As CEF has grown and blossomed over the years, we have been reminded, time and again, of the importance of being nimble and adaptive as we grow. As you will see in this report, 2019 was no different. In the enclosed stories you will learn more about CEF’s deepening advocacy work; read about the programs we’ve built and strengthened; hear directly from Members, Advocates, and Staff about their connection to CEF; and see our quantitative impact.
“When you are with CEF, you are a part of the thread that makes us all one community.” Chinita is a CEF graduate, and her poetic statement during a CEF celebration perfectly describes the palpable connectivity in this community.
Whether we’re weaving together programs and resources to form a holistic network of support, or connecting our Members and Advocates together in people-centered relationships, CEF is steadily crafting a beautiful, interconnected, and interwoven community.”
I dedicate this song to depression *yesss* recession *yesss* and unemployment. This song is for you.
Rooms go silent when they hear those first few words from Ms. Yvette, the director of the Advocacy Choir and a part of the Orange County’s staff team. What follows is the CEF Advocacy Choir’s signature cover of Smile. At this point, two years after the choir began, anyone who frequents CEF events knows the words by heart.
In an effort to pass a $5 million housing bond in November 2016, Maggie West, former Co-Director of CEF, and Yvette Matthews, Chapel Hill Advocate Program Associate, were searching for new ways to engage in advocacy in the Chapel Hill community.
“We had just moved into our new office,” says Maggie, “and as a part of our housewarming party, we organized a sing-along, and it was beautiful. So that spurred our thinking about how people like to sing together.”
Ms. Yvette says, “we sat round kind of brainstorming on what we could do and because I have directed choirs all my life and sang all my life, we came up with the idea of having a CEF Advocacy Choir.” They knew they could use that musical potential as an approach to cultural organizing, which Maggie defines as, “using culture as a tool for advocacy and organizing, because those tools are the things that change hearts and minds.”
So the first opportunity to try it was when we were trying to encourage voters to vote yes for the bond referendum on their ballots that election period. It just wasn’t super well-known.” The original group of CEF staff, Advocates, and Members that started the Advocacy Choir began covering ground on a daily basis to spread the word about the bond. They went to every church and community event in Chapel Hill that would let them sing, sometimes going to as many as three a day. In November 2016, the bond was passed.
Since then, the Advocacy Choir has endured. “We’ve still got a good eight people as the core group,” says Ms. Yvette, “so we continue to do it. Anytime we’re invited we go. If everybody can’t go I’ll go by myself, you know, and just represent.” In just the past several months, the choir has performed at the Loreleis Spring Concert in Memorial Hall, the CEF Art Show, the Northside Festival, the Maggie-We-Love-You-Party, and a few other smaller events. They perform in a variety of environments, from town council meetings to festivals, giving people a voice, uplifting crowds, spurring joyful dances all at once.
While one component of the choir is to encourage celebration and cohesion in the community, the choir, as seen in the housing bond campaign, is also a strong force for political activism and social justice. Ms. Yvette points out one aspect of the choir that makes it especially effective. “The CEF Advocacy Choir has the element of surprise because people don’t think that we can sing,” says Ms. Yvette, “but we get up there and we blow them away, it’s always good to have the element of surprise.”
It makes sense that people are surprised by the choir—it’s not your typical sort of activism. “In campaigns since [the housing bond] we’ve been super effective singing at town council meetings where in that context, it’s both invitational and disruptive in a powerful way,” says Maggie. “It sort of makes you take a step back. I think it just changes the space entirely and I think what I’ve noticed in that context is it’s also like a rallying moment for the Members and Advocates. It’s like, ‘All right, we’re owning this conversation.’ And seeing the effect it has on people’s pride is really powerful.”
David, a CEF Member and one of the original members of the choir, says that in the choir, “We love to sing because we are family. We’re just strong together because, you know, if anybody’s got any difference in the choir, it disappears when it’s time to sing, because everybody’s ready to go for it.”
As a co-founder, Maggie has seen CEF evolve from the organization’s very beginning. To her, the choir represents a resurgence of some of the values and culture it was founded upon. “CEF came out of another organization that was based really in storytelling and art,” Maggie explains, “what I’ve seen over the last couple of years is a resurgence of that in our community and in our space. The choir being part of it, as well as quilting, Talking Sidewalks, the art show—things that are about lifting up people’s own voices and creativity. That was our roots really, it was where we came from, and seeing it come back to that is really powerful. This is not just as a service organization, this is a place you belong. This is a vibrant place where we want you to bring all of your gifts.”
David says being a part of the choir and the CEF community is “an experience like, you know, somebody can bake a beautiful cake, and maybe you can taste the cinnamon in it, but the person over there might taste something else. But still, that’s a good darn cake.”
See the Choir!
Ms. Yvette is already writing songs and strategizing to have the greatest impact in the upcoming election season. Needless to say, there are many opportunities for new people to get involved, so reach out if you would like to join the choir!
Sing with Us!
