Archive | Member Story

Equashia’s Powerful Story

Michelle Hanes, a student at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies, produced and filmed a beautiful multimedia project featuring the story of Equashia Mumeen, a CEF member and co-chair of our Alumni Association.


View the project here: Equashia’s Story

Thank you, Equashia and Michelle for sharing this powerful story with all of us.

And a big thank you to Housing for New Hope for coordinating this initiative and sharing stories with our community.


Member Story: Mike

photo by: Jonathan Kasbe

We met Mike in the men’s shelter in early 2010 through Talking Sidewalks, and today he’s in housing and on staff with CEF teaching the weekly Opportunity Class held in the Campus Y on Saturdays.

Mike has an incredible history. He used to run his own small business, Woody’s BBQ, has been a professional chef, a restaurant manager, a banker, and more. He was a successful business man, with a special gift for marketing, or as he puts it, ―getting butts in the seats. Mike says that back in those days, “by all appearances anyone would have thought I was doing real good in life, but they couldn’t have been more wrong.” Unfortunately his financial success began a cycle of addiction to drugs and alcohol that eventually led to his downfall, loss of his business, foreclosure on his family home, and landed him in prison.

In prison, he developed a love for teaching–sharing his knowledge as a former employer to train fellow inmates in interview and job readiness skills. Since leaving prison, Mike has been in recovery from his addiction, saved with CEF, and gotten back on his feet during his stay at the IFC. By all appearances anyone would’ve seen me on the bench over there at the IFC, and thought I was down on my luck, but they couldn’t be more wrong either,” says Mike. “It was the first time I was doing anything worth doing.”

After he moved out and was well on his way in his job hunt, he was hit by a speeding vehicle, breaking both of his legs and seriously handicapping his search for employment. He has physically recovered the use of his legs since then, reunited with his family, and now dreams of becoming certified as a substance abuse counselor.

Mike’s presence at CEF has been invaluable. As the teacher for CEF’s Opportunity Class, he can justifiably say, ―been there, done that and empower current shelter residents to learn how to overcome challenging financial and social circumstances. He’s been absolutely critical to the success of the class and continues to inspire CEF members to keep working and fighting for their goals.

Mike has also learned a lot as a teacher; He says, “it’s helped me more than it’s helped the rest of them, being of service is the most helpful thing.”


Member Story: Gary

Gary, a St. Louis native, has been involved with CEF since participating in the Opportunity Class earlier this year. The road that brought him to where he is now is long, but it began with a decision to take steps to overcome his addiction. “I was down in Florida for a little over a year and I moved back to Chapel Hill,” Gary said. “I was dropped off at the men’s shelter and that’s when I decided that I needed help with my alcoholism. That was fourteen months ago and I haven’t had a drink since.” Overcoming addiction was not easy, but Gary was committed to quitting, and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly, often three days a week for six months. “Once I got focused on letting go of the bottle I wanted to pursue better things, get a job to where I could hold a job and I couldn’t do that in the shape that I was in,” he said.

Once Gary found the support he needed through AA, he began exploring new ways to make progress when he found CEF. Gary participated in the twelve-week Opportunity Class and, after completing it, got a job working for the PTA Thrift Store through connections he made in the class. Through the class Gary learned to budget his money, in addition to building lasting relationships. “I became friends with all the CEF people either through Talking Sidewalks or the CEF program,” Gary said. “We just all pulled together, networked. Financially, they are still helping me out, showing me how to manage my money to the point I can become functional.”

Asked what was special about CEF compared to other social service programs, Gary said that difference was the relationship-oriented approach. “They care. They care. They really do. I’ve been around [other] places but they didn’t really take the interest or the time to get to know you like CEF does.” Working with CEF member advocates, Gary has set both immediate and long-term goals for himself. “Right now I’ve got a goal of saving up two thousand dollars to get me a place of my own, so I can have my own keep,” he said. “My long-term goal is to restart a handyman service and maybe hire a couple of people.” Speaking from his own experience with CEF, Gary has this to say to others working through similar problems: “Hang in there. It’ll come to you. Don’t give up on yourself first of all.

CEF will provide the information needed and they have been a great help to me. So just hang in there.” He understands the hesitation some experience before they join CEF. “I didn’t want to come at first,” he said. “I said no, if I can’t get a job it was because of me. I wasn’t the type of person to really go out and ask for help, until I got sober, then [I realized] I was able to lean on someone else. It’s ok to ask for help, what you do with it is on your own.” Gary has made amazing progress since reaching out and joining the CEF family.

Interview and Article by: Tim Longest


Featured Member: Maria

By Jonathan Young

“You are the only person that holds you back.
It’s up to me to accept it and try to do something about it.”

