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CEF Staff Highlight: Ishaan

Meet Ishaan! Member Resource Specialist in Chapel Hill

Ishaan Kumar, Member Resource Specialist
CEF’s Chapel Hill Office

Your Role: In your own words, how would you describe the work you do at CEF and why is it important?

I am the Member Resource Specialist for the Chapel Hill Office. The bulk of my work is focused on identifying and building out resources for the community to expand the way that CEF can support Members. My long-term project is focused on a Homebuyers Program, where we are trying to work with other local housing organizations to expand access to home ownership!

Your Background: What experiences, strengths, and skills do you bring to this work at CEF?

I worked as an Advocate for multiple years in the Durham office, so that introduced me to CEF’s work. I think in particular, I learnt to slow down and hold space for Members, peers, and myself. This is a skill I hope to continue to develop through the next few years. In addition, I think that I can be extremely reliable, and hope to bring this constancy to my work at CEF.

Connecting to CEF: What led you to working with CEF generally, and also to this particular role?

In particular, CEF’s model of Member-centered advocacy really spoke to me. In some other spaces, it was unclear to me if what we were doing was really in the interest of the people we were working for. I believe wholeheartedly in the power and necessity of social work to reflect the needs of Members and for everyone to be engaged in collaborative decision-making.

Energy: When you think about your work in this role at CEF (and/or in general at CEF) where do you find energy and renewal?

Primarily, I find energy in people; my partner, my family, and my roommate are all places to go to recharge. When I’m alone, I often find myself tinkering in the kitchen, trying to remake childhood memories into new creations.

Challenge: When you think about your work in this role at CEF (and/or in general at CEF)  where do you find challenges and how do you seek to find the best way forward?

Many challenges are unknown right now, as this is a new position to CEF! In addition, being a recent college grad means that I’m looking forward to challenges I can’t even begin to imagine. I hope to approach all these future challenges with an empathetic and critical eye. I hope to approach these problems through creative collaborations and new solutions. Everyone has creativity and capacity – I hope to tap into our collective power!

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CEF Staff Highlight: Jada

Meet Jada! Advocate Program Coordinator at CEF’s Durham Office

Jada McLeod, Advocate Program Coordinator
CEF’s Durham Office

Your Role: In your own words, how would you describe the work you do at the CEF and why is it important?

I am the Advocate Program Coordinator for the Durham Office. My role revolves around Advocate recruitment, selection, training, and support. Advocates are essential to the work we do at CEF given that they handle much of the day-to-day work of supporting members in reaching their goals. Our cohort of Advocates must be committed to learning and growth and well equipped to work with members in order to serve the community well.

Your Background: What experiences, strengths, and skills do you bring to this work at CEF?

I was an Advocate at the Chapel Hill office for a few years before joining the Durham office staff, so I know what it’s like to be in their shoes. I can easily empathize with Advocates’ experiences which makes me well suited to support people in navigating this role. Another major strength of mine is my curiosity. I am eager to learn about other people’s experiences, identities, and approaches to how they show up in this space. I’m committed to breaking down my own biases and harmful ways of thinking. I’m always looking for ways to expand my understanding of the world around me.

Connecting to CEF: What led you to working with CEF generally, and also to this particular role?

CEF’s focus on relationship-building is what initially attracted me to the organization. I’ve worked with several nonprofits and CEF is so unique in its emphasis on authentically building supportive communities. It was important to me to continue being a part of that. Being an Advocate at CEF was such a transformative experience for me. As an Advocate, I went through so much learning and growth that significantly shaped my worldview, especially concerning racial equity and other social justice issues. I am excited to help guide other people through that process in my new role.

Energy: When you think about your work in this role at CEF (and/or in general at CEF) where do you find energy and renewal?

I find energy by remembering to make room for joy and excitement in my work. Doing direct service with people who are experiencing the violence of systemic oppression can quickly become a heavy burden to bear. My passion for this work is renewed when I expand my perspective and hold space to celebrate everyday victories. Whether it’s a member finding housing, getting a new job, or just feeling extra supported by Advocates and staff, those moments keep me grounded and give me a renewed sense of purpose. I love all the light-hearted moments that happen in the office where we get to laugh and joke with one another. These moments remind me that although our work can be challenging, it doesn’t always have to be oriented around struggle and suffering.

Challenge: When you think about your work in this role at CEF (and/or in general at CEF)  where do you find challenges and how do you seek to find the best way forward?

