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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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CEF Summit 2019 Reflections

Written by Joyce Yao and Connie Longmate

“Stay in school, stay in the Movement.”
— Reverend Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign,

On the first weekend in March, CEF Advocates from UNC and Duke put aside their rivalries, to come together and co-host the 2nd annual Summit on Homelessness and Poverty! The three-day summit brought together over 100 students from  25 schools from across the country to share experiences, workshop ideas, and learn from longtime local community organizers. Their collective goal was to continue to grow a national coalition of student organizations dedicated to dismantling systems that perpetuate hunger, homelessness, and poverty.


“The cost of poverty, broadly, is so much higher than the cost of paying people fairly.”
—Jill Johnson, Mayor Pro Tem

Last year, students at Brown University held the inaugural Summit on Homelessness and Poverty that brought together a coalition of student organizations from across the country dedicated to dismantling systems that perpetuate homelessness and poverty. In the 8 months of planning, the summit vision truly came together when Megan Miller and Olivia Simpson proposed that the theme of the Summit be “Abundance,” with the idea that the communities we work within have an abundance of love, resilience, and (as CEF likes to say) people who are “creative resourceful and whole”— and therefore our work should be about uplifting and celebrating that abundance. Hosting this summit meant that we got to help to create a unique space for students to reflect on and share about the abundance in their own communities.

“Joy can be an act of revolution!”
—George Barrett, The Marian Cheek Jackson Center

The weekend was a tremendous labor of love. A true test of the commitment to the work we do, as well as of our ability to open ourselves up to new forms of the pursuit of social justice, which is important perspective when you find yourself debating seemingly trivial things like the number of coffee cups to order and the most fitting genre of music for the welcome reception. We succeeded in bringing together students from different regions of the country involved in all kinds of anti-poverty and homelessness work, effectively connecting one another to a network of students engaged in demanding work that requires the solidarity and accountability that community offers. I’m especially proud of the fundraising we chased extra hard with the goal of lowering financial barriers for folks to participate.

“If you don’t know you don’t know, but once you know, I’m going to hold you accountable.”
— Andrea Hudson, Community Bail Fund

We created sessions around Race Policing and Poverty, Vulnerable Populations, Public Health, Urban Renewal & Displacement (watch the video below), Social Service Gaps and How We Fill Them, Advocating for Policy Change to facilitate a space where students could share, learn, and grow from peers. Hosting the summit also gave us the opportunity to spotlight longtime community organizations and organizers who shared their brilliant wisdom and experiences of organizing in the South.

We are so grateful for our community partners and all of the students who are working alongside their communities to fight for justice through the celebration abundance. It was an honor to host the 2nd annual summit and we’re excited to continue to build the Student Coalition Against Homelessness & Poverty.

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Mussasa and Denise

In their home in Chapel Hill, Mussasa and Denise share pictures of family members and loved ones, many of whom are strewn across the globe by war. Their son Joshua looks over his mother’s shoulder at the pictures, saying, “This is sad. Oh my gosh, I miss it.”

Mussasa and Denise are both from Congo, and met in Burundi while both were fleeing war in their home country. It was 1996 and they were in their early twenties. As war continued, they moved to South Africa as refugees, where they were married and lived for 14 years. For a long time, they held out hope that they would be able to return to the Congo.

Across borders and amidst isolating, uprooting experiences of leaving family and home, Denise and Mussasa have restarted their lives again and again in the pursuit of a safe, stable home for their family. Denise has begun and built a number of careers, including law in Congo, business management in Burundi, and adult education in South Africa. Mussasa is an incredibly skilled welder, working in welding in every country they have lived, even teaching welding and skilled trades to unemployed youth in Capetown.

In 2016, after 20 years away from their homes and feeling that there was little chance they would ever be able to move back to the Congo, they made the bold decision to move to Durham, North Carolina.

Denise shares, “When we got here we didn’t know where to start, and transportation was a big problem.” With their busy schedules juggling work, school, and family, relying on public transit was significantly limiting their opportunities.

