CEF partnership with Duke University Office of Durham & Regional Affairs Featured in Duke Today!

CEF Durham Program Coordinator meets with Gary, our Opportunity Circles Leader, to plan class sessions

CEF Durham Program Coordinator meets with Gary, our Opportunity Circles Leader, to plan class sessions

Exciting partnership news! CEF is honored to announce a greater partnership with the Duke University Office of Durham and Regional Affairs to expand our programs and services in Durham.

See Duke Today and Durham Magazine article highlighting the partnership!



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A Series of Snapshots and Non Sequiturs All Relating to my Eight Weeks Spent at CEF


“Are you ready?”

“No.” I gave my brother a quick hug before walking past the sign labeled, “only ticketed passengers beyond this point” in big, black letters at the Indianapolis Airport. About twenty feet later I looked back to see he had already gone, suddenly realizing for at least the next five hours I would be utterly alone, surrounded only by traveling wanderers like myself. Thinking about the summer ahead, I felt entirely unprepared walking through security, and in fact, I was.

Skip forward one week and I am sitting on my bed, sobbing because of the mistreatment of one of my members. And it wasn’t one of those quiet, beautiful images of a girl crying, her head held high with dignified tears of a broken heart. No, it was an ugly cry, sobbing in the presence of injustice, with red, puffy eyes, gasping for breath, snot coming out of your nose, convulsively sobbing because you can’t protect people from pain and you feel utterly powerless.

Two days later, I went to church for the first time in four years.

Compassion hurts. I have never dealt with anything more difficult than the compassion my soul felt this summer. From a young age, I was taught to help people whenever possible, but to be wary of the evil of the world and to protect myself, which I mainly did by sealing my heart off from the outside. CEF challenges that. As a full-time advocate, it asked for more than my help. It asked that I put myself in situations I’ve never been in, to feel emotions I’ve heard about, but never truly felt, and to solve problems I’ve never faced before. In short, it asked for honest and unfettered compassion for others and it hurt more than I could imagine. It required me to be emotionally raw and available to people in order to build trust and friendship, yet to be empty enough to maintain productive value in the face of some of the world’s prettiest and ugliest moments in order to accomplish the goals set in front of me and to be helpful to others. It’s a balance I still haven’t quite managed to strike.

Two weeks later, I received a phone call in the office from a member who wanted to thank me specifically for helping him find a job after eight months of being unemployed. I was overjoyed.

Community Empowerment Fund is the first organization I’ve worked with that I actually, truly believe is changing the world and making progress towards eradicating poverty. I saw it happen every day.

A few days later a friend rushed in to tell me good news about a person we had been working with and gave me a huge, spontaneous hug. For the first time, I felt like an established and contributing member of the CEF community. Later that week, I went to lunch with a member and friend, knowing I had been accepted as part of her individual community as well.

I knew I would grow this summer. That’s what everyone told me when I shared my summer plans; that’s why I wanted to come down here in the first place. Growth was a fact. Even so, it took me by surprise. Because I haven’t grown up. I haven’t grown out. I don’t feel more mature or more competent. If anything, I am more aware of the fact that there’s a whole lot out there in the world that I don’t understand, but am hungry to experience. Still, I grew.

I grew in. I grew through. I wove myself into the fabric of CEF. I grew, or rather am still growing, independently of my home, separately from my former situations. I can feel myself changing from, “Katelyn, the Lend for America Intern” to “Katelyn”, no qualifier needed. The whole time I thought I was absorbing my surroundings, then one day I woke up, realizing my surroundings had absorbed me. And it is the most beautiful feeling in the world.

The next week a new member I was working with stormed out of a meeting after only twenty minutes because the system was different than she expected and I couldn’t help her as quickly as she wanted. I sat there stunned and guilty, helpless in the face of her adversity.

