Archive | Member Advocate Story

Wisdom Overheard: SOWO 490

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!”


Meet Robert, Sophie, & Jenna

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…”





A Series of Snapshots and Non Sequiturs All Relating to my Eight Weeks Spent at CEF


“Are you ready?”

“No.” I gave my brother a quick hug before walking past the sign labeled, “only ticketed passengers beyond this point” in big, black letters at the Indianapolis Airport. About twenty feet later I looked back to see he had already gone, suddenly realizing for at least the next five hours I would be utterly alone, surrounded only by traveling wanderers like myself. Thinking about the summer ahead, I felt entirely unprepared walking through security, and in fact, I was.

Skip forward one week and I am sitting on my bed, sobbing because of the mistreatment of one of my members. And it wasn’t one of those quiet, beautiful images of a girl crying, her head held high with dignified tears of a broken heart. No, it was an ugly cry, sobbing in the presence of injustice, with red, puffy eyes, gasping for breath, snot coming out of your nose, convulsively sobbing because you can’t protect people from pain and you feel utterly powerless.

Two days later, I went to church for the first time in four years.

Compassion hurts. I have never dealt with anything more difficult than the compassion my soul felt this summer. From a young age, I was taught to help people whenever possible, but to be wary of the evil of the world and to protect myself, which I mainly did by sealing my heart off from the outside. CEF challenges that. As a full-time advocate, it asked for more than my help. It asked that I put myself in situations I’ve never been in, to feel emotions I’ve heard about, but never truly felt, and to solve problems I’ve never faced before. In short, it asked for honest and unfettered compassion for others and it hurt more than I could imagine. It required me to be emotionally raw and available to people in order to build trust and friendship, yet to be empty enough to maintain productive value in the face of some of the world’s prettiest and ugliest moments in order to accomplish the goals set in front of me and to be helpful to others. It’s a balance I still haven’t quite managed to strike.

Two weeks later, I received a phone call in the office from a member who wanted to thank me specifically for helping him find a job after eight months of being unemployed. I was overjoyed.

Community Empowerment Fund is the first organization I’ve worked with that I actually, truly believe is changing the world and making progress towards eradicating poverty. I saw it happen every day.

A few days later a friend rushed in to tell me good news about a person we had been working with and gave me a huge, spontaneous hug. For the first time, I felt like an established and contributing member of the CEF community. Later that week, I went to lunch with a member and friend, knowing I had been accepted as part of her individual community as well.

I knew I would grow this summer. That’s what everyone told me when I shared my summer plans; that’s why I wanted to come down here in the first place. Growth was a fact. Even so, it took me by surprise. Because I haven’t grown up. I haven’t grown out. I don’t feel more mature or more competent. If anything, I am more aware of the fact that there’s a whole lot out there in the world that I don’t understand, but am hungry to experience. Still, I grew.

I grew in. I grew through. I wove myself into the fabric of CEF. I grew, or rather am still growing, independently of my home, separately from my former situations. I can feel myself changing from, “Katelyn, the Lend for America Intern” to “Katelyn”, no qualifier needed. The whole time I thought I was absorbing my surroundings, then one day I woke up, realizing my surroundings had absorbed me. And it is the most beautiful feeling in the world.

The next week a new member I was working with stormed out of a meeting after only twenty minutes because the system was different than she expected and I couldn’t help her as quickly as she wanted. I sat there stunned and guilty, helpless in the face of her adversity.

CEF has taught me that humans are not easily broken. In fact, they’re remarkably resilient and adaptable. It takes quite a lot to break the human spirit. The same cannot be said about life; life is so very fragile. It can be twisted and manipulated by outside pressures and by the people living it. Year after year of a burned life can diminish the human form to pain and reduce the human spirit to anxiety and instinct. But CEF has shown me it doesn’t take much to elevate the human spirit. A kind word, attentiveness, willingness to help. An infusion of optimism. It brings people back to the present moment. The real trouble lies in improving quality of life. I don’t yet know what to make of that, aside from the very obvious conclusion that people deserve your kindness and help whenever you are able (which is always) and whenever they are willing (which, unfortunately, isn’t).

Ten days later, someone I had been working with all summer told me she trusted me and I couldn’t understand why.

CEF pushed me to be ready for any and all situations- ordinary, bizarre, and brilliant alike.

And now I’m approaching my last week here at CEF, having my heart broken multiple times (in a good way) by more than one person who has told me I need to transfer to UNC and to relocate to Chapel Hill so I can stay with CEF longer. Instead, I find myself saying goodbye to my friends, people who I have come to love and admire more fervently than I thought possible in eight short weeks. I find myself in the difficult situation of having roots grown in two completely different parts of the country, and being thankful, so very thankful, to have had experienced something wonderful enough to make leaving this hard.

This isn’t a “goodbye”, Chapel Hill. It’s a “see you later”.

Until next time,

With love,



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.

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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