Archive | Advocate Story

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.”

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Meet Our 2019 Chapel Hill Interns!

Meet Serena.

Serena Singh

What brings you joy?

Advocating for what I believe in brings me so much joy. I have seen firsthand the power of activism, and every baby step towards tangible change is always so refreshing. Additionally, the people closest to me bring me more joy than anything. No matter what’s going on in my life, I know I can depend on a core few to stand in my corner.

What about CEF excites you the most?

The perspective I have gained on oppressive systems and the world as a whole definitely excites me the most. I learn so much every single day I’m in the CEF Office, and I am incredibly grateful for the advocates I’ve met, the members I’ve worked with, and other community individuals I’ve had the opportunity to have meaningful discussions with.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

One of the first meetings I ever had as a full advocate, I was asked to help a member write a paper for a class that was due at noon. It was 11 and we only had an hour, but together we cranked it out — MLA format and all! She was so appreciative and gave me the biggest hug. That was a fantastic way to begin my experience with CEF!

What brings you joy?

People and the little things around me bring me joy! I love seeing how people interact with each other and the world around them – I get joy from my everyday interactions with people, whether it’s talking with an old friend or sharing a moment with a stranger.

What about CEF excites you the most?

Everything! I love the philosophy at the heart of CEF – it’s so genuine and inclusive. I really love getting to know more people from the community. CEF is so exciting because I get to build relationships with really great people while also engaging with issues of injustice in a meaningful way.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

I ran into a member I had been working with every week a few semesters ago on the bus the other day! She had gotten a job that she’d been wanting for a long time! It made me so happy to catch up with her.

Meet Sophia.

Sophia Janken

Meet Joy.

Joy Stouffer

What brings you joy?

Running, cooking, reading books (especially realistic or historical fiction). Sitting on my porch drinking coffee.

What about CEF excites you the most?

I love that I can collaborate with a wide variety of people, from members to staff to other advocates, in order to convey that each and every one of us is important and should be heard.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

My freshman year I worked with a member who needed immediate housing. We had to call several shelters in the area and finally secured him one at a spot in Durham. This experience was meaningful to me because I realized that housing is definitely not a guarantee–each night in your own home is a gift.

What brings you joy?

Conversations that lead to meaningful connections bring me the most joy. There is so much to learn from the people around us and I could sit and listen to stories of lived experiences all day. It makes me happy when someone can trust me and I can trust them – creating a bond.

What about CEF excites you the most?

The members excite me the most because they come in with hope for a better quality of life and it’s exciting to be on the passenger seat helping them while they drive and take control of their life.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

I was working with a member from Russia for about 2 hours and we ended up talking more about his time there and lessons he’s learned.

Meet Inaara.

Inaara Mohammed
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A Farewell to CEF Durham Advocates!

Graduating Senior Advocates Gianna, Hayes, and Grace

With the return of warm air and long evenings, we at CEF Durham are forced to say goodbye to our Senior Advocates as they graduate from Duke and head out into the world. These Advocates have contributed hundreds of hours, given an immeasurable quantity of energy, and formed CEF in more ways than we can put into words. As they left CEF, a few Senior Advocates offered up some parting words to share with the CEF community.

Grace Mok joined CEF as a summer intern through Duke Engage. Years later, Grace has completed over 120 CEF Member meetings, shaped Advocate training curriculum, and served as Special Projects Coordinator. Grace shared, “CEF has given me a different vision of how organizations can run and change for the better. Shared leadership and whole personhood are not ideas that all organizations strive for. I hope I can work for an organization as passionate and caring as CEF has been.” Further, Grace explained the ways in which CEF will stay with her as she moves away from Duke and Durham. “Some of the gifts are very concrete — a mug that a Member made himself that I put my silverware in now in my room. Some of the gifts are ephemeral — stories, advice, smiles. I am thinking about “coaching” as a lifestyle tool and I am thinking about community. I am so glad I have been able to build as many relationships as I have and had the opportunity to touch as many lives as I have, to learn with and from folks about so much.”

