When Steven Howser first came to the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) around four years ago, he was seeking work development assistance to help him qualify for a seven day bus pass at the shelter. After years of support and involvement with CEF, Howser has not only secured income and housing, but is also giving back.
“I wanted to give back to show people what a good organization they are, and the resources they have to help people in the community," Howser said. "So the people in the community won’t be afraid to donate time and donations to them because they really help a lot of people."
CEF is a student-powered, nonprofit organization focused on enabling and sustaining transitions out of homelessness and poverty. CEF was founded in 2009 to provide relationship-based support, workforce development, financial education and matched savings accounts to individuals experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness in Orange and Durham Counties.
Co-Director of CEF, Maggie West, along with numerous other CEF advocates — including Hannah Factor and Sarah Arney — have worked with Howser for almost four years now to help him accomplish his goals.
West said in an email they have been able to work with him on a wide range of goals as well as connect him with critical services while he was experiencing homelessness.
Howser said receiving his Housing Choice Voucher from Orange County with the help of CEF was extremely transformative for him.
“From that point it’s like my life has taken a 180 degree turn with their help and some other people outside of there’s help,” Howser said.
After Howser received his Housing Choice Voucher about a year ago, CEF worked with him on all aspects of the move; including obtaining funds for his security deposit, finding a landlord and furniture for his housing and throwing a housewarming party.
“About 30 people came to his housewarming party that evening, and he greeted each of them at the door with such enthusiasm and delight and surprise and joy. It makes me cry just thinking about it," West said.
Factor, a senior advocate who has been with CEF for five semesters, said in an email she too has seen a transformation in Howser.
“It is truly astounding to see someone's outlook on life be radically transformed by housing and really speaks to the need to ensure housing for all,” Factor said.
At a fundraiser for CEF last fall, Howser gave back to the organization in the form of a $500 dollar donation, the largest of the evening. He coordinated with several workers at CEF to print a big check to present to West as a surprise during the event to say thank you.
"All gifts to CEF matter, but gifts from members truly glow, they cause ripple effects throughout the organization, and seem to snowball and grow," West said.
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