Archive | Advocate Story

An Interview with Shawn

cef photoBy Jill McMahon

As an intern at CEF this summer, the highlight of my weeks was coming to Sunday’s Opportunity Class. CEF’s Sunday Opportunity Class is specifically for women at HomeStart shelter in Chapel Hill. In the hands of class facilitators Shawn and Alex, Sunday’s class is a warm, safe, and treasured space for us to come together and share our stories.


Shawn, a Philadelphia native, has just surpassed her one-year anniversary with working at CEF. Shawn’s journey to Chapel Hill began in 2012. After getting laid off from a job, Shawn was looking for a new start. After an extensive search of different cities up and down the East Coast, Shawn landed in Raleigh, NC. Shawn got connected with CEF when she stayed briefly at HomeStart. Shawn started to attend Opportunity Class and worked with Alex on resumes and job searches. After a month at HomeStart, Shawn landed a job at DSS and eventually, earned her job as an administrative support associate at UNC, where she works today.


Shawn’s positive energy and welcoming demeanor sets the tone for the inspiration and interaction we have at Opportunity Class. When I asked Shawn what CEF means to her, she responded that CEF has changed her perception of how she views the world. She feels that CEF truly cares about people and it reinforces her belief that we are all connected. No matter what our situation is, Shawn says “it does not define who we are.”


Shawn’s favorite aspect of opportunity class is the overall support and encouragement we all receive from attending. Shawn said, “we share things without judgment and everyone’s opinions are valid.” Shawn believes the topics we talk about in class are essential experiences. The shared connection we get from each other in that space provides an environment for growth. Getting to know Shawn and the other women from class this summer has been a great privilege. At CEF, change is facilitated through relationships. Shawn exemplifies the work of CEF through her passion for others. Shawn said, “Being able to work at CEF makes me feel good. The hardships we face are just something that we pass through on our journey in life. We all want each other to succeed.”



Spotlight: Meet Matt Kauffmann, CEF's new Advocate Program Coordinator!

Matt Kauffmann

My name is Matt Kauffmann, and I am CEF’s new Advocate Program Coordinator. My primary role is to support our Advocate program in Chapel Hill, including training Advocates and pairing them with Members. I am serving in this capacity as an Americorps VISTA sponsored by North Carolina Campus Compact in partnership with the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the UNC School of Law.

        I first came to CEF as a junior transfer student to Carolina in 2010. In the first few weeks of classes, I saw a flyer in my dorm advertising a loan officer training for a student-run domestic microfinance operation. This sounded socially innovative and smart, so I went to the training. As has been well-documented on this blog, CEF was and is much more than microfinance. I spent four semesters and a summer as an advocate before graduating in 2012. Then it was off to Los Angeles to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. There, I worked for a large homeless services agency, first as an employment services case manager and then as the staffing coordinator for the agency’s in-house social enterprise. When presented a few months ago with the opportunity to return to CEF, my first thought was that I would love nothing more.
        Because if I were to stay in the so-called helping professions, I wanted to do work that was authentically compassionate.  Many organizations that seek to help people claim compassion as a value and motivating factor. But this is often not a psychological reality in those organizations. The philosopher Aristotle discussed compassion becoming “watery” in the context of a city where each citizen is asked to care for all. Care, he argued, is best exercised in small family groups and is predicated upon the fact that people belong to other people in a unique way. A father’s son is his and his only one (or at least one of a few). I cannot feel compassion for the entire city. The same goes for modern social service agencies. Unfortunately, the valiant effort of agencies to maximize their impact and the concomitant cult of efficency often leads to the watering down of compassion. I know from my time as a case manager tasked with assisting hundreds of clients each year that I could not care for each of those clients equally, much less devote the time and attention needed to effectively help each person. My efforts were watered down by the volume of my caseload. I imagine that many other helping professionals feel similarly.
        But at CEF, we leverage student Advocates at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill to give the necessary time and attention to our Members. Advocates are paired with members one-on-one or two-on-one. There is a sense as an Advocate that the Member you are working with is yours and your only one, to use Aristotle’s terms. This sense inspires compassion. And importantly, in an age of ever increasing inequalities in wealth and income, CEF extends our Advocates’ compassion beyond their usual social circle. I remember accompanying one of our Members, who had a serious intellectual disability, to court in Hillsborough a couple of years ago. We sat in the courtroom for a few hours until we figured out that we weren’t actually supposed to be there. Her court date had been rescheduled and the notification had been sent to her daughter’s address. I was annoyed at the situation and embarrassed that I was complacent in wasting our time. In that moment, I realized that this inconvenience was a sort of bad thing for both of us, that this situation was out of the Member’s control, and that I was just as vulnerable to being confused and having my time wasted as she was. Moreover, I realized that for this particular Member–with all the systems she has had to navigate over the course of her life–this sort of inconvenience was a normal occurrence. This realization saddened me. It is in these moments, where we’re able to walk a little ways in our Members’ shoes, that Advocates become a little more compassionate.
        With such experiences in mind, I am excited to be back and I look forward to growing with the many Members and Advocates who make up our CEF community. This year, I’ll be focusing on scaling our Advocate program to meet the increased demand for our services while maintaining our unique culture and the quality of the relationships that make us tick. In other words, I’m working to keep us from getting too “watery.”