Gianna Giordano joined CEF during her first semester at Duke, and has since completed over 90 CEF Member meetings and served as Employment Services Coordinator on the student leadership team. Throughout her career at Duke and as an Advocate at CEF, Gianna applied what she was learning in the classroom to her work at CEF, and vice versa! “I have a huge appreciation for the way CEF recognizes that it is traumatic to constantly have to interact with a system that was designed to ensure that you lose. At Duke, I’ve spent a lot of time studying the child welfare system and other social policy issues, and I have observed that this trauma-informed mindset is missing from many discussions about human service delivery systems. When dealing with complex problems involving societal structures, many people look right past this. They see unfair policies and widespread injustice, but they do not recognize that the affected populations experience cumulative trauma that permeates every aspect of their daily lives. From my experiences at CEF, I’ve learned that there is not only a need for structural change but to be with people, support them, and help them recover,” Gianna explained. In her personal life, Gianna shared that, “CEF has encouraged me to value genuine friendships and relationship-driven service work, but it has also taught me to pay close attention to power structures that perpetuate injustice and push against them in creative ways. CEF Members have inspired me by their resilience, tenacity, and selflessness, and CEF staff and advocates have inspired me by their hard work, passion, and constant willingness to learn. The bonds and friendships I have formed with Members and other Advocates these past four years will motivate me to challenge structural injustices for the rest of my life.”

“CEF has been the longest-standing commitment I have had at Duke. I will never forget the Activities Fair on the East Campus Quad, where I saw Liz at a club booth and went to chat with her. I signed up for CEF that day and enrolled in the House Course for the fall semester of my freshman year,” shared graduating senior Hayes McManemin. Since then, Hayes has completed over 65 meetings with CEF Members, worked at CEF’s on-site office hours at the Families Moving Forward shelter, and served as Communications Coordinator on the student leadership team. Hayes shared, “In my opinion, CEF played an integral role in helping me decide what career trajectory I wanted to pursue. Now, I am sure I want to work in a non-profit setting where I can interact with those for whom I am advocating, and have a chance to build meaningful relationships with those same people. I have learned so, SO much about empathy and have gained so much perspective about the ridiculously privileged position I am in. This organization provided me a different way to engage with the Durham community and learn about this city outside of the Duke bubble. I love CEF very much and am going to be very sad at my last office hours!”

We are going to miss our seniors so much, and wish them all the best in taking what they have learned at CEF out into their new careers, cities, and communities. Wherever they go, we know they will make a positive impact in the lives of those around them, always remembering that all people are creative, resourceful, and whole.

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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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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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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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Maggie-We-Love-You Party

“I just want you to hold on for a minute and live in the fullness of what it is to be a part of community—an endless and abundant family, with unbounded opportunities for connection. And to feel the way that each of our hearts is so connected, and that each of us is just so ready, to be loved and to love. That feeling is what I take away from my time at CEF and it’s the greatest gift of my life.”

— Maggie West, CEF Co-Founder & Co-Director 2009-2018

It was hard to find a dry eye at the “Maggie-We-Love-You” Party! On Saturday, June 2nd, CEFers gathered to celebrate almost 10 years of deep dedication and vision that Maggie has shared with the CEF community as Co-Founder and Co-Director.

The day was filled with so many mystical moments, imbued with meaning and drenched in love. Here are just some of our favorites:

  • A Community Yard Swap organized by Maggie’s family! Many of us brought treasures to share, and walked away with a bag or basket full of treasures that was new to us.  🎁
  • We co-created community art projects to chronicle beautiful time shared together—one a gift for Maggie, and one for display in our Chapel Hill office. We also put together a scrapbook with notes of appreciation and blessing for Maggie.  🎨
  • The Advocacy Choir sang one of Maggie’s favorites (Lift Every Voice and Sing), and wrote a special new song (based upon Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road”) to share our special blessing with Maggie!  🎶
  • The helpers of an anonymous Elf delivered to Maggie a gift from 30+ friends, family, and co-workers: plane ticket to Peru! There, we hope that Maggie can get some well-deserved R&R, share time with her community there, and continue discerning the next steps in her journey!  ✈
  • We shared good food, including all kinds of offerings brought by guests, as well as some CEF party staples (like Maggie’s coleslaw recipe)!  🌭
  • In honor of the creative savings initiatives that Maggie has ideated at CEF, a real-life pig named Sugar made a celebrity appearance! 🐷
  • Maggie invited us to join hands, to be present with the fullness of CEF as a community. (See the video above!) 🧀❤

