When Winnipegger Robert sat down with Krista Dmytrowski at Thrive Community Support Circle a few months ago, he hadn’t filed his taxes for a good number of years. The older adult receives social assistance, but money, for the most part, is tight—things like rent and food aren’t a given from month to month.
Though Robert wasn’t sure where to begin, he and Dmytrowski—Thrive’s Financial Empowerment Worker—started combing through deductions and income and various slips together. Dmytrowski answered all Robert’s questions, he answered hers, and they filed his paperwork with the Canada Revenue Agency.
When all was said and done, Robert received enough money back in returns and benefits to put aside his rent for the next several months in advance.
“I started thinking, ‘What can I start using it for when it comes?’” Robert said with a smile.
“This is all going to be pretty helpful to me.”
Robert’s is one of countless positive stories Dmytrowski has to share since completing her financial empowerment training—giving her skills to help Thrive visitors fill out and file taxes, apply for relevant benefits and identification, receive money management support, and take part in asset building programs.
“They’re excited. They already either had plans or they’re making plans,” Dmytrowski said of the clients she works with. “We have such a diverse neighbourhood and a lot of (people) are facing financial poverty—this gives them an opportunity to move up.
“It can mean jobs, it can mean better housing, it could mean … clothing, food, and feeding their children and themselves.”
Dmytrowski’s position is one of three funded by United Way Winnipeg donors as part of a partnership between Community Financial Counselling Services, SEED Winnipeg, and For Every Family’s network of family resource centres. Thrive is one of 19 FRCs involved in the initiative.
“I think that it’s just an incredible partnership,” said Executive Director Rhonda Elias-Penner, “and it’s certainly been very beneficial to our community.”
“It’s great to be able to meet people where they’re at
and make it as convenient and pleasant and comfortable as possible.”
Community Financial Counselling Services began offering free tax and financial services at family resource centres in 2018. The program has helped more than 5,800 people file 7,300 tax returns, resulting in a staggering $30.8 million in tax refunds and benefits returned to families.
CFCS Program Coordinator Amy Black said the Canada Child Benefit, GST Credit, Climate Action Incentive, and Guaranteed Income Supplement are just a few of the many financial benefits low-income Winnipeggers gain access to when they sit down with a worker.
Connecting with people at family resource centres has been a crucial component of the program’s success.
“A lot of the time, finances are very scary to people and certainly there are so many ins and outs of programs you need to navigate,” she said. “By bringing services and supports into the community … it really makes it less intimidating. To just be able to just go down the block and go to your local FRC is a lot easier than packing everybody on the bus and heading downtown to an office with someone that you may not know.
“It’s great to be able to meet people where they’re at and make it as convenient and pleasant and comfortable as possible.”
Back at Thrive, about 2,000 Winnipeggers visit the Central Park area family resource centre every month. While a huge part of her work is helping with basic needs, Elias-Penner said the financial empowerment service offers visitors something even more—a sense of re-gaining control of their futures.
“Most of the families we serve are not just struggling with their finances, but they’re very vulnerable. We support people who have disabilities … seniors, newcomers to Canada, people living in poverty, people with mental health challenges, people living on the streets… So many of those people are struggling with day-to-day needs,” Elias-Penner said.
“We can support them with food and clothing, but to be able to help them move forward in their journey improving their lives … that’s why this is a very vital program.
“The word empowerment even in itself can make people feel that they’re not just being given something—they’re actually finding a way to maintain some stability in their lives.”