Archive | Member Story

Annual Report 2017 : We Are Interwoven

“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.”

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A Member’s Gift

CEF Member, Steven Howser, is featured in the Daily Tar Heel for the gift he made to CEF during the 2017 CEF Piggy Bank Bash!

At a fundraiser for CEF last fall, Howser gave back to the organization in the form of a $500 dollar donation, the largest of the evening. He coordinated with several workers at CEF to print a big check to present to West as a surprise during the event to say thank you.

“All gifts to CEF matter, but gifts from members truly glow, they cause ripple effects throughout the organization, and seem to snowball and grow,” West said.

When Steven Howser first came to the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) around four years ago, he was seeking work development assistance to help him qualify for a seven day bus pass at the shelter. After years of support and involvement with CEF, Howser has not only secured income and housing, but is also giving back.

“I wanted to give back to show people what a good organization they are, and the resources they have to help people in the community,” Howser said. “So the people in the community won’t be afraid to donate time and donations to them because they really help a lot of people.”

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Cynthia

Cynthia

Cynthia has been working with CEF for 4 years and she is as resilient as she is caring. She worked with her Advocate Tamar and moved into a place of her own last summer and shared with CEF about her experiences pursuing her own mental health and a sustainable transition out of homelessness.

Where were you staying before you found your new home?

(IFC) Homestart. It’s challenging but also interesting. Learning from the other people; there to better myself. For me, it’s building a more solid foundation because of the things I’m learning from the other ladies. I’m learning how to reach my goal and how to keep it.

Where were you before then when you 1st connected with CEF?

Isolated, depressed, and mentally I was beat down. I was nowhere — I was not living, mentally. I might as well have not been living. Before coming into CEF, I was sucked into myself. I had to get rid of that old self because it took over me. My thinking was not good at all. Even though I  would think good things, my disease would take over all of that.  CEF was the first thing in my voucher package. They were the first thing I saw. Before then I would come in here and there, to do resume, or other stuff but not really focusing on anything here. Until I got my voucher something really clicked in me — it was my way out of everything. You really do help people, but I myself had to do stuff too. We had to do it together — we had to work together. I would bring in ideas and we would look at them together.

What does having a home mean to you?

It means getting back out into society and being a part of it — and being responsible for all my bills and paying for my own things. even though I didn’t always do the right things I always paid my bills because I always wanna have somewhere to stay. I will keep it, I have no excuse. I don’t see myself losing any of this.

It’s all timing. I feel very relieved, happy, joyous and cautious. I feel so much better than I have in so long, and I know I’m on the right track with my life and the things that I am involved with at this time. With my sponsor and going to meetings, I’m going to keep trying, keep doing what I’m doing, and I’m going to have a prosperous life.

What are some of the best sources of support in your life?

Along this journey here, it is the people I’ve gotten involved in. I used to not share anything about me, but I’ve realized I have to open my mouth and ask for help. I used to be really judgmental because I didn’t like myself, but I’ve grown to like myself more. The key has been to switch it around and love myself, and my self-esteem has risen too. Meetings, sponsor, advocates have been helping me out too. Advocates have been really nice, somebody understanding and willing to help with whatever else is going on. Y’all have a really good agency, and have a lot of really good resources. All it takes is you just have to come in and sit down. Waiting for a meeting every week has made me more patient and learn to be less selfish because other people need help too.

What is one of your dreams for yourself or your family, that you hope to see happen in the coming years?

Very simple- to learn to be productive and in my life choices so I can always continue or if nothing happens to stay where I’m going. Make good choices so I stay in housing and always have somewhere to stay. That’s my dream. To get somewhere, post up, and live a life like I deserve. Not looking over my shoulders, just enjoy.

What would you like to share with the CEF community?

If you’re ever in need and some of the choices that you’ve made in your life are in question, come to CEF, and sit down and come and talk to one of the advocates, and tell them what’s on your mind, and they will have the resources for you, whether it’s school, class, and they will help you. If you wanna open a free account, they have that too. I recommend it to anybody. Even if you’re still doing good, still come by and see what else you can get, on top of that.  

