Archive | Research + Publications

The Knowledge Series

The Knowledge Series is a project dedicated to sharing information with our communities on how housing discrimination manifests today. Throughout this week, we will share a series of posts that delve into the history of housing discrimination and what it looks like in our everyday.

Part 1: Who is affected by homelessness?

Every year in the U.S., communities receiving funding from the McKinney-Vento Act (a U.S. policy that provides federal funds for homeless shelters and other homelessness programs) are required to hold a Point-in-Time (PIT) count in the last week of January to tally all sheltered and unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness in their area. Data from the most recent PIT counts show there are a projected 9,268 people experiencing homelessness throughout North Carolina. In 2019, the PIT count in Orange County revealed that 131 individuals experienced homelessness on any given night. In the City of Durham, the PIT count revealed 338 individuals experienced homelessness every day in the city.

These numbers are disheartening because at CEF we believe that housing and financial security are human rights. Unfortunately, these rights have not been previously available for many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Today, Black folx are still discriminated against in the housing and employment processes at greater numbers than any other racial group. In taking a deeper look at PIT count data, the numbers show us explicitly that Black people in the U.S. face racial and systemic barriers to obtaining housing and financial security.

Of the 131 individuals experiencing homelessness in Orange County, 51% are Black, despite making up only 12% of the population. Of the 338 homeless in Durham, 78.6% are Black, while making up only 37% of the population. These outrageously disproportionate percentages of homelessness for Black residents of Orange County and the City of Durham are a clear example of the systemic racism which has historically and explicitly barred Black families from accruing wealth through property ownership. The systems which discriminate against Black folx still have a significant impact on communities today, because of the generational trauma garnered through slavery, the Jim Crow South, and the still ever-present institutional racism which is inevitable in a society whose institutions were founded by and for white* men, and only white men. 

Come back tomorrow for a blog post diving more deeply into these historical policies and systems which have created modern-day disparities which we must address. We will discuss the historical impacts of slavery and the further, blatant discrimination that Black people in the U.S. faced at the hands of Jim Crow laws in the South. Flowing into modern 20th and 21st century American history, we will use these historical structures to analyze and understand how these systems still create vast disparities for Black folx in the housing and financial sectors. 

*In general, CEF uses APA grammar rules in our writing. The APA says that the names of race and ethnic identities should be capitalized, as they are proper nouns. For this series, and moving forward, CEF is intentionally leaving “white” (when referring to a racial identity) lower-cased. We recognize that by capitalizing words we are giving them power and we do not want to encourage white power in any way. Unlike the AP’s explanation for why they are choosing to lower-case “white” we want to be clear that we believe white people do have a shared experience–that is one of privilege. We also believe that undoing racism is the responsibility of white people and worry that implying that white people do not have a shared experience (as the AP does) is a dangerous tactic that is aimed at discounting the responsibility that white people have in undoing racism and white supremacist culture. Ultimately, we know that race is a construct but that racial differences are not. They are real and need to be addressed directly. For any questions or clarifications around CEF’s choice of words please contact ari rosenberg (arir[at]

NC Coalition to End Homelessness. (2019, May). 2019 Homelessness in North Carolina.
Root, Corey. (2019, April ). Homelessness in Orange County. Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness.


July Newsletter: Safe Savings Gratitude, Office Availability, Operation Get Your Stimulus, and New Advocate Training!

Thank you for making the Safe Savings Campaign a success!

Because of your donations, CEF was able to redistribute over $34,000 to Members in under four months!

This campaign bolstered the financial stability of your fellow community members during the challenges posed by COVID-19. CEF thanks you all for participating and making this campaign a success!

Office Availability Updates

When are the offices open?

For the time being, both the Chapel Hill and Durham office locations are open from 10 am- 12 pm and 1 pm – 3 pm Monday through Thursday with an extra time slot on Thursday from 5 pm – 7 pm. New Member Orientations are taking place at the Durham office on Mondays at 11 am and Thursdays at 6:00 pm.

The offices will each be closed in August as we say goodbye to summer interns and welcome the fall Advocates. Chapel Hill will be closed Aug 3-14, 2020 and Durham will be closed Aug 12-21, 2020. 

Can I still make a virtual appointment for these times?

Yes! CEF Members with the capacity to meet through online video chat software (like Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet) or over the phone will be encouraged to continue with this option. You can specify this option when you call the office to make an appointment.

Will anyone be available to speak with me when the offices are closed?

