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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.


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.


Meet Joy: CEF Staff Interview

Joy Shaver: CEF's Financial Coaching Specialist & Americorps Literacycorp Member

Why do you feel connecting with people is so important?

I agree with Dorothy Day who said, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes in community.” I keep learning over and over that I need connection with others. True relationships where we risk being ourselves and seeing another person or the beautiful mess they are is the only way any of us can thrive in a world that increasingly seeks to divide us.

What inspires you?

The amazing resiliency and willingness to risk that I see every day at CEF inspires me every day. Whether it is a Members risking trusting an Advocate to help them navigate complicated situations, or an Advocate risking looking silly by doing something that they have never done before to accomplish a Member’s goal. I am always amazed by the vulnerability that is embraced at every level of this organization. And if something doesn’t work the first time no one gives up they just get creative and try something new.

Tell us about your background

I was born and raised in Detroit. I spent my undergrad years in Indiana and then moved to Seattle for four years. I moved to Durham in 2013 to start my Masters of Divinity at Duke, which I finished in 2016.  I have a diverse background in terms of employment. I have done project management for a small technology company, churches, and relationship driven nonprofits.

What do you think will be your greatest challenge?

Honestly, learning the intricacies of our financial system has been a whole lot more challenging than I expected. I didn’t think I was an expert when I started but I thought I understood our financial system a lot better than I actually did. Every time I learn something new it I’m amazed at how well members are navigating a really opaque system.

What projects are you excited about right now?

I’m really excited to help make our internal system better so that our Advocates and Members have more resources at their disposal! It’s a bit of a learning curve for me but I’m really excited to work with our Resources and Financial Coaching team to make our resources more useful!!


Meet JV: CEF Staff Interview

JV Alencar: CEF Workforce & Finances Specialist

The oppressive structures that exist here in Durham and in this country are always transforming and creating bigger barriers. I believe that long-lasting change happens through radical human connections like those at the core of CEF, and networks of support can be sources of fuel for us as we navigate through everyday challenges. We need energy, love, and encouragement, and we can gain those from positive interactions with our community.

How did you get involved with CEF?

I initially got involved with CEF my freshman semester at Duke in 2013 at the recommendation of upperclassmen who were involved with student leadership. At the time, I was looking for a way to engage with the local Durham community in which I would be living for the next four years. Over the years, I have grown to cherish this group of passionate folks who are so committed to building financial independence. When I found out about this opportunity to continue with CEF after graduation through AmeriCorps Vista, I knew I had to apply!

Why is connecting with people important?

The oppressive structures that exist here in Durham and in this country are always transforming and creating bigger barriers. I believe that long-lasting change happens through radical human connections like those at the core of CEF, and networks of support can be sources of fuel for us as we navigate through everyday challenges. We need energy, love, and encouragement, and we can gain those from positive interactions with our community.

Tell us about your background

I was born in Recife, Brazil, but I have spent the majority of my life in Columbia, South Carolina.  I graduated from Duke University in May 2017 with a degree in Economics and Global Health with a focus on sustainable community development both domestically and internationally. In college, I worked in projects focusing on topics like access to education and affirmative actions in poor neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro, innovative methods to increase human resource capacity in the hospitals of rural Ghana, and the historic preservation of communities of color living in the coast of the Carolinas. I was an advocate with CEF concurrently with my studies, and my time here has definitely influenced my pursuits.

What inspires you?

I like looking to art and music when I need to be reenergized. Whenever I see a piece that I really connect with, it gives me the push to pursue my own creativity. I also love hearing people talk about their passions which is why I am subscribed to over a hundred podcasts on my phone! I think history is so important in work like CEF’s. It is important to acknowledge that we don’t work in isolation but in dialogue with people who have come before us. Revisiting and retelling those histories keeps the energy alive.

What do you think will be your greatest challenge?

Currently, a big personal challenge is switching from a student Advocate perspective to one of a Staff member and an AmeriCorps Fellow. A lot of my time with CEF has been spent focusing on Member meetings and Office Hours, as a regular advocate and as a student leader in MAC team. My position now is focused on developing the resources behind those meetings. It is definitely a different way of thinking about things, but I am excited about the challenge.

What projects are you excited about right now?

