Archive | Staff Story

Meet Tanner: CEF Staff Interview

What will your role be at CEF?

My fellowship at CEF will focus on workforce development and employment in the Chapel Hill Office. A job is a source of income, stability, and security, but it can also be a source of dignity and purpose. We know that an employment search depends on more than a resume — it depends on criminal histories, credit, transportation, and housing — and so my work will touch on these issues as well. I will also lead convenings of service providers, local governments, and employers in the county, working to connect organizations, share data, and create spaces for advocacy.

What strengths and perspectives do you bring to CEF?

I studied Public Policy and Economics at Duke, and hope to combine a racial-equity lens with my training in policy and socioeconomic determinants of life outcomes. I’ve also spent time working on access to HIV/AIDS treatment in South Africa, social policy research at the Brookings Institution, and government/non-profit partnerships in low-country South Carolina. After graduation, I worked at the NC Department of Justice, focusing on predatory loan practices, the opioid epidemic, and sex trafficking, and then spent time at a consulting firm in Washington, DC. I’m new to CEF and know that I have lots to learn; but I am surrounded by members, staff, and volunteers who are brilliant and compassionate teachers, and I hope to draw from their wisdom as I find my grounding in this new work.

What led you to this work at CEF?

What struck me about CEF was not only its effectiveness, but its unique relationship-based approach to service. Relationships make CEF work, and that’s the kind of organization I wanted to join. CEF is also uniquely positioned in anti-poverty work: we really do see everything. There’s no better way to do this work than at the ground level – in the trenches with members every day — there’s also no better way to learn. I’m incredibly fortunate that my role lets me be creative – designing new systems, building community partnerships, and testing new ideas. Our Members bring incredible ability and potential, and I’m lucky to work alongside them to realize their goals.

Where do you find energy for your work at CEF?

I find energy every day in our team – Jon, Sarah, Diiv, Leah, Yvette. I also get a lot of energy from Members. Our wins are shared together as a team, and the victories are deeply energizing. Sometimes those wins are big, like finding a job or a home. Sometimes they’re small, like finishing a resume or securing an expunction. When the caffeine wears off, it’s sharing these moments with the CEF community that keeps me going.

Where do you expect to find challenges in your work?

Barriers to finding employment are real and substantial. At times, I feel frustrated. I can’t always convince an employer to hire someone with a criminal history or find a simple way to make a living for a highly qualified senior. I can’t fix every problem. The work is high stakes, and so it can be emotionally draining. But CEF’s approach offers an answer for this challenge: it is trauma-informed, relationship-based, and supportive of self-care. It seeks to build on strengths, not dwell on challenges. We have fantastic community partners and resilient Members, and with that, there will always be a path forward.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

IF YOU ARE AN EMPLOYER, contact me! ( Let’s talk about who from CEF would be a good candidate. It takes partners on all sides to do this work, so join us.


Meet Kevin: CEF Staff Interview

Kevin: CEF Chapel Hill's Workforce Development Specialist and Americorps Vista

What inspires you?

What inspires me to work for CEF is when I complete a task with someone.  It does not matter whether it is a large or small task that helps the person. When that person says to me, that I made a difference for them—their direct feedback and their energized eye-to-eye contact beaming back at me are what inspire me. There is a wide array of diverse people, from all walks of Chapel Hill who visit our office.  Just because I am able to help write or re-construct a person’s resume in a new and refreshing way—I see that person before my eyes become energized and ready to seek employment.

What projects are you excited about right now?

I’m working to modify present systems already in place at CEF to support members looking for employment.  My goal is to help people to easily access and navigate employment opportunities in Chapel Hill. Sometimes, there are not that many options out there for a lot of our Members. We are trying to make employment opportunities more connected, and build more relationship with businesses that see the value in employing CEF Members!

Why is connecting with people important?

I think connecting with people is important because you need people in order to make things work. CEF—as I’ve learned—has a pretty cool model in terms of how we help and support people who are struggling with different issues. It’s like being able to take your individual support and be a part of a collective—in a larger community context.  The difference is that as a collective, CEF can reach into so many different directions; homelessness, families looking for services, hunger, employment and all kinds of things. It’s a “one-stop-shop” in many ways—one organization that can help many types of people.

Tell us about your background!

