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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