Interview with Doug and Katelyn


Since mid June, CEF has been brightened by the eager spirits and tireless efforts of Doug Chan and Katelyn McCarthy, our Lend for America (LFA) Fellows. Both jumped right into CEF. If this were the Summer Olympics, they would have received top scores for their seamless dives into the program. Summer intern Lucy Manning sat down with Doug and Katelyn over a meal of Cosmic Cantina to talk about first impressions, memorable experiences, why they are here, and what they have learned in their time as Lend for America Fellows.

To start, Doug and Katelyn are here through an organization called Lend for America, a group that supports students who are starting their own campus microfinance institutions (Campus MFIs). [Quick term breakdown: An MFI is any group that provides financial services on a small scale. A campus MFI is an MFI run and/or started by students]. The fellowship gives them a stipend to participate in the operations of one of three MFIs (CEF being one), and to absorb and learn what it takes to be successful in this sector. As Doug said, “Part of the LFA Fellowship is learning from the very best, which is CEF.” So for those of you who didn’t know, CEF is a pretty big deal: one of the best and most successful organizations of its kind. People from outside of Chapel Hill and Durham have heard about us. Doug knew about us his senior year of high school! In fact, he almost went to UNC for the opportunity to work with CEF.

Both were shocked by the emotional strength required for work at CEF. They had very wise insights on the balance between emotional attachment and productivity.

Katelyn McCarthy will be a sophomore at Indiana University, majoring in Economic Consulting and Sustainable Practice, and is part of a budding MFI called Hoosier Social Impact Fund. She chose CEF to go out on a limb, travel to the distant land of North Carolina, and experience a culture different than the one in which she was raised. Despite any differences between the Midwest and the South, Katelyn sees universal truths she has learned here that can be applied back home. She was most struck by the strong bonds between Members and Advocates, and how quickly these bonds can be formed. Katelyn recognized early on that the relationships formed were more than client relationships. When asked what elements of CEF she will take home to HSIF, Katelyn mentioned the organizational culture, and the particular terminology (member, advocate, team leader, etc.) that creates an inclusive environment, fuels volunteers’ passion, and motivates them to keep coming back.

Doug Chan will be a third-year (junior) at the University of Virginia, and is studying Finance and Economics. Through a social entrepreneurship class, Doug and two others created Community Honor Fund, which is focused on providing financial services to UVA employees. Doug is particularly passionate about solving the problem of predatory payday loans, and hopes to offer a better alternative. Doug pointed out a great aspect of CEF in our conversation about what he will take back to UVA and Community Honor Fund: he heralded the focus on the client, and has learned that the outcomes that are most important to the client should also be the most important and central to the organization. In addition, he noted the relevance of an organization being the best at what it does. As he said, if someone else does what we want to do better than we do, then we ought to be giving our money to support them.

Thank you Doug and Katelyn for everything you have done and will continue to do with the rest of your time at CEF! We wish you all the best in your endeavors!


From Koozies to Cars

Dawn celebrates her new car!

Dawn celebrates her new car!

By: Jill McMahon, CEF Advocate and Finance Specialist Intern

It was an exciting Monday morning at CEF when we found out that one of our members Dawn was going to get a car! Thanks to the man behind the sign (Jim Kitchen) Dawn received a Chevy Malibu to call her own. Dawn is the second recipient of a campaign led by Prof. Jim Kitchen’s class at the UNC Business School. In May, Prof. Kitchen’s class presented a car to our member Loretha, who needed reliable transportation for her job as a CNA. Through Kitchen’s Trade-for-Help program, she was able to receive a Lincoln Town Car.

