A transplant from Tampa, Florida, I have adopted Durham as my new home since I came to Duke in 2013. Every summer, I have found reasons to stay in Durham, be it for summer classes, working at the Institute for Minority Economic Development, and now the Community Empowerment Fund. At the Community Empowerment Fund, I will serve as an advocate providing critical services to our members who are struggling with poverty and/or homelessness.
While I am excited and motivated to make a difference, I recognize the emotional and psychological toll this could have on staff members. Our team training demonstrates how cognizant staff members are of not only our member’s needs, but also our own and each other’s. While our mission of helping members with housing, employment, and finances helps our members, it may not necessarily be immediate. Consequently, this is something I am going to have to keep in mind in order to have realistic expectations. However, this frustration stems from the very systems and obstacles we try to protect our members from. In turn, perspective is key, and I am hopeful of making a big long-term difference in my member’s lives even if it seems inconsequential in the short-term.
As a member of the Latinx community and realizing its increasing presence in the Triangle, I hope to make our organization’s services more accessible. I am looking forward to the opportunity to interact with and help a community that is part of my identity, further inspiring me because of Durham’s tremendous growth and CEF’s commitment to allowing everyone in the community to participate. As a Duke student, I recognize how easy it can be to become insulated from the community within the ‘bubble,’ but I believe I have a responsibility to identify and address its problems, especially if I am an ‘outsider’ whose presence contributes to a higher cost of living and gentrification in the area.
CEF is thus a stepping stone towards identifying how best to advocate for community members and gaining insight into smart urban planning solutions that include efficient transit options, affordable housing, and access to jobs for people in all income brackets. I hope to carry on my lessons at CEF to establish a career in Durham where I can keep advocating for and working on behalf of vulnerable members. Durham has given so much to me in the past, and I will continually strive to serve on its behalf for a future that is inclusive of everyone.
Cristian Santiago is a rising senior economics major from Tampa, Florida. Cristian is committed to helping vulnerable populations, work he sees as abundant. He will be working to better understand and address urban planning and gentrification issues with Community Empowerment Fund in Durham, NC, a nonprofit organization that focuses on interrelated issues of housing, employment, and financial independence for low-income residents.