“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.”