Archive | Program Story

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!”

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David: Crafting Community

How one Member’s passion for quilting is spreading love and togetherness at CEF 

David believes that every quilt is an opportunity for connection. “Our society is losing that personal touch, and in that process of us making that quilt, if someone is bothered about something, we have the chance to talk about it.”  Originally from Sanford, North Carolina, David moved to Chapel Hill last summer to receive better medical care for his sickness and quickly found himself without a place to stay. “I’ve never experienced homelessness until now.”

David’s passion for quilting is life long. “I have been quilting for 30 years or more. When I was young I couldn’t play outside too much, I used to sew my mother’s clothes and when I got older I took an industrial sewing class.

David was initially connected to CEF through the IFC men’s shelter.  “I wanted to see all I could about all the people around, and I found out about CEF the day during that time I was sick. He (his advocate Kevin) was just like a brother. What I did is a lot of the meetings, and during that time and I was going to Opportunity Class. I was just trying to get a feel for what things were going.” David also enjoys engaging in Talking Sidewalks and CEF’s Advocacy Choir, where he performed for the CEF TED Talk in Memorial Hall this past April. His weekly meetings with his Advocate Kevin, however, sometimes included searching for local quilting groups to join “I liked taking something you would throw away and making something beautiful.”

David with his Advocate Kevin at the 2017 CEF Graduation Celebration!
David passing out fabric from his trove of quilting supplies!

  In February of 2017, David, alongside Kevin, launched the first ever Quilting Circle in the Chapel Hill office. The Quilting Circle allows Members and Advocates to enjoy a community that socializes, relaxes and celebrates each other. “The thing about old-fashioned quilting is that it takes everyone together in the circle to make it. Quilting forces us to talk to each other about things and, in turn, we start to form a strong bond.” Each week, that is exactly what Members and Advocates do, gathering in the CEF office for a collaborative craft and safe space to support and celebrate one another. David, who is currently staying in the shelter, provides all the fabric and supplies himself. He has successfully gotten some supplies donated through the Scrap Exchange in Durham. His quilting projects vary from week to week as he brings new projects to keep people interested and learning. “I just take everything and look at the goodness of it because you can turn everything around and make it pretty, Cause you know, everybody has faults, everyone has needs, everyone is human so live and let live.”

The first quilt is set to be put up in the office this summer. This is my way of giving back for everything y’all have done for me. If it wasn’t for CEF in this moment, in this time, these people would not be able to come together and make something so beautiful.”

So what is David looking forward to? ”To be in my own place so I can keep on quilting. I am going to quilt and sew until the day I leave the earth.”

Sound amazing?  Come to Quilting Circle any Thursday at 6:00pm in the Chapel Hill office and see for yourself! No experience necessary.

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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

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Using Behavioral Economics to Explore the Transition to Housing

Thank you to the over 70 participants from partner agencies that attended the workshop CEF co-hosted with the Common Cents Lab focused on “Using Behavioral Economics to Explore the Transition to Housing.”

Together, we brainstormed about how behavioral economics might help nonprofits think creatively about building better programs and smarter solutions to support individuals moving out of homelessness. The incredible team at the Common Cents Lab shared an introduction to the principles of behavioral economics, and led the group through an interactive workshop to put those principles into action for better program design.

Behavioral economics is “the study of how people really make choices–not in a simplified economic model, but in the textured and rich reality of daily life, and draws on insight from both psychology and economics” (CFED).

CEF is working with the Common Cent Labs this year to apply these learnings to our partnerships with shelters to promote increased engagement with CEF’s matched savings accounts in a way that supports Members in achieving short-term savings goals and builds longer-term saving habits. Through our last joint project with the team, we implemented a new way for Members to track progress towards their savings goals through a punchcard and tested its efficacy through a randomized control trial. Every time Members in the trial group made a deposit, they received a punch, and received gold tokens and new levels of punchcards after each card was filled. An article is soon to be published by the research documenting the promising results of this study… Just for a preview: “Members who received the punchcard to track their deposits completed 30% more of their goal than members who were in the control condition” (Guzman and Tepper, full article to be published late spring 2017).

