Archive | Member Story

Featured Member: Lottye

Lottye is a skilled tailor, an aspiring medical technician, and a joy to be around. We’re so happy for Lottye! She successfully found two jobs with her advocates and then saved to move into her apartment.

Lottye and one of her advocates, Kevin

Lottye  connected with CEF while staying at the women’s shelter and got paired with a stellar team of advocates: Kevin, Sarah and Max. The team worked together to find Lottye employment and housing, and to help her save towards her goals. Sarah and Max have since graduated, but Lottye says, “Oh, I keep up with them! Max, you know he is a jet-setter, so he is traveling the world, and Sarah, she is in Japan teaching English.

“But I’ve still got my Kevin! And I’m getting two new advocates who will be working with me and Kevin — a freshman and a sophomore — so you know I can hang out with them for years!”

Even since Lottye moved into her apartment, she has continued to work with her CEF advocates to reach her goals. She is aiming to gain more full-time employment, go back to school, keep budgeting, and just in general, make her house a home. Her favorite pastime right now? As Lottye says, “I am really enjoying my little place now. It’s so nice to have a place that is just mine.”

Thank you for all your energy, commitment, and dedication, Lottye! We are looking forward to working with you on your next big step.


Santiago Reaches Savings Goal

Santiago and his advocates celebrating in the CEF office

Our congratulations and affirmations go out to Santiago! Santiago reached his savings goal this past month! Santiago has been by far CEF’s most consistent and diligent Saver, never missing a single weekly deposit in 50 weeks of saving with us. Truly incredible commitment.

Santiago is saving to buy a dairy cow for his family, and he has now reached his goal. Santiago and his advocates celebrated in the office with a cow-shaped cake, creatively made by one of his advocates.

The best part? Santiago will continue to save with CEF, as he is one of our 10 pilot members of the Renter’s Savings IDA Program.

Again, a heartfelt congratulations!


Finally, Amanda Has a Home

Check out this recent article in the Chapel Hill News, a guest column CEF published to highlight the fantastic and collaborative work we are participating in through the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness’ 100,000 Homes Task Force.

“How Amanda Got a Home” Read the full article here. 

Excerpt: “Amanda had been homeless for more than 10 years. Only 28 years old, this means she had been homeless for the entirety of her adult life – living with her sister in Houston, a shelter in D.C. and, for the past two years, a tent in the woods of Carrboro.

Amanda signing her new lease!

This past May, Amanda and her two cats moved into their own apartment in Chapel Hill. How? First, Amanda’s own determination and follow-through; second, a symphony of community partners, orchestrated by the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness’ 100,000 Homes Taskforce.

The story began for me about a year ago when Amanda walked into the office of the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) on Franklin Street with her very cute little dog, Paso. I can’t remember what brought Amanda up to our office that day, but from then on she became a daily presence at CEF. She began leading our weekly creative writing workshops, helping with outreach, working on her own goals, making savings deposits, and, sometimes, just hanging out on the computer. Through CEF Amanda was paired with two volunteer advocates, Audrey Boyles and Jon Young, who began partnering with her and working one-on-one to help her reach her goals.

Amanda with Audrey, one of her volunteer CEF Advocates

This past January the Partnership to End Homelessness held its annual Point-In-Time count, documenting the number of homeless men, women, and children in Orange County. This year as a part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, the count included a survey to identify the most medically vulnerable homeless individuals in our community. Based on these surveys, a collaboration of 15 local agencies joined together to create person-specific plans to help the most vulnerable individuals in our community find housing.

Amanda was one of the surveyed individuals and the 100,000 Homes Campaign prioritized her to receive services. A network of community services and organizations came together: A supportive housing voucher through OPC Shelter Plus Care; an affordable apartment through CASA; a security deposit from Housing for New Hope; comprehensive health services through the Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health; vaccinations for her cats through POP; household furniture from a graduating senior at UNC; and one-on-one support from her CEF advocates, as well as her community and church friends. It was stressful; it was mountains of paperwork.