CEF has taught me that humans are not easily broken. In fact, they’re remarkably resilient and adaptable. It takes quite a lot to break the human spirit. The same cannot be said about life; life is so very fragile. It can be twisted and manipulated by outside pressures and by the people living it. Year after year of a burned life can diminish the human form to pain and reduce the human spirit to anxiety and instinct. But CEF has shown me it doesn’t take much to elevate the human spirit. A kind word, attentiveness, willingness to help. An infusion of optimism. It brings people back to the present moment. The real trouble lies in improving quality of life. I don’t yet know what to make of that, aside from the very obvious conclusion that people deserve your kindness and help whenever you are able (which is always) and whenever they are willing (which, unfortunately, isn’t).

Ten days later, someone I had been working with all summer told me she trusted me and I couldn’t understand why.

CEF pushed me to be ready for any and all situations- ordinary, bizarre, and brilliant alike.

And now I’m approaching my last week here at CEF, having my heart broken multiple times (in a good way) by more than one person who has told me I need to transfer to UNC and to relocate to Chapel Hill so I can stay with CEF longer. Instead, I find myself saying goodbye to my friends, people who I have come to love and admire more fervently than I thought possible in eight short weeks. I find myself in the difficult situation of having roots grown in two completely different parts of the country, and being thankful, so very thankful, to have had experienced something wonderful enough to make leaving this hard.

This isn’t a “goodbye”, Chapel Hill. It’s a “see you later”.

Until next time,

With love,


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Interview with Doug and Katelyn


Since mid June, CEF has been brightened by the eager spirits and tireless efforts of Doug Chan and Katelyn McCarthy, our Lend for America (LFA) Fellows. Both jumped right into CEF. If this were the Summer Olympics, they would have received top scores for their seamless dives into the program. Summer intern Lucy Manning sat down with Doug and Katelyn over a meal of Cosmic Cantina to talk about first impressions, memorable experiences, why they are here, and what they have learned in their time as Lend for America Fellows.

To start, Doug and Katelyn are here through an organization called Lend for America, a group that supports students who are starting their own campus microfinance institutions (Campus MFIs). [Quick term breakdown: An MFI is any group that provides financial services on a small scale. A campus MFI is an MFI run and/or started by students]. The fellowship gives them a stipend to participate in the operations of one of three MFIs (CEF being one), and to absorb and learn what it takes to be successful in this sector. As Doug said, “Part of the LFA Fellowship is learning from the very best, which is CEF.” So for those of you who didn’t know, CEF is a pretty big deal: one of the best and most successful organizations of its kind. People from outside of Chapel Hill and Durham have heard about us. Doug knew about us his senior year of high school! In fact, he almost went to UNC for the opportunity to work with CEF.

Both were shocked by the emotional strength required for work at CEF. They had very wise insights on the balance between emotional attachment and productivity.

Katelyn McCarthy will be a sophomore at Indiana University, majoring in Economic Consulting and Sustainable Practice, and is part of a budding MFI called Hoosier Social Impact Fund. She chose CEF to go out on a limb, travel to the distant land of North Carolina, and experience a culture different than the one in which she was raised. Despite any differences between the Midwest and the South, Katelyn sees universal truths she has learned here that can be applied back home. She was most struck by the strong bonds between Members and Advocates, and how quickly these bonds can be formed. Katelyn recognized early on that the relationships formed were more than client relationships. When asked what elements of CEF she will take home to HSIF, Katelyn mentioned the organizational culture, and the particular terminology (member, advocate, team leader, etc.) that creates an inclusive environment, fuels volunteers’ passion, and motivates them to keep coming back.

Doug Chan will be a third-year (junior) at the University of Virginia, and is studying Finance and Economics. Through a social entrepreneurship class, Doug and two others created Community Honor Fund, which is focused on providing financial services to UVA employees. Doug is particularly passionate about solving the problem of predatory payday loans, and hopes to offer a better alternative. Doug pointed out a great aspect of CEF in our conversation about what he will take back to UVA and Community Honor Fund: he heralded the focus on the client, and has learned that the outcomes that are most important to the client should also be the most important and central to the organization. In addition, he noted the relevance of an organization being the best at what it does. As he said, if someone else does what we want to do better than we do, then we ought to be giving our money to support them.

Thank you Doug and Katelyn for everything you have done and will continue to do with the rest of your time at CEF! We wish you all the best in your endeavors!