Call Yvette at 919-200-0233 or reach out via email at email@example.com
to get involved and be notified about upcoming rehearsals and performances!
CEF is featured in the Spring 2018 edition of the Triangle Community Foundation’s “Make a Difference” Magazine!
Started as an undergraduate organization at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), CEF very quickly grew into an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit to meet increased demands. [CEF has] built numerous community relationships, engaging in broad-based partnerships due to the cross-sectoral nature of the work. What makes CEF unique is their relationship-based support in delivering financial services that achieve equity.
In order to sustain transitions out of homelessness, CEF combines financial services and holistic, one-on-one coaching. Advocates at CEF do not just sit down and explain how to read a credit report. Instead, advocates and volunteers collaborate with the same people for years, working together to see the long-range progression from severe and acute instability to financial stability. The relationship-based nature of the work is evident in the community credibility CEF has built. “Almost 50% of our new members hear about CEF from word of mouth. The work we do is so intimate, it’s really helpful to have that immediate credibility.”
Yvette Mathews is the captain of the ship in our Chapel Hill office! Today, the Indy Week featured her amazing work in our office daily, as well as her leadership in organizing to address the growing affordable housing crisis in Orange County — including through song! We are so grateful for her phenomenal daily presence and the gifts that she brings to CEF.
The Community Empowerment Fund’s small basement office in Chapel Hill bustles with activity as Yvette Matthews scurries in and out, racing to pick up an incessantly ringing phone between guiding those looking for help and sharing a joke with students passing through. She deftly switches from task to task, directing the flow of people into and out of the office like an air traffic controller.
While it looks like she’s moving one hundred miles per hour, this is more or less a normal Thursday for Matthews.
“I’m a pretty good multitasking kind of chick,” says Matthews, a sixty-year-old office manager with short, slightly graying hair and a narrow face that usually frames a smile. “So I can hear you talking here, hear them talking there, and still do what I need to do.”
Growing up and Getting Started
No Matter What. That is what the bracelet on Earl’s wrist reads. Earl has been sober for 15 months and counting but his memories are fresh from when that was not the case. Earl has been meeting with his Advocate Steven in the Chapel Hill office, pursuing savings and securing employment alongside a 12-step recovery program.
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Earl grew up in a large family. “My mother and father had 12 kids, my father was a hardworking man… I’ve seen a lot of things in a young stage that’ve helped me become the person I am today…There was a lot of love,” shares Earl, but “I grew up in an unstable home.” Earl recalls how certain things shaped his relationship with finances. “Where I’m from it wasn’t just about savings, it was about trying to survive… my father never had a bank account, never wrote checks so my mother didn’t either.
When Earl first came to CEF in March of 2016, he was skeptical. “You know, I wasn’t sure about what, you know, I could get from CEF. But I found a lot of students from UNC—they really care about the community. They volunteer their work. I know that when people volunteer their work, they’re here for a purpose… I remember my first day at orientation, it started right then and there. There was so much that they offered me to do. They put the guidelines for what I can and can’t do but it was up to me as an individual to follow those guidelines. It was like being in school, if you don’t do the assignment, what’s the good of being in class. “
Finding Work and Financial Stability
At CEF, his consistent Advocate meetings manifested into a successful job search where Earl secured full-time employment at the Carolina Ale House. “The job search it was an experience, most of the jobs I had were daily paid labor. I understood I didn’t want that type of job anymore”. Although the restaurant recently closed, he feels more prepared now for the job search than he did before. “We’re not finished yet. We’re looking for a job. But now I know how to approach it. He’s (Steven’s) already setting the guidelines for me, he’s already helping me prepare for tomorrow… That’s what I learned from CEF. Preparing myself for the future.”
Earl also spends his meetings with Steven working on finances, which includes disputing debts and created payment and budget plans. By making consistent savings deposits, Earl has saved just shy of $4,000. “I came by Tuesday and put $500 in my savings because I know it’s the right thing to do. I love the idea, I really do, of having a savings account.” Earl also opened a bank account at Coastal Federal Credit Union to build even more savings and have access to a checking account! “Now, I go to a bank and they know my name. ‘Hey Earl, how you doing Earl?’ Even when I’m not there to cash a check I still go in there, talk my banker, talk about ball, talk about how my life is going.” Earl told us that his banker even offered to be a reference for prospective employers, “she sees something in me that I didn’t see when I first started to open my bank account.”
It’s About Relationships and Family
Earl is paired with Steven but that does not stop him from building connections with other CEF Advocates. “I gave a couple of advocates some names like ‘Sarah Salad,’ ‘Sarah Hotdog,’ ‘Chocolate Ice Cream’, you know, because that’s the kind of bond I built with them.”
Earl only has words of praise for Steven. “It’s all about the relationship that I built with Steven has helped me focus on things in life that I know I am able to achieve…he always has great things to share with me. He always gives me that positive motivation.” More than anything, Earl believes the key to success is partnership. “I don’t want a handout. Just give me a hand… Show me, guide me, pull me along the way. Just give me that, “you can do it.” That is the hand I need.”