I have a two-year training certificate in fund development from the University of San Francisco,   a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from JFK University (New College of California), and a Master’s in Social Work from North Carolina Central University.  I presently work at Central as a Clinical Adjunct/Field Faculty Liaison in the social work department.

What has been your greatest challenge working here?

The greatest challenge working here is not being able to help the people with issues that are so much larger than I could ever figure out. There’s a lot CEF does to help people, but then there are people whose issues are large and difficult to get handled in a short period of time.


Meet Krista: CEF Staff Interview

Krista: CEF Durham's Neighborhood Engagement Specialist

What made you interested in working for CEF?

I really admire not only the heart that goes into all of CEF’s work, but also CEF’s dedication to constant self-improvement.  As an organization, CEF is always looking to do better and more conscientious work, and that’s something I really wanted to be a part of.

Why do you feel connecting with people is so important?

Connecting with people is what makes this work continue to feel worthwhile even when systems and structures feel like they’re defeating you.  It’s all too easy to feel hopeless after a while, but having solid relationships with members humanizes the daily and drives our work.

Tell us about yourself/background:  

I’m from South Carolina and came to Durham for college.  I studied French and International Studies in college and am enjoying living and working in Durham as a resident rather than a student.

What inspires you?

My coworkers! Working in the nonprofit sector has found me surrounded by dedicated, passionate, hardworking people who strive to make Durham a better and more accessible city.

What do you think will be your greatest challenge in this position?

Definitely balancing the number of different spheres my job occupies.  I have a bit of a jack-of-all trades job, so managing a variety of partnerships, often with very little overlap, is going to be an interesting logistical challenge.

What projects are you most excited about?

I’ve really enjoyed tackling the overhaul of how we present our laptop referral program.  It’s given me the ability to work through how we create our member goals and look at things through both the member and advocate perspective and to create something that will hopefully be with CEF for many years.


Meet Joy: CEF Staff Interview

Joy Shaver: CEF's Financial Coaching Specialist & Americorps Literacycorp Member

Why do you feel connecting with people is so important?

I agree with Dorothy Day who said, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes in community.” I keep learning over and over that I need connection with others. True relationships where we risk being ourselves and seeing another person or the beautiful mess they are is the only way any of us can thrive in a world that increasingly seeks to divide us.

What inspires you?

The amazing resiliency and willingness to risk that I see every day at CEF inspires me every day. Whether it is a Members risking trusting an Advocate to help them navigate complicated situations, or an Advocate risking looking silly by doing something that they have never done before to accomplish a Member’s goal. I am always amazed by the vulnerability that is embraced at every level of this organization. And if something doesn’t work the first time no one gives up they just get creative and try something new.

Tell us about your background

I was born and raised in Detroit. I spent my undergrad years in Indiana and then moved to Seattle for four years. I moved to Durham in 2013 to start my Masters of Divinity at Duke, which I finished in 2016.  I have a diverse background in terms of employment. I have done project management for a small technology company, churches, and relationship driven nonprofits.

What do you think will be your greatest challenge?

Honestly, learning the intricacies of our financial system has been a whole lot more challenging than I expected. I didn’t think I was an expert when I started but I thought I understood our financial system a lot better than I actually did. Every time I learn something new it I’m amazed at how well members are navigating a really opaque system.

What projects are you excited about right now?

I’m really excited to help make our internal system better so that our Advocates and Members have more resources at their disposal! It’s a bit of a learning curve for me but I’m really excited to work with our Resources and Financial Coaching team to make our resources more useful!!


Meet JV: CEF Staff Interview

JV Alencar: CEF Workforce & Finances Specialist

The oppressive structures that exist here in Durham and in this country are always transforming and creating bigger barriers. I believe that long-lasting change happens through radical human connections like those at the core of CEF, and networks of support can be sources of fuel for us as we navigate through everyday challenges. We need energy, love, and encouragement, and we can gain those from positive interactions with our community.

How did you get involved with CEF?

I initially got involved with CEF my freshman semester at Duke in 2013 at the recommendation of upperclassmen who were involved with student leadership. At the time, I was looking for a way to engage with the local Durham community in which I would be living for the next four years. Over the years, I have grown to cherish this group of passionate folks who are so committed to building financial independence. When I found out about this opportunity to continue with CEF after graduation through AmeriCorps Vista, I knew I had to apply!

Why is connecting with people important?