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Ms. Laverne

Romeo, Romeo! Ms. Laverne adores her Romeo

She showers him daily with belly rubs and bacon bits. “If you rub his belly, he’ll go to sleep,” Ms. Laverne intimates. And Romeo has stuck with Ms. Laverne through thick and thin, including the years when they were sleeping in her car, and in and out of hotels or friends’ homes. “Romeo would let me sleep, and when I woke up, he’d sleep. We would both watch out for each other.”

The day they first saw their new home, Romeo raced up and down the long hallway with barks of approval.

Ever since she moved into the new apartment this past June, Ms. Laverne has been relishing the daily things: “Opening the door is a blessing. Closing the door is a blessing. Laying in my bed is a blessing. Cooking. Decorating a house. It’s just a blessing not wondering where your next step is going to be.”

Even through homelessness, Ms. Laverne never stopped fighting for what is right for herself and others. She worked with CEF and her support networks to find her stable home! Photo collages of beloved family members adorn the walls of the living room and hallway, side-by-side with school photos of her children and grandchildren, their ribbons and certificates of achievement, baptismal certificates, Bible verses, and a poem written to her by her son. Her home is filled with the people she honors and loves, making space for memory and hope for loved ones who have passed on or are locked away.

Ms. Laverne’s favorite room is the bathroom. It’s large and luxurious-feeling, with a floral shower curtain and plush towels folded in neat stacks. “I came a long way from going around and taking bird baths.”

How Ms. Laverne Found Her Home

Ms. Laverne connected with CEF when she came to a public meeting of the Homeless Services Advisory Council in Durham to advocate for her needs as an individual experiencing homelessness — bearing witness to her own experience and the experiences of so many others, while making a prophetic call to action.

After 9 years of faithfully paying rent on time, Ms. Laverne had been evicted after a dispute with her landlord. For two whole years, Ms. Laverne and Romeo navigated homelessness together — finding food and safe places to sleep, taking “bird baths” in public restrooms, and struggling to find a healthy, non-abusive place to recover from back surgery in the midst of this experience.

“I’ve never been homeless before. This is my first time,” she shares. “I didn’t give up on myself. More people did me wrong, I kept pushing myself. More people lie on me, I kept defending myself. I’m not a bad person, I’m a good person. I live for God, and I like helping people.”

At that public meeting, CEF and Ms. Laverne connected and have stuck together ever since.  She connected with staff at the Durham Housing Authority at that same meeting, and worked through the process to secure a permanently affordable apartment with DHA. With CEF, she connected to legal services and addressed credit issues that were preventing her from securing housing. She also got a job at Harris Teeter, where her co-workers have been a wonderful community of support. She gives a special shout-out to all of these groups, and Angela Holmes (Chair of the Homeless Services Advisory Council) for helping with her transition into housing.

About CEF, Ms. Laverne shares, “[CEF] made sure I was okay, and we started working on everything.”

“[CEF] don’t do the talk, they do the walk. And since I’ve been coming here, all I see is friendly faces glad to help you. [They] ask you, ‘What do you want?’ and take everything you say to the heart. And they love my dog.”  (Indeed, Romeo charms the entire office when he comes in with Ms. Laverne.)

What’s Next for Ms. Laverne?

Ms. Laverne has new goals to share with CEF. “I’m going to take computer classes, to get a laptop, so that when I go to school I can have it… I want to get my GED.”  

She hopes to eventually use it in support and advocacy of other people who are experiencing homelessness. Even while she slept in her car and struggled with issues of discrimination, Laverne never stopped fighting for what is right and helping others. “When I was homeless, I helped homeless people. I paid for a hotel room for a family. So, though I was down and out, I still helped, and I didn’t ask for nothing back in return. I just told them, ‘Do it for the next person.’”