Amanda with Mary Jean, COO at CASA, the affordable housing agency renting Amanda her beautiful apartment

“I kept waiting on the big joke,” says Amanda, “for everything to fall apart.”

On Amanda’s first night in her new apartment she hosted a housewarming party. A family of friends, case-workers, advocates, pastors, jogging-buddies, therapists and community supporters came together to share a meal and celebrate Amanda’s accomplishment. A few of us even brought sleeping bags and stayed with Amanda for her first night, so she would be comfortable sleeping in this new environment – spending her first night in her own bed in over a decade.

Amanda says having her own home means “constant baths, air conditioning, a bed, and a lock. I can lock my door, that’s a very big deal. Oh, and I can cook!”

It’s the things we take for granted. It’s the distance between surviving and living. It’s doors opened for Amanda to continue her education at Durham Tech and become a Nursing Assistant, or to one day open a rescue home for abused and abandoned cats and support them through recovery.”

Read the full article here. 


Gwen: Building CEF Sisterhood

Gwen Miller, CEF Opportunity Class Teacher. Gwen is a school bus driver full-time in addition to her work at CEF.

Gwen is a motivator, a school bus driver, an educator, and a woman who inspires. After participating in CEF’s classes herself, Gwen now teaches our classes and makes it her personal goal to lift up the spirits and self-confidence of her class participants – the majority of whom are current residents at the women’s shelter. Gwen became homeless when she had to make the choice between paying her rent or paying her youngest son’s college tuition. She chose to invest in her son’s future, and without regret, was homeless for a year while working to get back on her feet.

Gwen brings a prophetic energy and oratory to CEF’s Sunday afternoon classes. Each week, in addition to teaching skills like budgeting, interviewing, and conflict resolution, Gwen introduces a theme to the women. Themes such as “I never give up on…”, “Gratitude,” and “I’ve got this.”

One participant remarked, “This is more of a sisterhood than a class.”

And it’s true! As Gwen puts it, “My goal for the Sunday Opportunity Classes is to lift the women’s spirits up. We have a lot of depression going on there at the shelter, and the women really need a group and a time that can be there to push them up and tell them not to give up. So I want the class to teach them life skills, and basically, survival skills. I enjoy doing this because I have been there and been through it.”


Gwen truly has come full circle. During class a couple months ago, after teaching a two-hour session about how to ace a job interview, Gwen mentioned to the women that just a year ago she was living at the shelter. The jaws of all the new participants dropped, and one exclaimed, “You have got to be kidding me!” It is a humbling experience to see the way the women’s eyes light up, the way they sit up a little bit taller, with the subtle reminder that, “Yes, I can do this. Gwen did this, and so can I.”

Continuing in her personal strides towards long-term success, Gwen is also a pilot participant in our Renter’s Savings IDA Program. We are so thankful for Gwen and her leadership, uplifting and inspiring many women who will follow in her footsteps.


Member Story : Gerardo and Flor

martinez Renting

written by Sarah Cohn

Gerardo and Flor Martinez, natives of Mexico, are long-time Chapel Hill residents. They had already begun growing their small event rental business, Martinez Rental, when they enrolled in the CEF Latino business course in the spring of 2011. I met Gerardo and Flor several months after they had graduated from the program, as they sought to learn more about formalizing their business. The first time I sat down with Gerardo and Flor didn’t go so well. That is, I wasn’t at all prepared to answer Flor’s multitude of legal questions concerning permits, licensing, and taxes. I’m no business expert, and those are the topics that really confuse me most. It was obvious that Flor had done her homework, and that I hadn’t. I knew after that first meeting that working with Gerardo and Flor wasn’t going to be easy – because formalizing a business isn’t easy – but that Martinez Rental was going to be one of the most successful businesses we’ve seen.

I continued meeting with Gerardo and Flor for the next several months. It seemed at each meeting like we weren’t making any progress, as we would come into it with questions and leave with even more questions. What types of licenses are required for an event rental company? Can you operate outside the city that you’re based in? What about special permits? And insurance? And more insurance if you have a moon bounce?! The intricacies of legalizing a business is something I never saw myself being involved with. But there I was, trying to make sense of the Town of Chapel Hill’s Business Management website and calling the Secretary of State’s office with what seemed like an endless list of questions.