As we rolled up to Carol Woods where Dawn worked and anxiously waited to surprise her, Mr. Kitchen explained how he was able to get the cars for CEF members. In addition to being an entrepreneur and an active community member, Jim is also a professor in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. His class partook in their own Trade-Up Project, an idea based around bartering objects for other objects of increasingly greater value. Each student began with a koozie, with a mission to keep trading “up” to gain something more substantial. Eventually (and unbelievably), 76 koozies turned into 2 cars.

This will have a huge impact on Dawn’s daily life, as she will now be able to consistently get to work on time and to her medical appointments. As a new advocate to CEF, seeing Dawn receive this car was something really special. As we all gathered to share that moment with Dawn, I realized how important community relationships are and how these different relationships and resources can combine into something powerful. Huge thanks to Jim Kitchen and his students for making that moment possible!


If you’d like to read more about Dawn, Loretha, and Jim’s stories, see the following links:


Advocate Spotlight: Nura Smadi

Nura Photo CEF 2

When did you get involved? How did you get involved? 

Although I heard about CEF at the beginning of my journey at Duke, only last semester I finally got a chance to delve into the CEF world and not only learn about the wonderful work that the organization does in Durham, but actually work directly with the members of the Durham community. One of my best friends at Duke, Shafiq, got involved with CEF last year and through him, I noticed the extent of the impact that he was having on the Members that he was working with, and also the impact of the Members on him. Each Wednesday of last semester he would return from his Office Hours at the Dove House in Durham with a smile on his face. Throughout the semester his excitement only increased as his relationships with the Dove House members strengthened and as he got more involved in the critical backstage work that ensures the smooth operations of the organization. That, along with a persistent stream of weekly e-mail reminders from Quinn, really inspired me to step outside of my comfort zone and venture into Durham with CEF.

What about CEF interested you in the first place? 

I have been involved with multiple service organizations in varying capacities since high school, but none have had the personal relationship-based approach that CEF is built upon. In the past, most of my service work has been rather impersonal; holding fundraisers, food-drives, or advocating for a particular cause. CEF has earned a very special part in my life because it provides me with the opportunity to actually connect with the Durham community members that it serves; in fact, I currently feel more in touch and more connected with the city itself due to my involvement.  What I love most is the fact that through the establishment of a collaborative relationship between members and advocates, this really cool and dynamic energy emerges that pushes both parties to set and achieve important financial goals.

What’s the most important lesson you think you’ve learned through working with CEF?

I think the most important lesson would have to be that relationships matter, and they matter a lot. Some may disagree, but I really believe that strong and powerful relationships can and do act as a catalyst for change, especially the type of change that CEF strives to accomplish. I have not been working with CEF for a very long time, but my experience so far has undoubtedly been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience at Duke. This would certainly have to be because of the relationships that I feel are actively forming with the members that I am interacting with.

Favorite Memory in CEF – Working with Ms. Habibah

Over the past few weeks, I have been meeting and working with such a fantastic member in Durham, Ms. Habibah. Every week I look forward to going to the Saturday Durham CEF Open Office Hours because I know I would see her again. Although I just met Ms. Habibah only a few weeks ago, she was so quick to let me into her life. She has so effortlessly welcomed me as her partner in this process of transition and financial goal setting. She is very inspiring actually; she has set very clear financial targets for herself from the start and since then she has not diverted her focus from reaching these goals. It is a wonderful feeling to know that my contributions and support as an advocate, although small in the grand scheme of things, can amount to something so important and meaningful for members like Ms. Habibah. I am so excited to continue strengthening our relationship and to be there with her as she reaches even more personal financial goals.


Member-Advocate Feature: Kevin & Erin

All of us have been hearing about the cookie cakes that Erin and Kevin have been crafting up in the CEF office, so we decided to meet up with them and talk about their experience with CEF thus far and growth of their relationship since being paired.

ErinKevinHow did you find out about CEF?

Kevin: I’m in a Freedom House and one of the things we have to go through is an orientation, and they tell you about the organizations that will help us, and CEF is one of them.

