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Financial Independence Day: Photo Gallery

We had an incredible time celebrating our community at Financial Independence Day on Saturday! We ate dinner together, listened to live music (and participated in some impromptu karaoke!), and reflected upon what financial independence means to ourselves and our community. Very special thanks to Love Chapel Hill, for their collaboration in planning and hosting the cookout; to the Hargraves Community Center, for generously allowing us to use their picnic area space for the celebration; to Rachel Despard, for sharing her musical talents by providing live music during the event; and to Buns Chapel Hill, for donating 200 delicious hot dogs that we thoroughly enjoyed! We’re looking forward to doing it again next year!

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Meet Our 2019 Chapel Hill Interns!

Meet Serena.

Serena Singh

What brings you joy?

Advocating for what I believe in brings me so much joy. I have seen firsthand the power of activism, and every baby step towards tangible change is always so refreshing. Additionally, the people closest to me bring me more joy than anything. No matter what’s going on in my life, I know I can depend on a core few to stand in my corner.

What about CEF excites you the most?

The perspective I have gained on oppressive systems and the world as a whole definitely excites me the most. I learn so much every single day I’m in the CEF Office, and I am incredibly grateful for the advocates I’ve met, the members I’ve worked with, and other community individuals I’ve had the opportunity to have meaningful discussions with.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

One of the first meetings I ever had as a full advocate, I was asked to help a member write a paper for a class that was due at noon. It was 11 and we only had an hour, but together we cranked it out — MLA format and all! She was so appreciative and gave me the biggest hug. That was a fantastic way to begin my experience with CEF!

What brings you joy?

People and the little things around me bring me joy! I love seeing how people interact with each other and the world around them – I get joy from my everyday interactions with people, whether it’s talking with an old friend or sharing a moment with a stranger.

What about CEF excites you the most?

Everything! I love the philosophy at the heart of CEF – it’s so genuine and inclusive. I really love getting to know more people from the community. CEF is so exciting because I get to build relationships with really great people while also engaging with issues of injustice in a meaningful way.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

I ran into a member I had been working with every week a few semesters ago on the bus the other day! She had gotten a job that she’d been wanting for a long time! It made me so happy to catch up with her.

Meet Sophia.

Sophia Janken

Meet Joy.

Joy Stouffer

What brings you joy?

Running, cooking, reading books (especially realistic or historical fiction). Sitting on my porch drinking coffee.

What about CEF excites you the most?

I love that I can collaborate with a wide variety of people, from members to staff to other advocates, in order to convey that each and every one of us is important and should be heard.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

My freshman year I worked with a member who needed immediate housing. We had to call several shelters in the area and finally secured him one at a spot in Durham. This experience was meaningful to me because I realized that housing is definitely not a guarantee–each night in your own home is a gift.

What brings you joy?

Conversations that lead to meaningful connections bring me the most joy. There is so much to learn from the people around us and I could sit and listen to stories of lived experiences all day. It makes me happy when someone can trust me and I can trust them – creating a bond.

What about CEF excites you the most?

The members excite me the most because they come in with hope for a better quality of life and it’s exciting to be on the passenger seat helping them while they drive and take control of their life.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

I was working with a member from Russia for about 2 hours and we ended up talking more about his time there and lessons he’s learned.

Meet Inaara.

Inaara Mohammed
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Financial Independence Day 2019

2019 CEF FID Square Graphic

Celebrate Community and Financial Independence with CEF!

You are invited to CEF’s annual Financial Independence Day, Saturday, June 29th from 5:00pm to 7:00pm at the Hargraves Community Center (216 N. Roberson Street in Chapel Hill)! Join us for a community cookout with fun activities to acknowledge and celebrate the fight for freedom from financial burden. We’d love for you to come and be a part of the:

  • Community Cookout, including hot-dogs, veggie dogs, coleslaw, chili, watermelon, and delicious desserts! 
  • Raffle with Prizes 
  • Kid-friendly crafts, corn hole, frisbee, and other games
  • A showcase of talent! Poetry, singing, dancing, and anything else
  • Expressing what financial independence means to you!

