Archive | Program Story

Job Partners


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


CEF Launches New Member Orientations

The short but meaningful quote, “CEF is for doers,” graces the top of the information sheet handed out at CEF’s New Member Orientations. Led by CEF alumni Dorothy and Tony, this hour-long session is exactly what it sounds like: a place for new members to become familiar with the resources offered by CEF. And by simply attending this meeting, they are already taking their first steps as doers.

Sarah Cohn has been instrumental in helping create and jumpstart this new program. She says that it came about because many people were coming into the office having been introduced to CEF in many different ways. Because of this, Sarah said, “people had varying understandings of what CEF membership looked like.” If you’ve ever seen CEF on a busy day, you will understand how a proper introduction to who we are and what we offer can easily slip through the cracks.

New Member Orientation is a work-in-progress, with kinks being worked out as the program continues. For now, the basic structure of the session consists of two parts: an introduction to the idea of member-advocate relationships, and an explanation of programs and services available to members. As Sarah said, “we’re more than open to suggestions!” However, after attending the orientation myself, it seems to be going off without a hitch. Introductions at commencement allow each person to be heard and recognized, and after the program explanations by Dorothy and Tony, there is plenty of time for questions from new members about specifics. When asked about the benefits of this program, Dorothy said that new members “get to ask more questions that they might not get to ask with their advocate.” She explained that there might be some intimidation in meeting someone new, and New Member Orientation allows the opportunity for an informal and holistic introduction to the services provided by CEF. There is even the chance to schedule one’s first appointment right after orientation! Talk about getting off on the right foot.

Current members in attendance heralded CEF for its ability to hold you accountable, provide a place to be heard, and, of utmost importance, give you somebody to walk with in the journey to reach your goals. Sarah reflected on what her hopes are for this program: “With the new orientation serving as a universal introduction point, we hope that everyone will get the most they can out of CEF by knowing in full detail what’s available to them – especially the relationship base of what we do.”


Learning Cluster: Partnership with UMD and CFED

Janet Xiao, Alice Ni, Dennis Xu, and Keyona Cooper at UMD’s bi-weekly finance office hours (Keyona made that cool hat she is wearing!)

CEF at our on-site bi-weekly finance office hours at UMD! 

CEF is pleased to announce our participation with Urban Ministries of Durham (UMD) in the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s (CFED) Intensive Learning Cluster on Integrating Financial Capability into Social Service Delivery Programs. CEF and UMD were selected from a pool of over 100 applicants nationally to participate as part of this collaborative effort alongside 10 other organizations doing similar work to CEF.

Relationship-based financial services are CEF’s bread-and-butter, and this partnership with UMD is a unique opportunity to take a step back and look at how we can more intentionally and collaboratively build financial capability in to homeless services.

CEF is now holding office hours at Urban Ministries two nights every week and specifically working with UMD’s Journey Program, which provides case management support and shelter for 90 days or longer. Our previous on-site office hours acted as a launch point for this partnership. Because of the footwork of our past committed UMD members and the amazing team of Duke advocates, we are now able to jump-start an expanded partnership at UMD, one with much more support and structure. With the collaboration of the great case managers at UMD, CEF advocates can focus primarily on our strengths: relationships and financial services. We set up affordable credit union accounts with Self-Help Credit Union, make action plans for building credit, budget, save towards goals in Safe Savings Accounts, file taxes for free with the Benefit Bank, and more.

Through the learning cluster, CEF and UMD’s program will benefit from technical assistance through CFED, a national leader in asset-building, and we will have the opportunity to learn from our fellow learning cluster members – agencies providing emergency services, workforce development, and housing.  In January, we were given the incredible opportunity to go to CFED’s office in DC for a nationwide kick-off meeting where we were given incredibly helpful tools, advice, and connections that will continue to help guide our work at UMD.

Read more about the learning cluster on CFED’s blog and stay tuned for more results and lessons learned!


CEF Health

by Krunal Amin

In a series of conversations with CEF members during the past few weeks, I was surprised to learn just how large of a delivery gap there is between the healthcare resources offered to those who are financially disadvantaged and the number of people who are actually positively affected by these resources. One member, who recently moved to the Chapel Hill community, told us that she often has no choice but to go to the emergency room whenever she has issues with her asthma – a common chronic condition that can usually be well controlled with drugs. When asked about her medication, she reported that the Piedmont Clinic in Carrboro filled out a prescription for her – but the medication ended up costing her around $90 so she never even bothered to pick it up. As for the cost of her multiple emergency room visits? She has a stack of bills from the hospital adding up to over $5000 that she simply can’t afford and doesn’t know how she plans on paying off. Had she known about the UNC Health Care Pharmacy Assistance Policy, she could have completed an application to prove that she qualified for financial assistance and ultimately could have reduced her $90 prescription to a much more manageable $4 co-payment, thus allowing her to not only have access the to the medication she needs to stay health but also potentially saving her thousands of dollars in medical bills. Unfortunately, applications to programs such as UNC Charity Care and Pharmacy Assistance are not always the most user-friendly forms to fill out as there are often many hoops to jump through to prove that you qualify. Additionally, many of the members we spoke with were unaware of other avenues they could be using to get better care.