Yes! CEF Members can call the Durham office at 919-797-9233 or the Chapel Hill office at 919-200-0233 and receive a call back from a staff member.

Where can I get up-to-date information about office hours?

We are consistently updating this document with information about our office hours and phases of re-opening.

Operation Get Your Stimulus

Several agencies and organizations partnered with CEF to work with Durham residents to access their stimulus checks, better protect themselves from COVID-19, and complete the Census.

This project resulted in more than two dozen people signing up to receive their stimulus check and answered several questions regarding access issues and eligibility requirements. In addition to providing information regarding stimulus funds, the various members of this project were able to distribute masks and tips on how to properly wear them to lessen exposure to COVID-19.

Along with these efforts, the project also worked with eleven households to successfully complete the Census. This allowed for Durham to be more accurately reflected in the allocation of resources and representation which is based on Census figures.CEF is thankful to the various partners in Operation Get Your Stimulus for the project’s success!

Upcoming Advocate Training

CEF is still working to ensure that we can train new Advocates this fall in a safe and supportive way.

The new Advocate training has not been scheduled yet as CEF works to take the necessary precautions to ensure that the training can be carried out as safely as possible.

Sign up here for the New Advocate listserv to get updates about upcoming opportunities to become a CEF Advocate!

Racial Discrimination in Housing and Personal Finance

CEF’s Summer Interns have been curating a series of posts about how racial discrimination has impacted housing and personal finance matters in various ways. Their research provides context on why racial justice is an important guiding principle for CEF’s work.

You can check out the great information they have put together next week on our blog or any of our social media outlets. CEF is excited to share their work with you!

2019 Annual Report: We Grow Together

Cover for 2019 Annual report: collage representing community with the words hope, community, courage, and togetherness around the outside. Heart with houses, green space, and a gazebo in the middle

As CEF has grown and blossomed over the years, we have been reminded, time and again, of the importance of being nimble and adaptive as we grow. As you will see in this report, 2019 was no different. In the enclosed stories you will learn more about CEF’s deepening advocacy work; read about the programs we’ve built and strengthened; hear directly from Members, Advocates, and Staff about their connection to CEF; and see our quantitative impact.


June Newsletter: CEF is Hiring, Offices are Open, Donate to the Safe Savings Campaign!

Safe Savings Campaign Update

Another huge thanks to everyone who has donated to CEF’s COVID-19 Safe Savings Campaign. We’ve already raised a total of $24,678, which is 82% of our goal!Can you help us meet our goal by donating today?

$10,117.74 has been dispersed to Members’ Safe Savings Accounts as a 15% Match on what they had saved as of March 27. All additional funds raised will be used to partially replenish Members’ Safe Savings Accounts due to emergency withdrawals made since March 10–when Gov Cooper declared a State of Emergency due to COVID-19.

The Stewards Fund is graciously matching gifts from new or lapsed donors and increased gifts from already existing donors through June 30–up to $9,500!Please use the button below to donate and directly support the financial stability of people in your community.

Donate Here!

Office Reopening FAQs

What safety precautions are being taken at CEF’s offices to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

  • All staff must answer health screening questions about COVID-19 symptoms everyday before going to the office.
  • When making reminder calls to Members, CEF Staff and Advocates are asking screening questions about COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Masks are required for every person entering the office. CEF is providing masks to anyone who does not have one.
  • Every person entering the office must have their temperature checked by infrared thermometer (a type of thermometer that allows temperature to be taken from a distance with no contact) and is asked screening questions about COVID-19 symptoms.
  • In the office, markings on the ground indicate 6-foot distances that everyone is required to respect, including surrounding the reception desk, waiting room seats, individual offices, cubicles, and tables for one-on-one meetings. We have also installed Plexiglass dividers around the reception desks in both offices. The 6-foot distance requirement will be required for every person in the office, at all times.
  • In addition to the 6-foot distance requirement in all meetings, CEF installed computer monitors at each meeting station so that Members and Advocates can view the same screen at a safe distance.
  • Hand-washing with soap and hand sanitizer is highly encouraged with signs around the office and in bathrooms.

Can I still make a virtual appointment?

Yes! CEF Members with the capacity to meet through online video chat software (like Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet) or over the phone will be encouraged to continue with this option. You can specify this option when you call the office to make an appointment.

Can I donate supplies to support CEF in reopening?