Erin: Somewhere along the line signed up for the listserv and was getting emails the whole semester while I was abroad, actually, and I was like “This sounds really awesome!” It’s the one [listserv] that I didn’t unsubscribe from, so I decided I’d check it out whenever I got back to Chapel Hill, which was last semester and I’ve been involved ever since.

What were your first impressions of CEF?

Kevin: I think it was a good impression because they helped me with my resume right off the top, and they were always willing to go above and beyond to help. Whatever I needed done, they helped me with it was.

Erin: It was awesome, with everything that’s happening here… a little overwhelming my first time in the office, just like all the things CEF does, which is what makes it so awesome, but at the same time it’s like, “Wow, we can help people get cell phones, transportation, housing, and all these things. How is it possible to do all this? I know nothing.” But then you learn it’s all a learning process and everyone is kind of in it together.

What kind of relationships have you built within CEF?

Kevin: That’s a good question that I can answer off the top. It’s like having a family, where you really cherish someone. I cherish the fact that I can come here and look forward to seeing Erin; she helps me out tremendously. As well as Jon, Sarah, Daniella, and everyone here is really helpful, and I look forward to coming here.

Erin: The same goes for me, both in the relationships that I have with other Advocates and Members as well. They’re so strong because they’re based on such deep compassion for issues… like helping people, and working through very real life problems, and the nature of those relationships is what makes them so strong and unique. Specifically, in working with Kevin, the things that we’ve been working through and talking about, I learn just as much from him as he does from me, so it’s mutually beneficial for sure.

Do you have any advice for Advocates and Members who come to CEF?

Kevin: My advice to anyone coming here would be to just lay down all your cards on the table, let them know what you want, what you’re looking for, what your goals are, and try to build a relationship from there. Do the footwork and everything else will fall into place.

Erin: I think Kevin said it perfectly, it’s all about the relationships really, and you kind of have to let your guard down sometimes and put it all out on the table. It’s all about getting to know the other person that you’re working with and seeing how you can help each other.

Do you have a favorite CEF moment(s)?

Kevin: Yes, I do. I think it was last week that I asked Erin to come to one of my meetings, as I’m in a recovery program. She told me she that would come and she shocked me and came up with another CEF participant… that overwhelmed me and I was filled with joy, almost having tears in my eyes. That was my favorite one by far.

Erin: Honestly, I think that’s been my favorite too. That was a really awesome experience to take things outside of the office and be present in a different space and witness other people that are experiencing different kinds of problems and it’s a whole different kind of support group. Like CEF is a support group, and it’s such an awesome thing to see the way that people are people are able to work together and help each other through their problems. There was a guy in the meeting that was clearly struggling a lot, and someone else in the meeting was like “Come talk to me after this, I want to help you, we can work through this, we’re here for you,” and that’s really what it’s all about.

Do you have any goals as you continue working with CEF?

Kevin: I’m open to new suggestions every day, and like I tell Erin all the time, I’m new here in Chapel Hill and any time I’m around people and they’re trying to help, I’m trying to better myself everyday. Only thing I can do is take good advice and I’m sure I’m in the right place with Erin. Erin has been my #1 supporter and my #1 friend, and she helps me line up jobs and applications because I’m clueless on the computer. My goal is to fix what’s broken in my life.

Erin: My personal goals are your personal goals and whatever you want to accomplish, I want to accomplish.


Kevin with his masterfully crafted cookie cake

Kevin with his masterfully crafted cookie cake.


Advocate Spotlight: Sean

We recently spoke with Sean McClung, a newly trained Advocate, on his time and experience with CEF thus far! Sean first got introduced to CEF via his Service & Leadership LLC and we’re very excited to have him working with us.

When did you get involved?  How did you get involved?

That’s kind of a difficult question. I officially became an advocate this semester but I worked with CEF before, because last year I was a member of the Service and Leadership Living Learning Community- and this year I’m the leader of that community. So, Dr. Charles Price does a class for just us called Action Research and we did a project for that class last semester when I was just a member of S & L. It was called HOPE for a Home and if you talk to Jon or Maggie they’ll know what you’re talking about. We split our class into groups and each dealt with different things like long-term support for grads, like alumni council meetings; going around Franklin and Triangle Transit asking getting lifetime discounts for graduates; and planning the actual event. We had the event and we just had a raffle going and announced the discounts—it was a recognition/ mini-fundraiser night.

