CEF would like to formally introduce Debbie Long and Tawana Brown, both have come on board over the last few months. Debbie is the Member Services Coordinator for the Durham office and Tawana is the Growing Household Income Fellow in Chapel Hill. Read the interviews below to get to know them better!
What has your work looked like during the time you’ve been at CEF?
A process of discovery I would say. I started during a pandemic. Folks need unprecedented support during this challenging time. I’m seeing members getting hit at multiple intersections of hardship just trying to meet their basic needs. Right now, folks want and need secure housing that’s truly affordable and does not exceed the threshold of their budgets. They need jobs that provide living wages and healthcare, and aside from that, folks need general support navigating the gamut of issues that arise in a pandemic. The bulk of my work with CEF has been exploring the world of possibilities with a team of folks who are committed to the well-being of its members. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed working alongside members to meet their personal goals around housing, education, and food security. The current landscape has called for strong collective efforts in finding robust and innovative approaches to serving our members.
While at CEF, I have had the pleasure of assisting members with emergency assistance applications to Orange County, which includes follow-ups, document submissions, and advocating for Members. I also assist with governing CEF’s Workforce Income Taskforce. The Taskforce works closely with Members interested in learning more about fair chance hiring, living wages, job search skills, interview skills, and interview preparation.
What experiences, strengths and skills do you bring to this work at CEF?
Always keeping in mind that the personal is political, I come to CEF as a Black queer feminist who works to create a revolutionary society where the people who have been impacted by intersecting systems of oppression can really thrive. I have a deep history of cultural organizing. Linking people to resources is what I do. I don’t ever think it’s enough to say, you know, “I want to help people.” To me, that’s the baseline. You gotta actually engage the people and communities you seek to support. Nothing beats showing up for folks and showing up for ourselves. I know how to show up. My offerings of support at this time come in the form of harm reduction, trauma-informed care-giving, and a transformative-justice oriented posture. Additionally, I’m an artist and abolitionist. I’m always seeking creative ways to dismantle systems and policies that disproportionately impact our people.
I have two master’s degrees, one in Nonprofit Management and one in Leadership and Human Services; a graduate certificate in Conflict Management and Negotiation; and a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. I have five-years’ experience working in nonprofits–holding positions in intake, case management, accounting, consumer coordination, executive assistantships, and fundraising and development. I also bring general business knowledge from my Business Administration degree.
What led you to work with CEF generally, and also to this particular role?
I was led to apply for the position because there was a need and I felt like the best person to honor that need. I arrived at CEF with a vision: To prioritize how members have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and attempt to understand what that means for their economic recovery. My vision is informed by my lived experience of having witnessed firsthand the stigmatization and criminalization that impoverished communities endure. The Member Service Coordinator plays a vital role in stewarding CEF’s Member Services. As a people person, I love working with and for the people. More than anything, I want to support people on their journey for a better quality of life. I know what it is like to be housing and financially insecure and from this vantage point, I find myself in a unique position to support the overarching goals of the organization and in my current role.
CEF’s mission and vision to assist and cultivate opportunities, assets, and communities that sustain transitions out of homelessness and poverty was key to my working with the organization. They care about CEF Members and offer many resources to assist each Member in reaching self-sufficiency goals. As a Growing Household Income Fellow, my job is to build CEF’s capacity to support low-income community members in increasing financial stability, engaging in community life, and supporting the economy.
How do you find energy and renewal?
For energy, quite literally, I like to eat healthy fruits and vegetables, and I limit my sugar intake. Introspection helps a lot too. Like the saying goes, “You gotta know when to hold and when to fold.” I do my best to pay attention to when I have limited capacity so as not to exhaust my energy reserve. And I am an artist and musician. Playing music and getting creative fills my cup! To renew my body, I detox and try to tap into what my body wants and needs–whether that’s a nap, a long walk, or a glass of water. Listening to my body plays a large part in how I find the tenacity to endeavor forward.
I find energy in knowing that each day a new scenario will come making the job new to me. I get energy knowing that I am going to do good for a Member and in negotiating services for the Member. I find renewal in knowing that a resolution can be found and Member needs can be met through networks.
When you think about your work in this role at CEF, where do you find challenges and how do you seek to find the best way forward?
The reality is that I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have most of the answers. But I do have some of them, and I do know how to locate and connect with someone who might have the answers I seek. I also realize not every question has a precise, clearly defined response to it. I am not a native of Durham. Understanding the housing situation in Durham has been a real process that I have to work at daily. My best way forward is to think outside of the box, to use my creativity to fuel my motivation, to listen to my gut and trust my instincts, and ultimately, to practice the art of living free from fear.
I find challenges in not being able to find shelter for all Members who are homeless. I would like to see Members in stable shelter situations, where they have a roof over their head, food, heating in the winter, cooling in the summer, and nice hot showers daily–to name just a few basic rights Members deserve access to. I seek to find the best way to move forward by collaborating with other organizations and working with them in coordinating plans.