In his bestselling novel, The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon and healthcare reform expert Atul Gawande points out that “medical innovation is less about discovering new inventions than it is about properly executing the ones we already have.” CEF Health is an initiative that aims to do just that by employing advocates to better connect our members to the resources they need to stay healthy. Over the course of the semester, our team has been working to compile all the healthcare resources available for financially disadvantaged members in the community. Our goal in the coming months is to train advocates in what resources are out there and how to access them in order to use them as health navigators for CEF members who are struggling to get the quality, affordable healthcare they deserve. We are excited to get this initiative off the ground, and hope that anyone interested will join us!


A Different Search: Succeeding in our Job Partners Program


If you would like to get involved with JobPartners as a participant or partner employer, please email us at


By Victoria Castillo

A job search can often be a difficult and tedious task. More difficult yet, is the search for the job– your dream job.   Whether you grew up dreaming of becoming an astronaut or a receptionist, your dream job is a treasure that most of us tend to take for granted. Some of us tend to believe that our dream job is simply out of reach. Whether it is due to a lack of education, the correct skill-set, self-confidence or a blemished record, we simply don’t try to go after our dream job.

The vicarious talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, once said, “The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.” We at CEF believe that it is never too late to go after your dreams. It is never too late to go after that adventure.

Our Job Partners program aims to unearth the dusty and forgotten dream jobs that belong to some of our members, and create a path on which they can arrive to them.  Job Partners was created by the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness (OCPEH), “a community effort to fight poverty and eradicate homelessness in Orange County.” CEF is one of several organizations that partner with this county initiative to pair work-ready individuals with an available job in the community.

The Job Partner process begins with the community members serving as employer liaisons who network with local business owners to learn of available job positives and willing employers. Liaisons then refer job openings to the partner organizations, like CEF, who match qualified candidates with those positions. Our Job Partners graduates receive no preferential treatment from the employers. They fill out job applications and schedule interviews, just like everybody else. Their strength, however, is found in the personal recommendations that they receive on our behalf – a voice of support that lets the employers know that we truly believe that our candidate will succeed at their business.

The Job Partner Program motto reads, “Prepare, Place, Prosper,” and we at CEF believe that the program lives up to these three words. We prepare our candidates through job coaching sessions and Opportunity classes, we place them in positions in which we believe they will succeed and we carry the hope and faith that they will prosper in their new job position – in their new adventure.

Q&A with Job Partner Graduate Loretha Greene

When did you first start working on becoming a Job Partner candidate?

I began the process early in 2012.

Understanding that the program was a long term commitment, how did you remain motivated through the process of becoming a Job Partner graduate?

I was starting from scratch in my life. I saw a lot of opportunities in the program, like the Opportunity Classes, that I knew would help me, so I kept a positive attitude. I know that when you have a positive attitude, good things will happen, so that’s what I tried to do.

Were there difficult moments in the process?

The most difficult experience was simply not being able to find a job right away. But I kept going – every day, I filled out job applications and maintained a good attitude about it.

How did the Job Partner program differ from a regular job search?

I found more connections to local employers, through Job Partners. I felt that my job search became a little easier in that way. I would get to know more people in the community because the people involved in the program had a lot of connections. This helped me land more interviews, and though I did not get a job right away, I was able to meet a lot of people.

What was your biggest take away from Job Partners?

The desire and motivation to help other people who need work. Job Partners made me want to become an advocate myself and help other people.

I also learned to accept suggestions and act on them. My advocates would give me advice, and point out things that I had never noticed! I learned to take these suggestions and work on making those changes in my life.

What advice would you give to others who are unsure about joining Job Partners?

Just try it, and stick with it. Don’t give up, because it is an excellent program.


Celebrating $100,000 Saved!


Amazing. This month members of the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) achieved a significant milestone, surpassing the $100,000 mark of collective savings deposits.

Now, almost three years since the program began, CEF members have cumulatively deposited over $100,000 towards their goals. As a result of all CEF savers:

  •  34  have successfully moved out of transitional housing and into apartments
  •  38 have prevented financial emergencies
  •  40 members have successfully saved to purchase laptops
  •  12 have purchased personal vehicles, achieving greater employability and mobility.
  • Most uniquely, 1 member purchased a dairy cow for his family

To celebrate this milestone, CEF will host a public ceremony on Friday, April 5th at 6:45pm at UNC. The event will take place in the Pit, the center of UNC’s campus, during the 6th annual Box-Out, an awareness raising event about homelessness and a fundraiser for CEF. CEF will honor members in the savings program present members with a plaque to commemorate their collective achievement.