Yes! CEF is still collecting donations for the following items: masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and infrared thermometers. If you can donate any of these supplies, please drop them off at either office during open office hours. 

Are the hotline and COVID-19 resource sheets still operating?

Yes – you can still call the hotline (919-797-9233), someone will be answering the phone during office hours (Tue & Wed 10:00-12:00 & 1:00-3:00 and Thurs 5:00-7:00 pm). The COVID-19 resource sheets are continuing to be updated, with the help of Lincoln Community Health Center. You can find them on the CEF website ( We are working with to merge our lists and upload them onto their platform so that they will be more mobile friendly and searchable! This should happen in the next few weeks.

We’re Hiring!

CEF is looking for an Administrative Assistant for Development & Finance

Applications are due by June 30, 2020.

Working closely with CEF’s Director of Development & Finance, the Administrative Assistant for Development and Finance (AADF) will support development efforts as CEF continually grows its reach in the community–including maintaining necessary files and records, planning for and implementing fundraising events, and supporting the donor thank you process. The AADF will also manage CEF’s social media presence, support other external communications–including a monthly e-newsletter and annual report, and support administration of CEF’s Safe Savings accounts. The AADF will have a combination of on- and off-site work; some tasks and duties will be performed in both CEF’s Chapel Hill and Durham offices, and other tasks will be completed remotely. When working in either office the AADF is expected to comply with all safety policies associated with COVID-19. The AADF will report to the Director and Development & Finance and may work with program staff, other administrative staff, and volunteer Advocates on specific tasks. 

For more information and application instructions please visit


May Newsletter: Plans to Reopen, Graduating Advocates, Donna on WRAL

Safe Savings Campaign Update

Another huge thanks to everyone who has donated to CEF’s COVID-19 Safe Savings Campaign. We’ve already raise a total of $19,670, which is 66% of our goal!

The money is already being dispersed to Members’ Safe Savings Accounts: $10,117.74 has been distributed to Members as a Savings Match, and $9,552.26 has replenished Members’ Safe Savings Accounts after emergency withdrawals.

To meet our goal of $30,000 by June 30, we need to raise an additional $10,330. With the Stewards Fund match, donations are doubled through the end June, which means your gift will have 2x its impact on our community during this crisis.

Please use the button below to donate and help CEF achieve our goal!
Donate Here!

Office Reopening FAQs

Given changing COVID-19 guidelines, CEF is initiating a reopening plan for both offices. Please read the following FAQs for information regarding office reopening.

When will CEF’s offices reopen?

The Chapel Hill office will reopen on Tuesday, June 9. The office will be open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10 am – 12 pm and 1 – 3 pm.

The Durham office will reopen Tuesday, June 16. The office will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 am – 12 pm and 1 – 3 pm, and Thursdays from 5 – 7 pm.

How can I schedule an appointment?

CEF Members can schedule appointments beginning Monday, June 1. Members can call the Chapel Hill (919-200-0233) or Durham (919-797-9233) offices to schedule an appointment. Please leave a message requesting an appointment at a specific date and time, and a CEF Staff member will call you back in 1-2 business days to confirm the appointment.

Will appointments be available for non-Members?

At this time, appointments are only available for current CEF Members who have attended a Member Orientation. CEF will not be offering Member Orientation at either office location at this time. We will send another update when we begin to offer Orientations again.

Can I still make a virtual appointment?

Yes! CEF Members with the capacity to meet through online video chat software (like Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet) or over the phone will be encouraged to continue with this option. You can specify this option when you call the office to make an appointment.

What safety precautions will be taken at CEF’s offices to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

When making reminder calls to Members, CEF Staff and Advocates will ask screening questions about COVID-19 symptoms.

Masks will be required for every person entering the office. CEF will provide masks for anyone who does not have one. Every person entering the office will have their temperature checked by infrared thermometer (a type of thermometer that allows temperature to be taken from a distance with no contact) and will be asked screening questions about COVID-19 symptoms.

In the office, markings on the ground will indicate 6-foot distances that everyone is required to respect, including surrounding the reception desk, waiting room seats, individual offices, cubicles, and tables for one-on-one meetings. We will have Plexiglass dividers surrounding the reception desks in both offices. The 6-foot distance requirement will be required for every person.

In addition to the 6-foot distance requirement in all meetings, CEF is installing computer monitors at each meeting station so that Members and Advocates can view the same screen at a safe distance. Hand-washing with soap and hand sanitizer will be highly encouraged with signs around the office and in bathrooms.

