Archive | In the News

DUKE Today: Partnering for Homeownership

Seven Duke employees, including Strahm, bought homes last year with help from the Homebuyers Club. Thirty other employees received Homebuyers Club certificates because they completed at least eight hours of homebuyer education classes. The certificates can qualify the employees for additional financial help from the club’s community partners such as Habitat for Humanity, which builds affordable homes for low-income families; Reinvestment Partners, which provides housing counseling; the Community Empowerment Fund, which offers savings opportunities and financial education; and SunTrust Bank. These partners, along with Duke staff, help employees on the path to improving their credit, saving money, and connecting with lenders and realtors.


WCHL – Non-profit Showcase : CEF & Maggie West

If you were looking forward to our TED Talk at UNC, and are can’t wait to hear more about CEF—Co-founder and Co-director Maggie West was featured this month on WCHL’s non-profit spotlight! If you’ve ever wondered how and why CEF got started and what keeps all of us motivated to ‘show up’ each and every day click above to listen in!

Show notes

CEF From the Start
01:00 – How did CEF start as a student organization?
01:36 – How micro-loans turned into an opportunity to saving!
02:40 – Why some people can’t or don’t have bank accounts
03:15 – Match Savings Accounts = over 700K Saved!
03:55 – From student org into a Non-Profit!

Relationships: Members and Advocates
04:40 – How is CEF’s work really about relationships?
05:20 – How do Members choose their own goals?
06:23 – Are our volunteer Advocates trained to be experts?
06:50 – How we train 200+ volunteer Advocates?
07:20- What do we train Advocate to be able to do what they do?

Nate’s Story about Saving and Housing
09:00 – Maggie shares a story about Nate, a member working with a member to save and find housing in Chapel Hill
10:00 – Nate saves and finds a $325 studio apartment!
11:00 – What happened next after Nate moved in?
11:11 – Why the landlord didn’t immediately screen Nate out?
12:40 – “We don’t rent to homeless people”
13:40 – Why Safe Savings Account works for Nate.

Students Learning ‘A Real Big Lesson’
14:00 – What do students learn by working with members?
14:40 – What do systemic barriers look like on the ground?
15:10 – What are future doctors are learning by being an Advocate?
16:55 – What else gets students prepared for this work?
17:23 – “I don’t know how to do that but I think we can figure that out together”
17:45 – Advocates are connectors!

Getting involved: Now and the Future!
18:30 – What does Maggie see herself doing in the future?
19:08 – What can a someone do to help CEF’s work?
19:20- How does CEF stay so flexible/adaptable?
19:38 – How can you reach CEF and volunteer?


Maggie West, Citizen of the Year


CEF co-founder and Co-director Maggie West was honored last Thursday night with the Citizen of the Year award by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce! We are so proud and thankful to be inspired by her example each and every day!


Citizen of the Year: Maggie West, Community Empowerment Fund 

Maggie West helped start Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) in 2009 for a more engaged and sustainable way to help the homeless, which is now a life-changing organization that includes a co-working space to generate additional income. She is always positive and always willing to take a risk to try new things. Ms. West routinely utilizes connections with energetic UNC students, and received the 2015 APPLES’ Community Partner Excellence Award for her service as board chair with Farmer Foodshare, an organization that provides fresh, local food to food insecure individuals while building healthy community food systems and create jobs. She empowers UNC students to become the new social justice leaders, both during their time as CEF advocates and once they have graduated from the university. Ms. West is creative in her advocacy, and is known for her volunteerism in a multitude of organizations, including Highlander Research and Education Center, Project Connect, and Point-In-Time Count. For her daily pursuit of social equity and her uplifting leadership, we are proud to honor Maggie West with the 2016 Citizen of the Year Award.


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.

An Ode to the Poverty Center

Poverty Center

By: Maggie West

The UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity – one of the founding institutional partners of the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) – is being threatened with closure by the UNC Board of Governors. This Center helped to launch CEF when it was barely even a dream, and beyond their support for CEF, has worked to combat the causes and effects of poverty in our state and to improve the circumstances of working people. This Center is now recommended for closure because of thinly veiled, politically motivated retribution for the vision and leadership of a center that won’t stay quiet in the face of blatant attacks on poor and working people from our current General Assembly.