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Job Partners


A reflection on CEF’s Job Partners program, by Priya Sreenivasan

This summer, I’ve had the chance to work very closely with the employment side of CEF, which includes Job Partners! Throughout the summer, Doug, Hannah and I have been contacting employers in the local Chapel Hill area to see if they would be willing to sign on and be a partner employer. By joining as a partner employer, businesses have the opportunity hire qualified, work-ready candidates who have graduated from CEF’s rigorous employment program. Through persistent outreach, we’ve recruited several amazing new area employers to bring our list of Job Partners Employers to include:

– Elmo’s Diner

– Carolina Coffee Shop

– Lime Fresh

– Top This Burger

– Carol Woods Retirement Community

– Carolina Brewery

– The Franklin Hotel

– Fosters Market

– Bagels on the Hill

– Ben and Jerry’s

– Right at Home

– UNC-Chapel Hill Temporary Services

– PTA Thrift Shop

We are so excited by the community investment these employers are making by signing up as Job Partner Employers, and we hope others will follow their lead. Doug and Hannah have been hard at work contacting potential employers, and I know we all agree that it’s all worth it when someone gets a great job they love with a Job Partner employer. I’m excited to see the program grow this upcoming year, and I know with CEF behind it, it’s going to turn out some great results!

Interested in becoming a partner employer or know of an employer who you recommend we contact? Let’s connect! Contact jobs@communityempowermentfund.org.

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Meet Gary Bradley, CEF Opportunity Circle Leader

Gary Bradley — CEF-Durham’s Opportunity Circles Leader, Phoenix House Graduate, and Social Activist:

**Many thanks to Gary Bradley for taking the time to share his story**
Written by Stephanie and Zoey from CEF-Durham.  

Gary is a character – he loves to talk and gives great motivational advice. Gary is CEF-Durham’s Opportunity Circles Leader, and he is adamant about making it an open discussion to give everyone the opportunity to bring what they have to the table. As he facilitates the class, Gary never hesitates to bring in his own life experiences to make the concepts more relevant to everyday life. The summer interns discovered that Gary is a never-ending story book!

One Monday before Durham’s Beyù Caffè office hours, Gary shared his story with advocates Stephanie, Zoey, and Jennifer. This is what he shared with us.

From New York to Durham

Gary is a native New Yorker, hailing from Harlem and South Jamaica Queens. About 14 years ago, he visited his American Indian cousins (his father is American Indian) at a reservation in North Carolina, and he dropped by Durham and liked it. He paints it as a place with a much slower pace but still maintains a “city-twang” to it. He moved two years later and has been living in Durham ever since.

Connection to CEF

At the Phoenix House, a recovery home that was managed by Housing for New Hope, Gary recalls how he used to see these kids from Duke University come in every Wednesday through CEF. His first impression towards the advocates was distrustful, as he describes, “why are they coming from Duke to talk to us – why are you all being so nice to us?” He felt confused and needed to know. Eventually, the advocates, especially Will, won his trust, as they showed loyalty through their work with him.

Gary started cooking every time the advocates came to the Phoenix House, and they noticed that he was very good at it. He had a talent for cooking. So, Gary and CEF advocates started applying for restaurant positions. That same skill landed him a job in Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, where he still currently works. It’s hard work, but he loves his job. He tells us how he has a knack for meeting good people- it’s a magic. Along with that, he found another knack – a gift for mentoring. Gary discovered his love for motivational speaking, and feels like his true strength is helping people.

Gary’s Goals

Gary strives to be a counselor, and is considering working for an organization or even starting his own program to mentor others. He wants to use his experience from the Phoenix House to create a similar space. Gary says that CEF has given him the opportunity to strive for equality, by the way he is able to give his “brothers and sisters an opportunity to step up, to get a job, to get resources for their kids.” He calls the Opportunity Circles his baby, as it is dear to his heart to see people get the opportunity to do something for themselves.

CEF appreciates what Gary brings to the CEF community. He is creative, and through his creativity he is able to inspire those around him to achieve their sense of self and their goals.