The oppressive structures that exist here in Durham and in this country are always transforming and creating bigger barriers. I believe that long-lasting change happens through radical human connections like those at the core of CEF, and networks of support can be sources of fuel for us as we navigate through everyday challenges. We need energy, love, and encouragement, and we can gain those from positive interactions with our community.

Tell us about your background

I was born in Recife, Brazil, but I have spent the majority of my life in Columbia, South Carolina.  I graduated from Duke University in May 2017 with a degree in Economics and Global Health with a focus on sustainable community development both domestically and internationally. In college, I worked in projects focusing on topics like access to education and affirmative actions in poor neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro, innovative methods to increase human resource capacity in the hospitals of rural Ghana, and the historic preservation of communities of color living in the coast of the Carolinas. I was an advocate with CEF concurrently with my studies, and my time here has definitely influenced my pursuits.

What inspires you?

I like looking to art and music when I need to be reenergized. Whenever I see a piece that I really connect with, it gives me the push to pursue my own creativity. I also love hearing people talk about their passions which is why I am subscribed to over a hundred podcasts on my phone! I think history is so important in work like CEF’s. It is important to acknowledge that we don’t work in isolation but in dialogue with people who have come before us. Revisiting and retelling those histories keeps the energy alive.

What do you think will be your greatest challenge?

Currently, a big personal challenge is switching from a student Advocate perspective to one of a Staff member and an AmeriCorps Fellow. A lot of my time with CEF has been spent focusing on Member meetings and Office Hours, as a regular advocate and as a student leader in MAC team. My position now is focused on developing the resources behind those meetings. It is definitely a different way of thinking about things, but I am excited about the challenge.

What projects are you excited about right now?

I am looking forward to further developing data methods and systems for evaluation. CEF has a lot of space to grow in the ways that it uses data to analyze and inform program decisions.  CEF prioritizes and values the very human and vulnerable side of our work. Bringing numbers and statistics to these conversations has historically been dehumanizing, so we want to be extremely careful in how we integrate data alongside the experiences and feedback of CEF Members. I am curious to explore and imagine an approach that respects and contributes to our collective values and stories.  

Fun Fact: in 2016 JV was still a DUKE student and he very bravely stepped on to UNC’s campus for the “Pie-A-Dookie” Fundraiser!



New Staff Welcome: Diiv Sternman

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-9-51-13-pmDiiv Sternman joined Chapel Hill team as Member Services Coordinator in May of 2016. And we are so happy to have them!

What made you interested in CEF?

I was at a point in my career where I had done direct service for 12 years—and it does take its toll.  I was reaching a point where I thought I needed to find a way of still doing this work while putting to use all of the things I’ve learned—all of the wisdom that clients and co-workers have shared with me over the years—and find how to put that to good use in the community.

So, I noticed CEF—it was on the list—but there weren’t jobs open. I was watching you all and referred a couple of people from the shelter that I was working at.  When I read the job description, I thought, “This is not only an organization that I really believe in, but it’s a way of doing the work that fits what I need.” I feel like I have a lot I can share with student volunteer and a lot of experience with the populations that we’re serving. I now also have a chance to get back to big picture—having a vision and being able to impact structural changes. Continue Reading →


Member Services Coordinator, Jean Adler Stean


Jean Adler Stean is CEF’s newest hire. She is the Chapel Hill Member Services Coordinator and comes to CEF from the Durham VA Hospital, where she worked as a chaplain. She graduated from Duke Divinity School in 2013 and the University of Virginia in 2009.

She was kind enough to sit down for an interview on her first few months of work with CEF. 

Tell me about your background

I grew up in Virginia Beach, but was born in New York and lived a whole bunch of different places. Virginia Beach is home though. I love the beach, and I love the ocean — it’s my soul place.

I’m married to John Stean, who works for the North Carolina NAACP.  

How did you end up in divinity school?

I felt a calling to ministry and then worked during and after college for a community development nonprofit. The organization was called “Abundant Life Ministries” in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the idea was that you lived in and served in the neighborhood. It was less about programming and more about cultivating the resources that are already abundant in communities, and that community members really have the knowledge and power to help their community thrive.  

Through that experience and through the experiences of college I was very interested in justice and community development and how that could work as a ministry. I realized that I didn’t know much of anything about ministry, so I should probably learn more about it.