Gerardo’s hard work and Flor’s inquisitive attitude impressed me and inspired me to work through these problems with them. Actually, it really overwhelmed me at first, but as I continued working with the couple I learned a lot from them. I learned a little something about business, sure, but what I really admired was their persistence and dedication.

Martinez Rental is now formalized and growing steadily. Now that I understand a little more about what it takes to run a business, I call that a huge success. I’m proud to have been a small part of Gerardo and Flor’s story, and I can only hope that CEF made as much of an impression on them as they did on me.


Meet a CEF Saver: Robert

Robert will be moving out of the men’s shelter this month. While living in the shelter, he has been saving with CEF towards a security deposit for his new apartment and deposits for utilities. He is disabled and on a fixed income, and has taken the knowledge he gained from our financial education classes to find an affordable apartment that will allow him to continue to save for his future goals.

After he moves, Robert will be continuing to come to our weekly classes to stay connected to the support, resources, and community of the group. Robert has been homeless once before in his life, and when he talks about this move he says excitedly that he “is going to do it right this time. Make plans, keep saving, stay connected.” He is committed to saving monthly towards an emergency fund to make sure that life’s future obstacles don’t bring him back to the shelter.

Robert will be one of 10 pilot members in CEF’s Renter’s Savings Program. The program provides Savers like Robert the opportunity and incentive to save towards an emergency fund, matching savings up to $2,000 with a 50% matching contribution… resulting in an emergency fund of $3,000. Robert is also excited about the opportunities available through this new program to improve his credit score. He dreams of owning his own business and his own home, and knows this is the stepping-stone to those goals.

Help CEF launch this new program. Sponsor a Saver to donate the 50% matching contribution, directly matching the savings deposits of members like Robert.


“Thank you for believing in me.”

We got a really wonderfully nice voicemail from one of our members, and wanted to share!

Hello! I was just calling because I wanted to let you know that I got a job. I had an interview last Friday, and I start today, which is Monday.

I’m excited and scared at the same time. I’m hoping that everything will work out okay. I want to thank you so much for encouraging me and guiding me and believing in me. It means a lot to me.

I know some people think stuff like that doesn’t matter, but it matters so much to me because I know there are certain places I can’t get to in life without other people supporting or helping me. And I have never let anybody support or help me, I never did, and now I see that it’s okay to accept other people’s help or support in order to get where I’m going in life.

I’m glad, and appreciate all of your love and support, and know I couldn’t have done it without you, I know I couldn’t.

But I still want to come up to CEF! I want to save my money, I have to save my money. I have two savings goals by the end of December so I’ll still come up there and I need someone to help me with my money like we discussed, so I’ll still be coming!

Love you!


Member Story: Amanda Signs a Lease

“He had sneaky eyes,” laughs Amanda. Jon, now used to Amanda’s jabs, chuckles along as we all share breakfast in her newly moved into home. “I didn’t trust anyone at all back then.”

Jon, along with his friend Audrey, have been working with Amanda as advocates for about a year at the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), a local non-profit dedicated to helping people transition out of poverty and homelessness. Amanda first came into contact with CEF a couple of years ago and has been a constant presence ever since, at one point organizing a student-homeless “switch day” event. For the last ten years Amanda has been homeless, spending her two most recent years in a tent in Carrboro.

For the first year or so the trio had their fair share of ups and downs. Their trust problems weren’t resolved until their first fight, remembers Amanda, when Jon stood up to her and fought back. Ironically, it took Jon refusing to back down for him to gain her trust. Over the next year, the group would work on anything from obtaining food stamps to applying for jobs and acquiring a cell phone. Searching for housing was not yet a serious option for Amanda and her advocates, who were still scarred from previous letdowns.

