DukeEngage provides Duke undergraduate students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in a community over the summer via service based work. DukeEngage Durham takes place in Durham, NC and its sister city in Durham, UK. Participants in this sister cities program volunteer at various non-profits that focus on economic development in the community.
Christine Costello was one of three DukeEngage students placed with CEF this summer. She recently published a post on the DukeEngage blog that we wanted to share with the CEF community… See below for the full article!
“Buzz Word: Advocacy”
By: Christine Costello
At the Community Empowerment Fund, my official job title is “advocate”. I even have a business card that says it (note to self, find business card). What this title means to me evolves as I spend more and more time with CEF. When I first looked at the title “advocate,” I sensed a daunting level of responsibility. I still feel this responsibility, and I think that it’s important. It makes me accountable towards the members that CEF works with. However, in April when I began getting to know CEF and what they did, I was pretty intimidated by that responsibility. I could not understand how a group of students could do the kind of work that CEF does. CEF-ers sit down with low-income individuals in Durham and Chapel Hill to work on financial literacy, job applications, budgeting, and housing. The members that CEF works with have real life problems in these areas. They have endured the blow of Durham’s economic issues. I became keenly aware of my lack of years and experience.
I expressed this concern to a speaker that CEF brought in for our job orientation. His name is Mike Wood, and he is a member, alumnus, and mentor in CEF. During his time with us at orientation, Mike agreed that I might be unable to express true empathy (note: not sympathy) towards members due to a lack of shared experiences. He disagreed, however, that I could not take on the responsibility of advocacy. And without even knowing the name “DukeEngage,” he stated that in order to be successful in CEF all I needed to do was to be engaged and to mindfully encourage the engagement of others. In that moment, as he has been for so many others, Mike was my advocate.
I have several advocates at CEF. Janet Xiao, my supervisor (though I think she would dislike this name) at CEF Durham advocates for me on a daily basis. Without micromanaging, Janet gives me the tools and encouragement to complete independent projects. One of them has been setting up a partnership between CEF and the Durham Crisis Response Center, something close to my heart.
Most of my advocates at CEF are the CEF members themselves. Just yesterday I sat down with a member at Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization. He introduced himself and told me that he would like help starting up a side business of hair styling. I blinked at him, not knowing the first thing about starting a business and really just afraid of messing up this very real, very big step towards financial independence. After a suggestion from Janet and encouragement from the member, we were well on the way to setting up his business plan, making business cards, and working out a marketing strategy. We were all advocating for each other, and I don’t think I’ve ever left a day of work with such positive feelings. I know that it can be cliché and somewhat philosophically complicated to say that you get more out of civic engagement than you put in, so I won’t. But I can’t help but think it.