We got a chance to sit down with Sarah Cohn, CEF’s first AmeriCorps VISTA, to talk about the growth of her involvement and where she is now. We’re incredibly happy and lucky to have her, as she’s been an amazing asset to the CEF family!
How did you get involved with CEF, how did it all begin?
It all began when I was studying abroad actually, which doesn’t sound like it makes much sense. I got an email on the Spanish Minor listserv about doing CEF Latino and responded to it, planning to get involved with that once I got back. I met Linda over that summer and then I started doing CEF Latino business classes that summer and continued doing them that fall. Then I saw how cool the rest of CEF was and wanted to get involved in the bigger picture.
How would you describe your time with CEF while still an undergrad? How did your involvement develop?
At first I was just doing CEF Latino– at that point CEF Latino was not very connected to the rest of CEF and so I mainly just went to the small business classes and went to CEF Latino meetings every week. I started meeting with a member Sonya during business classes and that was pretty much it- it was something I was involved in, but wasn’t spending a lot of time on it.
Linda asked me to apply for an open admin position as CEF Latino Co-Coordinator, because she was working a fulltime job at that point, had graduated, and was very overstretched. I started getting a lot more involved when I started coming to admin meetings, which I previously didn’t know existed and [began] learning about the rest of CEF.
Clearly you’ve had a good time with CEF since you’ve decided to continue your work after graduation. What motivated you to work for CEF full time and were there any hesitancies?
Last year, my senior year, was the first time I started spending a lot of time in the CEF office and I just really liked it. I wasn’t that fearful working full time for CEF, because I know it was something I love doing… spending time in the office, working with Members, and working with other people in CEF.
I really wasn’t that worried about it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation. For a long time I did not want to stick around and anyone who knew me last year knows that I preached a lot about leaving Chapel Hill. It kind of dawned on me one time that I could do the AmeriCorps position with CEF and it was just a great opportunity
Did someone bring up the possibility of working for CEF?
People did– I remember people joking about it. I was one of the few people graduating that did not have plans. They told me I should do it and I literally laughed in their faces the first couple time, saying, “No, no I’m leaving.” I don’t know what happened it was seriously one day I was like “Wait I could do this!” It went from being a joke to a possibility, then reality.
What is your position within CEF?
My position is Member-Advocate Coordinator, and that means working to support Members and Advocates and their relationships. There are two other student volunteers who are also Member-Advocate Coordinators and the three of us work together to pair members and advocates and follow up with those relationships and make sure they’re going well. My job is to spend a lot more time in the office and keep an eye out for possible pairings, and also just provide structure and support to teams and everything that involves Advocates.
What are some goals you have for the year?
Technically I have a VISTA Assignment Description that lists the goals that I have to accomplish this year, which they call a VAD. So my main goal for CEF is to accomplish everything on my VAD. A big part of that is redefining the Advocate program, especially in terms of training and support for advocates. So, one of my main goals right now is to create a better training for Advocates, and throughout all of that make what I’m doing sustainable for the next year. One of the main goals of VISTAs anyway is to build capacity, and make it so that they’re not needed within a couple years.
I definitely want to develop myself professionally, just because this is my first full time job. Just working on skills that are necessary for lots of jobs like speaking, grant writing, and things like that.
Do you have a favorite CEF moment(s)?
One thing I love the most about CEF is that a lot of things that you would expect to be awkward aren’t awkward. So, working with people that are older than you, that have a lot more experience than you, and offering them financial advice, you’d expect these interactions to be awkward and sometimes offensive, but 99% of the time it’s not. Members are really open too since they came to CEF for advice like that, so I’m always impressed with Members.
I don’t know if there is one particular moment- most of the things that I’m thinking about are when Members find jobs or something exciting happens for a Member and everyone in the office is really excited. It’s an accomplishment for everyone and people are so genuinely happy for the person, like when people meet savings goals and that’s cause for celebration.