Skip to main content

DukeEngage is an experience I have never had before. I would say I am pretty experienced in community service and civic engagement works – I’ve been very involved in community services since middle school and I continue to volunteer as a consultant for Net Impact and a tutor at FEMMES after I came Duke. But for me, DukeEngage is the first time for me to really get immersed in the nonprofit environment and go beyond just contributing my time and energy. After four weeks in Durham, I started to look at nonprofits from a different perspective. I started to think about the business models that nonprofits use, their community outreach strategy, their mission and vision, and the ethical discussion related to the work they do.

I would say the cases I deal with at CEF are much more complicated than I expected. But I am glad because I learn new things every day, both about the community and myself. CEF is so much more than just financial coaching or economic development and to be honest, being an Econ major doesn’t give me any qualification to provide the service. The work requires so much more than the skill of managing money. Communication, patience, respect, empathy, resource seeking, for example, are all more important than the actual knowledge. And I am glad that at CEF, my colleagues are very experienced and they are all willing to teach me, in every aspect. My supervisor even suggested that I consider positive psychology when I make the posters to be more welcome to our potential members. Some people might think that working at nonprofits is easy and that they can jump into a nonprofit as long as they are willing to help people. But that’s completely wrong. Nonprofit work requires professional knowledge and skills, experience, and a good attitude, all equally important.

You never know how to solve a problem unless you go into it. DukeEngage definitely makes my education more complete by allowing me to have hands-on experience in dealing with tough situations. There’s a lot we can do in theory, but life is never a fantasy. In order to achieve financial stability and take control of the money, for example, we can use tools like making a reasonable budget and start to save money step by step. CEF offers great programs that encourage members to build their savings and motivate them to stick to their goals. But in reality, many members spend more than they earn each month and by doing simple math, we know it’s just impossible for them to have any savings. In our society, making money from money is not that hard while making money out of nothing is nearly impossible. At CEF, we deal with these “impossible” situations every day. This is not something I can learn from a financial accounting class or a class on social equality. The solution is hidden in the long conversations I have with members and the tiniest things in their lives. They might have a phone plan that charges them on things they don’t need. Or they probably don’t know banks charge them a lot if they withdraw from savings account too often. And the only way to find the answer is through patience and practice.

People can’t pick themselves up by their bootstraps if they can’t afford to buy their own boots. That’s why nonprofits play such an important role in solving the complicated issues we are facing today. In the ever-changing society, some people are left behind and I’m glad so many people and organizations are giving them a hand for them to keep up.