Ms. Laverne dreams of managing her own shelter one day. “I wish I had money to build a place. This would be my shelter: a lot of flowers. A lot of love. Respect. Trust. And a church inside my shelter.” In a way, she has already built this sanctuary space inside her home.

P.S.     We’ll be sharing more stories of “Sticking with it” through the holidays. Follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter!  #CEFstickstogether

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Chinita

“Six months ago, I was a person that lived in the trees. When [Hurricane] Matthew was running, and you were home safe, I was in the trees. Thinking about if they fell on me, would anyone find me? I was in the trees. I was in the trees because I could no longer afford housing in this city that I had lived for 6 years. I had an income. I was homeless, but not hopeless. I only wanted to trade trees for keys.”

Now, from her new, affordable apartment, Chinita is still surrounded by the trees, but she has keys. She remarks in bursts of joy to see the chipmunks scurry past her window, to see nature as her neighbor, but not her shelter.

Chinita grew up in Greensboro, and received degrees in Journalism and Education from NC A&T University. She built a career based on service and a love of people, working as a teacher and as a Hospice caregiver, and even for several years as a publicist and media sales.

In 2010 Chinita relocated to Chapel Hill to be closer to her doctors, and shares, “I had been living in the same place since I came to Chapel Hill — for six years. It wasn’t the best place, but it was home, it was comfortable, it was safe.” Each year, Chinita says, “I would go through the annual time to renew your lease and it’s nothing abnormal, normally it’s anywhere from $20 – $25 more but nothing shocking. Last year was shocking.”

Last year, her rent went up from $680 per month to $2,110 at her lease renewal. More than triple. This was more than she could possibly afford, and forced  her to seek new housing with short notice. She moved into her housing of last resort: her Jeep.

“In this city, I found trees that would cover me, that would protect me, so that I could be close to my doctor.” The social worker at her doctor’s office actually first referred her to CEF.  

Chinita describes using a fan plugged into her car lighter as her source of cooling down in 100 degree summer weather. She describes meeting the “golden warriors” of the Meals on Wheels team that delivered her daily meal to her in a parking lot. And she describes coming to CEF each week during the two months of her homelessness to find the resources to move back into a safe home.

About her work with CEF Advocates, Chinita shares “Every element that I’ve needed them to assist me – glasses, legal services, housing, food…I think they look at the whole person, and their whole needs, and if they don’t have an answer, they have a wealth of resources.”

“When you go to other services you feel like you’re given a band-aid. But the difference is with CEF it’s more of a healing process.”

For Chinita, this meant staying connected to CEF while finding an apartment she could afford, and eventually signing a lease with a senior housing community where she can sustain her housing for the long-term.

“I appreciate you being here at my lowest point, but I’m more appreciative of helping me find the resources that I can hold my head up again, and hope again. I don’t think there’s anything more grateful than feeling like you’ve got someone’s hand that’s holding you through the storm, and that’s what CEF has been for me… They have been the anchor in my life.”

To listen to Chinita speak is to listen to the voice of a poet, whose first love and first refuge was found in words – the world of words a place of connection and relief ever since she was a young girl. To listen to Chinita speak is to hear the “caged bird” sing, to quote a sentiment she references often, as you hear in her lyricism and in her powerful voice the influences of Dr. Maya Angelou (or “Mother Maya,” as Chinita lovingly calls her).

And Chinita is sharing the gifts of her inspirational speaking and her love of stories with the CEF community. Chinita now volunteers to lead CEF’s new member orientation sessions every week, to help others gain the financial stability she has found and to be the first person to welcome people into the community she loves. She shares, that for her, “The faith is restored, the hope is restored, the homes are obtained, the jobs are obtained, the glasses are obtained. I feel better about me. About life. I feel so great about it that I want to tell everybody about it. And I enjoy being orientation coordinator working with our new members in orientation, because they get to see Chinita over and over again. And I get to see individuals who come and they look like there’s no hope, but I get to tell them that there is.”