Can I donate supplies to support CEF in reopening?

Yes! CEF is still collecting donations for the following items: masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and infrared thermometers. If you can donate any of these supplies, please drop them off on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday between 11 am and 1 pm at IFC Community Kitchen (100 W. Rosemary Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516). CEF Staff will be present during this time. For questions about donations, please email Zach at

Are the hotline and COVID-19 resource sheets still operating?

Yes – you can still call the hotline (919-797-9233), but hours are reduced to 3:30 – 5:30 pm every weekday. The COVID-19 resource sheets will continue to be updated. You can find them on the CEF website (

We are excited to see our community again, and safety is our first priority as we reopen. Any changes in the above FAQs will be communicated via newsletter.

A Bittersweet Good-Bye to Graduating Advocates

Due to quarantine measures, CEF was unable to host our annual Spring Graduation for senior Advocates in Chapel Hill this year…so we celebrated them from afar!Durham’s Advocate Program Coordinator, Leah, coordinated a good-bye Zoom call for graduating Advocates to share reflections on CEF, college, and all the incredible communities they’ve build over the past few years. Chapel Hill’s Advocate Program Coordinator Kristina compiled a thank-you video for graduating Advocates, with video clips of Staff and Advocates wishing personalized good-byes to all graduating Advocates.To our graduating Advocates: we will miss you so much, and we wish you the best of luck in your next steps! Know that you always have a home with us at CEF!
Check out the full video HERE!

Donna Carrington, Executive Director, Featured on WRAL

CEF Executive Director Donna Carrington spoke to WRAL last week about CEF’s partnership with the City of Durham and their efforts to ensure that everyone has the information and resources they need to receive their $1,200 stimulus check. She describes CEF’s work in connecting “non-filers,” who do not file taxes and who therefore do not automatically get a stimulus checks, to the application to receive their stimulus check.
You can view Donna’s interview with the WRAL team HERE!

Safe Savings Campaign, COVID-19 Updates, and Staff Highlights!

COVID-19 Safe Savings Campaign and $9,500 Match!

We want to extend a heartfelt “thank you!” to everyone who has donated to CEF’s COVID-19 Safe Savings campaign! Your generous donations have already raised $15,522, which is 52% of our overall goal to raise $30,000 by June 30. Donations have already been used to match Member savings at 15%, and all additional donations will be used to replenish Safe Savings Accounts for Members who are using their savings during these uncertain times.
And, exciting news: CEF has received a $9,500 match from the Stewards Fund! This means that all donations from new donors, all increased donations, and all donations from donors who have not given in the past 18 months will be matched up to $9,500. All gifts that meet the above criteria and that are donated between now and June 30 will be doubled—a great way to increase your gift and your impact on our community during this crisis.
Thank you in advance for your support of the CEF community!
Donate Here!

COVID-19 Update: Office Closures and Supply Donations

CEF’s offices in Chapel Hill and Durham will remain closed through the end of May. 
The office will not re-open before the end of May even if shelter-in-place mandates are lifted. CEF Staff and Advocates will continue making Community Care Calls to Members, answering calls to our hotlines in Durham and Chapel Hill, maintaining county-specific resource pages for Durham and Orange Counties, and distributing mail during this time
CEF is currently searching for the following donations. 
We want to ensure that when we do re-open our offices, Staff, Advocates, and Members will stay safe.
– Masks
– Gloves
– Cleaning supplies
– Hand sanitizer
– 2+ infrared thermometers
If you can donate any of these supplies, please drop them off on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday between 11 am and 1 pm at IFC Community Kitchen (100 W. Rosemary Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516). CEF Staff will be present during this time. 
For questions about donations, please email Zach at

CEF Staff Highlights: Zach and Kyle!

CEF is so appreciative of the work of Zach Meredith and Kyle Compton, who both started in August 2019!
Originally from Durham, Zach joined CEF as the Employment Access AmeriCorps VISTA after graduating from William and Mary College. Kyle, who grew up in Palatine, IL and who is currently pursuing his law degree and Master of Social Work (MSW) at UNC, has been CEF’s MSW Intern for the 2019-2020 academic year. To learn more about them and their time at CEF, read their interviews here! Read the Interviews Here!


Meet Kristina: Advocate Program Coordinator in Chapel Hill

Kristina joined CEF’s Chapel Hill team in June of 2019 as Advocate Program Coordinator. We are so grateful for the talents and gifts she brings! Read more about Kristina below.

