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My name is Vishnu Gottiparthy, and I’m working with the Community Empowerment Fund this summer as a part of DukeEngage-Durham. CEF is a local nonprofit that aims to help community members overcome poverty and homelessness through financial coaching. Much of CEF’s work is centered around weekly meetings between members: those who seek CEF’s services; and advocates: volunteers and staff members.

Part of my role at CEF includes the “Pairings Project,” which is a study on how CEF can pair members and advocates together to form lasting relationships. Pairing helps build trust and also makes meetings run more smoothly: since the pair meets consistently, there’s no need for advocates to take additional time acquainting themselves with the member’s goals, and the member won’t have to repeat anything that they went through with another advocate.

As beneficial as pairings can be, the process that CEF uses to determine pairs could use some improvement. This summer, I’m tasked with studying other organizations with goals similar to those of CEF, in order to suggest ideas for a better process for determining pairings. Through researching, which mainly involves digging through the other organizations’ websites and contacting leadership in order to learn about their pairings processes, I was able to learn about the vast number of organizations are out there, working to improve the lives of so many of Durham’s residents.

As a Duke student, it’s very easy to see a very narrow slice of Durham. Some may only see the restaurants downtown, or just gentrification, or even just the university itself. I’m grateful to CEF and to the DukeEngage-Durham program for teaching me more about all of the community development-focused organizations we have, a side of the city I didn’t know much about before. I’m excited to learn even more about Durham as I continue with this program.