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CEF Hits the Road: Lend for America Summit


Olivia, Emerson, and Chiraayu

By Olivia & Chiraayu

Over the weekend of October 10th to 12th, five brave CEF-ers took a fateful journey into the heart of Pennsylvania to meet some of their institutional role models. After seven hours in the car together (during which Chiraayu caught up on lots of sleep, Jon caught up on lots of Bo-Berry biscuits, and Emerson, Maggie, and Olivia engaged in enriching conversation) the group of five arrived first in Lancaster, the charming town that TABOR calls home.

TABOR is a non-profit organization that has been working in the Lancaster community for several decades, performing many functions such as financial education, housing assistance, and saving services. CEF has had its eye on TABOR for a few years now, primarily because of their well-developed and successful protective payee system and IDA savings program. The kind employees at TABOR gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of their facilities, shared their philosophy with us, and more than anything else, provided us with a concrete vision of what a young organization like CEF can become.

Following an afternoon in Lancaster, we headed north to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to attend the annual Lend for America Summit, where we had the opportunity to engage with fellow campus-based microfinance organizations. This year’s summit brought over 200 people from 53 universities across 26 states. Lend for America was started in 2010 to provide more support to students practicing microfinance and community development. CEF was one of the original members of Lend for America and sends students to present and collaborate with fellow students at each yearly gathering. This year, Emerson and Jon gave a presentation titled “Unbanked in America, while Maggie discussed community assets as an integral component of community development. Jon also had the opportunity to talk to tech nerds about Salesforce.

Maggie Jon


The weekend involved as much learning as it did teaching. We had the opportunity to learn from our peers from universities like Fordham, Yale, and Tulane about recruitment, retention, taxes (getting excited about them!), and organizational identity. The conference gave us the chance to connect with other students from the South and develop greater potential for collaboration. We loved conversations with students from UNC Greensboro and Elon, who are looking to start their own community development organizations, as well as with University of Alabama representatives who have a well-established MFI. There were many chances for reflection on CEF’s direction for the future and new programs that align with our mission.

Furthermore, we had the chance to reunite with CEF’s 2012 summer intern, Peter Woo, who has since started a campus microfinance initiative at Notre Dame. We’re pleased to report that Peter seems to be doing splendidly, and JIFFI (Jubilee Initiative for Financial Inclusion) is off to an excellent start. (And what would a conference be without good food? The food was dope. A huge shout out to the delicious cupcakes, soft pretzels, pizza, and wings that were enjoyed this weekend!)


CEF in the Summer!

We Need Advocates this Summer:  Sign up here! 

CEF Advocates work side by side with individuals struggling with underemployment and unemployment, saving for affordable housing, and sustainably working their way out of poverty.

As a CEF Member Advocate:

You’ll have the opportunity to work closely alongside one of our Members (homeless, unemployed, or underemployed individuals), helping to provide financial support and access to resources, as well as to build a supportive environment.

No experience necessary- we will provide training to all new volunteers!

Ready to get involved? Sign up HERE!

Member Advocates will:

  • Believe In Possibilities
  • Budgeting
  • Resume Building
  • Job Search Assistance
  • Find Ways to Increase Income and Decrease Expenses
  • Housing Search Assistance
  • Connections to Community and Government Resources
  • Small Business Plan Preparation
  • Personal Coach for Economic Independence
  • Bond with Each Other! And Strengthen Relationships
  • Stand Up for All People
  • Explore Pathways to Higher Education
  • Fight for Financial Freedom
  • Create Positive Community

"University Students Changing Landscape in Domestic Microenterprise"

The Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) was featured as one of two case studies in a national publication on student-led microfinance programs. The report was written and published by FIELD at the Aspen Institute.

Titled “Catching Fire: The University Microenterprise Movement in 2012,” the report documents the growth and creativity of this unique model of service delivery in the microenterprise sector.

More info from Elaine Edgcomb, Director of FIELD and co-author of the study:

“University students delivering microenterprise services and microfinance? With some scale and effectiveness?