The Poverty Center has provided invaluable support to CEF since we were founded in 2009, with staff acting as faculty advisors to UNC undergraduate volunteers as we were starting the organization, and since serving on our Board of Directors. Through their ongoing partnership with CEF, the Poverty Center has continued to empower undergraduate students at both UNC and Duke to engage meaningfully in addressing the issues of poverty in our local community. Through CEF student volunteers provide relationship-based support to individuals experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness to assist towards achieving goals of gaining employment, securing housing, and building savings. The Poverty Center has acted as a source of teaching, research, and supportive service all throughout our development. Additionally during the past year, the Poverty Center extended their reach to provide direct legal assistance to CEF members, assisting ex-offenders to reenter the workforce.

However, I do not write today solely in my role with CEF. I write as a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Class of 2010, who was profoundly impacted on a personal level by the leadership, light, and unwavering commitment to public service of the Poverty Center. Forgive me, but the threat of closure to this center has found me waxing nostalgic about the many ways this center’s staff, research, and, yes, dare I say it… advocacy, has shaped me irreversibly.

I credit the Poverty Center with introducing me to the work of the North Carolina Fund, which under the leadership of Governor Terry Sanford and George Esser, and with activist-leaders from poor and minority communities all across the state, worked to address the crippling poverty facing NC in the 1970’s. In 2008, the Poverty Center helped facilitate documentary screenings and dialogues with former leaders of the NC Fund in partnership with the student organizationthat I led. The experience of listening to Ann Atwater, longtime community advocate in Durham and leader during the NC Fund, helped to form my understanding of the collective power of a community standing together in unity and across differences, and moreover, the endurance for change present in communities struggling for justice.

I credit the Poverty Center with introducing me to Rev. Dr. William Barber, when the center co-sponsored a keynote address by Rev. Barber in 2007 as a part of our organization’s annual Poverty Action Week. Eight years ago, his oratory shook me to my core and left me believing anew and faithfully in the possibilities and potential for opportunity for all people here in our state. Because of this faith, I’m still here, and again this past Saturday at HKonJ Reverend Barber reminded me why.

I credit the Poverty Center with introducing me to the devastating depth of the racial wealth disparity in North Carolina and the implications for building economic opportunities for all North Carolinians. The Center published critical research in 2010 analyzing and documenting in detail the level and nature of the racial wealth disparity in NC, as well as the causes of and strategies for addressing racial wealth inequality. This research, demonstrating that for every dollar in savings in a white household in NC, an African-American household held only six cents, was nothing short of a call to action for me.

I credit the Poverty Center with introducing me to the wide world of community development finance, stewarding a connection to leaders of Self-Help Credit Union in 2009. This connection completely transformed my understanding of the role of financial institutions and financial service providers in advancing economic opportunity and ownership for all people. As a result of this connection, CEF was able to launch our matched savings program, which has since enabled 298 homeless and near-homeless individuals to save over $300,000 towards personal savings goals.

And all of that was just while I was an undergraduate student – I won’t even get started on how their work has continued to shape me since I graduated.

As I reflect on the countless ways the Poverty Center has “serve[d] as a center for research, scholarship, and creativity” with “lux, libertas – light and liberty” in my own journey at Carolina, I can think of few centers that fit more closely with the mission of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, seeking “to improve our society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems.” And I suppose, that as I reflect further, that is exactly what the current members of the Board of Governors are taking issue with – a mission of education that seeks to bring light and liberty to the state of North Carolina, when the days of darkness and slavery were so much more profitable.

So when Jim Holmes from the Working Group of the Board of Governors says, “I struggle to see how the poverty center fits with the academic mission of the UNC law school to train the next generation of lawyers,” and I juxtapose my own experience as a student so deeply affected by the Poverty Center’s teachings, research, and service to the people of our state, I know that there is no mistaking the true motivation behind the board’s proposed action.

And so, it is with a heart full of gratitude that I say to the staff of the Poverty Center: You changed my life. And because of that, one of the worst fears of these members of the Board of Governors has come true: I’m properly educated, and I will never stop fighting.



CEF partnership with Duke University Office of Durham & Regional Affairs Featured in Duke Today!

CEF Durham Program Coordinator meets with Gary, our Opportunity Circles Leader, to plan class sessions

CEF Durham Program Coordinator meets with Gary, our Opportunity Circles Leader, to plan class sessions

Exciting partnership news! CEF is honored to announce a greater partnership with the Duke University Office of Durham and Regional Affairs to expand our programs and services in Durham.

