Anne Yeung always loved her experience as a Duke student, but during her sophomore year, she began to feel something was missing.
“Being engaged in the community around me has always been important to me,” Yeung said. “But I hadn’t yet found an opportunity to practice that at Duke in a way that allowed me to build personal connections.”
Then she saw a flyer about the Community Empowerment Fund, a non-profit that trains college students to advocate for local clients — or Members — as they pursue their goals. Trained students — called Advocates — form one-on-one partnerships to help Members gain the employment, housing, savings and community needed to reach financial security. Sustained transitions out of poverty and homelessness grow from their work together.
“The flyer said CEF was relationship-based,” Yeung remembered. “That’s all I needed to know to sign up for the training.”
Fast forward to this past May, when in the space of about one week Yeung deferred her acceptance to the Georgetown University School of Medicine, seriously alarmed her parents, and “ambushed” Phail Wynn Jr., Duke’s vice president for Durham and Regional affairs, with a request for support and funding.
Yeung, by then a senior and a co-coordinator of the Durham program, knew she could contribute more to the CEF community if she made the move from volunteer to full-time staff member. But, despite strong local demand for an expanded Durham program, CEF wouldn’t have the funds for a full-time position there until 2015.
Wynn listened to Yeung’s pitch and wanted to learn more. Ultimately the Office of Durham and Regional Affairs found funding to support the position through a gift from Robert K. Steel, former chair of the Duke Board of Trustees and a Durham native. Wynn also provided office space in his department’s building at 700 West Main Street.
“CEF is an effective, student-driven organization that already has built great credibility in the Durham community,” Wynn said. “It was an easy decision to support Yeung’s vision to grow the program’s capacity and to make it a sustainable resource for Duke and Durham.”
CEF, which grew out of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Campus Y Homeless Outreach Poverty Eradication, launched in Chapel Hill in 2009 and expanded to Durham in 2011. The organization served about 400 Members in 2013 alone. That year, Advocates got 60 Members moved into permanent housing, helped 125 of them find stable employment, and overall helped Members build more than $90,000 in savings held in accounts at Self-Help Credit Union.
Local partners include Urban Ministries of Durham, Genesis Home, Durham Interfaith Hospitality Network, Self-Help Credit Union, Beyù Caffé and Alliance Architecture. Yeung’s first site as an Advocate was the Dove House, the women’s transitional home at Housing for New Hope.
“An hour into my first day volunteering at CEF, I had worked with a Member to fill out a job application and send out a resume,” she said. “I had that moment, as every Advocate does, where I realized, ‘This isn’t me helping someone — we’re collaborating, and I’m learning and growing through knowing this person.’”
Fostering that reflection and helping student Advocates to pursue their own initiative within the program is a priority for Yeung in the coming year. Already individual Advocates are exploring how CEF can sustain relationships with former Members, better serve the Latino population, address physical and mental health needs, and build financial literacy among children experiencing homelessness.
Other goals for Yeung in the year ahead include expanding community partnerships, launching a house course model for training new Advocates at Duke, and locating a permanent Durham space to make CEF services more accessible to a broader Member base. Most of all, she aims to support students and Members as they build a stronger CEF and Durham.
To learn more about becoming an Advocate or community partner, contact Anne Yeung at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-797-9233.
If you are interested in financially supporting CEF’s work, please visit http://www.communityempowermentfund.org/donate/. Your contribution will support matching CEF Members’ savings, education program costs, stipends for program graduates who return to teach at CEF, and salaries for key program staff to provide the consistent, one-on-one support our Members deserve.