So that worked out really well and it was really cool because we got to help CEF. So that’s where I started getting involved and while that was happening, I was like “Yeah I’m going to be an advocate!” but I just didn’t have time for it at that point, so I came in this year knowing this was something I wanted to do.

What about CEF interested you?

Long story short– It makes a positive impact on people’s lives and it’s very different from other organizations because it makes that impact in a personal way. Usually it’s very bureaucratic, but CEF’s emphasis on personal relationship and the fact that we do so much interested me. There’s no reason I wouldn’t want to do it, really. I want to make a positive impact on people and the world and this is a fantastic way to help those people who can’t get themselves where they want to be or just need an extra push to get there. There are just so many good reasons to be in CEF because it’s just incredible.

What is/are the most important thing(s) you’ve learned by working with Members at CEF?

You definitely learn about primarily the things you’re doing, first and foremost… but that’s just like physical life things- like how to apply for this or apply for that, which is great, since they’re good life skills for you to have.

I wouldn’t say that just CEF taught me this but CEF really helps you realize that connotations that come with the kinds of people we help are almost always completely unfounded. These are real people who have just found themselves in really unlucky situations and far too many people don’t realize that it could literally be them tomorrow. There’s nothing wrong with these people and sometimes they deal with circumstances outside of their control and some of them may have gotten themselves into situations by their own fault, but the fact that they’re here shows that they’re growing and learning. We’re all just people. I’ve learned over time from CEF and other places that no single person ever deserves judgment. Everybody makes mistakes and everybody deserves love. There’s no reason to not give that to somebody. They don’t deserve your judgment even if you could because absolutely nobody wants to be in the situation where you have to ask for help and the members we work with have, which shows something. And if more people realized that, I feel like most of the problems in the world would disappear.

What skills do you think you’ve developed through working with CEF?

I’ve become better at navigating these strangely arcane, bureaucratic things. I can’t say I’m good at it because I don’t think anyone can be good that them, but I’ve definitely learned to throw myself around in all of these systems and try to get things out of them as opposed to getting lost in cyberspace. I’ve learned how to apply for jobs and stuff—and I helped someone open a checking account, which is something I didn’t know how to do three weeks ago. It’s definitely a work in progress- you learn as you go.

Is there a skill or knowledge of a concept that you want to develop through CEF that you haven’t already?

I can’t really think of anything specific. It’ll come when I need it, that’s how CEF rolls.

Are there any future aspirations that CEF helps you achieve?

After graduation I plan on going into the Peace Corps and I’m considering doing business development as a career. Although CEF isn’t directly applicable to that, it’s very similar. Essentially you’re helping people restructure their lives and get them to where they’re supposed to be. We also learn about job markets and financial things, which are important skills to know and have. It’s nice to know how systems work even if you don’t directly work with them. But it’s also to know the types of people that you’ll be working with when you actually get into those types of careers. Experience trumps the classroom.

If you ran CEF and could change one thing, what would it be?

I would change that stupid printer on the other side of the room that always prints off wingdings… it’s really annoying. Like I just want something to print and all of a sudden there are symbols and wingdings on the paper. I just don’t understand.

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you in the office?

So Ian Gallager and I had to move this copy machine where the savings center is now, and we were actually moving it to make room for the saving center. And we wanted to see if it worked, so we turned it on and it worked. It was really cool. Oh, but I bet if I had eaten Caleb’s kimchi that would be the craziest thing to ever happen to me… it wasn’t real kimchi, it was his take on kimchi.

What’s your favorite memory made in CEF?

That’s hard, but the first moment that popped into my head was this time I spent two hours working with a guy in one sitting; his name was Daniel. We started applying for a job, wrote a cover letter and resume. We finished the cover letter and this sounds really cliché but he got really happy and thanked me for being so efficient. And I wasn’t being really great or anything, he was just so happy that we were able to do that. It just made me feel so good because it sort of just validates why we work there.

What’s your least favorite moment from working at CEF?

I hated calling the Wake Tech financial aid office… I got put on hold for seven minutes

I hung up on them after seven and a half minutes and decided that an email would be a better usage of our time. It still took them a week to get back, but at least I didn’t have to stay on the phone for that long.



Advocate Spotlight: Brianne

We got a chance to talk to one of the latest members of the CEF family, Brianne Marino. Bri is a newly trained Advocate that has begun diving into all things CEF related!