We first met Maria through Talking Sidewalks. She was living in the HomeStart women’s shelter in Chapel Hill but she was full of ambition. “I learned that a place is what you make of it,” she says. Maria had had a long career in Information Technology in Maryland, and moved to Raleigh, NC for a better job in the field. The job was great, but at the same time Maria was battling with a rare disease called PCD that caused her to get frequent lung infections. She was hospitalized after one of the infections, and her doctors told her she couldn’t keep working with her health conditions.

After leaving the hospital, Maria was without a job and money to pay rent; she had no other option but to turn to a shelter. “When I walked through the doors of the Homestart Women’s shelter, I was afraid, and because of fear I was expecting to be on my guard,” says Maria, but the staff embraced her and within her first weeks she got involved with the CEF Opportunity Class that was being held weekly in the shelter.

Working with CEF, Maria was able to connect with SSI and the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program and find an affordable place to live in Durham, NC. “It was like magic,” says Maria. “I wish the world would stop looking at a person that has been in a homeless shelter like it is a bad thing; personally, I’ve grown so much since I went through that and I’m forever grateful for the experience.”

Maria says she has learned a lot about savings and financial responsibility through working with CEF. “I was always used to living in the ‘right now’… but now that i have a savings plan and a goal, It makes me think twice.” Using CEF’s Safe Savings Accounts, Maria met her first savings goal of a personal emergency fund within just two months and is now saving to start her own small business: Picc Me By Design, creating stylish and comfortable Picc Line covers for medical patients.

Maria remembers her father always saying, “ You’ve got to have a backup plan in whatever you choose to do in this life,” and now she does. “I’m happy now,” says Maria, “from the shelter to here is just a beginning point in my life. With the help from CEF I’m ready to change the world one person at a time!”

*update 9-2-11
Last week, the women at the Homestart shelter threw Maria a send-off party because she had landed a fantastic job in Washington State in the IT field. She’s absolutely thrilled to be going back to work, and it was inspiring / beautiful / overwhelming to see how much the women at homestart respected, cared, and looked up to Maria. She’ll be greatly missed, but we know she’s moving on to do great things in her life!


Featured Member: Tracie

img_5912By Jonathan Young

“Don’t be afraid. If there’s something you don’t know don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can sit down, lie down, and cry about it but nothing will happen if you don’t push yourself, and the only way to help yourself is to learn how to help yourself- to jump in and learn from others

Tracie first began working with CEF when she was living at Homestart, Chapel Hill’s women’s shelter. Tracie had recently moved from New York City and was unemployed. “When I started over I didn’t have a dime in my pocket!” she said. She wanted to work with CEF because “when I first met them they were coming to the shelter teaching classes. They were really down to earth and supportive.” With the help of member advocates, Tracie was hired for three jobs at once and took them all. “I transferred my money into their account and just saved saved saved…” Within 90 days she had already gotten an apartment for herself, moving out of the shelter in just three and a half months.

She learned and met even more friends while taking CEF’s savings and business classes during which time “We grew closer and closer as friends more like a family. I didn’t have any family or friends here but I didn’t let that spoil my birthday. I bought a cake, people cooked and we had a party at the shelter. I gained new friends and CEF became a new family for me.”

When asked about her advice to members she replied that “My best advice is not to give up. If you don’t have a job count the blessings that you’re in school, if you’re not in school pick up some kind of training skill or take classes… for me I came here from New York with no money and the [CEF] classes are free! Anywhere that says they offer free classes for 12 weeks and you don’t have a job you better jump up and take that class for 12 weeks cause you need to learn you don’t know everything and the more you learn the more you know. You get to take that knowledge with you to your next job”

Currently Tracie has her own 2 bedroom apartment, is working two jobs and just got an interview for a third job in retail, a longtime passion of hers.



Featured Member: Equashia

One of CEF’s most well-known and vibrant members, Equashia joined the CEF family through her participation in Talking Sidewalks starting in October 2009. In 2010, Equashia graduated from the first small business training in February as well as the pilot savings circle in September.

Equashia has been a staunch advocate for CEF’s programs since the beginning, leading the effort for outreach before the first small business training, motivating and educating new volunteers during Member Advocate Training, traveling to help out at CEF speaking engagements, and telling anyone who listen about what CEF can do for them.

After her graduation from the business program, Equashia started her own business of making and selling “tar heel” scarves. She found a niche in the market with the large group of Muslim women on UNC’s campus, and was able to sell all of her merchandise in a short span of time.

In addition, Equashia has been one of our biggest savers, reaching her goal of $1,000 earlier this year! She didn’t stop there, though. Equashia has continued to save with CEF, and is currently working on a new goal. Now living in an apartment, Equashia finds time to spend time with CEF and maintain her close community ties with other organizations and communities in the area. If you haven’t met her yet, Equashia is a great friend and role model to have.

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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