They heard about CEF from a friend and started saving in CEF’s matched savings accounts for a vehicle while working with Advocates to find better-paying jobs.

Denise reflects on what it means that they trust CEF with their personal savings, sharing that, “Being Congolese, it’s a bit difficult because… In 1994, they changed the currency in Congo and the banks just decided to say, ‘Well, you don’t have any money anymore!’ So all we had worked for, just gone back then.”

Despite these experiences with banks abroad, they trusted CEF because of the testimonies of friends, and because of the “emotional connection.” Denise says, “For example, when we got here, everything was too much, and then you get someone to have your hand and say, ‘we can work on goals that you have. We can address certain concerns that you have. Let’s do this one, then the next one, and the next one.’ There’s an emotional connection.

After saving for several months and working with Advocates to get insurance and licenses, they reached their goal and were preparing to buy a car. Right at that moment, one of CEF’s campus partners surprised the family with a donated vehicle! Professor Jim Kitchen’s entrepreneurship class at Kenan-Flagler raised thousands of dollars through their own micro-enterprises in order to purchase a vehicle for the family.

“And when you get a car, it changes your life,” Denise shares. “Suddenly, [Mussasa] could come back home early, and could plan around getting the children from school on time… That is not just a car. It’s that kind of a connection that you’ve got with a place or a person.”

Meanwhile, both Denise and Mussasa have made incredible progress towards better jobs. Denise is now working as a C.N.A. and studying nursing to build a new career here, while Mussasa is working overnight as a welder at AKG and attending English classes during the day.

Here in the U.S., sadly they have still had to worry for the safety of their family. One of their sons struggled with bullying at his first school, which prompted Denise and Mussasa to work with their Advocates to find a new place to live in a different school district. Their son is much happier in this school, and they are hoping to “settle down” now.

Looking forward, their big goal is to own a home. Denise says, “I believe it’s better to work toward your own house than renting someone else’s house.” Because of their refugee status, “That is something we could not do in South Africa,” which will make this achievement even more monumental for their family.

This story about Mussasa and Denise was featured in CEF’s 2017 Annual Report!

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Dear CEF Family

Dear CEF Family,

“What is CEF?” Truthfully, it can be hard to find words for this work that Members and Advocates do side-by-side, day-by-day.

Chinita will tell you, “CEF is not a service—it’s a healing process. It’s a community of members that become empowered, that believes that they deserve to be treated as humans!”

As a CEF Orientation Leader, Chinita has witnessed it first hand: CEF shows up for Members who are trying to meet their most basic human needs. Almost 7 out of 10 Members join CEF without a place to live, 3 out of 10 without any income. And while we know that safe homes and stable jobs are fundamental goals for many Members at CEF, we also know they are often just the step in that “healing process” on a journey towards long-term stability and true flourishing.

“I’m a living witness,” shares David. “When I joined CEF, I found that everything within me was not dead.” Before joining CEF, David found himself in the hospital, fighting illness and learning to walk and speak again. Working with his Advocates at CEF, he now has stable income and a two-bedroom home that he calls his own.

David’s home has been a space for him to heal, where he can lean fully into his gifts. Working with his Advocates, he is breathing new life into his small business—an alterations business aptly named “Graceful Stitches.” This year, his hand-sewn clothing was featured in the first-ever CEF Fashion Show. And, he just launched a project to craft quilts for every CEF Member that moves into a new home. “I am moving forward. I am strong and I am able to do things that I never thought I could.”

David’s story is just one point of light—and 2018 has simply been radiant. Everywhere we look, we find care, creativity, and resourcefulness illuminating our beloved community. We sense it in the celebratory glow of CEF Members whose collective savings reached $1,00,000 dollars this year. We hear it in the songs of the CEF Advocacy choir as Members and Advocates march side-by-side to vote for (and win!) a $10 million bond to build greatly-needed affordable housing. To be able to bear witness to the light of this community is a true gift.

