. “I didn’t give up on myself. More people did me wrong, I kept pushing myself. More people lie on me, I kept defending myself. I’m not a bad person, I’m a good person. I live for God, and I like helping people.”

At that public meeting, CEF and Ms. Laverne connected and have stuck together ever since.  She connected with staff at the Durham Housing Authority at that same meeting, and worked through the process to secure a permanently affordable apartment with DHA. With CEF, she connected to legal services and addressed credit issues that were preventing her from securing housing. She also got a job at Harris Teeter, where her co-workers have been a wonderful community of support. She gives a special shout-out to all of these groups, and Angela Holmes (Chair of the Homeless Services Advisory Council) for helping with her transition into housing.

About CEF, Ms. Laverne shares, “[CEF] made sure I was okay, and we started working on everything.”

“[CEF] don’t do the talk, they do the walk. And since I’ve been coming here, all I see is friendly faces glad to help you. [They] ask you, ‘What do you want?’ and take everything you say to the heart. And they love my dog.”  (Indeed, Romeo charms the entire office when he comes in with Ms. Laverne.)

What’s Next for Ms. Laverne?

Ms. Laverne has new goals to share with CEF. “I’m going to take computer classes, to get a laptop, so that when I go to school I can have it… I want to get my GED.”  

She hopes to eventually use it in support and advocacy of other people who are experiencing homelessness. Even while she slept in her car and struggled with issues of discrimination, Laverne never stopped fighting for what is right and helping others. “When I was homeless, I helped homeless people. I paid for a hotel room for a family. So, though I was down and out, I still helped, and I didn’t ask for nothing back in return. I just told them, ‘Do it for the next person.’”

Ms. Laverne dreams of managing her own shelter one day. “I wish I had money to build a place. This would be my shelter: a lot of flowers. A lot of love. Respect. Trust. And a church inside my shelter.” In a way, she has already built this sanctuary space inside her home.

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


7th Annual Holiday — Chapel Hill

You’re Invited!

When:  Saturday, December 9th from 5pm – 8pm

Where: Chapel of the Cross, 304 E. Franklin St, Chapel Hill
Who: All members of the CEF (extended) family — members, advocates, family, friends, supporters, fans, partners, and neighbors
What: Celebrate CEF graduates, enjoy delicious food, and sing-along and dance-along with the CEF community!
Rides Available: Chapel Hill, call (919) 200-0233

Celebrating CEF at Fall 2017 Events!

Our community’s amazing local breweries and eateries are showing their support for CEF this fall with an exciting series of events! Mark your calendars and plan to join us any of the following evenings. We’ll be having fun while raising funds to support CEF’s work, and celebrating the successes of CEF’s Members and Advocates all across our community!


Mystery Brewing Month of Mondays for CEF!
Every Monday in September, join CEF at Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough as a portion of all proceeds will support CEF’s work.

Bingo at the BreweryMondaySeptember 25th at 7pm
Play Bingo at Mystery Brewing to benefit CEF. Just $1 per Bingo card, with fun prizes!



Steel String Brewery Benefit: Wednesday, October 11th beginning at 7pm
Early Bird RSVP Form

Enjoy live music and local food trucks at Steel String Brewery in Carrboro. A portion of proceeds supporting CEF’s work. Live jazz throughout the evening.

Hot Tin Roof

Hot Tin Roof Celebrity Bartender Night: Wednesday, October 25th
Early Bird RSVP Form
Casual and fun evening at the Hot Tin Roof in Hillsborough with local celebrities tending the bar! Stay tuned to hear who our local celebs will be! Speciality cocktails and fun, relaxed environment!



Grub Durham Dinner on the Rooftop! Monday, November 6th
Early Bird RSVP FormGrub Durham
Grub Durham is the latest restaurant from Wendy Woods and Stacey Poston, Durham restauranteurs and CEF supporters. Grub is our Durham office’s next-door neighbor! Wendy and Stacey will be hosting a special dinner to benefit CEF on November 6th. Details coming soon, but mark your calendars for that evening! You won’t want to miss this chance to try the new food at Grub Durham, hear from CEF Members and Advocates, and enjoy the beautiful rooftop atmosphere of the restaurant!



CEF Holiday Parties! December 9th, Chapel Hill 5pm – 8pm
Go ahead and mark your calendars for the Annual CEF Holiday Parties! Our Chapel Hill party will take place on Saturday, December 9th from 5pm-8pm at the Chapel of the Cross (304 East Franklin Street). During this event, CEF will recognize graduating Members, newly trained Advocates, and enjoy in festive cheer and fellowship. Our favorite day of the year, every year!


Thank You!

I keep a journal of moments, just jotting down at the end of the day a moment to remember – usually one that sits on my heart, whether in joy or grief. All kinds of moments make it into my journal, because all kinds of moments make up our daily lives at CEF. To say thank you for your commitment to CEF, I’ll share a few of these moments with you…

There are moments at CEF that break my soul wide open, like when Alicia shares the anxiety and sadness weighing on her. She got behind on bills while on medical leave and her power is turned off so she and her family of 6 cannot live there – including for her son’s graduation.