So what exactly is Earl saving for? Family. “I have 3 sons, 3 grandsons and we have never all been together at one time…We’ve never been together. Every day I get a little older. We’ll get together and play a game of basketball…That’s one of the reasons I’m trying to save some money too. One day man, one father’s day man, there’ll be that love, that unity.”
“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!”
‘Twas 2 days before Christmas, in his new home.
Mr. Carew worried he’d lose much that he owned.
His clothes, his books—furniture and more,
Were all with a storage company, closing its doors,
He worried then panicked, this problem was vast—
He’d lose all his possessions if he couldn’t get it out fast!
We called Temple Baptist and UNC APPLES,
And reached out to friends from Duke Chapel,
A big team assembled to load the U-Haul!
Rev. Mofield and MK gave the rallying calls.
From storage to truck, from truck to apartment,
The volunteers emptied the whole storage compartment.
And then, in a twinkling, it was finished and done —
Many hands made light work, and they even had fun!
What wonderful folks, arms strong and hearts true,
Came out to move in dear Mr. Carew.
‘Twas a holiday miracle and a grand ballyhoo!
From the bottom of our hearts, we truly thank you!
**A special shoutout also to Snehan and Jake, the two Advocates who supported Mr. Carew in his housing search!
Quotes from Advocates and Members at the final SOWO 490 – Tools for Financial Coaching class at UNC.
“There is this sort of magic and common-ground found when people start to talk about the people they love.”
“I had a stumble in my life, but I’m back now, I’m all the way back. I just thank God that there is a CEF as a whole, and for getting me to open up about my life because I’m normally guarded, even with the positive stuff. Basically, this is thanksgiving after Thanksgiving. I’m in a good place now.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how… no decision you make or thing you do is going to guarantee you any outcome.”
“This is my baby, the attributes that she has, all the suggestions… she does a lot of homework for me, but I do work with her. I look forward to our weekly meetings, she knows what I’m going to talk about next week. I like her analytical mind and frame of thought, she looks at me as an individual and I look forward to seeing her prosper!”
“I was reminded that everyone has a story and everyone has been through different experiences and learned through them.”
“No two people are alike — we all have challenges we have obstacles we have strengths — and I think all of us would agree that we would not know where we would be without CEF — true, we all fall down, but we have someone who can assist us. We are all grateful and thankful.”
“Young people have in their mind, that things can happen; but you need to have a plan B, C, D, E… go all the way to Z, because anything can happen.”
“No matter what level of what it may be, it’s how you come back from it that matters”
“We take everything for granted that it’s going to be the same way the next day, but you could have a stroke while you’re sleeping and everything will change for you. But learn to be yourself and to love yourself. I used to work hard and have 3 jobs working all the time, but then a little simple thing like riding a bus took my job away. And then I got sick and I had to juggle it, do you want the medicine, or your food, or the lights? But I’m a proud individual today because I love myself, even though I’m not able to talk 100% the way I want to, I’m able to stand in the middle in the storm because I made it!”
Robert is a grandfather, a Marine Veteran, and a natural-born leader. Sophie and Jenna are UNC undergraduate students, and his CEF advocates. Combined, this trio is a force to be reckoned with.Earlier this year, Robert chose to leave a full-time, salaried job in Kinston, NC to move into the homeless shelter in Chapel Hill. He left behind his home, his community, and his livelihood.
Why? “I was just working for the drug man and the rent man. And by me being a functional addict, I wasn’t going to lose my job. I had to make a decision, I had to make a choice to give up everything, start from scratch, get out of the environment I was in and try something new.”
“In CEF you get a chance to get yourself back. I had lost myself – I had lost me. Thanks to CEF, they brought it all together,” says Robert. “Sophie and Jenna have been with me from the start, and they’re almost like my little daughters. By them keeping me motivated, and by me keeping the fire going myself, and them seeing me making progress, like getting a job and seeing my savings go up, sometimes I look at them and it’s like seeing a kid looking at the Christmas tree. You can see the light in their eye getting brighter and brighter.”
Jenna and Sophie see their relationship with Robert as a life-long friendship. Reflecting, they shared, “We have a relationship beyond that of a member and advocate team, we are truly a family. The support that we offer Robert is far surpassed by the moral and emotional support Robert continually showers us with whether he is reminding us to take some time for ourselves or reading us excerpts from one of his favorite books, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. I never leave an advocate-member meeting without feeling inspired and loved, no matter how stressed I am.”
“Over the past year we have watched Robert graduate from Opportunity Class, find a job, reach 80% of his savings goal, strengthen his relationship with his family, peers and most importantly, himself. Robert’s accomplishments have been more than earned and fill my heart with so much joy and hope.”
Likewise, Robert’s heart is filled thinking back on how far this trio has come on their journey. “I look back to where I was a year ago, and now I’m so far on my goals. You can’t imagine how good I feel, the pride I got back to myself. There’s no way you could imagine…”