I think the biggest challenge is coming to terms with the realization that regardless of how supportive of a space we try to create for Members, once they walk out the door they’re still dealing with systemic racism and other forms of trauma, oppression, and violence. It’s tough knowing that there are some barriers that we just can’t solve. I think this challenge is further escalated when you consider the sense of urgency that we experience as many Members come to us in crises. To move forward, I’ve had to learn that the work we do is about so much more than the tangible steps we take toward supporting Members in reaching their goals. There is real power in making someone feel heard and validated in their experience. We can’t solve every problem, but at the very least, we can show people that they have a community that loves and supports them in their corner. Having a supportive community that sticks with you long-term makes all the difference in someone feeling empowered to move forward and keep fighting for their needs despite the barriers they face.

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2021 Annual Report: Hope Abounds

Hope Abounds: CEF Annual Report 2021

2021 was another difficult year. With the ups and downs of feeling like life was getting closer to pre-pandemic times and then going back into lockdowns and separation, CEF offered stability and companionship to Members. We stayed committed to remaining open, enforcing a vaccination or testing mandate for all staff and volunteers and continuing with COVID safety protocols to ensure that Members, staff, and Advocates could continue to meet safely. 

In this report you will learn more about CEF’s activities throughout 2021 — including information about our support of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, the creation of the House Us Now coalition, and the joy experienced through the Share the Love: Art Show. In addition, you will hear stories from Members and Advocates–uplifting the hope they experienced as they worked alongside CEF to ensure that everyone in our community has access to safe, affordable housing and the opportunity for financial freedom.

As you read through this report I hope you will feel that hope too, that you can see the potential hiding just below the surface. Thank you for being a part of this incredible community and for continuing to offer support as we learn to adapt to a new reality. We are so grateful for each and every contribution. Thank you for supporting this work!

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CEF Staff Highlight: Joe

CEF would like to formally introduce Joe Katusich, CEF’s new Member Services and Programs Manager!

Joe comes to CEF with a deep background in program management and experience in the nonprofit sector. We are very excited to have Joe on the team and excited for you to get to know him a bit better.

Read the interview below to learn more about Joe’s role and philosophy.

Joe Katusich, Member Services and Programs Manger

Describe the work you hope to accomplish in your role at CEF.

As the Member Services and Programs Manager, I hope to help foster a work environment that promotes our guiding principles and that reaches above and beyond in an effort to elevate the impact of the services the incredible CEF team provides for its members. I hope to contribute to maintaining trauma-informed, healing-centered, relationship-based, and racially equitable practices in all of CEF’s programs, and I hope to facilitate the growth of our reach to Members and Advocates in the Durham and Chapel Hill communities. I will aim to accomplish all of these things with a strong sense of purpose and pride as we usher in the next chapter for CEF.

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

I have a deep-rooted passion for serving my community. It all started when I joined the Key Club in high school where we raised money to put together events designed to support families and individuals within our community that were experiencing homelessness, financial insecurity, food insecurity, etc. I have held jobs in just about every industry you can imagine: education, sales, software development, customer service, and the food industry. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in Psychology, I served 2 years in AmeriCorps as a Tutor, Mentor, and Role Model in Boston Public Schools with City Year Boston. That experience solidified my passion for social justice and civic engagement work, carrying me to a career working with nonprofits. In Boston, I spent time developing programming and building a volunteer network for the Martin Richard Foundation and continued my work in education as a Program Manager with Playworks New England. My life experiences have lent themselves to a successful and fulfilling career thus far, and I’m just getting started.

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

I have found great purpose and pride in the contributions I’ve been a part of during my nonprofit career. When I lost my jobs in Boston due to COVID, I felt a little lost and decided to pack up my car and find a new community to serve that I had never been to before. After driving around the country for the better part of a year, I landed in Durham with the intention to find a way to continue working within my passion of building beloved communities where all can prosper. The Member Services and Programs Manager role felt like a perfect fit where I would be able to apply my talents for project management and relationship building to an opportunity where my knowledge for community assistance programs can grow and thrive.

Where do you find energy and renewal?

I have always found that as long as I am passionate about the work I am doing and can continue to find purpose while doing it, my energy to continue the work is endless. I am and will remain passionate about contributing to real, positive change in my community, and that will allow me to find energy in this role. Outside of my work, spending time exploring the great outdoors or with good people and good food always grounds me and renews my energy.

What challenges do you anticipate in your role at CEF and how will you seek your best path forward to overcome those challenges?

I anticipate there will be many challenges that I have not faced thus far in my career. However, I will attend to them as I have attended to all other challenges I’ve had to navigate. I will approach each challenge with an open heart and an open mind. I will meet others where they are at and seek to understand to the best of my ability. I will make intentional, informed decisions, and consistently seek opportunities to grow both professionally and with my level of content knowledge. I will trust the members of my team and ask for help when appropriate, and do everything in my power to find the best possible solution.