But after the right amount of time, thought, and care Amanda, Audrey, and Jon finally decided to start the long process towards applying for housing. The next month or so would take them on a maddening journey of paperwork and applications, summoning multiple organizations in her quest for a home. Hearing her run down the list of names and groups that helped her brings mind to images of a stringed quartet, which requires every player to be in perfect harmony with the others in order for the music to work. Remembering all the people that had a hand in her success, Amanda takes a deep breath and begins running down her list of shout-outs, fondly recalling Mike from Housing for New Hope, Pamela from CASA, Bebe her social worker, Dr. Schietman, Spencer from OPC, and the 100,000 Homes Campaign, which interviewed the local homeless population to catalogue the community’s immediate needs.

But even with a small army of committed volunteers, the march toward housing was at times frustrating. The amount of paperwork was occasionally maddening. Amanda, never lacking dramatic flair, groans that she felt like she would “drown in paperwork” as another application would seem to appear every time they thought they were nearing the end. The process, Jon reflects, was great but representative of how difficult it is to access community and government resources. It would be “pretty impossible” for any individual to do this on his or her own. The stress of searching and applying for housing added to the everyday struggles of homelessness would be enough to make anyone crack.

And Amanda almost might have done just that, if CEF hadn’t “kept on top of me” and continued to challenge and push her, reminding me of Amanda and Jon’s first trust building fight. Amanda had to fight back past demons, with the threat of possible failure almost driving her crazy. She was always “waiting on the big joke,” for everything to fall apart and go back to her tent in Carrboro.

But the joke never came. Instead, on one early summer afternoon, Amanda was signing the lease for her new home. Finally, she had her own place and her everyday life became “less about survival and more about living.” Having a home was an adjustment at first though. To solve the problem, Amanda decided to throw a slumber party and invite her team of volunteers to celebrate with dinner and a movie at her new home.

The celebration capped off a long process that was full of hope and fear, dreams and doubts. “For anybody that’s having to go through this, just be patient” Amanda declares. “Where do you see your future going,” I ask Amanda as we finish breakfast in her living room.  After telling of her dreams of going back to college and starting a rescue home for cats, she adds one final caveat: “well that’s the good thing about being Amanda, I don’t know. We just have to sit and catch the ride. And hang on for dear life, cause it is going to be rocky.” For Jon, Audrey, and Amanda, the past year has been just that. But whatever the future holds, Amanda knows that CEF will be by her side, and now she can “trust enough to accept help.”

Maybe Jon’s eyes aren’t that sneaky after all.


Four Job Offers In Two Weeks!


Jackie came in to the CEF offices two weeks ago having lost his only job, and with five kids and a wife to provide for. As of yesterday—he had received four job offers, and started work on two of them! He’s been such an inspiration to all CEF Members and Advocates as to what can happen when you really put your best foot forward every day. Thanks Jackie. Congratulations!


Member Story: Dawn

Dawn was the first CEF member to successfully file her taxes with CEF in 2011 and save her refund towards her goal. Her first goal was to save to move out of the shelter; she reached that goal, and moved into her own apartment last year. Dawn is well on the way to her second goal and now making consistent progress using direct-deposit, but believes “saving during tax season can really take my account to the next level… and fast!”

Dawn recommends, “It’s always beneficial to have something saved up. Spending every penny, you can never get ahead. By saving my refund last year, when I really needed money and was in a crunch throughout the year, I had something I could fall back on.”

Dawn graduated from CEF’s Opportunity Class in June of 2011. She says, “I joined the class because I wanted to be more financially stable… Since the class, I see how I can be more financially independent. I can seethat it’s obtainable. Instead of always being in panic mode, like I have been for years, I’m a little more relaxed. It’s much better to be secure than on panic all the time.”

“I am most proud that I have my own place now. I am truly proud that I am actually heading in the right direction; I’m becoming satisfied with life, and meeting life on life’s terms.” Dawn added that the bonus 10% match she is awarded by CEF when she reaches her savings goals has been a great incentive to keep saving, despite the challenge of saving on a very limited budget.

The moral of the story from Dawn: “Save money, any way you can! [laughing]… As long as it’s legal :)

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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