Indiana received the very first punch on a CEF Savings Card! This piggy- themed punch card developed with Common Cents Lab, tracks each deposit and captures progress towards her goals!

We are excited to continue learning throughout this year with the team at the Common Cents Lab! Since the workshop, partners have shared that they are still really thinking about how behavioral economic analysis such as “tunneling” or “friction costs” can be addressed in their own work. Building on the incredible momentum of bringing 70 of our partners into the room together to explore these concepts, we got feedback from participants on where to go from here in our collaborative learning, and will be exploring other topics in the months to come — such as “Manage Cash Flow after Housing Transitions,” and “Overcome Barriers to Banking.

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Featured OC Hub Program: Document Services

darcia Darcia is not a typical Advocate. Once a week she volunteers her time through CEF’s Orange Community Hub to help Members establish or reestablish identification and documentation. This work of obtaining photos IDs, birth certificates, and social security cards can become very complex, and requires the time of someone like Darcia who can offer her dedication and deep understanding of all different factors at play!

What is the role of documentation?

Documentation is the bedrock or the foundation of life’s needs in our society. It is fundamental to securing housing and employment. It is not a barrier to—as much as it is essential.

How has this work affected your views on poverty?

I always thought of myself as someone who thinks about others, but this work makes me feel the weight and enormity of it all, how overwhelming it must be. We as individuals often live in our own space with our own worries, and then you have people with such different—more vital concerns

What have you learned about the systems that provide and sometimes complicate the process of securing identification?

I have found that people really do want to be helpful for the most part, but there are a lot of rules. Sometimes it can be very challenging when people are not moving forward with the process or it is simply taking forever. One birth certificate was weeks overdue. I called many times and they consistently told me they were processing it, but a week later there would be no progress. The Member stopped coming as a result, so I’m not sure what happened with that case.

How did you get involved?

I was previously involved with Love Chapel Hill, an action-orientated, church-based organization whose mission is to help the homeless within our community. And then I think I met Jon or Maggie(CEF’s Co-founders) at Starbucks and they told me about CEF.

Ultimately, I saw the need. I had friends who were already coming to me asking if I could help them procure documentation for others.  I approached Maggie or Jon and said “what if I came in for a few hours a week and helped members with this sort of thing,” and that is exactly what ended up happening!

What is the hardest case you have worked on?

Often times I am asked to establish ID for individuals who need to keep their whereabouts confidential. My concern has been that an individual trying to get an ID would end up on the public record, and risk them being found. Usually, I tell the individuals that this is a risk that cannot be taken in their situation and that the best course of action is to talk to the attorney general or someone in the state department.

What has been your most inspirational case?

I once had a member that was so persistent in asking me, ‘when am I gonna get it, when am I gonna get it’  because he urgently needed it for a job application. He was so persistent that when I saw him on Columbia Street, he came up to me to tell me he still had not received his ID. At that very moment, I put my stuff down and called up vital records right then and there. He got his ID not long after.

 

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CEF’s 1-on-1 Financial Coaching

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The “Understand Your Credit History” FC Session — Most 1-on-1 sessions start with goal-setting/familiarization input boxes.

By Andrew Franklin:

I’ve heard it said that the exchange of knowledge is among the most intimate of human interactions. In my time at CEF, I’ve seen this exchange happen over and over again. Members share wisdom and experience with Advocates. Advocates share CEF’s resources and body of knowledge with Members as they walk together to achieve Members’ goals. This relationship-based model of learning and sharing is at the core of CEF’s mission and identity.

It was clear, when we recognized the need for a more intentional delivery of existing resources and knowledge through a Financial Coaching program, that we should start with a 1-on-1 approach.

We rolled out the first phase of our 1-on-1 program in January: sessions designed to be interactive and to optimize Member choice. Each session takes about an hour and involves learning financial capability skills and putting them into practice in order to write resumes and cover letters, pull credit reports and dispute errors, and build budgets and savings plans.There is a menu of 18 sessions in the first phase, which creates a great deal of flexibility and choice for Members. Additionally, we’ll be rolling out the second phase of Financial Coaching (FC) sessions this fall/winter, which will add a robust 25-30 sessions to the menu.