When did you get involved?  How did you get involved?

I got involved in the beginning of this year. I heard about it through Grace Harvey who’s working with CEF right now and how it’s one of the best things that she’s gotten involved with so far. I heard about it at the Campus Y Open House and decided to try it out!

What made you want to actually get involved in the first place?

I was working with another student group last year that was helping out with people who already had jobs that were having a hard time with that and I was enjoying my work with that group. So I thought that CEF was like that except approaching from different stages, further back or different areas that people needed help and it interested me.

What’s the most important lesson you think you’ve learned from working with CEF?

People who come here seem so kind and so willing to work with someone who doesn’t have any experience. And I know I don’t have any experience, so it’s just great that everyone we work with are so patient and that everyone around is willing to help you help them sort things out.

What skills do you think you’ve developed by working with CEF?

I’ve been doing some research on my own and I’ve been doing the financial teaching fellows thing with Maggie and with that, I’ve learned a ton. I’m learning how to build good budgets and how to save– I haven’t had much experience. I’m learning things with like direct deposits and other really cool things. I’d say I’ve learned a lot myself and happy that I can help other people with that knowledge.

Is there a skill or knowledge of a concept that you want to develop through CEF that you haven’t already?

I would say a lot of the financial stuff- navigate the building system, developing a budget system myself, and good credit and things like that. I just want to use that to help other people at CEF. I just want to feel like I know what I’m talking about so I can help people more confidently.

Are there any future aspirations that CEF could help you achieve?

I’m actually thinking about possibly going to get my Masters in Public Administration or Law School or something like that. But I’ve always been interested in interacting with people or the human side of thing sso I might be interested in working with an organization like CEF in the future… good practice for that

If you ran CEF and could change one thing, what would it be?

I think it would be cool to have Members to come to the general body meetings. I know it’s difficult and it might not be as effective, but it would be pretty cool.

What’s the funniest, craziest thing that’s ever happened to you in the office?

When Amanda telling me I was in the cool club because I could name the Bruno Mars songs that she wanted me to. And I just like the fact that I feel like I’m sort of gaining people’s trust as I’m coming in more. It’s crazy and funny at the same time.

What’s your favorite memory in CEF thus far?

So far I’m actually really excited because I think I’m going to start working with Norman today, but I haven’t been able to do anything with that yet. I was working for a few weeks with a woman who hasn’t come back in since then. She was sort-of having a bit of a hard time with a whole bunch of random things. So she was pregnant and was asking for advice and help on how to take care of her baby for the holidays, which was when the baby was due, and she asking about finding housing and a job. She was just such a sweet person and actually the same age as me, which was shocking at the same time. I’m hoping the reason she hasn’t come back is because everything is okay. She was just so kind to me even though I didn’t even know what I was doing. It was just nice. I liked working with her for the bit of time that I did. And I’m sure it will be the same with Norman.

What’s your least favorite moment in CEF?

I guess the feeling that I don’t know what I’m doing. But like I said, with the classes and everything, it’s getting better. The feeling came more at the beginning of my time here.

I heard that you wanted to become more active in the Latino sector of CEF. What brought that about?

I started thinking of at the beginning of the year. I just wasn’t sure what the time commitment was and I didn’t feel like I was adequately prepared for that. I love Spanish and one of my majors is Spanish. I was also really nervous because I’m good at Spanish but my speaking isn’t all that great. But I realized that there’s enough in the team or the group and not everyone is fluent and so it’s okay and I’ll probably be able to improve, hopefully. I’m interested in Spanish culture and the way it is, and I’m even thinking about immigration law in the past like going to law school for it. So working with this part of CEF seems like it’ll really help me out.

Is there something that CEF doesn’t offer/ isn’t well versed in that you think we should develop?

Nothing I’ve really noticed—it seems to me really, really well organized. I’ve been amazed at how much has been thought out and how everything seems to work so well. So I would say no for right now.



DukeEngage Reflection

DukeEngage provides Duke undergraduate students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in a community over the summer via service based work. DukeEngage Durham takes place in Durham, NC and its sister city in Durham, UK. Participants in this sister cities program volunteer at various non-profits that focus on economic development in the community.

Christine Costello was one of three DukeEngage students placed with CEF this summer. She recently published a post on the DukeEngage blog that we wanted to share with the CEF community… See below for the full article!