See Duke Today and Durham Magazine article highlighting the partnership!




CEF Leader Mike Wood Receives Chamber Award!



Great news! CEF’s very own Michael Wood is being honored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce during their 2013 Salute to Community Heroes!

Mike received the award for Volunteer of the Year from the Chamber. We are so proud and deeply thankful for Mike’s leadership within CEF and our community. He is such a gift and has had an amazing impact on many CEF members.

Join us at the celebration Thursday, December 12th from 6pm-8pm at the University Mall main stage.

More information here.



Beloved’s Lamplighter Award Nomination for CEF

CEF recently received one of the highest honors any organization could possibly aspire to achieve
— one of the members of CEF’s program nominated us for an award! We were truly humbled by her nomination — first, that she thought highly enough of her personal experience with CEF to nominate us, and secondly, because the essay she submitted with her nomination is truly beautiful.

Beloved, a really and truly lovely member of the CEF community, wrote a nomination for the Lamplighter Award, a humanitarian award given annually by 103.9 FM “The Light,” a local gospel radio station. And still even more amazing, CEF was selected as a finalist for the award! Beloved represented CEF at the black-tie event on Saturday! We are truly and deeply honored by Beloved’s nomination and the opportunity to be considered for the award. The Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association won the final award for their great work for racial and environmental justice in Orange County. We are delighted to have been included in such great company!

Beloved’s beautiful essay is included in its complete form here. Thank you, Beloved, for your leadership, care and commitment!

The Light 103.9 FM

“Community Empowerment Fund is a non-profit organization serving the people of Orange and Durham Counties. Co-founded by Jon Young and Maggie West, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduates, CEF’s foundation principle is preserving human and civil rights in the community. CEF connects current UNC and Duke Students who choose to volunteer their time in the organization, with individual members in the community who are seeking aid in any manner. CEF trains its advocates and volunteers, preparing them to serve people with the same dedication and principles it possessed at the opening of Community Empowerment Fund in 2009. Today, CEF is a thriving place, aiding folks of all ages and races, celebrating one another’s differences and empowering them to live above their circumstances.

“CEF is proud of people. People of all walks of life are welcomed. This organization offers a multitude of community resources to help and assist people in their time of need, whatever and however one may need. CEF is a place where individuals come to receive free services such as job seeking assistance, resume building, computer skills classes, cooking classes, sponsored plots in a local garden, along with the seeds and the necessary education needed in order to plant and harvest. CEF has weekly Opportunity Classes where several topics are out in the open, discussed across a meeting table, where coffee and pastries are served along with the uplifting, soul searching conversation. All input is welcome and received; it is a place to speak your mind and listen, a place to sit and build structure into one’s life. Papers are handed out on issues such as conflict at work, budgeting, among many other pertinent, life skill subjects, much needed in our society at hand. Once a member has completed the 8 sessions and reached their savings goal, they are eligible to receive a savings match in their CEF account of 10%. Community Empowerment Fund is built on providing people with the tools they need to be financially independent.

“The most powerful component of CEF is their belief that relationship is the starting point. Advocates are thoughtfully paired with individuals seeking membership and those relationships are brought together in concise ways, acting as friendships over a long period of time; multiple years. The relationships that are provided and strengthened offer peace and trust, where people have lacked it. Accountability is brought to the surface in a pleasant and mature process of ups and downs, and the acceptance therein. Support is offered, cell phone numbers are openly and easily exchanged. One wonders why they ever sought therapy and paid out of pocket for it, when human affairs are exchanged and treated so civilly. Likewise, attention is given foremost to the person who walks in, whether they are homeless, in a shelter, or in stable housing. Fare is given for those in need of public transportation to get to where they are going. Questions are not asked. Phone lines and internet lines are open and awaiting individuals who walk in who need them. Anything that would benefit a member is sought and found by their advocate or the founders.

“‘A tool shop for humanity,’ one could call it. An aversion from the norm. “True southern hospitality”, is perhaps what Community Empowerment Fund embodies. Biblical truth is what is represented and acted out. Works, works, and more works, all outlined in faith, though they are not a faith-based organization. Certainly, they attract many believers and probably turn more people into one than some churches. For one long time member whose iron count went low, a weekly box showed up at her doorstep, abounding with fresh produce from a local farm. Who made this happen? Her advocate and CEF’s co-founder, with their connection to a farmer food share. Another member with a medical issue and no transportation was supported to own her own car with CEF’s partnership with a local car donation organization and through building her CEF Safe Savings Account.