Gary’s beautiful reflection continues! Click here to read the full article!

Hobbies and Connections

With Others After learning about Gary’s life story. Stephanie, Zoey, and Jennifer decided to steer the conversation towards a lighter topic- Gary’s favorite hobbies and past times. This is what he shared with them: “I like to draw, play b-ball, and build model cars and ships. I draw from scratch. We used to build our own cars as kids, and race them. I didn’t draw anything special, just ideas that popped up in my head. I drew a hand coming out of space, making the world. I drew trees, splitting them up and colored it red, white, blue, orange, with stripes, and I put it on an island on a rock. I was feeling some kind of way, and the colors represented all kinds of people living as one, being part of that tree. I don’t know what made me draw it- some days I just get in the mood to do something. One time I drew a leaf, and I had everyone I knew sign it. All my friends from every borough signed it-someone still has it hanging in their house. I don’t know what it meant. I just did it.”


Gary’s advice for CEF

At the end of our conversation, Gary gave a great word of advice to CEF. He appreciates that CEF is driven by a group of young folks who are trying to help other people find resources. He hopes that CEF can find a way to reach out and get more people under the CEF umbrella, and that means getting the word out a little more. Gary mentions that this could be helpful for the organizations and people CEF reaches out to, and to CEF as well. CEF appreciates what Gary brings to the CEF community. He is creative, and through his creativity he is able to inspire those around him to achieve their sense of self and their goals.




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June 28, 2014: Financial Independence Day


Independence was celebrated a week early in Chapel Hill, but not the celebration that brings about a surge of American patriotism, the annual spike in fireworks sales, and an overwhelming presence of red, white and blue. On June 28th in HOPE Gardens, the Community Empowerment Fund celebrated Financial Independence Day, a spirited gathering to commend our members and all of their accomplishments in the past year.

Members and Advocates alike came out to the gardens to enjoy fellowship, games, and a mouth-watering spread of food. The event, planned perfectly by Chapel Hill advocate Madeline Ives, kicked off with a reading of the Declaration of Financial Independence by Nikkima Santos. Her powerful voice declared and demanded equality and freedom, reminding us all of what CEF values and fights for. The afternoon was hot, but that did not keep attendees of all ages from participating in games of Frisbee and corn hole. Giftcard prizes were raffled to members, and several attendees, both willingly and encouraged by friends, showcased their talents of reciting Shakespeare and poetry, playing instruments, and singing.

Hot dogs and the works were provided by Chapel Hill mainstay, Sutton’s. Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe generously contributed fantastic side dishes. Another Franklin Street favorite, Mediterranean Deli, spiced the picnic up with hummus, pita bread and rice. Others brought homemade sides to add to the array of options. A variety of homemade pies from HOPE Gardens and a cookie cake decorated like an American flag ended the feast on a sweet note.

It was an afternoon filled with friends, family and laughter: a time to relax and be together, which painted a beautiful picture of the community CEF has fostered since opening its doors.

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#15 – Summer Staff, Founder’s Circle, our 2013 Annual Report, etc


Check out our July  2014 Newsletter

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Written by: Omar Kashef, Housing Specialist Intern with CEF-Chapel Hill

On June 2, 2014 CEF Advocates showed up in full force at Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh for Moral Monday focused on Environmental and Health Justice. Moral Monday, organized by the NC NAACP, is a large coalition movement of organizations, nonprofits, and North Carolinians that are discontent with the repressive policies enacted by NC’s largely conservative General Assembly. NC’s Governor Pat McCrory, his administration, and much of the General Assembly have worked tirelessly to silence Moral Monday protesters by recently enacting various laws with vague definitions of “imminent disturbance.” This gag order allows police to arrest those singing or chanting that would interfere with “normal conversation levels” in the legislative building[1]. However, these laws have not perturbed many CEF Advocates from attending the Moral Monday protests through a shortened legislative session.