Please RSVP here: https://forms.gle/ij2qvaL8AG8SUmXK8 

P.S. Do you need a ride to the celebration? We got you! Let us know on the RSVP form.

Photographs from Last Year’s Party!

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CEF Staff Profile: Maggie Mraz

Maggie joined us last May on staff after working as an Advocate for years! She has a heart of gold and a gift for making people feel wholly heard and cared for! Maggie has been an incredible support to our Chapel Hill community, working one-on-one with Members and as an in-office support for Advocates and Members during our regular office hours.

In your own words, how would you describe the work you do at the CEF?

The work I do with CEF centers in encouraging and supporting CEF members to become all they would like to be. I have the opportunity each day to offer positive, practical help in the hope of assisting people to reach their goals in life.

What strengths, skills, and experience do you bring to this work at CEF?

I sincerely love people,  I am a mom, and I believe I can influence changing the world. These three powerful realities impact how I approach each day. I hope to be intentionally present and attentive to people and their current life situations.

What led you to work with CEF generally, and also to this particular role?

I began serving as an Advocate several years ago after meeting CEF people through the Durham office. I was looking for a place to practically help people struggling with life circumstances impacted by poverty. When I met CEF I said to myself, “I want to be like THEM!”

Where do you find energy and renewal?

I regularly enjoy taking naps and I am inclined to pray often. These two practices consistently renew me for the work I do. I also have a beautiful family. They bring me a lot of joy. The perspective I have for the work I do is shaped largely by a rhythm of rest, spiritual practices and quality time with my family.

What challenges you, and how do you seek to find the best way forward?

The most challenging thing for me about the work of CEF is the constant potential for being overwhelmed by the immediate needs of people. There is no magic wand to wave to make life struggles transform in an instant. I find being present to people and offering my best self in the immediate moment makes all the difference. Ms. Yvette’s desk has a tiny rock painted with the words, “Keep Showing Up”. I expect being consistently mindful of wisdom like this will influence my work of caring for people through CEF now and in the future.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am extremely grateful to be part of this beautiful community of people. To me it just feels “right” to be part of all that happens in this place. With CEF, is where I want to be.

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A Farewell to CEF Durham Advocates!

Graduating Senior Advocates Gianna, Hayes, and Grace

With the return of warm air and long evenings, we at CEF Durham are forced to say goodbye to our Senior Advocates as they graduate from Duke and head out into the world. These Advocates have contributed hundreds of hours, given an immeasurable quantity of energy, and formed CEF in more ways than we can put into words. As they left CEF, a few Senior Advocates offered up some parting words to share with the CEF community.

Grace Mok joined CEF as a summer intern through Duke Engage. Years later, Grace has completed over 120 CEF Member meetings, shaped Advocate training curriculum, and served as Special Projects Coordinator. Grace shared, “CEF has given me a different vision of how organizations can run and change for the better. Shared leadership and whole personhood are not ideas that all organizations strive for. I hope I can work for an organization as passionate and caring as CEF has been.” Further, Grace explained the ways in which CEF will stay with her as she moves away from Duke and Durham. “Some of the gifts are very concrete — a mug that a Member made himself that I put my silverware in now in my room. Some of the gifts are ephemeral — stories, advice, smiles. I am thinking about “coaching” as a lifestyle tool and I am thinking about community. I am so glad I have been able to build as many relationships as I have and had the opportunity to touch as many lives as I have, to learn with and from folks about so much.”