“All around, CEF enables empowerment among the peoples, and is always seeking out more ways to applaud their members who they so diligently support. Eradicating homelessness is their anthem, providing aid to live one’s life to its fullest is their mission.”



Featured Staff: Sarah

Sarah in her spiffy polo!

Sarah in her spiffy polo!

We got a chance to sit down with Sarah Cohn, CEF’s first AmeriCorps VISTA, to talk about the growth of her involvement and where she is now. We’re incredibly happy and lucky to have her, as she’s been an amazing asset to the CEF family!

How did you get involved with CEF, how did it all begin?

It all began when I was studying abroad actually, which doesn’t sound like it makes much sense. I got an email on the Spanish Minor listserv about doing CEF Latino and responded to it, planning to get involved with that once I got back. I met Linda over that summer and then I started doing CEF Latino business classes that summer and continued doing them that fall. Then I saw how cool the rest of CEF was and wanted to get involved in the bigger picture.

How would you describe your time with CEF while still an undergrad? How did your involvement develop?

At first I was just doing CEF Latino– at that point CEF Latino was not very connected to the rest of CEF and so I mainly just went to the small business classes and went to CEF Latino meetings every week. I started meeting with a member Sonya during business classes and that was pretty much it- it was something I was involved in, but wasn’t spending a lot of time on it.

Linda asked me to apply for an open admin position as CEF Latino Co-Coordinator, because she was working a fulltime job at that point, had graduated, and was very overstretched.  I started getting a lot more involved when I started coming to admin meetings, which I previously didn’t know existed and [began] learning about the rest of CEF.

Clearly you’ve had a good time with CEF since you’ve decided to continue your work after graduation. What motivated you to work for CEF full time and were there any hesitancies?

Last year, my senior year, was the first time I started spending a lot of time in the CEF office and I just really liked it. I wasn’t that fearful working full time for CEF, because I know it was something I love doing… spending time in the office, working with Members, and working with other people in CEF.

I really wasn’t that worried about it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation. For a long time I did not want to stick around and anyone who knew me last year knows that I preached a lot about leaving Chapel Hill. It kind of dawned on me one time that I could do the AmeriCorps position with CEF and it was just a great opportunity

Did someone bring up the possibility of working for CEF?

People did– I remember people joking about it. I was one of the few people graduating that did not have plans. They told me I should do it and I literally laughed in their faces the first couple time, saying, “No, no I’m leaving.” I don’t know what happened it was seriously one day I was like “Wait I could do this!” It went from being a joke to a possibility, then reality.

What is your position within CEF?

My position is Member-Advocate Coordinator, and that means working to support Members and Advocates and their relationships. There are two other student volunteers who are also Member-Advocate Coordinators and the three of us work together to pair members and advocates and follow up with those relationships and make sure they’re going well. My job is to spend a lot more time in the office and keep an eye out for possible pairings, and also just provide structure and support to teams and everything that involves Advocates.

What are some goals you have for the year?

Technically I have a VISTA Assignment Description that lists the goals that I have to accomplish this year, which they call a VAD. So my main goal for CEF is to accomplish everything on my VAD. A big part of that is redefining the Advocate program, especially in terms of training and support for advocates. So, one of my main goals right now is to create a better training for Advocates, and throughout all of that make what I’m doing sustainable for the next year. One of the main goals of VISTAs anyway is to build capacity, and make it so that they’re not needed within a couple years.

I definitely want to develop myself professionally, just because this is my first full time job.  Just working on skills that are necessary for lots of jobs like speaking, grant writing, and things like that.

Do you have a favorite CEF moment(s)?

One thing I love the most about CEF is that a lot of things that you would expect to be awkward aren’t awkward. So, working with people that are older than you, that have a lot more experience than you, and offering them financial advice, you’d expect these interactions to be awkward and sometimes offensive, but 99% of the time it’s not. Members are really open too since they came to CEF for advice like that, so I’m always impressed with Members.

I don’t know if there is one particular moment- most of the things that I’m thinking about are when Members find jobs or something exciting happens for a Member and everyone in the office is really excited. It’s an accomplishment for everyone and people are so genuinely happy for the person, like when people meet savings goals and that’s cause for celebration.


CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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