 

 

 

8 of the first phase of 18 Financial Coaching sessions!

8 of the first phase of 18 Financial Coaching sessions!

 

We look forward to continuing to build and improve this program, and are excited to watch it grow in CEF’s soil. We will continue to listen to Members and Advocates to brainstorm new additions and fixes to old sessions. As always, this is a community effort. We look forward to the relationships that will be built as knowledge is exchanged through the 1-on-1 Financial Coaching program!

Members are encouraged to complete 8 FC session at a time. They can add as many or as few as are relevant to their goals. However, Members who would like to qualify for a Safe Savings Account 10% match must complete 8, 1-on-1 sessions or Community Coaching (aka.  Opportunity Class), in addition to meeting their Savings Goal.

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Saving Creates Change

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2015 was a huge year for CEF’s matched savings program, assisting Members to save towards their personal goals of moving out of the shelter, building an emergency fund, purchasing personal transportation, and much, much more.

This year, after almost two years of research, design, Member feedback, coordination with experts in the field, and finally, some serious database programming, we published the new and improved CEF Safe Savings Account design. Safe Savings Accounts are goal-oriented accounts. Members have limited access to withdrawals of their savings until they reach their goals with CEF, and once they achieve their goal CEF matches their accomplishments at 10 percent!

We launched the program in 2010, and since then Members have saved over $500,000 towards their personal savings goals (amazing!). While many Members have made incredible progress towards

their goals, we set out to improve the overall number and portion of Members who achieve 100% of their goals. Moreover, we set out with a new objective to intentionally build opportunities for Members to create positive, long-term savings habits.

To bring these goals into reality, we partnered with locally based and nationally acclaimed expert on the topic — the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University. The Center for Advanced Hindsight grounded their recommendations to CEF in behavioral economics research.behavioral-economics

In partnership with the Center for Advanced Hindsight, we made significant improvements to the design of our program to better assist CEF Members in setting and achieving savings goals. By combining their technical assistance with in-depth feedback from current CEF Members, we made exciting changes to CEF Safe Savings Accounts, including:

  1. A personal budget-building system that helps Members create detailed, actionable savings plans
  2. Automated text message and email reminders for scheduled deposits
  3. An emphasis on setting iterative savings goals, each attainable within six months
  4. New incentives to encourage more frequent and consistent deposits

And all of these improvements were made in a beautifully redesigned online portal that is easy-to-use and streamlined — making the process of setting and attaining savings goals as painless as possible!

savings_graphBased on the Center for Advanced Hindsight’s nationally recognized research, these changes will assist CEF Members in achieving the savings goals they set out to reach. For a preview of great things to come, check out the chart below to see the continuing increase in the number of active savings accounts managed by CEF and the total amount CEF Members saved in their accounts annually, which has doubled in just two years!

As we are always learning and charting new territory with our unique financial services, we are excited to continue our partnership with the Center for Advanced Hindsight in 2016 as they conduct a formal research trial. Stay tuned!

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Renter’s Savings IDA Pilot: Phase II

This July, five new savers joined CEF’s Renter’s Savings IDA program to begin Phase II of our Renter’s Savings IDA Pilot. The Savings Team here at CEF would like to welcome the newest members of the program and thank these five new savers for making a new commitment to saving and dreaming together with CEF.

The Renter’s Savings IDA program was originally piloted in 2012, specifically with renters in mind. Through CEF’s Safe Savings Accounts, the CEF Savings Team noticed that members who moved into housing often find it very challenging to continue saving when faced with so many new expenses. With utility bills and rent taking up such a large portion of income, it can be difficult for renters to put anything aside. Even after saving, unexpected emergencies would make it hard to hold on to that money. The Renter’s Savings IDA is meant to serve as an “Emergency Fund”—money set aside for financial security and peace of mind.

The new program was piloted with ten members currently in housing and ready to save for the long-term. While similar in set-up to our current Safe Savings Accounts, this program lasts at least 2.5 years and can be matched at 50% (up to $1,000 in matching funds). Additionally, savers may draw on the 50% match when the emergency occurs. This way, one emergency won’t wipe out all their hard-earned savings.