Gianna Giordano joined CEF during her first semester at Duke, and has since completed over 90 CEF Member meetings and served as Employment Services Coordinator on the student leadership team. Throughout her career at Duke and as an Advocate at CEF, Gianna applied what she was learning in the classroom to her work at CEF, and vice versa! “I have a huge appreciation for the way CEF recognizes that it is traumatic to constantly have to interact with a system that was designed to ensure that you lose. At Duke, I’ve spent a lot of time studying the child welfare system and other social policy issues, and I have observed that this trauma-informed mindset is missing from many discussions about human service delivery systems. When dealing with complex problems involving societal structures, many people look right past this. They see unfair policies and widespread injustice, but they do not recognize that the affected populations experience cumulative trauma that permeates every aspect of their daily lives. From my experiences at CEF, I’ve learned that there is not only a need for structural change but to be with people, support them, and help them recover,” Gianna explained. In her personal life, Gianna shared that, “CEF has encouraged me to value genuine friendships and relationship-driven service work, but it has also taught me to pay close attention to power structures that perpetuate injustice and push against them in creative ways. CEF Members have inspired me by their resilience, tenacity, and selflessness, and CEF staff and advocates have inspired me by their hard work, passion, and constant willingness to learn. The bonds and friendships I have formed with Members and other Advocates these past four years will motivate me to challenge structural injustices for the rest of my life.”

“CEF has been the longest-standing commitment I have had at Duke. I will never forget the Activities Fair on the East Campus Quad, where I saw Liz at a club booth and went to chat with her. I signed up for CEF that day and enrolled in the House Course for the fall semester of my freshman year,” shared graduating senior Hayes McManemin. Since then, Hayes has completed over 65 meetings with CEF Members, worked at CEF’s on-site office hours at the Families Moving Forward shelter, and served as Communications Coordinator on the student leadership team. Hayes shared, “In my opinion, CEF played an integral role in helping me decide what career trajectory I wanted to pursue. Now, I am sure I want to work in a non-profit setting where I can interact with those for whom I am advocating, and have a chance to build meaningful relationships with those same people. I have learned so, SO much about empathy and have gained so much perspective about the ridiculously privileged position I am in. This organization provided me a different way to engage with the Durham community and learn about this city outside of the Duke bubble. I love CEF very much and am going to be very sad at my last office hours!”

We are going to miss our seniors so much, and wish them all the best in taking what they have learned at CEF out into their new careers, cities, and communities. Wherever they go, we know they will make a positive impact in the lives of those around them, always remembering that all people are creative, resourceful, and whole.

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Meet Regina

Regina and her four kids’ lives changed rapidly with the onset of company layoffs, a serious illness, divorce, and loss of their home. Previously, she had built a stable career in military and corporate life. “Don’t ever think that you can’t ever be sitting in the bottom,” she shares.

Regina first met JV, her CEF Advocate, while she was saying at Families Moving Forward, an emergency shelter for families in Durham. Each meeting, she worked on new goals, from building savings and credit to pursuing housing stability and professional growth. “While I connected with CEF, I was also able to take time not only letting my body heal, but letting my family heal. And through that, I gained a career that I love to death — or love to life!”

Now, 1.5 years after joining CEF, Regina has rebuilt a professional life that is driven by passion. After earning certifications in wellness and recovery, she is now an independent recovery coach. She regularly connects her clients with CEF. I’m a huge advocate! It’s like family … [And] a good connection for whatever you want to grow and be in life.”

Having found stability, Regina is finding ways to weave her success with that of her community’s, by creating job opportunities and leading community change. She founded a successful cleaning business that is dedicated to hiring single parents and people with conviction histories and substance abuse histories. “We’re fighting the same fight,” she shares of the company’s 4 employees.

She also serves on the Board of Recovery Communities of Durham, volunteers as a youth mentor, and advocates for mental health policy and equitable wages. It’s good to be a part of that change.”

This story about Regina was featured in CEF’s 2017 Annual Report!

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Meet Rosa: CEF Staff Interview

Rosa joins CEF's Staff in Durham in a new position as the Office Services Coordinator in Durham!

What led you to this work at CEF?

—Being a Member of CEF and seeing how they directly impacted my life in dealing with stuff with my credit. When I found out there was a position open, I was passionate about working here. This is a job I will have that feels meaningful, and I will go home knowing I made a difference.

Where do you find energy for your work at CEF and where do you expect to find challenges?