I am looking forward to further developing data methods and systems for evaluation. CEF has a lot of space to grow in the ways that it uses data to analyze and inform program decisions.  CEF prioritizes and values the very human and vulnerable side of our work. Bringing numbers and statistics to these conversations has historically been dehumanizing, so we want to be extremely careful in how we integrate data alongside the experiences and feedback of CEF Members. I am curious to explore and imagine an approach that respects and contributes to our collective values and stories.  

Fun Fact: in 2016 JV was still a DUKE student and he very bravely stepped on to UNC’s campus for the “Pie-A-Dookie” Fundraiser!



New Staff Welcome: Jess

Jess Mcdonald joined CEF’s Durham team as Advocate Program Coordinator in June of 2017, and we are so thankful for them!

What made you interested in CEF?

I heard about the Advocate Program Coordinator position opening at CEF, and it seemed like the organization’s values, analysis, and visions of change aligned with my own. I’m really interested in doing social justice work that addresses both the day-to-day experiences of individuals and the larger systems that perpetuate inequalities. I’m passionate about doing this work in the South and in my home state of North Carolina in particular. Durham is where I want to plant my roots, and it’s where I’ve found a really strong community of people who are engaged in social justice work. The city has a really rich history, and so many of the struggles today around affordable housing and other issues are deeply connected to this history. I also have a background in social justice education with college students, and I’m really interested in bridging the town and gown divide between Durham and Duke in intentional ways. CEF really brings together several of my passions, and I’m so excited to be joining the team.

Why do you feel connecting with people is so important?

I feel like life, at its essence, is about connecting with people. Especially within social justice work, it’s all about the relationships we form within communities. So often the systems of power, privilege, and oppression are set up to prevent us connecting on a deep level and building that solidarity across difference. Transforming the world starts with transforming ourselves and our relationships with each other. Changing communities starts with one-on-one connections

My relationships with other people are what keeps me grounded and what reminds me why I do this work. We aren’t doing this work in a bubble, and it has real impacts on real people. In that way, connecting with people is also about accountability. Getting feedback about where we’re falling short, where we can grow, and what we need to be thinking more intentionally about is critical to doing meaningful work. Building that trust and communication is all based on relationships.

Tell us about your background

I’m from the coast of North Carolina, Morehead City. It’s a pretty small town. I went to Elon University, which is about 40 minutes from Durham, and I got involved in social justice work as a student there. When I was in college, I would come to Durham occasionally, and I also had friends from Durham. I studied history and sociology, and I did an undergraduate thesis about the history of LGBTQ life at Duke and UNC, so I spent a summer living in Durham and working in the archives in the Center of Gender and Sexual Diversity at Duke. After school, I worked at an LGBTQ non-profit that served college students across the country. After a year or so of working there, I went to grad school at UMass Amherst and got a degree in Social Justice Education, with a focus on intergroup dialogue. I came back to Durham for a little over a year, taught at NC Governor’s School for a couple of summers, and then spent the past year in a fellowship in Asheville. I worked at Our VOICE, a rape crisis center, assessing their services and making suggestions for how they could better serve the LGBTQ community. That was a year-long position that just ended, and I really wanted to come back to Durham, so I’m glad I found CEF.

What inspires you?

It may sound corny, and I feel like I keep talking about social justice, but seeing people coming together for a common cause in hard times like the ones we’re in is very inspiring to me. Whether that’s in response to things like HB2, police violence, gentrification, etc., seeing people come together and fight back against these systems is really inspiring. If you think about it, we are really resilient and powerful people, and getting together with folks to remind ourselves of that is really important for sustaining this work. I also look to history for inspiration, especially social movement ancestors like Leslie Feinberg or Audre Lorde or Marsha P. Johnson. To see yourself as part of that arc of history and understand that the generations that come after us will continue this work is really humbling.

What do you think will be your greatest challenge?

There’s just so much work to do in Durham in general, and at CEF, too. The city is changing so quickly, and we need to be one step ahead in making that growth sustainable for everyone, especially when it comes to affordable housing. Managing all of the Advocates and working to be as efficient as we can with our time, while also centering the importance of building meaningful relationships throughout the organization, is going to be a challenge, but I’m excited to take it on.

