We got a chance to hear from Alex Biggers, our AmeriCorps VISTA (along with Sarah), to discuss her start with CEF and where she is now. We can’t express how lucky we are to have her!
How did you get involved with CEF, how did it all begin?
I originally got involved with HOPE first my sophomore year, through Talking Sidewalks at Homestart Women and Children’s shelter. That really shaped my involvement in CEF, I think, because I got to know the women staying there at the time and other students working with CEF who later helped me process and understand my experiences in CEF. Also, it was probably one of the most fun, fulfilling experiences I’ve had.
How would you describe your time with CEF while still an undergrad? How did your involvement develop?
When I joined, we were just meeting out of the back of the RBC Bank office (now PNC) and had a lot fewer members and advocates (in fact, we were all Borrowers, Savers, Savings Officers, and Loan Officers!).
I joined the Outreach committee pretty soon after and also began coming to Opportunity Classes (then Savings Circles–so many name changes!). In that way, my involvement was always pretty tied to getting to know new people –something I was really uncomfortable doing before CEF. But now most people know I love bugging people all day long.
I really loved Opportunity Class because I really enjoy learning and discussion (well, okay, I love talking…) and got to hang out for two hours a week with people who I really looked up to and we were willing to both share with and listen to me. I would have never taken a leadership role, though, if it hadn’t been for Maggie and others poking me to get more involved and spending countless hours sitting with me and slowly working through things.
After that initial year, I worked for CEF two summers and mostly worked with the Savings committee in an admin role during the year. Through that role, I learned a lot more about asset-building and became really interested in the broader picture of asset-building and housing policy in the United States…and a lot less interested in my actual schoolwork. But, thankfully, there were some interesting classes where I got a chance to study things that applied to my experiences with CEF.
What motivated you to work for CEF full time?
People keep asking me this, and I really don’t have much of a satisfactory answer because, to me, once I knew that it was a possibility, it was a no-brainer. A lot of friends wanted to get away after graduating in May, and I definitely understand that, but for me, if…
1. I have such a wonderful, supportive community here
2. I have a job that pays me to spend time with people I love and challenges me every day
3. I get to learn and read about things I’m interested in
4. I can hopefully use my experiences with CEF to help it improve
…why would I go anywhere else? I really feel (and am) incredibly lucky to be able to work here!
What is your position within CEF?
I’m the Savings Program Coordinator, which basically means I work on anything related to CEF’s financial services, financial coaching, and financial education.
What does that mean?
I work with the Savings Services team in Chapel Hill who work to improve our systems for savings, savings trainings for advocates, and creating fun ways to celebrate and encourage saving.
I work with the Financial Education teams in Chapel Hill and Durham to troubleshoot and collaborate on Opportunity Class (and I still get to go to class on Sundays!).
I go to finance office hours at Urban Ministries in Durham every week and am learning a lot about ways to improve the ways we partner with other organizations and the way we do financial coaching (also getting to meet so many new members and advocates in Durham!).
I have the great chance to work with Mark Smith this semester, who is interning with CEF through the School of Social Work. Mark has helped kickstart a long-time-coming effort to improve the way advocates and members prepare for, look for, and sustain permanent housing.
Do you have a favorite CEF moment(s)?
I have far, far too many but a few are: going to Sam’s car blessing, when Sam, Equashia, and Amanda came to my graduation party, making empanadas with Garrett, playing survival at Opportunity Class last Sunday (Beyonce was voted off the boat, sorry Paris!), singing all of our favorite Juan Luis Guerra songs with Arnaldo, hearing Amanda speak at her church, Loretha’s speech about CEF last year, Dorothy’s housewarming party, going to Jordan Lake with the Mumeens, and so many more!