RSVP for the ceremony to Maggie West,, (919) 200-0233.


Why We're Saving

When CEF members applied to be a part of our first Renter’s Savings IDA Program, we asked members a couple questions about why they wanted to join the program.

Here’s why CEF members are saving in their Renter’s Savings account with CEF…

  • “So my kids don’t have to keep suffering.”
  • “To learn to help myself so that I can help my family.”
  • “Because it would give me incentive to save, and I’ve never saved, ever.”
  • “It would make me feel good because it would be available when a real need comes up.”
  • “Will help me build self-confidence and find stability.”
  • “I want to own my own home and need to have secure savings to do that.”
  • “This savings program will give me peace of mind.”
  • “Help”
  • “I would feel more secure to be financially independent.”
  • “Because instead of looking for money to fix things, if you have savings you already have funds in place.”
  • “To show me that even with the little money that I earn, I am still able to save.”

Through this program, we won’t just be partnering with members on their savings goals. We will also be focusing intentionally on their longer-term dreams for their households. When asked, “What are your goals for the next 3 years?” here’s what members are dreaming about…

  • “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”

Help us get there together. Sponsor a Saver to join together with one of our 10 pilot Savers, as they continue to invest in their own and their family’s futures.


You're Invited! Meet Savers

Stories of the Long Road Home: How Relationships and Savings are Helping Homeless Families

Join us for an After-Service Coffee & Dessert event
Time: Sunday, September 23rd, 12:15pm
Location: Christ United Methodist Church, 800 Market Street, Chapel Hill, NC

Please join us for a half-hour after the service at Christ Church on Sep 23rd and enjoy coffee and dessert.

You will get to meet and learn from several of CEF’s members who have moved out of the shelter and who will share about their journeys and the unexpected struggles along the way.

This month CEF started a new savings program to help these families sustain their transitions out of homelessness. Members save towards an emergency fund, building a financial safety net for a rainy day. CEF matches members’ savings at 50%, helping families save as much as $3,000 for when they need it most.

CEF needs your help launching this program. The group is recruiting community members interested in sponsoring one of the pilot 10 Savers in this creative program. Learn more, hear incredible stories, and enjoy homemade desserts by joining us on Sep 23rd.

For more information on CEF and its impact in our community, please visit: CEF one-minute video 

And for more information on CEF’s new Sponsor-A-Saver campaign, please see: Sponsor a Saver


Featured Program: Renter’s Savings IDA Program


Along with housing comes a new set of bills, emergencies, and unexpected “when life just happen” expenses. With utility bills and rent taking up such a large portion of income, it can be difficult for renters to save. Even after saving, unexpected emergencies 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, and for use only in the case of an emergency.

The new program will be 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 will last at least 2.5 years, be matched at 50% (up to $1,000 in matching funds) and participants may draw on the 50% match when the emergency occurs, meaning one emergency won’t wipe out all their hard-earned savings.

Participants in the Renter’s Savings IDA program have a number of requirements including being graduates from Opportunity Class, CEF’s financial literacy course. In addition, all participants will make at least three consecutive deposits to be eligible for the match, and help lead the CEF Alumni Leaders group, meeting monthly to discuss new goals like home or car ownership, building credit, career pathways, civic involvement, and organizing other CEF alumni events.

We are so excited for this new program that will provide CEF members the tools to save more at the next level to have more control over their finances and live more financially peaceful and stable lives. This additional rung on the financial ladder will enable CEF members who have successfully transitioned into housing to maintain that transition for years to come.


Featured Program: Laptop IDA

These days it’s hard to get much done without a computer – they fuel our work, our interactions with the job market, and our communications with those we love, both at home and abroad. Due to the high demand for affordable access to personal computers, CEF – in partnership with the Kramden Institute ( and Technology Without Borders (TWB) – launched a new program at the start of the 2011 academic year: the Laptop Individual Development Account (IDA).

Participants in the Laptop IDA have been asked to meet several critical requirements: attending 2 CEF Opportunity Classes, 2 TWB Computer Literacy Classes, and then 2 additional classes from either CEF or TWB; passing a “laptop diagnostic” test that showcased skills learned in TWB classes; and saving $75. This amount made up half the cost of a refurbished laptop graciously provided by the Kramden Institute, a Durham non-profit that works to bridge the digital divide for disadvantaged populations.

Since the program’s inception, 10 CEF Members have “graduated” with their own laptops. These ten laptops have helped send Members to school or back to school, helped with one Member’s kids’ homework, allowed for extra job-searching, and made possible communication with far-away family members. CEF is hoping to see this program continue and expand in the near future and would like to thank all the partners, Members, and Advocates who have helped make the pilot successful!

If you’re interested in the Laptop IDA program, or would like to learn more about CEF in general, feel free to contact us at

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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