So it was a combination of experience and wanting to learn more and keep doing that work.

What did you do after divinity school?

For two years, I worked at the VA Hospital in Durham as a Chaplain. The first year was my general residency, and then they had a new position open up for a mental health chaplain, working with folks who suffer from severe mental illness. I’ve always been very interested in mental health and found myself really drawn to it in chaplaincy work. It was pretty intense, but I think it’s another one of those callings. I think there are some people who just love to work in mental health, and I guess I’m one of those people.

It was challenging for a lot of the same reasons our work is challenging. You get people cycling in and out, who can’t really ever get well or heal, people who are struggling day in and day out, who have countless other circumstances on top of everything that trigger their mental health. I heard and saw the effects of oppression and poverty on health — mentally, physically and spiritually.

Why were you interested in working at CEF?

I was interested in CEF as an organization because of a lot of what I’d heard and knew from Janet (Durham Program Coordinator). It seemed like CEF was an organization that really cares about looking holistically at why people are in poverty. So, for example, we look at systemic injustices and systemic reasons for how people find themselves in the situations that they do, and we work to support both individuals in the moment and also work towards systemic change.

Why were you interested in being the Member Services Coordinator, in particular?

As you can probably tell from past experience, I like direct interaction with people. I love people, I love getting to know them, hearing their stories, and hearing about who they are. For the past two and a half years, I’ve been learning how to listen well to people. I was excited about the opportunity to keep that focus on working with individuals and supporting their unique needs and goals while also working to build partnerships and relationships to help the community as a whole. That’s what most intrigued me with the Integrated Services Center model. I was very much interested in how we can work to build connections and relationships across people and groups and institutions, in a way that can alter the landscape of our community for the better. It’s kind of like community development in a very specific kind of way.

Now that you’ve been on the job for a few months, how has it been different than you expected it would be?

Well, I found out very quickly that I have a whole lot to learn! The amount of information and resources y’all have collected in the database is incredible, and it’s a lot to know. I’m also discovering that resources and people and other organizations are constantly changing — that our community is constantly changing. So there’s always new information and people to learn about. It’s exciting in many ways, even if it can be quite confusing!  

What I really appreciate about CEF is that we do talk about systemic issues, both within our community and within our organization. We’re self-reflective, and always willing to grow, even if it’s painful and tough. It’s not like CEF is saying, “we’ve got it all figured out, we know how to not oppress people with systems,” that’s near impossible. CEF is continually asking the questions and working to figure out how to better our services and improve ourselves as an organization.  

What do you think is the biggest challenge this work will present to you?

I think sustainability. If I’m honest, some days can be very exhausting when you’re continually running up against systems and powers that you’re pretty powerless against when you’re working with Members. And you run into those a lot. Being in it for the long haul or sustaining oneself through that kind of work is tough, but doable.

What project are you most excited about in the new year?

I’m excited about continuing to get to know Members. I’d love to, in a general sense, really get more Members involved in more inner workings at CEF. They are so much the heart and soul of CEF, and I’d love for them to be involved in our community and continue to teach and shape us.

On a very specific point, I’m really hoping to get us some more robust legal resources. I think there’s been a gap here that was made apparent early on to me by some of our Advocates. So I’ve been following the connections as they come, and it seems like there are people in our community who are super excited about it as well. The resources are there, and we just have to tap into them. I’m tapping!  

Tell me about a memorable Member meeting

In general, I think it’s just fun to get to know Members and to be able to call them by name, hear about their weekends, and know a little bit more about who they are and what they’re doing in the world.  

One of my more memorable Member meetings was actually during a situation where I felt pretty powerless to offer tangible support. I met with a couple when they first came to Chapel Hill and they were homeless and didn’t have anywhere to stay that night. At that moment, I didn’t have many resources to offer them, which obviously is difficult, frustrating, and sad. But, I got to learn more about them in that hour and hear their story about how they got married and more about their family. I got to meet with them again recently, and it had been a while and they remembered me and I remembered them, and we were just kind of catching up about their holidays and getting to share about all the things that humans want connections with.

So, even though there are these monstrous barriers that can limit us in giving support to Members, sometimes I just have to say, “Whatever, barriers! We’re going to be human today.” That feels important to me. A lot of our hard work doesn’t always have the results that we want, but at the end of the day we can connect to someone meaningfully and that’s important to me.