“Over the last few years, university-born and student-powered microenterprise organizations have emerged offering direct services (both training and financing) to low-income individuals and small businesses in their local communities. FIELD has closely watched the movement evolve, and FIELD’s latest study “Catching Fire: the University Microenterprise Movement in 2012″ describes the contributions this movement is making both to individual communities and the larger field. The paper provides two case studies of the Community Empowerment Fund in North Carolina, and Capital Good Fund in Rhode Island that illustrate its potential, and points out the next challenges that the movement must address if it is to fully capitalize on that potential.”

Our thanks and appreciation go out to FIELD, the Aspen Institue, and the Mott Foundation for their thorough research and thoughtful interviews. Thank you for documenting this work!


Finally, Amanda Has a Home

Check out this recent article in the Chapel Hill News, a guest column CEF published to highlight the fantastic and collaborative work we are participating in through the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness’ 100,000 Homes Task Force.

“How Amanda Got a Home” Read the full article here. 

Excerpt: “Amanda had been homeless for more than 10 years. Only 28 years old, this means she had been homeless for the entirety of her adult life – living with her sister in Houston, a shelter in D.C. and, for the past two years, a tent in the woods of Carrboro.

Amanda signing her new lease!

This past May, Amanda and her two cats moved into their own apartment in Chapel Hill. How? First, Amanda’s own determination and follow-through; second, a symphony of community partners, orchestrated by the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness’ 100,000 Homes Taskforce.

The story began for me about a year ago when Amanda walked into the office of the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) on Franklin Street with her very cute little dog, Paso. I can’t remember what brought Amanda up to our office that day, but from then on she became a daily presence at CEF. She began leading our weekly creative writing workshops, helping with outreach, working on her own goals, making savings deposits, and, sometimes, just hanging out on the computer. Through CEF Amanda was paired with two volunteer advocates, Audrey Boyles and Jon Young, who began partnering with her and working one-on-one to help her reach her goals.

Amanda with Audrey, one of her volunteer CEF Advocates

This past January the Partnership to End Homelessness held its annual Point-In-Time count, documenting the number of homeless men, women, and children in Orange County. This year as a part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, the count included a survey to identify the most medically vulnerable homeless individuals in our community. Based on these surveys, a collaboration of 15 local agencies joined together to create person-specific plans to help the most vulnerable individuals in our community find housing.

Amanda was one of the surveyed individuals and the 100,000 Homes Campaign prioritized her to receive services. A network of community services and organizations came together: A supportive housing voucher through OPC Shelter Plus Care; an affordable apartment through CASA; a security deposit from Housing for New Hope; comprehensive health services through the Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health; vaccinations for her cats through POP; household furniture from a graduating senior at UNC; and one-on-one support from her CEF advocates, as well as her community and church friends. It was stressful; it was mountains of paperwork.

Amanda with Mary Jean, COO at CASA, the affordable housing agency renting Amanda her beautiful apartment

“I kept waiting on the big joke,” says Amanda, “for everything to fall apart.”

On Amanda’s first night in her new apartment she hosted a housewarming party. A family of friends, case-workers, advocates, pastors, jogging-buddies, therapists and community supporters came together to share a meal and celebrate Amanda’s accomplishment. A few of us even brought sleeping bags and stayed with Amanda for her first night, so she would be comfortable sleeping in this new environment – spending her first night in her own bed in over a decade.

Amanda says having her own home means “constant baths, air conditioning, a bed, and a lock. I can lock my door, that’s a very big deal. Oh, and I can cook!”

It’s the things we take for granted. It’s the distance between surviving and living. It’s doors opened for Amanda to continue her education at Durham Tech and become a Nursing Assistant, or to one day open a rescue home for abused and abandoned cats and support them through recovery.”

Read the full article here. 


CEF Savings Program Featured by CFED Blog!

Check it out! Alex Biggers, CEF’s Savings Program Coordinator, was invited to write a guest post on the CFED Inclusive Economy Blog. We’re famous!

Read Alex’s entire and beautifully written post on the CFED Inclusive Economy Blog by clicking here, or check out the excerpt below.