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2020 Annual Report: We are a Resilient Community

CEF Annual Report We are a resilient community 2020

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, 2020 was no different. In the enclosed stories you will learn how CEF responded to COVID-19 through articles and reflections from CEF’s staff. The report also shares more information about our quantitative impact and our year-end financials. This report is dedicated to the CEF Members who moved on in 2020, we hope you will hold them in your hearts and minds as you read.

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CEF Staff Highlight: Debbie and Tawana

CEF would like to formally introduce Debbie Long and Tawana Brown, both have come on board over the last few months. Debbie is the Member Services Coordinator for the Durham office and Tawana is the Growing Household Income Fellow in Chapel Hill. Read the interviews below to get to know them better!
Debbie Long, Durham’s Member Services Coordinator
Tawana Brown, Growing Household Income Fellow
 What has your work looked like during the time you’ve been at CEF?

A process of discovery I would say. I started during a pandemic. Folks need unprecedented support during this challenging time.  I’m seeing members getting hit at multiple intersections of hardship just trying to meet their basic needs. Right now, folks want and need secure housing that’s truly affordable and does not exceed the threshold of their budgets. They need jobs that provide living wages and healthcare, and aside from that, folks need general support navigating the gamut of issues that arise in a pandemic. The bulk of my work with CEF has been exploring the world of possibilities with a team of folks who are committed to the well-being of its members. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed working alongside members to meet their personal goals around housing, education, and food security. The current landscape has called for strong collective efforts in finding robust and innovative approaches to serving our members.

While at CEF, I have had the pleasure of assisting members with emergency assistance applications to Orange County, which includes follow-ups, document submissions, and advocating for Members. I also assist with governing CEF’s Workforce Income Taskforce. The Taskforce works closely with Members interested in learning more about fair chance hiring, living wages, job search skills, interview skills, and interview preparation.

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

Always keeping in mind that the personal is political,  I come to CEF as a Black queer feminist who works to create a revolutionary society where the people who have been impacted by intersecting systems of oppression can really thrive. I have a deep history of cultural organizing. Linking people to resources is what I do. I don’t ever think it’s enough to say, you know, “I want to help people.” To me, that’s the baseline. You gotta actually engage the people and communities you seek to support. Nothing beats showing up for folks and showing up for ourselves. I know how to show up. My offerings of support at this time come in the form of harm reduction, trauma-informed care-giving, and a transformative-justice oriented posture. Additionally, I’m an artist and abolitionist. I’m always seeking creative ways to dismantle systems and policies that disproportionately impact our people.

I have two master’s degrees, one in Nonprofit Management and one in Leadership and Human Services; a graduate certificate in Conflict Management and Negotiation; and a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. I have five-years’ experience working in nonprofits–holding positions in intake, case management, accounting, consumer coordination, executive assistantships, and fundraising and development. I also bring general business knowledge from my Business Administration degree.

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

I was led to apply for the position because there was a need and I felt like the best person to honor that need. I arrived at CEF with a vision: To prioritize how members have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and attempt to understand what that means for their economic recovery.  My vision is informed by my lived experience of having witnessed firsthand the stigmatization and criminalization that impoverished communities endure. The Member Service Coordinator plays a vital role in stewarding CEF’s Member Services. As a people person,  I love working with and for the people. More than anything, I want to support people on their journey for a better quality of life.  I know what it is like to be housing and financially insecure and from this vantage point, I find myself in a unique position to support the overarching goals of the organization and in my current role. 

CEF’s mission and vision to assist and cultivate opportunities, assets, and communities that sustain transitions out of homelessness and poverty was key to my working with the organization. They care about CEF Members and offer many resources to assist each Member in reaching self-sufficiency goals. As a Growing Household Income Fellow, my job is to build CEF’s capacity to support low-income community members in increasing financial stability, engaging in community life, and supporting the economy.

How do you find energy and renewal?

For energy, quite literally, I like to eat healthy fruits and vegetables, and I limit my sugar intake. Introspection helps a lot too. Like the saying goes, “You gotta know when to hold and when to fold.” I do my best to pay attention to when I have limited capacity so as not to exhaust my energy reserve. And I am an artist and musician. Playing music and getting creative fills my cup! To renew my body, I detox and try to tap into what my body wants and needs–whether that’s a nap, a long walk, or a glass of water. Listening to my body plays a large part in how I find the tenacity to endeavor forward.

I find energy in knowing that each day a new scenario will come making the job new to me. I get energy knowing that I am going to do good for a Member and in negotiating services for the Member. I find renewal in knowing that a resolution can be found and Member needs can be met through networks.

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

The reality is that I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have most of the answers. But I do have some of them, and I do know how to locate and connect with someone who might have the answers I seek. I also realize not every question has a precise, clearly defined response to it.  I am not a native of Durham. Understanding the housing situation in Durham has been a real process that I have to work at daily. My best way forward is to think outside of the box, to use my creativity to fuel my motivation, to listen to my gut and trust my instincts, and ultimately, to practice the art of living free from fear.