What projects are you excited about right now?

I’m really excited to co-teach the house course at Duke this fall. It’s been a year or so since I’ve been in a classroom, and I miss it. I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to pedagogy and facilitation. I love creating spaces for people to explore new topics and have critical conversations that they may not get to have in other parts of their lives. I guess it goes back to the idea of consciousness raising and transforming ourselves in order to transform the world. It’s a lofty goal, but we’ve got to start somewhere. The house course seems like a really amazing opportunity to combine social justice education, community-based work, and structured time for continued reflection to inform that work.


Our 2017 Summer Interns

The CEF summer internship allows those seeking a transformative summer work experience an opportunity to work full-time in one of the CEF locations. Our full-time interns are a main source of fuel during the summer, powering our offices while many Advocates are away. Interns spend about half their time meeting with Members and the other half working on various projects, everything from resource building to communications!

Hover over the images below to read about them and their work!


Gabi Stewart

Continuing Education Specialist Intern

Gabi is a rising senior at Duke majoring in classical languages. She is leading efforts to create and strengthen relationships with local organizations who provide education continuation services. She is also developing resources on Connect (our internal database) that will provide Members a streamlined interface for accessing resources! In her spare time, she enjoys writing and playing music. She is also training for a half-marathon!

Varun Prasad

Resource and Financial Coaching Specialist Intern

Varun is a rising sophomore at Duke majoring in statistics and economics. This summer, Varun is working to build resources by receiving Member feedback to constantly improve our services. He is also working on building up our pathways and refreshing information to place people into housing. In his spare time he enjoys exploring new places and watching his favorite TV shows.


Nijah McKinney

Communications Intern

Nijah is a rising senior at NCCU and a mass communications major.  She is serving as the site coordinator for communications in the Durham office, gathering content and utilizing CEF social media and online platforms to expand CEF’s online outreach. She is also creating a Member Success Board to get more members to share their experiences and journey with CEF. In her spare time, Nijah loves to sing, write music, and read! “I am a creator who just loves to create!”

Christiana Oshotse

Healthcare Resource Specialist

Christiana is a rising junior at Duke studying public policy and chemistry. She is working to create and improve upon Member Goals that address the healthcare needs of Members. She is working to survey members to determine their most pressing healthcare needs. She is also creating and improving upon resource documents that serve as information guides for Members and Advocates regarding affording health care and dealing with medical debt. She loves to read, journal, spend time with God, and have fun with family and friends

Vishnu Gottiparthy

Pairings Project Specialist Intern – Duke Engage

Vishnu is a rising junior studying electrical and computer engineering and computer science. He conducts research on similarly-structured local organizations to better understand how they effectively build relationships between their staff/volunteers and community members. In his spare time, he enjoys dancing and reading.

Grace Mok

Housing Advocacy Specialist Intern – Duke Engage

Grace is a rising junior studying economics. She worked closely with Janet on organizing the Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable. She assisted in crafting the content/tone of the event and coordinating circulation of the event invitation. She enjoys spending time with her slow-cooker, her recently acquired soulmate.

And a special thank you to Sam, our Office Beautification Assistant, and Beini, our Outreach Specialist and Duke Engage Intern

Chapel Hill

Kaelan Forbes

Employment Specialist Intern

Kaelan is a rising junior at UNC studying economics and entrepreneurship. This summer, she is working to strengthen the partnership with Inmates to Entrepreneurs, an organization that supports former inmates by giving them the resources and tools to start their own businesses. Kaelan also manages our updated list of job opportunities in Chapel Hill. In her spare time, Kaelan enjoys running and cooking with fellow interns


Tamar Chukrun

Housing Specialist Intern

Tamar is a recent Carolina graduate with a degree in nutrition from the school of public health. She works to keep an updated list of available units in the Carrboro and Chapel Hill areas. She is also conducting research on subsidized housing complexes in the area in order to embed a subsidized housing goal on Connect and works closely with Members transitioning into housing. In her spare time, Tamar enjoys going to the gym, baking, and reading.