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

I am the Advocate Program Coordinator in Chapel Hill, so I oversee 80 to 90 active Advocates in the Chapel Hill office. I’m in charge of recruiting and selecting new Advocates, training them to make sure they understand the foundation and the values of an Advocate, and ensuring that they feel entirely prepared and supported during Member meetings. I also work on making sure that the Advocate program is evolving alongside CEF, particularly in terms of our racial justice work. 

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

I knew a few friends who worked and volunteered with CEF, and they spoke so highly of it. I also knew that I wanted a job that was more direct-service focused, because I had done internships in the past that felt very removed from the communities their work impacted. I really believe, first and firmly, in person-to-person connection and relationship-building, which is why I was so drawn to the role.  

What experiences, strengths and skills do you bring to your work at CEF?

I hope I bring a lot of empathy to the role. I care a lot about people’s identities, where they come from, and what experiences they’ve had that shaped them as people, because I think that we are often a product of our experiences and where we come from. Long before me, there’s been discussion of the racial wealth gap and racial justice at CEF. But I believe that before you can begin those conversations, you really have to know who you are and how you show up in the world. So it’s been an exciting thing to bring some tools that I’ve used in trainings or retreats in the past to this role. 

I also bring a lot of enthusiasm and joy. I hope that when things are difficult and frustrating, I’m able to bring a little bit of light and positivity to that. For Advocates who are on the front lines, who are interacting with folks who are constantly going up against really difficult barriers in the systems that they’re operating in, I think it’s really important to have someone who can remind them that there’s so much good in the work they’re doing despite a lot of the bad. 

When you think about your work at CEF, where do you find energy and renewal?

For me, it comes back to the people. It has been both really exciting and also, at times, really shocking to see just how strong and resilient people are. Coming into the role, I think I possessed some naiveté about how a person can handle stress, crisis, and trauma. I thought that those experiences would consume one’s whole person, because they are so heavy. And to see that people are just so multifaceted and hold so much joy and love and show up and be present on top of everything going on in their lives is really, really energizing and motivating for me. I just continually feel compelled to be in the same space as these people.

I like working in the office. Most of the time if I’m doing work, even if it doesn’t involve anyone immediately in the office, I would rather be in the office doing it. I’ve found the ability to laugh, cry, and hug someone there. It’s a space that holds all of these really complex relationships that are built on community and family, in a way that I didn’t understand could be so comforting.

Kristina and PeeWee at CEF’s 2019 Holiday Party

When you think about your work at CEF, where do you find challenges and how do you seek to find the best way forward?

The things that have been most difficult for me to process have been when it doesn’t feel as if there are solutions or options for folks, when you’re sitting with someone and it feels like you’ve done everything that you can. It has been a challenge for me to understand that sitting with someone and being frustrated with them or sad or just present with them, also has a lot of meaning. I’m a doer, I like to do something and complete it, so it’s been really challenging to learn that there are things that I can’t do and systems that I can’t just fix, and then figuring out how to move forward with that.  I’m trying to internalize that it can mean just as much for someone to act as an emotional support, as it can to support someone in filling out a housing application. I overcome that challenge by constantly leaning on those around me. Other Staff and Members have been a really incredible source of perspective, learning, supervision, and mentorship in this challenge.

What has your work looked like for the 9 months you’ve been at CEF?

I was working with Jess McDonald, who was previously the Advocate Program Coordinator in the Durham office, to reshape and revamp the Advocate training curriculum. We were trying to make it a bit more foundational, speaking more to the core of CEF. For us, that meant ensuring that the curriculum around the racial wealth gap, trauma-informed care, and the coach approach was really robust, because we view those things as the three central pillars within the Advocate program. Jess and I really tried to ensure that Advocates know how to show up as people, to see Members as creative, resourceful, and whole human beings, and of course, be cognizant of their identities showing up into this space. The harder skills will follow, because those things come with time and we can never teach someone how to do everything in a 12-hour curriculum. But what we can allow people to do is take a moment to reflect on themselves, on who they’re going to show up as in the space, who Members are going to see them as, and try to make sure they can do that in a way that actually empowers folks. 

