Tag Archives | Advocate Stories

Meet Our 2019 Chapel Hill Interns!

Meet Serena.

Serena Singh

What brings you joy?

Advocating for what I believe in brings me so much joy. I have seen firsthand the power of activism, and every baby step towards tangible change is always so refreshing. Additionally, the people closest to me bring me more joy than anything. No matter what’s going on in my life, I know I can depend on a core few to stand in my corner.

What about CEF excites you the most?

The perspective I have gained on oppressive systems and the world as a whole definitely excites me the most. I learn so much every single day I’m in the CEF Office, and I am incredibly grateful for the advocates I’ve met, the members I’ve worked with, and other community individuals I’ve had the opportunity to have meaningful discussions with.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

One of the first meetings I ever had as a full advocate, I was asked to help a member write a paper for a class that was due at noon. It was 11 and we only had an hour, but together we cranked it out — MLA format and all! She was so appreciative and gave me the biggest hug. That was a fantastic way to begin my experience with CEF!

What brings you joy?

People and the little things around me bring me joy! I love seeing how people interact with each other and the world around them – I get joy from my everyday interactions with people, whether it’s talking with an old friend or sharing a moment with a stranger.

What about CEF excites you the most?

Everything! I love the philosophy at the heart of CEF – it’s so genuine and inclusive. I really love getting to know more people from the community. CEF is so exciting because I get to build relationships with really great people while also engaging with issues of injustice in a meaningful way.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

I ran into a member I had been working with every week a few semesters ago on the bus the other day! She had gotten a job that she’d been wanting for a long time! It made me so happy to catch up with her.

Meet Sophia.

Sophia Janken

Meet Joy.

Joy Stouffer

What brings you joy?

Running, cooking, reading books (especially realistic or historical fiction). Sitting on my porch drinking coffee.

What about CEF excites you the most?

I love that I can collaborate with a wide variety of people, from members to staff to other advocates, in order to convey that each and every one of us is important and should be heard.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

My freshman year I worked with a member who needed immediate housing. We had to call several shelters in the area and finally secured him one at a spot in Durham. This experience was meaningful to me because I realized that housing is definitely not a guarantee–each night in your own home is a gift.

What brings you joy?

Conversations that lead to meaningful connections bring me the most joy. There is so much to learn from the people around us and I could sit and listen to stories of lived experiences all day. It makes me happy when someone can trust me and I can trust them – creating a bond.

What about CEF excites you the most?

The members excite me the most because they come in with hope for a better quality of life and it’s exciting to be on the passenger seat helping them while they drive and take control of their life.

Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with CEF.

I was working with a member from Russia for about 2 hours and we ended up talking more about his time there and lessons he’s learned.

Meet Inaara.

Inaara Mohammed

Six Weeks at CEF



                                                                                           – By CEF Advocates Yasmine Miao & Emma Caudle  

By: Emma Caudle

The past six weeks at CEF have been an incredible learning experience and have given me a new outlook on the world that many members face.  Before this summer I had never stepped foot in a CEF office and only had the slightest idea of what it even was, however it did not take long for me to realize that CEF was much more than the typical nonprofit seeking to alleviate poverty and homelessness.  Perhaps the aspect of CEF that stuck out most to me was how committed advocates and staff were to be more than just teachers or mentors to the members, but rather friends and companions along the journey towards financial freedom.

Member meetings have been one of the highlights of my time at CEF this summer.  I have enjoyed building relationships with other members of the Durham community and have appreciated the experiences they have shared with me.  I have been able to work with members as they applied for jobs, created budgets, started saving, and so much more.  Although 6 weeks is too short of a time to see big changes I was able to see little ones week to week with many members. Moments as simple as a members enthusiasm for depositing money into their safe savings account or a member working diligently to figure out a new budgeting technique assured me that CEF was in fact helping members reach financial stability.

Aside from the more concrete ways I saw CEF make a difference in the lives of many members, it is evident to me how much CEF means on a more emotional level.  CEF is one of the first places many members go in times of crisis and advocates often become trusted confidants.  This was one of the most incredible parts of CEF to me because it showed me how successful an organization can be when it cares for an entire person rather than just aspects of their life.

I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to spend a part of my summer with CEF this year.  I learned more from the other advocates and staff as well as members than I ever could have expected and gained a newfound appreciation for the kind of work that CEF does.  CEF makes a great investment in members who do not always benefit from investments made by the community or government.  Therefore, the work CEF does is critical for the lives of so many in the Durham and Chapel Hill communities.  Thank you CEF for all you do!

by: Yasmine Miao

Before I came to CEF, I was more anxious than excited.I had no idea what my daily routine would be like for the next six weeks. I had no idea what was expected of me. I simply felt like I was wandering into the known.

I had the vague impression that at CEF, I’d be helping people who are experiencing homelessness or poverty, but again, I had no idea as to how.

First day at CEF was the orientation. CEF rented a nice conference room at the American Tobacco Campus, and offered us a full-day “crash course” of CEF, which introduced CEF and its core programs, gave us detailed training on how to be a CEF advocate, and began planning some weekly projects.

I was a bit overwhelmed by all the information thrown to me, some of which I knew little of, such as the differences between banks and credit unions. As to the core programs, one of them would become the main part of our daily work- the “Member Advocates” program.

At the orientation, we were given some examples of what advocates do. In the past, advocates have helped members write a resume or a cover letter, apply for jobs, find housing, figure out future career path, deal with welfare programs, etc.

But after hearing all these examples, I was even more worried. I myself didn’t even know how to do some of those things. For example, if a member wants to attain a certain certificate, how should I distinguish among the dozens of ads of related training programs that would pop up at once on the Internet? How could I find the one that’s best for the member? I’ve never searched for housing in Durham, and so how could I find the best match for a member seeking help with housing? Thinking about all these, I was simply afraid that I wouldn’t have the extent of expertise that members tend to see in me as they walk into the office.