I try to handle each situation as if I was the Member. I will try to handle each situation the way I would want someone to handle my situation, if that makes sense. I think it’ll be challenging to keep that work-home balance. It will be challenging because I am both a Member and an employee of CEF. It will be challenging to turn on and turn off that work feeling!

What strengths and perspectives do you bring to CEF?

The strength I bring is that I can directly relate to the Members of CEF because I myself am currently dealing with homelessness. I feel like I bring a perspective of hope, because I mean we don’t expect an employee of CEF to be dealing with homelessness themselves. Hopefully I can inspire someone else to think, “This too shall pass.”

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Photos from 2019 Northside Festival and CEF Spring Graduation Party!

What a gift celebrate community together with The Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History at the 2019 Northside Festival: Reunite! Both organizations are celebrating 10 years in community and gathered at the festival to dance, eat, and celebrate each-other on this beautiful day! So much thanks goes out to the Jackson Center and all the amazing community members that came together to perform and share their gifts with everyone!

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CEF Graduation and 10 Year Celebration at the Northside Festival!

Come together and celebrate graduating CEF Members and Advocates and all that is Northside—past, present, and future. All are welcome, free for the whole community! All members of the CEF and the greater community — Members, Advocates, family, friends, supporters, fans, partners, and neighbors. Join CEF graduates, enjoy delicious food, and sing-along and dance-along with the CEF community!

At 2pm we’ll gather in the St Joseph Church at 510 W Rosemary St, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Rides Available: Chapel Hill, call (919) 200-0233

Sew your square into our community quilt, plant spring annuals to take home, enjoy old-school field games—and kick up your heels to Bubba Norwood and Harvey Dalton Arnold rocking out the blues, the revival of the Jr Weaver Gospel Singers (featuring knock-your-socks-off recording artist, Sheila Caldwell Evans), and a surprise banjo picking guest—

Bring a chair, lend a hand. For more info, call or write the Marian Cheek Jackson Center at 919-960-1670, contact@jacksoncenter.info.

FOOD
Rev. Troy Harrison Honorary Pig Pickin’ w/ Parrish Bros. Farm

HOMEGROWN TALENT
— Rockin’ Blues w/ Bubba Norwood & Harvey Dalton Arnold
— The Jr. Weaver Gospel Singers on stage again!
— MEGA Praise
— St. Paul’s Step Team
— OC Jammers
— CEF Advocacy Choir

FUN AND GAMES
— Community Quilting
— Spades Tourney
— BIG TRUCKS
— Old Fashion Field Games!
— Dancing in the street!

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In Durham NC Land Use Policy is the Blind Spot in White Progressive Politics

CEF Members, Advocates, and staff will be talking about the Expanding Housing Choice Initiative and much more  at the monthly Time + Talents meeting on 4/16 at 5pm. Time + Talents meetings occur on the third Tuesday of each month in the CEF Durham office and are open to all. Contact lizb@communityef.org for more information.

a guest post by Durham architect and urban developer Scott Harmon
Reading time: 6 minutes

Land use policy is the blind spot in white progressive politics. Durham NC is debating a city-wide change in its zoning ordinance to address housing affordability. As larger cities like Minneapolis undertake radical rezonings to create more equitable housing, smaller progressive communities like ours are inspired to align its land use policies with our liberal world view. These initiatives will continue across the country and the blind spot will always appear in the same place: the back yards of powerful white progressive leaders.

In November, the Durham Planning Department presented its first vision of an initiative called Expanding Housing Choices. The recommendations were transformative and sensible, focusing on increased opportunities for accessory dwelling units, infill, duplexes, and smaller lots sizes. I would call them, indeed, progressive.

The version now before the Planning Commission, however, has been gutted by leaders in the white progressive neighborhoods that wield the most power in these land use debates. When faced with a choice between progressive policies and neighborhood protection, protection wins every time; power trumps policy. I urge my fellow progressives to pay close attention to some key historic and environmental context as we start this debate.