There is no greater way we can say thank you to Maggie for all that she has done at CEF, other than to lean into her invitation to “live in the fullness [of] what it is to be a part of community—an endless and abundant family, with unbounded opportunities for connection.” Thank you and we love you, Maggie! 

 

Special thanks to the Jackson Center, Bread & Butter, and to the countless people that showed and contributed to make this celebration so unforgettably special!

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Meet Kevin: CEF Staff Interview

Kevin: CEF Chapel Hill's Workforce Development Specialist and Americorps Vista

What inspires you?

What inspires me to work for CEF is when I complete a task with someone.  It does not matter whether it is a large or small task that helps the person. When that person says to me, that I made a difference for them—their direct feedback and their energized eye-to-eye contact beaming back at me are what inspire me. There is a wide array of diverse people, from all walks of Chapel Hill who visit our office.  Just because I am able to help write or re-construct a person’s resume in a new and refreshing way—I see that person before my eyes become energized and ready to seek employment.

What projects are you excited about right now?

I’m working to modify present systems already in place at CEF to support members looking for employment.  My goal is to help people to easily access and navigate employment opportunities in Chapel Hill. Sometimes, there are not that many options out there for a lot of our Members. We are trying to make employment opportunities more connected, and build more relationship with businesses that see the value in employing CEF Members!

Why is connecting with people important?

I think connecting with people is important because you need people in order to make things work. CEF—as I’ve learned—has a pretty cool model in terms of how we help and support people who are struggling with different issues. It’s like being able to take your individual support and be a part of a collective—in a larger community context.  The difference is that as a collective, CEF can reach into so many different directions; homelessness, families looking for services, hunger, employment and all kinds of things. It’s a “one-stop-shop” in many ways—one organization that can help many types of people.

Tell us about your background!

I have a two-year training certificate in fund development from the University of San Francisco,   a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from JFK University (New College of California), and a Master’s in Social Work from North Carolina Central University.  I presently work at Central as a Clinical Adjunct/Field Faculty Liaison in the social work department.

What has been your greatest challenge working here?

The greatest challenge working here is not being able to help the people with issues that are so much larger than I could ever figure out. There’s a lot CEF does to help people, but then there are people whose issues are large and difficult to get handled in a short period of time.

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Meet Krista: CEF Staff Interview

Krista: CEF Durham's Neighborhood Engagement Specialist

What made you interested in working for CEF?

I really admire not only the heart that goes into all of CEF’s work, but also CEF’s dedication to constant self-improvement.  As an organization, CEF is always looking to do better and more conscientious work, and that’s something I really wanted to be a part of.

Why do you feel connecting with people is so important?

Connecting with people is what makes this work continue to feel worthwhile even when systems and structures feel like they’re defeating you.  It’s all too easy to feel hopeless after a while, but having solid relationships with members humanizes the daily and drives our work.

Tell us about yourself/background:  

I’m from South Carolina and came to Durham for college.  I studied French and International Studies in college and am enjoying living and working in Durham as a resident rather than a student.

What inspires you?

My coworkers! Working in the nonprofit sector has found me surrounded by dedicated, passionate, hardworking people who strive to make Durham a better and more accessible city.

What do you think will be your greatest challenge in this position?

Definitely balancing the number of different spheres my job occupies.  I have a bit of a jack-of-all trades job, so managing a variety of partnerships, often with very little overlap, is going to be an interesting logistical challenge.

What projects are you most excited about?

I’ve really enjoyed tackling the overhaul of how we present our laptop referral program.  It’s given me the ability to work through how we create our member goals and look at things through both the member and advocate perspective and to create something that will hopefully be with CEF for many years.

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CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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

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