One running hashtag that popped up amongst many of our signs is #GTHDE, or Go To Hell Duke Energy. Governor McCrory worked for Duke Energy for over 25 years and has been under scrutiny regarding his lenient attitude towards a coal ash spill from a Duke Energy plant. Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal and is often dumped into specific sites. There are over 30 of these sites in NC. The Duke Energy pipe running underneath the Dan River ruptured on February 2nd, leading to the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history.[2] However, a recent bill that is being pushed through by the NC Senate would require Duke Energy to remove all of their coal ash dumping sites by 2029. The costs associated with removing the coal ash ponds cannot be transferred to consumers via increased rates. Duke Energy is allowed to petition for rate increases if deemed necessary after a moratorium on rate increases is ceased in 2015.[3] Considering that households making less than $50,000 spend 21 percent of their income on energy bills as opposed to households making more than $50,000 spending only 9 percent of households, rate increases disproportionally affect lower income communities.[4] The bill running through the NC Senate will hopefully ensure that costs related to removing coal ash dumps are not passed on to Duke Energy’s customers!

Perfectly stated by D.J. Gerken, lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, “Duke [Energy] has profited from doing the cheapest thing for decades, and it’s now time for them to pay the bill.”[5] Until these spills, Duke Energy would have continued to pollute NC neighborhoods via potential groundwater contamination from these coal ash dump sites. Moreover, these dump sites tend to be located near low income neighborhoods with many being neighborhoods with predominantly Black and other minority members.[6] While the NC Senate is headed in the right direction, Duke Energy may continue to try and wiggle their way out of these demands. So for the meantime…#GTHDE!


[1] Hall, Mike. Hey, North Carolina, Our Freedoms Were Built Through ‘Imminent Disturbance’ (2014)

[2] WUNC. The Latest News on The Coal Ash Spill in Eden, NC (2013)

[3] WUNC. State Senate Files Coal Ash Regulation Bill (2014)

[4] Southern Studies. Institute Index: A call for racial justice in energy policy (2013)

[5] Murawski, John. Duke Energy’s $1 billion cleanup: Who would pay?

[6] Wireback, Taft. Coal ash could leak from landfills, environmentalists warn (2014)

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From Koozies to Cars

Dawn celebrates her new car!

Dawn celebrates her new car!

By: Jill McMahon, CEF Advocate and Finance Specialist Intern

It was an exciting Monday morning at CEF when we found out that one of our members Dawn was going to get a car! Thanks to the man behind the sign (Jim Kitchen) Dawn received a Chevy Malibu to call her own. Dawn is the second recipient of a campaign led by Prof. Jim Kitchen’s class at the UNC Business School. In May, Prof. Kitchen’s class presented a car to our member Loretha, who needed reliable transportation for her job as a CNA. Through Kitchen’s Trade-for-Help program, she was able to receive a Lincoln Town Car.

As we rolled up to Carol Woods where Dawn worked and anxiously waited to surprise her, Mr. Kitchen explained how he was able to get the cars for CEF members. In addition to being an entrepreneur and an active community member, Jim is also a professor in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. His class partook in their own Trade-Up Project, an idea based around bartering objects for other objects of increasingly greater value. Each student began with a koozie, with a mission to keep trading “up” to gain something more substantial. Eventually (and unbelievably), 76 koozies turned into 2 cars.

This will have a huge impact on Dawn’s daily life, as she will now be able to consistently get to work on time and to her medical appointments. As a new advocate to CEF, seeing Dawn receive this car was something really special. As we all gathered to share that moment with Dawn, I realized how important community relationships are and how these different relationships and resources can combine into something powerful. Huge thanks to Jim Kitchen and his students for making that moment possible!


If you’d like to read more about Dawn, Loretha, and Jim’s stories, see the following links:




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Meet the Staff: Durham Edition

Some of our interns at a staff meeting

Some of our interns at a staff meeting

If you’ve been up to CEF recently, you may have noticed several new regulars in the office. In late May, the Community Empowerment Fund of both Chapel Hill and Durham gained several eager and well-qualified summer interns!

What do these interns do you may ask? By day (aka office hours), we work as Advocates: meeting with members, confirming appointments, and doing whatever the lovely admin staff needs doing around the office. We also have been bestowed with special administrative powers on Salesforce.