Now it’s been 6 weeks. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed working at CEF. Most of my worries proved to be unnecessary and it’s been a great experience of learning while helping members. It’s always been very rewarding to know that things that might’ve taken others much time and effort could now be done easily with my help. At non-profits like CEF, the accomplishments are always very real and tangible, in the sense that they could be seen directly.

CEF has also given me the chance to see issues I would’ve never thought about otherwise. I’ve been able to see the struggles people face, as well as how much they’re doing to improve their lives. It’s also been a great way to know Durham (outside Duke) in the most direct way.

Working at CEF, I’ve been given a lot of trust even on the first day of work. CEF is a great place where everyone feels useful and can actually contribute. I’ve been very lucky to co-work with a group of tightly knit and absolutely amazing people. CEF provides the friendliest environment to advocates as well as members, and I’ve received just as much help as I’ve been giving.

It’s crazy that my program here has come to an end and that I’m leaving this week. I’ll definitely miss everyone here!





Advocate Stories: Sophie and Ian

We just trained over 50 advocates and have been so impressed by them so far! They have been volunteering in the office, meeting with members, participating in team meetings and overall just being amazing at what they do.

For this blog post, I interviewed two new advocates who have been working with a CEF member for around two weeks. Here’s what they have to say about their experiences advocating thus far.

Thank you Ian and Sophie for your input and thanks to ALL of our new CEF advocates for your involvement and enthusiasm!

CEF Love,
Member Advocate Coordinator

Tell me a little about yourself! Year in school, what you’re studying, favorite past time and… your middle school AIM screen name 🙂

My name is Sophie Mohajerani, I’m currently a Sophomore here at Carolina and loving every second of it. My potential major is business and economics and I like to spend my free time involved with a variety of student organizations and volunteering. My favorite past time would have to be ice skating, I was a figure skater in elementary and middle school. My middle school AIM was TarheelBBlue, I grew up in a Carolina household so I’ve been a fan forever.

I’m a freshman music major studying classical piano. I enjoy hiking and fishing, indulging myself with the romantic travails of the literature of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and playing Frisbee/ t-ing the d/ seshing the mellow earth biscuit. I’ve also enjoyed the move from New Hampshire to North Carolina and the chance to share a different vernacular with my new North Carolinian friends.

What caught your eye about CEF? In other words, what drew you in to volunteer with us?


What caught my eye about CEF was the emphasis on forming relationships that are long lasting. I was looking for an organization that I could feel a part of and it seemed like it would be a great fit! I was hesitant at first because the tasks of handling someone’s future in my own hands is a bit daunting but knowing I would be trained and guided each step of the way made me feel at ease and excited about CEF.

I was interested in finding a way to work with the homeless and underemployed community in Chapel Hill, and when a friend told me about the interest meetings at the beginning of the year for HOPE Gardens and CEF I was eager to get involved. I also thought that getting some experience doing practical work with people might help me determine what I want to study in the next four years.

Have your initial impressions of CEF been changed since you started to volunteer? If so, in what way?


Yes, I had made assumptions about CEF members that I quickly experienced to not be true. I came into CEF assuming that members would be hopeless and have negative attitudes due to the hardships that they have had to experience. However, what I have discovered was completely the opposite, my current member is proactive and constantly being positive about his future with the realistic goal in mind that he can attain it over some time. This outlook on life and reaction to challenges that life brings was truly inspiring to me.


I initially thought the CEF was more of a microfinancing group, but learning about the advocate program was really what drew me in. Advocating struck me as a challenging but also very rewarding experience, and I saw it as a chance to try something I didn’t think I was capable of doing.

Tell me about how advocating is going (when you started, what you guys have been working on, etc.).


Advocating is definitely a team effort and I have really been enjoying it. I started last Thursday with my partner Ian and a more experienced advocate, Olivia. We worked on our member’s resume that needed to be updated as well as filled out two job applications for hotel restaurants in Chapel Hill. Our member is in search for a daytime job to have in addition to his nighttime job that he has. The experience overall was very rewarding, we all felt accomplished and our member seemed relieved that there were some jobs available. We also planned what is in store for this week which is to transfer his food stamps to Orange County and apply for the Obama cell phone.


I met my member during my first day in the office, about three weeks ago. He’d already been in a few times and filled out a resume with a CEF advocate, so I worked with Santi to work on a new member plan with him. Sophie and I have met with our member twice now, and we’ve been able to help him apply for a cell phone and a few jobs. He’s hoping to pick up a second job so he can save up to find his own place to live. His long-term goal is to become a Certified Nursing Assistant.

What has been the most challenging about advocating so far?


The most challenging part about advocating so far is trying to learn the multitude of resources available to advocates to help their members. I feel as though I am not familiar with governmental benefits that are available to members and I would like to know more so I can be of more help to members.


I’ve learned that filling out documents and applications is generally a tedious process, and determining how to give “yes or no” answers to questions that may require more nuanced responses can be frustrating. Mostly, I wish I knew more – at every meeting I usually generate a list of things I need to learn about, but I never find time to research them all.

What is your favorite part about advocating thus far?


My favorite part is honestly just listening to our member and hearing his stories and how his perspective of life is yet so bright although he has been through so much. I was told at the beginning of training for CEF that I would end up learning more from member than they learn from me. I believe this to be true and that is why I enjoy being a part of CEF.


The CEF vibes are definitely real. I love going to office hours, hanging out with the other advocates and members and working with Sophie and Anthony, and after our meetings on Thursdays I’m always stoked about everything else I do for the rest of the day.

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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