There are moments that humble, like when Robert asks for help getting a sleeping bag, not for himself, but for one of the 8 other homeless individuals he is now helping to shelter in his camp in the woods.

There are moments that motivate, like when Carl finally finds a full-time job. He came to our office every day for months to submit applications with advocates, and at last an employer doesn’t judge him for his misdemeanor conviction 25 years ago.

There are moments that awe, like when Paige becomes a first-time homeowner after saving out of every single paycheck. She worked with advocates and reached her goal right on schedule!

There are moments that simultaneously embolden and despair, like when Greg is turned down by yet another landlord unwilling to take a chance on him so he can move off these streets. His past continually occludes his future.

And then there are moments that bring tears silently streaming, like when I overhear a conversation between three CEF members in our lobby talking about how they all pray for CEF and all the people here every single day.

We never know the moments that matter. But we do know this matters to our Members: CEF Advocates are not only there for a moment, but for the long haul.

Will you take a moment and give to CEF? It matters. 

With gratitude,

 Maggie West

Maggie West


This Year at CEF By the Numbers:

1,033 Members, 239 Advocates

$197,852 Saved Towards Goals in
185 CEF Savings Accounts

155 Members Gained Employment

105 Members Gained Housing


2016 Annual Holiday Parties! Dates Announced

You’re Invited: 7th Annual Holiday Parties in both Durham and Chapel Hill.

Who: All members of the CEF (extended) family — members, advocates, family, friends, supporters, fans, partners, and neighbors

Rides Available: Chapel Hill, call (919) 200-0233; Durham, call (919) 797-9233

Saturday, December 3rd from 5pm – 8pm
Chapel of the Cross, 304 E. Franklin Street

Tuesday, December 6th from 5pm – 8pm
Self-Help Credit Union Temple Building, 302 W. Main Street


Meet CEF Member Eva

eva vivian

Eva and Vivian in front of their new home!

“Can I tell you how CEF really helped? It was one place that I could go where all the things could be addressed which were really overwhelming. I could come to you and we could break it down and work on every piece of it that I needed to work on.”

We connected with Eva while she and her daughter were staying at the women and children’s shelter in Chapel Hill. “My daughter’s name is Vivian and she is six years old and she’s in first grade and she’s totally my main motivation. She’s what has pushed me to not give up, to keep going.”

Vivian is a bundle of delight, ready to tell you how she taught her herself to ride a bike. Eva worked hard to make sure Vivian had a sense of normalcy while the two were living at the shelter for seven months, arranging play-dates or visiting the children’s museum.

Eva partnered with her CEF advocates to connect to resources and find housing. Now with a cozy house for the two of them, Eva proclaims, “This is the first time that I have ever been in a real home that was my own, period. Either I was living with my parents or I was living with someone that I was dating, or I was paying someone $100 to stay on their couch when I was in college or I was taking out loans to stay in a dorm.” Eva graduated from UNC-Greensboro with a major in Dance, though laughing she says “I only dance in the living room now.”

Eva and Vivian’s move out of homelessness was a struggle. The affordable home they found took months to be repaired to code, leaving the two sleeping on friends’ couches for a month after their stay in the shelter. Of CEF she shares, “I just was generally overwhelmed, so it was nice to know that there was somebody out there who had my back.”

What does their new, stable home mean for Eva and Vivian? “This is the first time I’m going to have the chance to parent how I want to parent.” And Eva has the dreams of a devoted mother for her daughter’s life… “I want her to have self-worth, and I want her to be able to support herself fully, that’s important to me, to feel good about herself… I guess the things I really want for her are more like personal qualities. Whatever goals that she has I will support her, but what kind of human being she is, that is the most important for me.”

Eva has so much to be proud of. “I’m worlds away from where I was. Now I’m gaining independence, getting to be self-supporting.” Her CEF team will continue to have her back!

eva vivian


Apply to be a CEF Advocate in Chapel Hill! Training Dates Announced

Dorothy Birthday

If you want to become a CEF advocate in our Chapel Hill office, good news! We are excited to announce our basic advocate training for Fall 2015. This training will be spread out over four weeks and will be jam packed with all the information you need to start your work as a CEF advocate. All four sessions are required.


Fall 2015 Basic Advocate Training:
  • Monday, August 316:30-8pm
  • Monday, September 7, 6:30-8pm
  • Monday, September 14, 6:30-8pm
  • Monday, September 21, 6:30-8pm


Can you make all of these training dates? Do you want to be trained as a CEF advocateIf you answered yes to both of these questions please fill out our application online here:

Completed applications are due on Friday, August 28th by 11:59pm


Please contact Matt Kauffmann, Advocate Program Coordinator, ( or Sharanya Thiru, Advocate Training Coordinator, ( with questions about becoming a CEF advocate.



CEF Ribbon-Cuttings! Join us for Housewarmings!

