Community Empowerment Fund

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The Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) is an ambitious and innovative nonprofit that started as a student organization at UNC-Chapel Hill. CEF seeks to help homeless and near homeless individuals in Orange and Durham counties get out of poverty--and stay out.

CEF accomplishes this goal through active rehousing assistance, savings opportunities, financial education, workshops and classes, and access to a wide network of support services. But what really distinguishes CEF is its model: creating and fostering relationships that lead to personal, lasting change.

How CEF Works

Participants in CEF programs ("members") are matched with student "member advocates." Member advocates receive comprehensive training from CEF but it's the relationship they form with members that provides the accountability and support that promote member success.

CEF runs a number of programs, including:

  • Safe Savings Accounts: CEF helps clients open savings accounts and offers a matching program.
  • Financial Literacy: members set monthly savings benchmarks and work with their advocate to hone money-managing skills.
  • Opportunity Classes: weekly meetings offer a curriculum that covers a wide range of topics, from job searches to health.
  • Small Business Training: six week sessions cover the vital skills necessary to start or expand a small business. Trainings are free and offered in Spanish and English.
  • CEF Latino: CEF offers micro-loans, safe savings accounts and small business training in Spanish, as well as connections with Spanish-speaking member advocates.

CEF Growth and recognition

CEF started as micro-lending effort in 2009. However, it quickly shifted its focus to savings. Advocates found that members wanted to save money but were often locked out of traditional financial services. CEF partnered with a local bank and credit union to offer safe savings accounts, and advocates set goals and establish budgets with members.

CEF works with over 140 advocates and 350 members in Chapel Hill and Durham. As of spring 2014, members have saved over $205,000 and opened 233 savings account.

CEF is a national leader in the microfinance field that has worked across the country to set up similar organizations and share best practices. In early 2014 alone:

  • CEF and Urban Ministries of Durham received funding for a collaborative program to bring financial services into a service agency setting--one of 11 projects chosen nationally.
  • CEF received the 2014 Peace Prize from the NC Peace Corps Association for promoting cross-cultural understanding and a "helping others help themselves" approach.
  • CEF was a finalist for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce's Nonprofit of the Year award.

CEF has been written up by the Aspen Institute (PDF), the Huffington Post, and NBC News among others. The Poverty Center has been a proud supporter of CEF since its inception, and we're constantly inspired by its impact, and the creativity, commitment and energy of members and advocates alike.

UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106

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