By donating to CEF, you are fueling this radiant community. You are enabling Members not only to meet their basic needs, but to flourish and thrive. Your generosity enables the CEF community to shine more luminously than ever—to care for each other through the toughest of times, to keep “moving forward” and growing in strength together. Thank you for your incredible support.

With joy and gratitude from CEF’s Co-Directors,

 

Jonathan Young                   Janet Xiao

P.S.     Thanks to an amazing group of CEF donors that came together to match year-end donations, your gift to CEF will be doubled through December 31st, up to $30,000!

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Fred is Home

“CEF is using all of its strength to push the community together. There's so much joy and so much talent and everyone has ideas and something to contribute.” - Val

“It’s like it was meant to be, ya know,” says Fred. After living in a tent for six years, he was just about “ready to lose [his] faith in the human spirit”, when someone at the IFC kitchen said he should “go check out CEF!” There he met his Advocate Val and began getting connected to a wide range of healthcare, housing, and income services. Together, Fred and Val have found community at CEF.

“CEF man—I’ve got a lot of things accomplished there. I got my retirement in three weeks. I was in the tent. I done picked up my mail at CEF and I had a stack of it and I didn’t read it till the next morning when it got light and I could see inside the tent. I got to the last letter and I open it and it says ‘Congratulations! You have been awarded such and such amount of money for your retirement.’ I ran out the front door of that tent and ‘Tarzan-called’ right through the woods. It was a godsend!”

“You know, it’s just kept ballooning from there, escalating and everything, right? I got all my ID I had lost along the way. I got all that back! Where did we go from there?CEF got me hooked up with the VA and that was the first time I had a physical in 44 years and they convinced me to quit smoking. I haven’t smoked a cigarette in 19 months now and I had smoked for 52 years!”

“I’m starting to feel the human spirit again,” shares Fred. This fall, having secured a housing voucher and found a place that he could afford, Fred moved out of his tent and into his new home, and he’s feeling inspired. He shared his story with a crowd of over 200 people at the Piggy Bank Bash this October; at the CEF Holiday Party he volunteered for over 8 hours preparing and serving the food; and just last week he showed up at CEF’s office to present an Advocate with a bicycle that he had spent months building and refinishing! We are humbled to be in community with Fred. “Just seeing the teamwork of people in the community, you know what I mean? And I want to give back part of it like everybody else gives.”

We hope that you’ll join Fred in sharing your support for this community by making a year-end gift to CEF. Your gift is matched, (every dollar up to $30,000!) thanks to the generous support of CEF donors! As 2018 comes to a close, we’re abundantly thankful for the amazing humans who make up the CEF community. Together, we thank you for your support!

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Meet Tanner: CEF Staff Interview

What will your role be at CEF?

My fellowship at CEF will focus on workforce development and employment in the Chapel Hill Office. A job is a source of income, stability, and security, but it can also be a source of dignity and purpose. We know that an employment search depends on more than a resume — it depends on criminal histories, credit, transportation, and housing — and so my work will touch on these issues as well. I will also lead convenings of service providers, local governments, and employers in the county, working to connect organizations, share data, and create spaces for advocacy.

What strengths and perspectives do you bring to CEF?

I studied Public Policy and Economics at Duke, and hope to combine a racial-equity lens with my training in policy and socioeconomic determinants of life outcomes. I’ve also spent time working on access to HIV/AIDS treatment in South Africa, social policy research at the Brookings Institution, and government/non-profit partnerships in low-country South Carolina. After graduation, I worked at the NC Department of Justice, focusing on predatory loan practices, the opioid epidemic, and sex trafficking, and then spent time at a consulting firm in Washington, DC. I’m new to CEF and know that I have lots to learn; but I am surrounded by members, staff, and volunteers who are brilliant and compassionate teachers, and I hope to draw from their wisdom as I find my grounding in this new work.

What led you to this work at CEF?