Hannah Factor

Impact Specialist Intern

Hannah is a rising junior at UNC studying economics and public policy. She serves as the communications site coordinator in Chapel Hill in addition to assisting with content in both the Durham and Chapel Hill locations. She is developing a portfolio of Member and Advocate story/profiles through interviews, audio recordings and data visualization. She is also leading efforts to pilot an online CEF storytelling platform. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking mountains, yoga and cooking breakfast.

Joyce Yao

Finance Specialist Intern APPLES Service-Learning

Joyce is a rising sophomore at UNC. Her projects include transitioning the Renter’s IDA program from its pilot to a wider implementation in Chapel Hill. She is working as part of CEF’s savings team to assist in the coordination of CEF’s partnership with the Common Cents Lab at Duke. She is also working to better integrate “savings moments” into the trainings that CEF offers to Advocates. Joyce enjoys cooking, reading, and now quilting thanks to David and the CEF Quilting Circle.

Justin Willford

Special Projects Coordinator

Justin is a rising junior at UNC studying statistics and mathematics. He works as an assistant to the co-director on donation analysis and fundraising. He also researches available grants, maintains our donation database, and updates our Major Gifts team on donor prospects. In his spare time, he enjoys stand up comedy, listening to music and exploring the triangle.

Keely Kriho

Member Intro Specialist

Keely is a rising junior at UNC studying health policy and management. She assists in the coordination of our Member intake process and facilitates Talking Sidewalks, a weekly discussion-based group in the Chapel Hill Office. She enjoys running, talking about health policy and eating burritos.


Annual Report 2016 : Transformative Community

“We share these stories, and are reminded just how profound it is to be a part CEF. We share them with gratitude for the whole wide CEF family—Members, Advocates, supporters, and friends. Thank you for reading, writing, and living this story with us!”


CEF’s TED Talk: Homeless, and Outsaving Half of the United States

Presented at the 2017 TEDxUNC event at Memorial Hall: CEF’s Co-Founders / Co-Directors sharing the transformative story of a group of college students and shelter residents who built a community organization and financial tools that support sustained transitions out of homelessness. The CEF Advocacy Choir sings to close out the talk, with an original song about the joy of finding a home after experiencing homelessness.

photographs by TEDxUNC


Matt Kauffmann

“CEF helped me find my place in the world. I’ve had the good fortune to leave CEF twice, first when I graduated from UNC and now as I leave the professional staff. Both times I’ve left with a truer understanding of the world, a deeper sense of my own passions and abilities, and a clearer vision for making the biggest impact I possibly can. CEF has exposed, challenged, and stretched me in ways that I cannot imagine happening anywhere else, so I give CEF a lot of credit. I’ll add that I would not have gotten into grad school were it not for CEF Opportunity Class!” — Matt Kauffmann

Matt started working with CEF as an Advocate while he was a student at UNC! After graduating he took on an AmeriCorps VISTA position at CEF as Advocate Program Coordinator from 2014-2016. During his time at CEF, he completely transformed the way the Advocate Program in Chapel Hill worked, formalizing and developing structures that deeply empowered students to take ownership of the program and consistently aspire towards excellence. He also laid the groundwork for our data-informed approach and creative fundraising efforts, and we will be forever thankful to him for seeking out and finding our new office space in Chapel Hill!


Why We’re Founders

From Joe Sircar (UNC ‘12),  Quinn Holmquist (Duke ’16), and Anne Yeung (Duke ’14)

We are writing to those of you who have volunteered with CEF and who may want stay connected—whether you are still in the area or afar. As a volunteer during CEF’s first 7 years, you are a huge part of founding CEF and making it possible, and you’re invited to join the Founders Circle.

We’re a group of CEF old hands who make a small gift of $10 (or $15 or $20) that is automatically drafted each month as a way to sustain and stay connected to CEF and order to help support CEF’s work and sustain its impact in the Chapel Hill and Durham communities. Since we left and now face new challenges in new cities and new communities—CEF has been frequently on our minds.

Joe: One of the things that memorializes my time there is the quote “we are all recovering from something.” CEF is a real community that continues to grow and learn together – and the real impact that the relationships that are forged in CEF continues to make is incredible. I’m sure many of you all would say the same.