Other than that, my work has been a lot of figuring out the needs of different Advocates, because they’re all unique people who have whole lives outside of our organization. I’ve reflected a lot about making sure that we aren’t asking too much of them, which is why in Chapel Hill, we’ve moved to having two Advocates in all Member meetings. I think this really gets back to the core of support: here are these two Advocates who don’t know everything about the systems that they’re working within, and a Member who has a great deal of lived experience. And so let’s put two Advocates in the meeting so they can be learning and listening at the same time. Having two people in a meeting doesn’t hinder the relationship that is built, and it allows for a bit more support. 

In your opinion, what makes CEF’s Advocate Program special?

There are so many things that go into the magic of what CEF creates, and the Advocate program is a large part of that. I’ve met so many incredible Advocate volunteers who are so entirely dedicated to this organization. I think that it’s actually this pandemic that has fully solidified that for me: there are 40-plus people who have volunteered to make Community Care Calls to Members during this time.

When you become an Advocate, you become entirely dedicated to this community. They’re really on the front lines of ensuring that Members are seen as creative and resourceful and whole. A lot goes into ensuring that they actually do this every day, and I think that we do a really good job of making sure that they do.


Get to Know Donna, CEF’s New Executive Director!

Donna Carrington, CEF Executive Director

CEF is deeply proud and excited to share that Donna Carrington, a skilled and passionate CEF Staff member, has been promoted to the position of Executive Director! Over the past year, CEF has worked to restructure organizational leadership to better fit the growth and change we’ve experienced through a decade of work. Donna’s appointment as Executive Director marks the beginning of this new structure, and we are excited for Donna’s strategy and vision as we move into the next decade.

Message from CEF’s Board of Directors:

“The Community Empowerment Fund Board of Directors and Staff have been deeply and intentionally working together to envision the evolution of CEF over the last four months. The Governance Committee is thrilled to welcome Donna Carrington as CEF’s new Executive Director! The Board has worked closely with Donna during this transition and we are deeply confident in her ability to lead us into the future. Over the last 5 years, Donna has worked in multiple roles at CEF, most recently as Co-Director and Member Services Coordinator, providing leadership in the Durham office and community. Along with her leadership gifts, she brings the expertise of lived experience to her work. She knows CEF like the back of her hand and she lives our values every day. We are excited for our community to embrace her in this new role and we look forward to working with her!”

A Bit About Donna

Originally from West Virginia, Donna’s family moved to Durham when she was a child. She attended public schools in Durham and eventually enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied Spanish Language & Literature with minors in English and Psychology. Donna joined CEF five years ago and has been leading our Durham team as Co-Director since September 2019. Donna currently resides in Chapel Hill with her partner and four children.

Read more about Donna’s life story, the gifts and talents she continues to bring to her work, and her dreams and visions for CEF’s future in the following interview. *Please note that the interview was conducted in January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic affected the United States.*

CEF’s 2016 Holiday Party in Durham

Q: How did you first get involved with CEF?

Donna: After graduating from UNC, I moved back to Durham, got married, and had my first three children. Then I ended up homeless in Durham for the first time. We were at the Durham Rescue Mission. The experience taught me a lot. I don’t think it ever occurred to me what could happen without skills, without knowledge. It was a shock to our system in a lot of ways.

I originally came to CEF as a Member. I was in HomeStart, which is a local family and women’s shelter in Chapel Hill. And CEF used to do the Opportunity Class on Sundays over there. I’d be apprehensive, but I would go, and when I would get there, I would be so happy because I was learning things that I didn’t have any idea how to do. I think it was just realizing that it could be better and could be different. And I just needed help to figure that out.

By the time that I took the Savings Specialist position at CEF, I had moved out of the shelter, I had gotten my own place, and had gone through a process of seeing how hard it was in Chapel Hill to find a place to live. That really taught me some lessons about my own resilience, and that I needed to be resilient for other people. 

Q: Can you tell us about all the different roles you’ve had at CEF since you first got involved?

Donna: The Savings Specialist position was my first position at CEF. Next, I offered services as a Housing Specialist. Housing was one of those places where I knew that I had a story, and I knew I had some experiences that I could share with people, but I also understood how hard it is to navigate all these systems. I really loved doing the Housing Specialist position because it made me the front line of people feeling comfortable at CEF.

Donna speaks at the 2018 Mayor’s Landlords Roundtable in Durham

Q: In your most recent role as Member Service Coordinator, you’ve been providing service delivery to Members in CEF’s Durham office.  This job entails ensuring Members are receiving the services and resources they seek while working with Advocates, assisting Members in reaching their goals, and identifying strategies for building Member-Advocate relationships. Can you tell us about the “why” behind your work in this role?