What struck me about CEF was not only its effectiveness, but its unique relationship-based approach to service. Relationships make CEF work, and that’s the kind of organization I wanted to join. CEF is also uniquely positioned in anti-poverty work: we really do see everything. There’s no better way to do this work than at the ground level – in the trenches with members every day — there’s also no better way to learn. I’m incredibly fortunate that my role lets me be creative – designing new systems, building community partnerships, and testing new ideas. Our Members bring incredible ability and potential, and I’m lucky to work alongside them to realize their goals.

Where do you find energy for your work at CEF?

I find energy every day in our team – Jon, Sarah, Diiv, Leah, Yvette. I also get a lot of energy from Members. Our wins are shared together as a team, and the victories are deeply energizing. Sometimes those wins are big, like finding a job or a home. Sometimes they’re small, like finishing a resume or securing an expunction. When the caffeine wears off, it’s sharing these moments with the CEF community that keeps me going.

Where do you expect to find challenges in your work?

Barriers to finding employment are real and substantial. At times, I feel frustrated. I can’t always convince an employer to hire someone with a criminal history or find a simple way to make a living for a highly qualified senior. I can’t fix every problem. The work is high stakes, and so it can be emotionally draining. But CEF’s approach offers an answer for this challenge: it is trauma-informed, relationship-based, and supportive of self-care. It seeks to build on strengths, not dwell on challenges. We have fantastic community partners and resilient Members, and with that, there will always be a path forward.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

IF YOU ARE AN EMPLOYER, contact me! (tannerl@communityef.org) Let’s talk about who from CEF would be a good candidate. It takes partners on all sides to do this work, so join us.

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Annual Report 2017 : We Are Interwoven

“When you are with CEF, you are a part of the thread that makes us all one community.” Chinita is a CEF graduate, and her poetic statement during a CEF celebration perfectly describes the palpable connectivity in this community.

Whether we’re weaving together programs and resources to form a holistic network of support, or connecting our Members and Advocates together in people-centered relationships, CEF is steadily crafting a beautiful, interconnected, and interwoven community.”

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CEF Featured in Prosperity Now’s Financial Coaching Design Guide!

Prosperity Now’s new “Financial Coaching Program Design Guide: A Participant-Centered Approach” is hot off the press! It’s an incredible guide for organizations interested in creating or refining a financial coaching program and it features great work and wisdom from CEF and other partners across the US! We loved working with the Prosperity Now team to bounce thoughts about what makes a good person-centered financial coaching program, and we learned a ton from fellow advisors as well!

Check out some samples below from CEF’s featured work!

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Meet Liz and Leah: CEF Housing Justice Fellows

It’s been just over a month since Liz and Leah, CEF Housing Justice Fellows for 2018, started on-boarding at CEF and shaping vision into action! They’ve jumped in and are meeting with members from all over the community to carefully discern the best steps forward for their work. They were generous enough to share some reflections for their work this year in a Q&A!

Liz Brown, 2018 Durham Fellow

Leah Whitehead, 2018 Chapel Hill Fellow

What led you to this work?

I began working with CEF my freshmen year in an attempt to engage more intentionally with the Durham community, landing on CEF because of their relationship and systems-based approach towards anti-poverty work. I’ve never looked back! I was brought to the Housing Justice Fellowship role through various conversations with the Durham staff team regarding the enormous potential for change wrought by an organized Member base. The opportunity to deepen my relationship with CEF, grow in my organizing capabilities, and continue to do ‘the work’ is truly a dream come true.

I was first drawn to CEF because of their emphasis on relationships. CEF doesn’t generalize or oversimplify about how to show up for someone. CEF creates an opportunity for people to get to know each other and say, “hey, I see you, I hear you, and I got you.” This philosophy really resonated with me and I was drawn to this role because it felt like an opportunity to be a conduit for collaboration across sectors that could spread that same spirit of support. I mean, imagine a community where the primary message we are sending each other is “hey, I see you, I hear you, and I got you.” That’s what keeps me going when the coffee wears off!

How would you describe the work you will do in the CEF community through your role?

