Lucas Hernandez with Community Empowerment Fund


Microsavings and Homelessness: A Relationship Based Approach to Financial Services

My name is Lucas Hernandez, a rising senior at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. I have the pleasure of spending my summer here in beautiful Chapel Hill thanks to the Aspen Institute and their Lend for America program, which looks to help college students pursue careers with a conscience. Along with the Community Empowerment Fund, university students are given the opportunity to work at the Capital Good Fund in Providence, RI and the Intersect Fund in New Brunswick, NJ.

The Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) is a student-run non-profit organization based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Founded in 2009, CEF provides savings opportunities, small loans, workforce development, and relational support to unemployed and underemployed individuals in Orange and Durham Counties. It is my hope to take my experience interning at CEF and inspire others within the Rollins community to provide more direct and comprehensive support to the low-income communities in both Winter Park and Orlando.


Although I have spent only one week at CEF, I have gained a lifetime’s worth of experience and laughs. Viewing the videos on the website and reading stories about the organization prior to arriving at Chapel Hill I knew there was something different about CEF. Many said it was about relationships and a sense of family. Having heard similar credos from other nonprofit groups in the past I took these viewpoints with a grain of salt. However, upon arriving at my first day in the office on Franklin Street I absolutely believed it. The energy, the passion and the dedication demonstrated on a minute-by-minute basis by both members and advocates is awe-inspiring. The individual attention and the connections that are developed clearly works beyond helping members find jobs or open savings accounts, it creates a sense of worth and empowers everyone involved.

Personally, I have helped members work through job applications, apply to social services, open safe savings accounts and file insurance grievances among many other things. As I work through these issues with members I realize how much I have taken my life blessings for granted. I knew there were issues in this world and there is no shortage of struggle or strife, but to view these struggles first hand is powerful. What is more powerful, however, is feeling so connected in friendship with CEF members so as to look beyond these struggles and solely see their wonderfully inspiring personalities.

I look forward to helping fulfill CEF’s mission of empowering community members and filling gaps in Chapel Hill. I particularly look forward to using my skills to help develop the newly launched CEF Latin@ business services and an entrepreneur directory for members with small businesses. Until that point, I look forward to spending the rest of my day with friends and learning, even more so, the power of individuals coming together to simply just be with one another.



Lucas Herndez is a rising senior at Rollins College. He spent his summer internship at the Community Empowerment Fund in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.



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