Chinita encourages you to join her in supporting and being a part of CEF. “When you can be with an organization that pulls out dreams that you’ve never even considered, that’s priceless.”

“It’s tax deductible, but it’s priceless too. I think that all of our givers should know that giving to CEF is not just putting band-aids… I want to say my spine and my neck is up higher, and I feel more confident and my faith is restored, and not only can I make it, but I can be a hand for someone else.”

This holiday CEF is sharing stories about how, as CEF Member David says, “CEF sticks with the person.” Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see more stories of how #CEFstickstogether

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CEF Member: Cameron

cameron
Cameron has a home of his own for the first time in years.  Read about his experience and why housing matters.

Housing is a Process

“It’s a process, not an event,” says Cameron. After staying outdoors, in abandoned buildings, and shelters over the last 2 years, he’s just moved into a home of his own in Chapel Hill. “I walked in, dropped all my stuff on the ground, that was the beginning.” Cameron was first connected to CEF in 2013 when our Chapel Hill office was still on Franklin Street!  “I heard about it and started talking to people in the [Opportunity] Classes!He met consistently with Advocates, seeking out employment and education opportunities that might expand his natural aptitude and skills for working with all things automotive—all the while, trying to procure and protect a safe place to sleep every night.

He was never really sure that he would have a place of his own.  “I thought it would take basically an act of congress.” An abandoned house that he organized as a temporary shelter for himself and his rescue dog Gizmo was often at risk. “I was actually not sure, because where I was—we were being threatened to have the house boarded up and I was getting a sinking feeling from having to deal with that again—always ill-at-ease.” It was an environment that often left Cameron feeling severely underslept and challenged to navigate tasks of daily survival alongside his ongoing pursuit of education, greater income, and housing. “Having to share with several other guys where I was, I didn’t like it a lot. I didn’t feel like I had much of my privacy.” 

Collaborating to Connect with a Scarce Supply of Housing

Cameron was able to secure his place through a program called Permanent Supportive Housing Voucher (PSH) managed by the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) in Orange County. The program connects individuals that have experienced significant time periods of homelessness to affordable housing and supportive services. CEF identified Cameron as potentially eligible for the program and helped him to navigate each step of the process! Cameron describes CEF as a “force-multiplier.”  “If it hadn’t been for CEF I probably wouldn’t have known [about the voucher].”

Cameron worked with CEF Advocates and Debra Vestal, IFC’s PSH Case Manager, to successfully find and move into housing. Permanent Supportive Housing is a key part of the Housing First approach that understands that “people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues.” CEF has worked with the Orange County’s Partnership to End Homelessness  to increase collaboration, assessment, and prioritization for the limited supply of PSH vouchers for people like Cameron in the past few years, yet resources are scarce. The HOME Task Force helps to coordinate services and housing for these vouchers but HOME currently has a list of 60 other families that are waiting and working towards the opportunity to have a foundation to move beyond what Cameron calls “survival mode.”

Foundations for the Now

It’s “surreal, very surreal,”  he says.  “I don’t really show it on the outside but I’ve heard myself say I’m happy—I’m glad.  I know I feel a lot more relieved.” Having a safe and comfortable place to sleep each night is essential. For Cameron, it’s a new beginning and the foundation of things to come. “It felt so much better, I felt like I woke up more refreshed, less stressed. Things just kind of took a 180… When I go to the fridge. I think, ‘Hey I was out in the woods not too long ago!’ I don’t even have to think about that anymore. I can cook my own food, which I like to do. I can have hot-served-food and shelter.”

Cameron sharing his a part of his story at Financial Independence Day last year!
Art
Cameron's art displayed at the CEF Art Show and Social Justice Tour in 2016!