BIG NEWS! And we hope you will join us to celebrate!

A NEW Expanded and Improved Office in Chapel Hill!

A NEW Expanded and Improved Office in Chapel Hill!

A NEW Durham Office!

A NEW Durham Office!

Chapel Hill Office
Housewarming & Fundraiser

When:     Friday, May 29, 2015    5:00-7:00 PM

Where:   At the new office, 108 W. Rosemary St, Chapel Hill, NC

RSVP:    Click here to RSVP or RSVP on Facebook

Durham Office
Housewarming & Fundraiser

When:    Friday, June 12, 2015    5:00-6:30 PM

Where:   Public Square in front of 331 W. Main Street, Durham

RSVP:     Click here to RSVP or RSVP on Facebook

Introducing the Durham Office!

Our sunny new Durham office is in the historic Snow Building on Main Street!

CEF has been working in Durham since 2011, meeting members directly at the partner shelters & transitional housing programs where they stay. While advocates & members will continue to meet there, we now have a consistent hub for members to remain connected to their CEF advocates & savings accounts after they move out of the shelter.

We are grateful for the warm welcome into our community’s spaces, and we look forward to welcoming you into ours.

Expanding & Improving the Chapel Hill Office! 

Our new Chapel Hill location is not just a new office for CEF. It represents the launch of an exciting community partnership. With our expanded space, we will be co-locating services from partners who provide mental health services, supportive employment programs, recovery groups, housing support, and more – collaborating even more closely to ensure that members are connected to the support they need to make their goals a reality. Embedding the services of partner organizations within CEF’s programs enables our members to access these services in an environment they trust and in a holistic, streamlined manner. 

And at long last, we have a Chapel Hill office that is handicap accessible. We were located at 133 ½ E. Franklin since 2011, in a quirky little spot up a flight of stairs that was often compared to Platform 9 ¾ from the Harry Potter series… in its fractional address, lack of a sign and its entry into a magical world. Now, while we get to keep the CEF magic, we are in a visible, handicap accessible spot!

Be a Part of this Big Moment in CEF History!

Here are several ways you can support CEF in this big move:

  1. Celebrate with us! Join us on May 29th in Chapel Hill and June 12th in Durham for ribbon-cutting celebrations at our new offices (Click the links for details!).
  2. Become a Sustainer by pledging a monthly gift to sustain transitions out of homelessness. Give $10, $25, $50, or any amount every month to make transformative change happen every day.
  3. Make a kick-off contribution by making a one-time gift to support this big move.

Holiday Party Slideshow

Click here to see a slideshow of pictures from the CEF Holiday Party 2014!

CEF Holiday Party 2014

CEF Holiday Party 2014

Slideshow of pictures from the amazing party held on December 4, 2014 and co-hosted with Love Chapel Hill (major thanks for their sponsorship of the great food at the event!).

Thank you to all the members, advocates, partners, and friends who attended, and major kudos and congratulations to all of the CEF graduates who were recognized during the ceremony.

Happy Holidays!


Robert’s Story: A Short Video

Robert is a grandfather, a Marine Veteran, and a natural-born leader. Sophie and Jenna are UNC undergraduate students, and his CEF advocates. Combined, this trio is a force to be reckoned with.Earlier this year, Robert chose to leave a full-time, salaried job in Kinston, NC to move into the homeless shelter in Chapel Hill. He left behind his home, his community, and his livelihood.

Why? “I was just working for the drug man and the rent man. And by me being a functional addict, I wasn’t going to lose my job. I had to make a decision, I had to make a choice to give up everything, start from scratch, get out of the environment I was in and try something new.”

“In CEF you get a chance to get yourself back. I had lost myself – I had lost me. Thanks to CEF, they brought it all together,” says Robert. “Sophie and Jenna have been with me from the start, and they’re almost like my little daughters. By them keeping me motivated, and by me keeping the fire going myself, and them seeing me making progress, like getting a job and seeing my savings go up, sometimes I look at them and it’s like seeing a kid looking at the Christmas tree. You can see the light in their eye getting brighter and brighter.”

Jenna and Sophie see their relationship with Robert as a life-long friendship. Reflecting, they shared, “We have a relationship beyond that of a member and advocate team, we are truly a family. The support that we offer Robert is far surpassed by the moral and emotional support Robert continually showers us with whether he is reminding us to take some time for ourselves or reading us excerpts from one of his favorite books, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. I never leave an advocate-member meeting without feeling inspired and loved, no matter how stressed I am.”

“Over the past year we have watched Robert graduate from Opportunity Class, find a job, reach 80% of his savings goal, strengthen his relationship with his family, peers and most importantly, himself. Robert’s accomplishments have been more than earned and fill my heart with so much joy and hope.”

Likewise, Robert’s heart is filled thinking back on how far this trio has come on their journey. “I look back to where I was a year ago, and now I’m so far on my goals. You can’t imagine how good I feel, the pride I got back to myself. There’s no way you could imagine…”

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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