Anne: I remember the shared stories, laughs, and meals at Dove House and with Ricky; being invited to try to understand poverty through a human lens; and the opportunity to shape and build a growing organization

Quinn: I’ll always cherish the long car talks on the way office hours, hugs at the Genesis Home, and Wannamaker Common Room 04 (the site of CEF’s house course, which just wrapped up its fifth semester).

Whatever it is that you find beautiful in CEF, we would like to invite you to continue to be a part of that by joining us in the CEF’s Founders’ Circle. You’ll receive a CEF mug specially crafted for Founders’ Circle members Just click here, enter your info, and start giving!  

CEF continues to attract more volunteers, gain more members, add and optimize programs, and make new partnerships. CEF is now serving over 1,000 members in Chapel Hill and Durham, with over 200 active savings accounts, and this year they supported 104 members to secure housing and 155 members to gain employment. In its 7 years of existence, we believe CEF has flourished and exceeded expectations. Let’s stay connected and help them grow.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Joe Sircar (UNC ‘12),  Quinn Holmquist (Duke ’16), and  Anne Yeung (Duke ’14)

Founders Circle - Anne Quinn Joe

P.S Wondering what’s changed since you graduated?  Well, at our core, we’re still the same we think – grounded in the unique relationships between our student Advocates and our Members, and anchored by these consistent Guiding Principles. You can check out these recent Member Stories to see for yourself just how much we’re still the same full-hearted CEF.

In Durham:

Here is a glimpse from then (2012), to now…

  • Then, we visited 3 partner sites and worked with 64 members. Now we work with 350 members in close partnership with 10+ housing and employment organizations, and our very own office, located squarely between Duke and downtown Durham.
  • Then our entire advocate team could squeeze into Janet’s car. Now we have 102 advocates in 10 teams, bussing, walking, and carpooling together to sites throughout Durham.
  • Then we had 0 full-time staff. Then we had half-a-staff. Now we have three dedicated staff people.
  • Then we took appointments and set appointment agendas the day-of. Now, Members schedule meeting in advance, receive systematized appointment reminders, and establish long-term goals alongside to-do lists for each meeting!
  • In 2012, all CEF members saved an impressive $53,091. Last year, they saved a staggering $195,881, and we’ve used behavioral economic best practices to continuously improve the accounts!
  • Then, we were filled with big questions about growth and sustainability. Now, CEF’s work has grown roots and deep partnerships in Durham, charted out in a 3-year Strategic Plan, and featured in national case studies as a model for integrating financial capability into social services.

Thanks to you, CEF has gone from then to now.

In Chapel Hill:

Here are some fun snapshots of how we have changed…

  • We started an Advocacy Choir to sing for change in affordable housing in Orange County!
  • You might be such a golden-oldies Advocate that you remember when we didn’t even have an office, or when our office was basically just that one table at 133 ½. Now, we have a 2,000 square foot space co-locating services with partner organizations in downtown Chapel Hill!
  • Maybe you remember when our Resource Database was a big Google Spreadsheet. Or maybe you remember when it was in a manila folder in the Campus Y! Now, it is a county-wide, web-based, public, and very fancy tool.
  • Perhaps you were here when we offered micro-loans, and a matched savings program was just a glimmer in the eye of some of the first CEF Members (Borrowers at the time!). Now our matched savings accounts have supported hundreds of members to save successfully for their goals, and we’re using best practices to improve the accounts every year! And what’s super exciting? The first 3 CEF Members just used their CEF savings accounts to buy their own homes.
  • Possibly the Advocate training you participated in was just a one-day thing. Now, training is a semester-long process packed with content and shadowing opportunities, with our Financial Coaching Fellows training now a course for academic credit at the UNC School of Social Work. What!?
  • And maybe you were here when all of this was really just an idea, or barely becoming a real thing. Now, CEF has been featured in national case studies as a model for integrating financial capability services into social services.

Thanks to you, CEF has grown in so many ways.

It’s so fun to reflect on just how much has happened and how far we have come! In part because it helps us imagine just how much is still possible! To keep building towards better, we need your support

P.S. We would love to hear from you! What are some of your favorite or most distinct memories of your time at CEF? What do you remember about your time as an Advocate? What experience still makes you laugh when you think about it, or still breaks your heart? What are you up to nowadays? It would be awesome to stay in touch – please comment below and share or email us at!

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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