Why do you think connecting with people is so important to you?

I really, truly love people. I think what all of us most want is to feel connected with and to feel loved by others. And in my work, I see how powerful it can be to have connections for myself and for other people — that a lot of healing takes place in that connection. And I’m really about healing, that’s what I want to be about in the world — for myself and for others. We could all use a lot of healing and I want to be a person who offers that, and I think connection is the way that I can offer that.



Staff Voices: An Exit Interview with Durham Program Coordinator Anne Yeung

Anne Blog Post

Interview conducted by Ayana Sadler, CEF Summer Intern

Anne Yeung was a one-year Community Engagement Fellow working full-time out of the CEF Durham Office, helping foster CEF’s relationship with the Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs, building CEF programs, and supporting volunteer advocates. She chose to work with CEF because she was seeking a professional experience that ethically and impactfully addressed systemic problems in the community. 

How long have you been with CEF?

I’ve been with CEF for about three years now — two years as a volunteer while I was at Duke and this past year working as full-time staff.

What did you study at Duke?

I graduated from Duke in 2014. I was a public policy major, pre-med, with an interest in public health and social medicine.

What are your job responsibilities with CEF?

I work full-time as the Durham Program Coordinator. I would say the work is like three “buckets,” though they aren’t really buckets because they all kind of work together. The three categories are advocate support — supporting our wonderful student volunteers to do both the direct service work that they do and the administrative back end support they do to make CEF run; community partnerships — being out in the community and talking to other partners out in the area and getting CEF’s name out there and figuring out how we can best work together to support our members; and then the third category is program development — putting the previous two things together and thinking about, what do our programs need to be, where do they need to be to best support our members. How do we improve them? How do we grow them?

How has your position evolved since you first started?

I would say that the biggest difference about my position is that I really don’t support students as much anymore. The reason is that they’re all supporting themselves, they’re all supporting each other. And, they have grown tremendously our capacity for leadership and the structure where people have their purview of responsibility and decision-making, then take it and run with it. So, I kind of find myself sitting back and watching a lot more, which is really awesome.

What are some challenges you faced while working for CEF?

The biggest challenges are probably moments of helplessness. We all live within these systems and we are subject to the faults and failures of these systems; so, despite people’s incredible resilience and resourcefulness and creativity, sometimes you just bump up against the system and there’s not much you can do about it. Whether it’s lack of affordable housing or the way our criminal justice system works or something else…just moments where you are just one person and no matter how amazing you are as a person, you are just one little person in this giant system and that can feel very helpless and really hard.

What is your most memorable moment with CEF?

My most memorable moment with CEF is the first time we had “House Course,” which is our Duke for-credit, semester-long, academic course that is our training for all of our advocates in Durham. That was fall 2014, and it was the end of the semester and we were doing reflections, so everyone was going around talking about some high or low that they had or a memorable moment during the semester, working with a member, or during Office Hours. And, I felt like I heard 30 times what had happened for me, and I was watching it happen for 30 other member-advocate pairs. That was just astounding and so awesome, and I almost cried — I didn’t cry, but I almost cried — because I think the coming together of two people and the magic that can happen there where you learn about yourself and you learn about somebody else’s story and where you help each other in different ways is really beautiful. And I will never forget that moment.

How has CEF inspired you? Either a member, advocate, peer, co-worker, etc.

This is a hard one because there’s a lot you could say. There’s two things I would say. I’m inspired by people’s enormous capacity for growth: just watching someone be over here, and then a semester later, or a year later, or even a few weeks later be totally over there, and just have changed fundamental parts of themselves. And I think the second thing that really ties into that is people’s commitment to wanting to learn and grow continuously, and to always evolve and not be complacent about where you are. I’ve seen that in our members, our advocates, staff around me — that has definitely been really inspirational.

What’s next for you?

I’ll be going to Georgetown School of Medicine in August. Actually, my first day of classes is August 10th. I’ll be going into medicine, and I hope to practice for some of my time and spend the rest of my time leveraging the direct physician caretaker perspective to work on more of a systems level.

I don’t know if that will mean working for a non-profit, or working in medical academia, or working as medical director of a state health department, or something like that. I’m not sure yet, but I look forward to it whatever it is. And, one thing that CEF has taught me is that life can change dramatically in a very short amount of time; so, that’s my answer for now, but who knows?

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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