Donna: From being CEF’s Housing Specialist, I became the Member Services Coordinator in Durham. Before that, there wasn’t anyone with lived experience at the table and I knew that was important. That was probably the hardest position for me, because I think it was the first time that I realized how different it is to be at a table saying you’ve been a person of lived experience and how other people interact with you. Also, I think it was a place for me to say to other providers, ‘There needs to be more people like me and you need to invite them. And they need to feel like what they say and who they are is equally valuable as you are’. So that’s been sort of the role that I’ve been in for the last year. I’ve seen it come to its fruition. 

Q: How did you begin your current role at CEF as Executive Director? 

Donna: I always fully invested in every position I was in. CEF was doing work to make sure that we were being intentional about our values, which meant that we needed to diversify our staff. We really wanted to make sure that our leadership reflected our Member base, because it’s important for people to know that leadership looks just like that. I also wanted to be able to talk about my story, where a person who has struggled with mental illness, had children struggling with mental illness, has gone through a divorce, has gone through abuse, trauma, all of these different things—how that person is now at the level of where I am, at these tables, having these conversations, and to just have a different view that I can bring to these conversations that other providers can’t.

Q: So you’ve talked about the “what” and the “how” and the “who” regarding your time at CEF. Can you talk a little bit about the “why”?

Donna: My 16 year old daughter has always seen me fight for our family. She’s always seen me fight for other people. And I think that’s why I do it. I know if I can make one person feel like they’ve accomplished something, if I can be alongside one person to get housing or figure out how to do this one thing, I think that’s what I’ve been set here to do. I think the other “why” is, I want to be what didn’t happen for me, which was to have someone further along than I was on this path. I think if there had been that, maybe I wouldn’t have gone through some of the pitfalls that I went through, cause I would have seen, oh, there is a possibility.

CEF Spring Graduation 2017

Q: What do you see as being really special about CEF? What do you consider to be a part of the “special sauce”?

Donna: The way we do this work is because we want to know people, and we want to be with people, and we want to be on their journeys, and we want to learn, and we want other people to learn. And that has been the single place that I’m always solidly in value. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when things are hard or when we don’t have answers. And that’s usually the hardest time for me. I want to have an answer for somebody. 

But to have a person own their own path is important to me. I’ve learned that I might have a plan and think that I might know something, and someone will show me something different. And that something different is usually so beautiful, and never a place that I would’ve gotten to. I really, really like it when people surprise me and do something different and really are part of their own process. I know that a lot of times, to have been in that battle with them or on that path with them is just as important. And I think that’s where that special sauce is. Like, at CEF, this person knows me. Even if I mess up something, they’re like, okay, let’s figure out how to do it, let’s figure out how to fix it. 

Q: When you think about your work in this new role as ED of CEF, where do you find challenges and how do you seek to find the best ways forward?

Donna: I think the biggest challenge I’m seeing is having lots of conversations about what CEF is at our core, what we do, and how we do it. That’s where I see things going in the future: making those assessments in conversation, and really being solid about what our boundaries are and what we do. Why are we in this work? What makes us unique? I think what makes us unique is the fact that we want to make relationships with people and that we want to fight alongside people. 

Donna, Janet, and Maggie attending a conference on behalf of CEF in 2017

Q: What do you see for CEF’s future? What things might remain the same? In what ways might we grow?

Donna: I love the model of engaging college students. I don’t think it should be the only way we get volunteers, but I think there’s something about having conversations with students who might be coming in without lived experience, and asking questions, and wanting to think more critically. I want them to work alongside other people in our community who have had different lived experiences. 

I see CEF going more into advocacy and I think about what that will look like. That could be a place where our values can operate in a better way. Maybe we delve into advocacy more because that is a place where we can come as a collective with not only people from college institutions, but with people who have lived experience saying, ‘Hey, actually this matters to us.’ 

I want CEF to be a place where people stay for a long time. It’s important that we’re really thinking about what it means for us to do direct service that fulfills that relationship but also doesn’t put us in those places where we’re doing too much.

Q: Thank you, Donna! Is there anything else you want to add or share?

Donna: I always want to build a community where there’s people that I can be me with. And I’ve been very intentional about building a non-biological family, having my coworkers and people that I get to know being part of that family. I think that’s the way you have to operate in the world in order to get through things. You have to be able to love the people around you, to care about the people around you, to be a support to them, to get support from them. 