I’m working to support community, foster inclusion, and build power among and within the CEF Durham Member-base. In my role, I will act as a community organizer, convener, and advocate for the greater incorporation of CEF Member voices and experiences in CEF, Durham, and the systems that bind us. My goal can be summed up rather simply: create more Member-driven structures at CEF.

I’m piloting a Housing Locator position that will serve all of Orange County. We know that private landlords are key partners in housing justice; my job is to engage those landlords to understand the barriers they face in keeping units affordable and serving tenants who are regularly excluded from housing opportunities. Ultimately I will be a bridge between private, public and non-profit partners to come up with creative solutions that ensure affordable housing opportunities are accessible to those who need them and sustainable for the landlords and property managers who steward them.

What strengths, skills, and experience do you bring with you?

I bring with me 4 years of CEF experience! During my time as an undergraduate Advocate with CEF, I served as the Communications Coordinator and Advocate Engagement Co-Coordinator, working to incorporate Member stories into our internal communications and organize the Duke student body around economic justice and affordable housing. I also bring with me experience organizing with Durham CAN and the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, DC. I am a people person in the truest sense of the phrase, and I am ecstatic to bring my love of stories, the people that hold them, and the power they possess to the CEF team.

I’ve worn many hats at CEF since 2015, from Member Advocate Coordinator to Training Team member to Advocacy Choir participant! My degree in public policy gives me a socio-political and racial-equity lense to housing justice and a background in economics, both of which informed the last three years of direct experience liaising with landlords and working with Members on housing. Those experiences have been steeped in the importance of relationship-based support and driven by the greatest strength I could bring to this work, a wholehearted, deep-in-my-bones, core-of-my-soul kind of commitment to finding creative and collaborative ways to make this community a home for all people.

Where do you expect to find energy and renewal?

I expect to find my daily energy through the Durham staff team: Donna, JV, Jess, and Janet. I expect to seek inspiration from CEF Members fighting the fight day in and day out at both the individual and structural levels. I expect to find renewal in our victories, whether they come in the form of increased affordable housing stock or the precious moments when a Member stands up to power and is heard at last!

I expect to absorb energy and renewal from the resilience of each and every person who walks through CEF’s doors and from the interwoven community of folks who stand up for every person’s right to safe and affordable housing. But also the other day I literally “whoopee-ed!” because a landlord responded to my email, so it’s the small things too!

Where do you expect to find challenges and how do you hope to find the best way forward?

There is no hiding that this work can be challenging and emotionally taxing. I know there will be days when I am tired and beaten down, wanting to give up after a poorly-attended action or a run in with a  persistent and seemingly immovable instance of injustice. These moments, I am sure, will not be uncommon, nor will they grow less painful to endure. The CEF ethos, however, in its dynamic understanding of trauma-informed care, healing centered engagement, and self-care offers a unique way forward. The guiding and life-giving question becomes not “What’s wrong?” but rather “What can be better?” With this framework at our backs, we move forward.

It is no doubt that the housing landscape in Orange County is challenging at best. I’m under no illusion that I will find the magic key to the affordable units that address the massive and growing needs of our neighbors and I’m aware of the unique challenges that come with working cross-sector in a system of scarce resources. I hope to find a way forward by seeking input from community partners to understand their needs and concerns, staying relationship-centered, and finding the areas where we can support each other in building a thriving community that serves all of our neighbors.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

I love CEF!!!! I’m so pumped for this year and all of its many challenges, hopes, dreams, moments of immense failure, moments of bitter success, laughs, stories, cries, shared meals, shared rides, actions, reactions, conversations, fights, and victories. I am so grateful for the Housing Justice Fellowship and hope it continues well beyond this year of exploration, growth, and hopeful progress. I’d love to hear from you at lizb@communityef.org!

I’m so grateful for this opportunity and to be a part of this important work! Not sure how or why you might have a stake in creating affordable housing opportunities in Orange County? Please reach out to me (leahw@communityef.org) ! This is a community-wide challenge and requires a community-wide solution! We got this!!

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CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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

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