Over the past two years, advocates and savers participating in the program have learned a lot from the program that they have shared with the Savings Team so that we could adapt and improve the program for the next group of savers.

Here are some of our lessons learned from Phase I of the Renter’s Savings IDA Pilot and tweaks we’re making in Phase II of the pilot:

  • Auto-Save: In the first pilot phase, we’ve seen that participants using the “Auto-Save” feature were able to save much more than their counterparts who made deposits via online transfers or by cash. Auto-Save automatically deducts savings deposits from a personal bank account on payday–making saving cheaper, easier, and quicker! Our newest Phase II participants are all signed up for Auto-Save with CEF and have already started working towards their long-term goals.
  • One-on-One Financial Coaching: In the first pilot phase, we attempted to meet together as one large group to do an “Opportunity Class 2.0.” We soon found that with varying schedules and interests, meeting at least once a month in one-on-one meetings would be a much more effective way for Renter’s Savings IDA participants and their advocates to learn about relevant topics. Advocates and members participating in this program are learning and working on a variety of topics relevant to their long-term goals, including:
    • Building Credit
    • Preparing for Homeownership
    • Preparing for Car Ownership
    • Budgeting
    • Entertainment & Avoiding Scams
    • Retirement 101
    • Going Back to School & Making Sense of Financial Aid
    • …and more!
  • The Value of Multiple Accounts: In Phase I, several of our savers opened up their Renter’s Savings IDAs but maintained their Safe Savings Accounts as well. Having two accounts at CEF, in addition to a personal bank account, helped the savers to budget and use each account for different purposes.  Donna, for example, told us the following about how she uses her two accounts at CEF:

    “I have things coming up like my renter’s insurance; it’s $130 right off the bat, and I don’t have that just out of a check. So Safe Savings is for that — I save for stuff that I need and take it out when it’s time. The Renter’s Savings account, I don’t take that out for anything. That is going to be for when my car breaks down or I need another vehicle. And I am just not allowed to touch that. It really makes me feel better, knowing that’s there.”

In Phase II of the pilot, we’ll be encouraging members that already have a Safe Savings account to consider using both of their accounts, instead of just the Renter’s Savings IDA.

  • Long-term Goals: When we began the first phase of the pilot, the Savings Team had been primarily thinking of the accounts as emergency funds that may complement other goals like homeownership, but pretty strictly emergency-focused. With the first pilot phase, we’ve seen that the first ten participants didn’t necessarily think of their accounts this way. Santiago bought a dairy cow for his family when he met his goal. Here’s what some of the other Phase I participants said about “Why We’re Saving”:
    • Purchase a home, build up savings, save in 401K, start building college savings for my four children, and getting healthy!”
    • “My own transportation and starting a business”
    • “Finishing school and paying off student loans”
    • “Build my income. My goal is to help others become stronger in their faith, to not give, and stay motivated.”
    • “I’m just taking it one day at a time. I am trained not to try to think that far ahead.”
    • “Getting my GED and saving for a car”
    • “Be in school and nearer to graduation”

Saving towards emergencies is still the purpose of the account, but the way that we frame the accounts is important. At CEF, advocates and members aren’t just working towards financial security, but overall well-being for our community. That means following dreams and building community, not just budgeting and saving our last pennies. We have to know what we’re working towards together, and focusing on our long-term goals helps us to do that!

The next round of applications for the Renter’s Savings IDA Pilot will be available in November. Any questions about the accounts can be directed to Ariana Vaisey at savings@communityempowermentfund.org or by calling CEF in Chapel Hill at 919-200-0233. All CEF members in Durham and Orange Counties who have completed the opportunity class, are a signer on a lease, and are interested in a higher-commitment savings account with CEF are encouraged to apply, although only a few slots are available during this pilot phase.

From the CEF Savings Team and Renter’s Savings IDA participants, we’d like to extend a warm welcome to the newest 5 participants of the program! We look forward to learning and growing with you over the next two and half years.


The Renter’s Savings IDA program is completely supported by individuals like you. Sponsor a Saver and help us get there together! You can contribute to long-term change – Join with our pilot Savers as they continue to invest in their own and their family’s futures.