I find challenges in not being able to find shelter for all Members who are homeless. I would like to see Members in stable shelter situations, where they have a roof over their head, food, heating in the winter, cooling in the summer, and nice hot showers daily–to name just a few basic rights Members deserve access to. I seek to find the best way to move forward by collaborating with other organizations and working with them in coordinating plans.

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Time + Talents Podcast: All Things Housing

CEF Presents Time + Talents Podcast

CEF is excited to share the first episode of the Time + Talents podcast. In this episode, CEF Advocates Lily Levin and Lizzy Kramer interview a number of people involved in housing in Durham County to help listeners learn more about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people’s housing situations and what services are available for people who may need support.

This podcast was arranged by Durham Office & Community Organizer Rosa Green.

We hope you enjoy the podcast. Please share with your networks.

Time + Talents is CEF’s member-driven advocacy platform in Durham. Members chose the theme of this podcast and will continue to be involved in choosing future themes to ensure that the podcast is relevant to their needs and interests.

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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]communityef.org).

NC Coalition to End Homelessness. (2019, May). 2019 Homelessness in North Carolina. https://www.ncceh.org/media/files/files/7bd752c5/2019-nc-pit-infographic.pdf
Root, Corey. (2019, April ). Homelessness in Orange County. Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness. https://www.ocpehnc.com/point-in-time-count-data

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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.

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CEF Staff Highlight: 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. Read the interviews below to get to know them better!

Zach Meredith headshot: white man wearing bright blue CEF t-shirt standing in front of a white wall with bright blue text

Zach Meredith, Employment Access AmeriCorps VISTA

Kyle Compton head shot: white man wearing dark blue shirt standing in front of CEF's Chapel Hill office

Kyle Compton, Master of Social Work Intern

What has your work looked like during the time you’ve been at CEF?

As the Employment Access AmeriCorps VISTA, I coordinate efforts to rework CEF’s services related to job-searching and workforce development, particularly for Members who face systemic barriers to employment. When I first came to CEF, there were efforts to design a fairly intensive job training program within CEF’s Member Services program; however, I (along with the rest of our team) began to question if this would really be the most effective way to increase Members’ access to employment opportunities. I’ve worked to shift our energy into the stewardship and expansion of CEF’s partnerships with local organizations that already offer robust workforce development programs. Additionally, I have led efforts to retool our internal systems in order to more effectively align CEF’s operations with the employment-related services offered by external partners.

I have been the Master of Social Work intern this year at CEF. Until recently, I have been performing Coordinated Entry intakes for community members experiencing housing instability. For the second half of the year I have supported our Legal Referrals team and facilitated the group’s meetings. Recently, I have been supporting the Resource Stewards group to curate and update a database of resources for Orange County residents during COVID-19.

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

I love learning about local history, particularly through the lens of architecture and urban planning. Thinking about how the physical environment of Chapel Hill/Carrboro has been shaped by different political, social, and economic forces over time is a helpful way for me to situate the different inequities and barriers that CEF Members and Advocates run up against. Additionally, a historical perspective further energizes me to get involved with advocacy efforts based at CEF in order to challenge the political and economic status quos that necessitate the direct service work that CEF provides.

I have worked in the education field for several years and at related small nonprofits. My strengths include having patience and empathy for anyone I encounter and working hard to view issues from multiple perspectives. 

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

As someone who is passionate about advancing social justice at the local level, I was especially drawn to CEF’s organizational dynamism and community-based mission.

I am in my first year of the MSW program at UNC and I have completed two years of law school here as well. I came to CEF through an internship program for my MSW. I have learned so much from CEF Members, Staff, Advocates, community members, and community partners this year. I know that I will draw on my experiences this year for the rest of my life.

Where do you find energy and renewal?

I’m an extrovert so I always feel energized when I’m around other people. I love being in the office because I not only get to be around other people, but around a community. There is a baseline level of kindness and support that everybody in the office upholds, ranging from simple chit-chat to volunteering to help resolve technology issues or taking the responsibility to start up the coffee machine.

Working in direct service organizations can be exhausting in every way, and burnout is something to take very seriously at CEF and actively work to prevent. I find energy and renewal through eating when I need to, taking breaks throughout the day, working out when I can, and breathing. Music and movies are also sources of renewal.

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

As an AmeriCorps VISTA, my fellowship is a year-long position. This means it is imperative that I work intentionally and collaboratively with Members, Advocates, and partners to develop resources and partnerships that will be able to continue sustainably beyond my fellowship.

There are challenges in every role and during every day at CEF. The best way forward I have found in my time here is to always ask questions and seek support from other Staff, Advocates, and Members.

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CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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