After our office hours, the transformation occurs. We change into our nylon super suits, and tap into our stores of reserve energy, unique powers and specialties. We tackle projects and special tasks in various areas of CEF in order to improve our operations and services to the people of Chapel Hill and Durham.

I tracked these interns down and managed to get a quick word with each about what they are doing here this summer. So without further ado, I present…

The 2014 Summer Interns of the Community Empowerment Fund in Durham

Stephanie Colorado, Marketing and Communications Intern:

Stephanie finds herself smack dab in the middle of her college career as a rising junior at Duke, working towards majors in both Public Policy and Psychology.

What brought you to CEF?

I started working with CEF September of last year. I was attracted by the opportunity to work one-on-one with community members (unlike my previous volunteering experiences that were more impersonal), and the CEF advocates seemed like awesome people to be around with!

What is your Special Mission this summer?

I am focusing on making CEF flyers that make it easier to explain CEF to members and advocates, and a member folder. I am also updating the Food folder in the advocate book to bring it up to date and see food pantry and hot meals that are available for free in the Durham community.

Liaowang “Zoey” Zou, Development Intern:

Zoey will be a sophomore at Duke, pursuing degrees in Public Policy and Mathematics.

How did you become involved with CEF?

I am involved with Duke Engage this summer. During the site selection process, I came across CEF and I found this organization fascinating. Moreover, I have heard about CEF while I am at Duke and I always wanted to get involved. Hence, this summer is a great start for me to be introduced to CEF.

What is your Special Mission this summer?

I will join the other interns to Urban Ministries and Beyu Caffe for financial office hour. I am also doing some resource development, and summer projects including ethnography this summer. I hope I can have a basic understanding of how CEF function and establish a deeper relationship with members. Hopefully, I will continue working with CEF after school starts.

Shannon Elliott, Mental Health Intern and Team Leader:

Shannon chooses not to partake in our university rivalry, and comes to us all the way from Davidson College, where she will be a junior majoring in Psychology.

How did you hear about CEF?

I heard about the awesome work CEF was doing in Chapel Hill and Durham through a family friend and wanted to help make a difference in my home community.

What is your Special Mission this summer?

As a Durham Intern, I serve as Team Leader for Beyu Cafe Open Office Hours. I am planning on focusing my work this summer on furthering our knowledge of mental illnesses and our connections in Durham to mental health resources.

Jennifer Sunmonu, Finance and Savings and Development Intern:

Jennifer is a member of Duke University’s class of 2015, making her a rising senior.

What brought you to CEF?

Duke Engage brought me to CEF.

What is your Special Mission this summer?

This summer I am working on resource development, particularly on developing CEF’s resources for Finance and Savings. I am also helping out the other interns at both sites on the Housing Task Force.

Rhondu Smithwick, Development Intern, Laptop Class Leader, and Team Member at Urban Ministries and Alliance Architecture:

Rhondu is a rising junior at Duke University, majoring in Statistical Science.

How did you hear about CEF?

Quinn Holmquist was always talking about [CEF].

What is your Special Mission this summer?

Consolidating information, creating a comprehensive curriculum for laptop use, and building a connection with the staff at our partner sites.

Karen Li, Advocate and Genesis Home Team Leader:

Karen is a rising sophomore at Duke University.

How did you become involved with CEF?

I heard about CEF during the school year and thought it would be cool to get involved!

What is your Special Mission this summer?

This summer I have been working on various projects involving Genesis Home office hours, creating member folders with Stephanie, and updating resources in the Durham Advocate Book.

Juliana Posen, Healthcare Resource Coordinator and Advocate:

Juliana will be a sophomore at Duke University, and is majoring in Statistics.

How did you hear about CEF?

I was drawn to CEF because of all of the advocates’ passion for helping the Durham community. It really shines through in everything they do.

What is your Special Mission this summer?

My projects for the summer with CEF include compiling resources in Durham for substance abuse, primary care options, and specialized healthcare resources for low-income families. I have also been working on a project to bring free bus passes to members of the Durham CEF division.


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