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Workshop on Institutional Power, Privilege, and Oppression (WIPPO)

By Nikhil Umesh and Omar Kashef

10660221_725767320828204_6081790238900184419_nFollowing two days with the Racial Equity Institute’s anti-racism workshop this past May, we left deeply moved and with a heightened sense of urgency. We feel it is necessary for CEF to not only discuss historical and ongoing racism, but begin a thorough exploration of institutional power, privilege and oppression as it relates to our communities in Durham and Chapel Hill. The initiative was Omar’s brainchild and stemmed from a project that he had been working on for the past year through his fellowship with Young People For. It was a culmination of many voices, perspectives, and ideas, and needless to say, was a long time in the making.

As CEF grows, Advocates bring a greater variety of skillsets and backgrounds to our organization. Leveraging the multiple identities and experiences we bring to our work, we posit that realizing one’s own systemic advantages and barriers will allow for a deeper understanding of the institutions that have granted and denied us access to power and resources throughout our lives.

The first Workshop on Institutional Power, Privilege, and Oppression (WIPPO) happened at Chapel Hill’s weekly general body meeting and at the last training for new Advocates. Our primary learning objective was for everyone to get acquainted with key terms (privilege, oppression, intersectionality, etc.) and frame them within commonly known systems of privilege and oppression. We touched on systems from classism to ableism to heterosexism, and discussed how they operate in everyday institutions such as housing and our healthcare system. Still, we aimed to frame our discussion not solely within the confines of CEF.

We are all implicated in these systems. There is no way around that. In discussing these issues, we try not to treat them as abstract or a sort of intellectual pursuit, which often happens in the context of a university. Rather, privilege and oppression continually manifest in our lived experience. So, we pushed beyond CEF, and incorporated tidbits on the university’s white supremacist legacy and its implication in the racialized geography of UNC’s campus. We showed a clip from a documentary by former student Laura Barrios that illuminates the “invisibilized white supremacist narrative that undergrads UNC and the wider Chapel Hill community,” calling to attention the Silent Sam monument, Saunders Hall, and Unsung Founders memorial, among others. Following the workshop, an Advocate mentioned value in highlighting the campus’ racialized geography:

“It emphasized the harm the university structure can have on perpetuating systems of oppression in this town, and that students have an obligation to mitigate or reverse those effects.”

Durham will be having their first WIPPO this upcoming Monday, Oct. 20 at their house course! The next Chapel Hill WIPPO will be held on Nov. 24 at general body, and we hope to see many folks there.

Sound awesome? Want to get involved? Have suggestions, feedback, criticisms? We would love to have you on board as we discuss and shape this workshop for Advocates in the future! Email Omar at omark@communityef.org to chime in and/or find out more.

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Job Partners

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A reflection on CEF’s Job Partners program, by Priya Sreenivasan

This summer, I’ve had the chance to work very closely with the employment side of CEF, which includes Job Partners! Throughout the summer, Doug, Hannah and I have been contacting employers in the local Chapel Hill area to see if they would be willing to sign on and be a partner employer. By joining as a partner employer, businesses have the opportunity hire qualified, work-ready candidates who have graduated from CEF’s rigorous employment program. Through persistent outreach, we’ve recruited several amazing new area employers to bring our list of Job Partners Employers to include:

– Elmo’s Diner

– Carolina Coffee Shop

– Lime Fresh

– Top This Burger

– Carol Woods Retirement Community

– Carolina Brewery

– The Franklin Hotel

– Fosters Market

– Bagels on the Hill

– Ben and Jerry’s

– Right at Home

– UNC-Chapel Hill Temporary Services

– PTA Thrift Shop

We are so excited by the community investment these employers are making by signing up as Job Partner Employers, and we hope others will follow their lead. Doug and Hannah have been hard at work contacting potential employers, and I know we all agree that it’s all worth it when someone gets a great job they love with a Job Partner employer. I’m excited to see the program grow this upcoming year, and I know with CEF behind it, it’s going to turn out some great results!

Interested in becoming a partner employer or know of an employer who you recommend we contact? Let’s connect! Contact jobs@communityempowermentfund.org.

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CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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

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