“While traditional Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) work towards three main asset purchases – homeownership, education, and small business development – we recognized that savings and housing were in themselves assets to the homeless living in and transitioning out of shelters. While staying at shelters, expenses tend to be minimal. However, when it comes time for many residents to move out, they find that despite their best efforts, they still don’t have enough money – for a rental deposit, furniture, utility deposits, and a financial cushion for emergencies. Though some may have enough funds to move into proper housing, many people have a hard time keeping up with their rent while dealing with volatile incomes and unexpected expenses, and many even return to homelessness.

“Based on the unique need of our members, we structured the savings accounts to incentivize savings towards anything the CEF members see valuable, be it $2000 for an emergency fund, $150 towards a refurbished laptop, or $900 to move into new housing. CEF members define both the amount of the goal and the asset. Unlike a traditional IDA, the CEF match rate is only 10%. Although low compared to other match savings programs, CEF staff has found that this rate truly does incentivize saving, while still allowing the program to remain flexible and easy to administer.

“…Through a network of strong relationships, assertive individualized support, flexible accounts and matches, holistic education, and self-selected goals, CEF continues to facilitate savings, promote asset-building, and create access to a mainstream financial world for a population normally deemed “too poor” to be served by most IDAs. By continuing to listen to and believe in our members that have believed so much in us, we hope that we can move our community closer to realizing their own self-defined goals and promoting financial stability.”

Our thanks to the folks at the Corporation for Enterprise Development for spreading the word about the Community Empowerment Fund and our savings program!


CEF Invited to the White House

A view of the White House from the front stoop

The Community Empowerment Fund was invited to the White House for a Community Leaders Briefing Series. Alongside social justice and grassroots activists from all over the country, CEF was there to provide our perspective and feedback on issues facing the Obama Administration.

The best part? We got to meet incredible people from nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups, public schools, and neighborhood associations from Missouri, Michigan, California, Kentucky, and many of the nation’s 50 states. This gave us the invaluable opportunity to learn from creative leaders doing important work in their towns, and to spread the word about CEF and our missions and methods.

For example, we met Donnie from reStart, Inc. reStart is a 78,000 square foot shelter facility in Kansas City that provides residential services to families in a manner that upholds their personal lifestyle, housing whole families, unmarried couples, same-sex couples, and single individuals. We were thrilled to hear that reStart just recently launched a financial literacy program for their residents. CEF looks forward to sharing our curriculum and experiences, and supporting their new efforts!

CEF also connected with the Lancaster County Council of Churches in Pennsylvania. Offering an array of social services, the council runs a smart and simple “Wheels to Work” program that sustains itself financially and provides motor vehicles or bikes to those who need transportation to become self-sufficient. Transportation is a huge barrier for many of our members, and a program such as this is an exciting model to learn from as we explore potential matched savings account options to meet this need.

And this is just a small sample of the community visionaries we met in D.C… Advocates for Pell Grants, school teachers, counselors for Latina youth – everyone we met inspired us and reminded us that the nature of the movement for economic justice is national in scope, and that even though we as a country have a long way to go, when we look on the local level, we see that grassroots leaders are continuing to fight alongside their communities and are making real change.

Briefing participants in a Health and Human Services session

The experience solidified for us that the stories and voices of CEF members must continue to be heard on the national level. We look forward to staying engaged with the White House, using the new tools for communication we learned about at the briefing.

We were honored to be invited, and grateful to Chapel Hill Mayor Kleinschmidt for recommending us to the White House staff. Thank you, Mayor Kleinschmidt, for this great opportunity!



CEF Featured in Federal Reserve Bank's Magazine

Along with fellow student-run microfinance institutions from across the country, the Community Empowerment Fund was featured in an article by Lyn E. Haralson in “The Bridges,” the magazine of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

To read the article, click here.

Thanks to the Federal Reserve Bank for sharing information with their readers about CEF’s work, and to all our fellow student-run MFI’s who do fantastic work and whom we continue to learn from — including the Intersect Fund (Rutgers University, NJ), the Elmseed Enterprise Fund (Yale University, CT), and the Capital Good Fund (Brown University, RI)


CEF on the Radio

So we’re a bit behind the times on this one, but WCHL Radio did a Profile on CEF back in February! It’s amazing to see how much our program has changed in the last 6 months, transitioning from a focus on micro-loans to our emphasis on asset building and small-business trainings.

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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