“Buzz Word: Advocacy”
By: Christine Costello

At the Community Empowerment Fund, my official job title is “advocate”. I even have a business card that says it (note to self, find business card). What this title means to me evolves as I spend more and more time with CEF. When I first looked at the title “advocate,” I sensed a daunting level of responsibility. I still feel this responsibility, and I think that it’s important. It makes me accountable towards the members that CEF works with. However, in April when I began getting to know CEF and what they did, I was pretty intimidated by that responsibility. I could not understand how a group of students could do the kind of work that CEF does. CEF-ers sit down with low-income individuals in Durham and Chapel Hill to work on financial literacy, job applications, budgeting, and housing. The members that CEF works with have real life problems in these areas. They have endured the blow of Durham’s economic issues. I became keenly aware of my lack of years and experience.

I expressed this concern to a speaker that CEF brought in for our job orientation. His name is Mike Wood, and he is a member, alumnus, and mentor in CEF. During his time with us at orientation, Mike agreed that I might be unable to express true empathy (note: not sympathy) towards members due to a lack of shared experiences. He disagreed, however, that I could not take on the responsibility of advocacy. And without even knowing the name “DukeEngage,” he stated that in order to be successful in CEF all I needed to do was to be engaged and to mindfully encourage the engagement of others. In that moment, as he has been for so many others, Mike was my advocate.

I have several advocates at CEF. Janet Xiao, my supervisor (though I think she would dislike this name) at CEF Durham advocates for me on a daily basis. Without micromanaging, Janet gives me the tools and encouragement to complete independent projects. One of them has been setting up a partnership between CEF and the Durham Crisis Response Center, something close to my heart.

Duke Engage meeting

Above: An impromptu group meeting at Urban Ministries

Most of my advocates at CEF are the CEF members themselves. Just yesterday I sat down with a member at Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization. He introduced himself and told me that he would like help starting up a side business of hair styling. I blinked at him, not knowing the first thing about starting a business and really just afraid of messing up this very real, very big step towards financial independence. After a suggestion from Janet and encouragement from the member, we were well on the way to setting up his business plan, making business cards, and working out a marketing strategy. We were all advocating for each other, and I don’t think I’ve ever left a day of work with such positive feelings. I know that it can be cliché and somewhat philosophically complicated to say that you get more out of civic engagement than you put in, so I won’t. But I can’t help but think it.


Learning Community Through CEF

By: Audrey Boyles

When I entered college, I was determined to become a travelling doctor. I thought I would never settle down, that I would have a nomadic life and that my friends from home would play, “Where in the world is Audrey now?” The idea was very romantic to me (just think of the souvenirs!).

Four years later, I find myself bawling my eyes out at the CEF Graduation ceremony, never wanting to leave the beautiful community of which I have become a member. During the past four years, I have learned what community means to me through CEF. Learning the meaning of community has unexpectedly shaped my post-grad decisions, the relationships I have with my family, friends, and neighbors and even the context of how I see myself.

When I look back over the past four years, some of the happiest memories that come to mind include HOPE Gardens potlucks, having bratwurst and talking about CEF’s future at Milltown, going to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” with CEF-ers at Christmastime and … of course, wobbling at most community events (what would a community event be without the Wobble?).  I come away from these events feeling hopeful and thinking, “now this is what it’s all about.”

A little over a month ago, I was in a car accident and sustained relatively serious injuries to my face and neck. This past month has been a bit of a strange and scary time for me, but there are many silver linings, including experiencing my community showing me a whole lotta love. This is not something I could have gotten through alone and I am extremely fortunate that I have not had the chance to try and take it on alone.

When I woke up in the Emergency Department, my bed was surrounded by my family and beautiful friends made at CEF (also considered family!). I have received countless visits, cards, phone calls, texts, and emails from members of the CEF community and beyond… old babysitters, neighbors, past school teachers, high school friends, parents of friends and friends of friends. It has truly been amazing to receive an outpouring of support from the people I have had the very good fortune of meeting over the past 21 years.

Writing does not come easy to me, so I will stray away from defining community or trying to articulate exactly what it means to me. But what I can say is that I don’t know where I would be without it (read: I don’t know where I would be without you all!). While I hope some traveling here and there is in my future, I don’t believe the nomadic lifestyle is for me (nor is medical school for me! I’m very proud to have graduated in nursing). A beloved community is what I’m here for.

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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