In The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein explains how zoning became the legal foundation of housing discrimination in our country. The first zoning ordinance appeared in 1908 in Los Angeles with the sensible goal of separating residential and industrial properties. In 1910 racial zoning laws sprung up throughout the country as communities used this new legal tool to protect their neighborhoods from blacks and immigrants. In 1917 the Supreme Court ruled that racial zoning is a violation of the 14th amendment, but in 1919 the city of St. Louis finessed the technicalities of that ruling and adopted the first “economic zoning” ordinance; what we call today “exclusionary zoning”. By excluding multi-family housing types from single-family neighborhoods (which most blacks and immigrants could not afford), St. Louis maintained the racial and economic primacy of its white communities. The racial motivations of these laws were obvious and were again challenged at the Supreme Court in 1926. But the court ruled that the 14th Amendment is not violated because the laws contain no explicitly racial language. Exclusionary zoning thereby became the established precedent for protecting our most advantaged neighborhoods from undesirable people by excluding undesirable housing. Add to this legal foundation the policies of the New Deal and the FHA, which required red-lining and racially restricted neighborhood covenants for its mortgage insurance programs. You now have, at the end of World War II, a complete system of local laws and Federal policies that explicitly exclude non-white people from the benefits of the largest housing and economic expansion in the world’s history. While the Federal policies finally met their demise with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, our local exclusionary zoning laws persist.

This history explains two things about today’s affordability crisis. First, it explains why certain people have enjoyed generations of wealth building and others have not. In other words, if more people could afford a home, the housing crisis would be less severe. Second, our zoning laws continue to treat certain kinds of housing (the more affordable kinds) as “undesirable”. This limits the supply of housing in general and limits affordable housing in particular, thereby making all housing more expensive.

The environmental context is easier to explain because the math is unavoidable. The population is growing, globally and locally. Should we house more people per acre of land, or fewer? Should we be more efficient with our land, or less efficient? Which choice protects our watersheds, natural areas, and farmland from outward expansion (aka sprawl)? Which choice supports better transit systems? Which choice promotes walkable, healthy lifestyles? Which choice assures that every roadway, pipe, wire, and infrastructure investment is used most efficiently? Which choice reduces the carbon footprint of each human?

Let’s be clear how “density” became a bad word. This country protected its neighborhoods from undesirable people by restricting density (see the history above). But many other nations enjoy thriving cities with density, beauty, desirability, and diversity. As our mayor Steve Schewel rightly points out: density is not the problem; it’s the solution.

Land use policy is the blind spot in progressive white politics. Our commitment to equity, inclusion, fairness, and affordability is hijacked by our instinct for comfort, power, and advantage. Most of us don’t see it. While we enthusiastically support the right causes with our time, talent, and money, our resistance to change in our neighborhoods is tenacious.  Neighborhood protection is a deeply held tradition that, on the surface, looks like a gallant fight against developers, builders, slumlords, students, renters, and traffic. The origins of this tradition, however, are not so noble. Even when we’re not consciously excluding certain types of people, we’re still using a system with intentions and rules of engagement that were established a century ago. Our families and fortunes continue to benefit from that system.

So, here’s the “ask” of my fellow white progressives in Durham and other communities. Resist the temptation to resist change, because preserving the status quo is not progressive. Our white leaders live in the neighborhoods with the most power when it comes to land use debates. How will we use that power? Will we advance our progressive agenda for the benefit of everyone in the community, or will we ask everyone else to advance the agenda for us? Will we support our elected leaders as they navigate a precarious political transaction that may be uncomfortable for us personally, or will we lobby to maintain our privilege? If we’re not prepared to forgo our privilege, we can at least leverage it for the benefit of the entire community. But this can’t happen if we “protect” our own neighborhoods from the changes that the rest of the community desperately needs. Because that’s not progressive; that’s NIMBY.

“Acting in a way that prevents everyone else from living in your pretty little city because you already have a place that you like does not make you a progressive. It makes you greedy.” – Hamilton Nolan Scott

Scott Harmon is an architect and urban developer with Center Studio Architecture in Durham NC.

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CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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

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