Community and Identity

Sharing in community is a part of how Cameron moves through the world, tapping into his different strengths and abilities. At CEF’s Financial Independence Day this summer, Cameron was honored for his participation and leadership at Opportunity Class and was inducted as a CEF Alumni Ambassador. He has been to over 100 classes, and now often acts as a co-facilitator for class discussions alongside lead facilitator, Mike Wood. He comes each week, helps to set up the room, and is always eager to share and support anyone who comes. “One of my things, is try to be encouraging—to point out the things that they are already doing… ‘Don’t let it discourage you.’”

Cameron is also an artist; his backpack is often filled with a mix of mechanical sketches and abstract designs. The creations were featured in the CEF Art Show last April. “I found it very enriching, I was grateful for the opportunity to show it. Whoever came by seemed to like the flow of it, a lot of people there were able to get a positive result.” His process often combines elements of found-art and collage with vibrant patterns and design.

Cameron is also a regular and co-facilitator at Talking Sidewalks, a weekly gathering of CEF Members and Advocates who come to share life stories, teachings and thoughts in a communal and supportive space. “Here everyone’s giving a voice or an opinion—how we feel—people like that; a soundboard… we come to a place where we can put out our feelings and thoughts and sit and talk and voice.”

Foundations for the Future

Cameron can most always be seen with his sidekick dog Gizmo, one of CEF’s unofficial canine mascots. Gizmo seems to also be enjoying the benefits of the new home that they now share: “I think he’s as happy as I am. I think wherever I am he’s happy to be.” Even more, Cameron doesn’t have to worry anymore about leaving Gizmo at a campsite as he pursues his next step, heading back to school.

“I’ve been working on trying to go to school, and I think having a place will definitely be better, have more advantages. I’ll be more at ease.”   This summer he secured grant funding and enrolled in an automotive program at Durham Tech. Previously, Cameron started an automotive training program while still living in the woods, trying to advance his career and make a way for himself. This time around is really different with a secure place to live. Cameron is doing great in his classes, and is able to focus, concentrate and study.

Cameron’s home is the foundation for greater education and the chance to pursue lifelong dreams of working as an automotive mechanic. It’s also a place where he can just enjoy the small things, like making a good meal for himself and his friends. “[We] bought some peppers, some salmon, a red onion, some oil, some romaine lettuce… They took the romaine lettuce and they cut it in half, and I knew how to cut peppers. I basically made this semi-elaborate meal. A really decent meal that I made with sea-salt! I’m trying to do more healthy eating now—sea-salt, brown rice not white rice… It just makes me appreciate now, having come to a better place now.”

This holiday CEF is sharing stories about how, as CEF Member David says, “CEF sticks with the person.” Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see more stories of how #CEFstickstogether

Cameron celebrating with CEF Member Demonte and Volunteer Dick Bush at the 2015 CEF Holiday Party!
Cameron and his dog Gizmo in their new home!
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Paige is a Homebuyer

CEF matched savings accounts support Members in reaching goals all along the continuum from homelessness to homeownership! We launched a new program in 2016 to support first-time homebuyers with Reinvestment Partners and the Duke Homebuyers Club.

Paige was one of the first 5 CEF Members to successfully purchase their own home! Paige worked incredibly hard and with amazing focus to reach her goal in just ten months. In addition to her full-time job at Duke, she worked extra jobs in order to stay on track with her financial goals. She participated in CEF’s Financial Coaching program and was able to pay off debts and improve her credit score, qualifying her for an affordable mortgage. Meanwhile, she successfully saved for her down payment and closing costs, receiving a dollar-for-dollar match from CEF!

Paige is proud to be a homeowner. Some of the best parts? Her mortgage payment is actually cheaper than her rent payments were, and she is building an asset for the long term!

This story about Paige was featured in CEF’s 2016 Annual Report!

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Christina & Rudy

Christina and Rudy were homeless for three years, supporting each other for safety and survival while living in a tent and simultaneously making incredible strides towards stability. Through CEF and a church called Love Chapel Hill, Christina and Rudy found community and a supportive base from which to pursue employment and transition out of homelessness.