I think a lot about having been at CEF for five years—that’s a long time. One of the things I always tell people is I tend to be a “lifer” at things. It just never occurs to me that I wouldn’t be here every day.

On top of stepping into this position and really growing into things, there’s also that sadness that I’m trying to wade through, of students and Staff leaving over the years. I’m being very, very intentional about moments, conversations, things like that, because that’s all I’ll have. They tell histories.


Sharing news from Jon & Janet for the CEF family

CEF Co-Directors, Jon Youngpenn, Donna Carrington, and Janet Xiao

Message from Jon & Janet, CEF Co-Directors

CEF has been our heart and home for nearly a decade. After ten years of learning and growing with all of you, we are feeling called toward a new path and will be transitioning out of our roles this spring.

Each day for the past decade has been indescribably full to the brim. One of the guiding values of our community is that “we are all creative, resourceful, and whole,” and we have seen this reflected in a million ways through individual people and in our powerful collective work. This strong and vibrant community of Members, Advocates, staff, partners, and supporters is made up of people that we’re proud to call lifelong friends and teachers. What’s emerged from CEF’s momentous growth over the past decade is an organization that is impactful, innovative, trusted, and purpose-driven. We are grateful to be able to make this transition at a time when the organization is flourishing, financially healthy, and poised for its next stage of growth.

This past September, Donna Carrington, who has been a core leader on our team for the past six years, stepped in to support CEF as a Co-Director. We are inspired by the wealth of experience that Donna brings and confident that her intentional and values-driven leadership will continue carrying CEF forward with love, wisdom, and abiding dedication.

As CEF prepares for this transition, CEF’s Board of Directors, leadership, and broader staff team are engaged in an organizational discernment process to envision and build its future shape. This is a wonderfully rich and healthful moment in the life of the organization, and we are truly excited about what’s to come. We hope you’ll join us in actively continuing to support CEF, and in celebrating as this transformative organization continues to bloom!

In Love and Gratitude,
Jon and Janet


Message from CEF Board of Directors

Dear CEF Family,

CEF is entering another season of growth and change in the New Year. In 2019 we worked with over 1000 Members with the support of 220 Advocates, celebrated 121 Members gaining jobs and 138 Members moving out of homelessness into housing; and in exciting news, CEF Members have now saved over $1,250,000 collectively towards their personal goals. As we continue to deepen the work of CEF in our community, we are very excited to announce Donna Carrington’s promotion into directorship from her previous role in CEF’s Durham office supporting Member Services and programming. Donna, and the CEF staff and board, will be continuing to deepen our commitment to sustainability and equity in our organization, our work, and our community. Together will be undertaking a lot of intentional work to support the development of the new leadership structures CEF needs in order to grow and flourish at this point in our organizational life. 

Jon and Janet have played an incredible role in the transformation we’ve all experienced since CEF started as an organization in 2009. They have brought immense dedication, vision, soul, and roll-up-your-sleeves dedication to their work. Thank you, Jon and Janet! While we can’t help but feel sadness about this change, we are also excited to take this next step with the organization and begin a process of discernment and transition. Jon and Janet will both be sharing great wisdom with the rest of the CEF community to support a smooth and healthy leadership transition.

We know there will be a lot of questions, and we welcome the curiosity of fellow community members even while we may not have all the answers in the immediate future. We are excited about the future possibilities for us as an organization, and deeply grateful for the contributions of everyone who has participated in making CEF the incredible community it is today!  We are designing a process and an interim strategy that gives us the space and time we need to be thoughtful during the period following Jon and Janet’s departure.  You can learn more details here with the “Transition Details and FAQ.” 


Eric Breit and Brian Smith

Co-Chairs, Board of Directors

We’re so grateful to the whole CEF family for being an amazingly supportive community. As we enter another big year for CEF, and as we continue to adapt and grow, we hope you’ll keep doing what you do best at CEF—whether that’s volunteeringdonatingcoming to meetingsbuilding program partnerships together or singing with the Advocacy Choir. Or, if you are looking to get more involved,we hope you’ll reach out!


Annual Report 2018 : “it takes a collective”

“We are overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to grow with the over 1,000 Members and 250 Advocates who show up every day to care for each other. It encourages us to learn from and lean on one another as we move forward together. Thank you for believing in this community of boundless support as we grow towards the abundant possibilities we have before us.”

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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