The Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) is an ambitious and innovative nonprofit that started as a student organization at UNC-Chapel Hill. CEF seeks to provide financial stability to those who are homeless or who are at risk of homelessness in Chapel Hill and Durham.
CEF offers savings opportunities, workshops and classes, and access to a wide network of financial and support services. But what really distinguishes CEF is its model: students paired with members build the relationships that create personal, lasting change.
How CEF Works
CEF pairs each member with two student "member advocates." Member advocates have are thoroughly trained by CEF and offer a supportive, encouraging and mutual relationship designed to help advocates and members learn from each other and 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.
- Micro-loans: CEF trains volunteers to act as loan officers and mentors
for borrowers. Volunteers are paired with borrowers to guide them
through the process and connect them with other resources.
- 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 launched their pilot project in the summer of 2009 with five borrowers. Loan recipients used their loan to start a small business, purchase a cell phone, pay for public transportation to school, put down a housing deposit and pay for the first month of rent.
Since then, CEF has shifted its focus from loans to savings. They found that members preferred to accumulate savings and would use their savings in the place of loans. CEF has partnered with a local bank and credit union to offer safe, easy savings accounts, and they work with clients to set goals and establish budgets.
CEF works with over 140 advocates and 350 members in Chapel Hill and Durham. In March 2013, CEF savers together had saved over $100,000!
CEF is a national leader in the microfinance field that has worked with groups and individuals across the country to set up similar organizations. We're proud to support CEF!
CEF has been written up by the Aspen Institute, the Huffington Post, and NBC News among others.