As of May of 2017, they have been off the streets and employed for two full years. Rudy shares, “I think the fact that I was in a house really established me in the workforce.” Christina adds, “I have a full-time job, and I love knowing that when I get off I can come home, sleep in a bed and actually have food that I like that I cook.”

And beautifully, Christina and Rudy just got married! At the ceremony, Rudy made his vows not only to Christina, but to her kids as well. They have amazing plans for their whole family. Rudy shares, “We both want to go back to college…get me a better job, get her some transportation, buy us a house, and then we can look into expanding our family.”

This story about Christina and Rudy was featured in CEF’s 2016 Annual Report!

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Antonio

Antonio tells a story like no other, weaving in about four other stories on the way to telling the one he started with. The son of a teacher and a veteran, he loves history and has a passion for helping his community.

Antonio came to Chapel Hill after losing his job in Kinston. He moved into the IFC shelter and quickly connected with CEF through two other residents. A chronic health condition prevents him from working full-time, so Antonio’s Advocates helped him navigate the application for disability benefits while also supporting his search for part-time employment.

His benefit application was approved! Next, Advocates connected him with Caramore, a supportive employment and housing program where he now works and lives. “Y’all helped me to save money. Y’all helped me acquire affordable living.”

Antonio loves music and grew up playing by ear on his aunt’s antique piano. He was one of the first to join the CEF Advocacy Choir, sharing, “I think being a part of CEF is a way of showing that you want to make a difference in your community.”

This story about Antonio was featured in CEF’s 2016 Annual Report!

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Merica’s CEF Story

Merica St. John is an artist in both word and deed. In her home, at every turn, there is a handcrafted statement piece with its own backstory—ways her identity and history find vibrant expression. In a conversation, at every turn, Merica weaves stories, bringing her own experiences, feelings, and communities to rich life. 

Merica first met with CEF Advocates in 2014 as she was just getting settled in Durham in a new home. Recently, she purchased that home, and invited her Advocate Valeria, and CEF Co-Director Janet to her housewarming party. Thank you, Merica for sharing your story with us and the CEF community! 

Merica and her Advocate, Valeria, at a housewarming party to celebrate Merica’s home purchase! 

June 27, 2017

Making New Roots

It was a hot day in July when I stopped in at the VA Hospital in Durham to see about help for homeless veterans.  I wasn’t exactly homeless, but I was staying in a hotel while I looked for a place to live in my newly adopted hometown and state. I’d moved to North Carolina from Minnesota that summer of 2014 without knowing anyone.  I arrived with two suitcases and a lot of hope and faith.  It wasn’t the first time I’d moved somewhere new without all the puzzle pieces in place.

My husband and I left Minnesota for Alaska in much the same way eleven years before that.  I had no idea then that I would be a widow a year afterward.  Six years later, I went to Ghana, West Africa in a similar way, knowing only one person on the entire continent of Africa.To many, such moves seem risky and foolish, but I’ve walked with God for thirty-eight years, so it doesn’t seem strange to me when He directs me in this way.  Never yet has He failed to provide for me.

And so, on that July day three years ago, I met with a social worker who told me about CEF.  “I know you’re not really homeless and soon you’ll have housing of your own, but you’ll still need to know about community services and ways to make Durham feel like home to you,” she said as she handed me CEF’s number.

I called, and the rest, as they say, is history.  On a Saturday soon after that, I met with Valeria, a lovely young woman attending Duke.  Although far apart in age, we soon found common ground as she was new to the area as well and far from her former home in the West.  She understood my needs, which were primarily for furniture and other basics to set up housekeeping.  By the time we met, I’d found a house to rent.

A Home Meant for Merica

She and others found it a little hard to understand why I needed a 1200 sq. ft. house just for myself, but I knew the place was perfect.  Although I had no one else living with me, I always thought in terms of hospitality.  I needed a room for writing and one for crafting, as well as my bedroom.  I needed a guest bathroom as well as my own.  I considered how many people I could have for dinner, or to come for afternoon tea.  I thought about parties, and even overnight guests I knew the house was just right for me.

What no one knew except me and those who had known me long before was that living in a house was a miracle.  I had suffered for years with clinical depression and severe anxiety, both conditions crippling me in many ways.  I also had PTSD following sexual traumas beginning very early in life.  For nearly a decade in my midpoint of life, I couldn’t live on my own at all.  I spent close to a year in a wheelchair, and almost four years in a nursing home due to debilitating mental and physical issues.  Little by little, with a lot of therapy, I got better and more able to manage life.  When I was at last able to live on my own, I chose apartments so I would never feel alone and vulnerable.

By the time I moved to North Carolina, I had been living on my own for fourteen years.  I was feeling healthier in body and mind than I ever had.  I was ready to try a townhouse in Durham.  I used Rent.com to find a place.  It’s free and a great service that helped me weed out places by looking at them on the Internet.  Even after putting in such criteria as needing central air and a convenient location, there were many that just weren’t right for me.

Coming from the Midwest, one thing I wanted was a porch.  I went to see a townhouse with a porch and a white picket fence.  It looked so charming on the website, but when I saw the interior layout I knew it wasn’t right for me. I went to see another townhome that seemed nice.  It had a fenced-in yard with lots of trees behind it, and I liked that.  Still, I knew it wasn’t “the one.”

A few days later, as I sat at the hotel’s computer, I saw a house I wanted to go see it right away.  The owners wanted to sell it, but they ran out of time before their move, so they put it up for rent.  I knew this was the house for me.  There was a porch across the entire front of it, and there was a fenced-in back yard with trees behind it.  But the way I knew it was my new home was that it had a writing room with built-in desk space.  The layout and location were ideal for me.

Homemaking and Community

Soon, I met my neighbors and found them to be kind and helpful as I settled in.  I rented furniture from a very dear man named Terry at Victory Rentals.  Through CEF, I learned about the Furniture Project, and soon had two nice kitchen chairs, a love seat, a queen size bed, a nightstand, a table, dishes, etc.  Within a short time, I was able to end the rental of furniture, keeping only the washer and dryer.  Eventually, I paid them off and still use them three years later.

Valeria and I focused on other things such as a budget and connecting with other services in the community.  It wasn’t long before I felt like I belonged in Durham and was networking.

It is June three years later, and anyone seeing my home would find it hard to believe I arrived with nothing.  My home is filled with pretty things that make it look like I’ve acquired treasured items over the years.  In reality, most of them came from local thrift stores, but they have happy memories for me as I chose them with care.

I’ve been asked when I became so “crafty,” doing fiber arts and décor items.  I usually just smile and say I’ve been doing it for years.  There is a story to it, though.  I was graduating from high school, and each of us in the Class of 68 carried a long-stemmed yellow rose in the procession.  I was to read the class poem I’d written.  Being a bit nervous, I finished at the podium and returned to my seat afterward and sat on my rose I’d left on my chair.  I sometimes tell people my crafting interests began in high school with pressed flowers!

May 2017 was quite a month.  I bought the house I’ve lived in since moving here, I had a house party and got to see Valeria again along with Janet and many other friends old and new that I’ve made since I came here.

Exactly two months after starting the process to buy the house, I began a relationship with a male companion. His name is Harry, and he is a 16-pound Maine Coon cat.  He is over two feet long and still growing.  He not only moved into my home but into my heart as well.  I adopted him from a local animal shelter.  I know what it’s like to need a forever home.

And so, my story goes on.  As each piece fits into place, I feel more settled, and I make more friends.  I treasure all those I’ve made.  Valeria has moved away now, but we keep in touch.  She will always be part of my life, as will others at CEF and elsewhere who helped me get a foothold in Durham.

I am also finding new writing opportunities and hope to see more of my books in print this year besides the two currently in publication.

The only moving I plan to do now is to move my dear Harry off my keyboard so I can keep writing.

Harry, Merica’s new companion. 

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CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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

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