Creating Pathways Out of Poverty

The Alberta Capital Region is one of the most prosperous regions in North America and still, thousands of families are living in poverty. In fact, 135,000 people live in poverty – more than 42,000 are children.

Poverty takes many forms. It looks like a single parent deciding to pay the rent or put food on the table. A 10-year old child who’s struggling in school because they almost never have a lunch and are so hungry, they can’t concentrate. A middle-aged man pushing his cart down the street, battling mental health issues.

For many of us, this is not part of our day-to-day lives. But as community members, neighbours, families and friends, poverty affects us all.

This is our community. A place we love. And together, we’ll make it a great place for EVERYONE.

Together, we can create pathways out of poverty.

Working with strategic partners, United Way focuses on three areas that provide the best opportunities to significantly change lives and create pathways out of poverty in our community.


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Break the Cycle for children who are going to school hungry, don’t have support to work through their problems and aren’t getting the opportunities other kids have to reach their potential.

Recent Stats:

  • 33% of Kindergarten children in Edmonton experience great difficulty in one or more areas of their development as compared to 29% of Kindergarten children in Alberta. The most significant gaps exist in communication skills and general knowledge

  • Currently, one in five youth are not completing high school in three years, yet people with high levels of education are more likely to have better jobs, live in safer homes and report better physical and mental health

Together, we will see …

Children and youth achieve their full potential, complete high school and set a course toward a bright future.


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Lift People Out of some of life’s most stressful situations, whether they are living on the streets or working in a full-time, low-paying job that doesn’t provide enough for their family to live on.

Recent Stats:

  • More than four in five employed persons (81%) in metro Edmonton earning less than the living wage are 20 years and older

  • Nearly one in six Canadian families have no savings or are in debt, putting them in danger of living or falling into poverty

Together, we will see…

All individuals and families attain greater independence and financial stability, contributing to their personal success and the success of our economy.


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Provide a Safety Net for families when the unexpected in life happens – a family crisis, job loss, mental illness, domestic abuse – the list is endless. Without supports and resources, families can fall into poverty and lose hope.

Recent Stats:

  • More than 60% of people with addiction or mental health issues will not seek the help they need. Stigma is one of the main reasons for this, but the complexity of navigating the health system and lack of supports are also factor

Together, we will see…

Everyone feels a meaningful connection to the community, enjoying a strong sense of well-being and safety for themselves and their families.


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With your support, focusing on these areas is how we will work together to create pathways out of poverty. Find out how you can help at myunitedway.ca.


Nicole's story

Learning to save money through a United Way funded program taught Nicole her worth.

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Nicole’s relationship with money was rocky from the start. Growing up, she struggled with her weight and became the target of bullies at school.

Money was equal to my self-worth, and my self-worth was nothing

Nicole left high school after becoming a young mother and turned to drugs to help cope. Her addiction even led to some time in jail.

‍‍While she was there, Nicole made the decision to turn her life around, embracing a more positive, hopeful and healthy future that didn’t include drugs or alcohol. Shortly after her release, a friend connected her to a United Way financial education program that that teaches financial literacy skills to women living in poverty.  She decided to give it a try. “I’d always been a ‘no’ person,” says Nicole, “but this time I chose to say ‘yes’ and it changed my life.”

The program helped Nicole manage her finances and set her up in a matched-savings program, where she was required to contribute $50 a month. At first, putting aside that amount seemed impossible, but she rose to the challenge. 

Learning to save consistently was about far more than money: it was about making peace with her past and taking control of her future. Nicole is grateful to United Way supporters for helping her get started—and putting her on the path to financial security and lifelong success. “Now money isn’t scary,” she says. “It can empower my life. My past can be fixed—by me.”

Today, Nicole lives in social housing and has a stable job where she is saving up to help purchase a home.

Nicole teaches financial literacy classes

Nicole teaches financial literacy classes

 She’s also using her experience to give back to other women in her community who have experienced similar challenges. “I’m so excited to help others take control of their lives and to be part of helping them build more secure futures,” says Nicole.

Investing in herself—thanks to the support of donors like you—has paid dividends for Nicole and other women in the community. “I like who I am today and I’m confident about my tomorrow,” she says.


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Kaitlyn’s story

A United Way funded community centre helped Kaitlyn find a path to success when she was homeless and hungry.

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“I was living a very sad and troubled life. After spending time in jail, I was released in 2017 into a province where I didn’t know anyone. I had nowhere to go and ended up sleeping on a train because I was homeless.

Even though I found work in a restaurant, I still couldn’t afford to feed or house myself. Saving up for an apartment was a challenge, and I felt like I would never have enough to pay for a security deposit and the first month’s rent.

After struggling for months, I reached out to a United Way funded community centre for help. I got so much more than just a meal.

I learned about financial literacy, how to budget for the future, and how to live on my own and be self-sufficient. With these supports, I was eventually able to save up for my first apartment.

Kaitlyn and her beloved dog in their apartment

Kaitlyn and her beloved dog in their apartment

Not only did they help me find a place to live, but they even stocked my cupboards once I moved in. I now have my own bed and no longer need to worry about where my next meal will come from!

With a stable home and meals, I was then able to focus on my future. The community centre was there again to help me navigate a path to success and find a post-secondary program. I am now proud to say that I have graduated college with certificate to become an addictions counsellor. That is something I am really passionate about as I have a lot of previous experience with that life.

From where I came from, this is all amazing to me. I am so strong today because of all that I went through. Now, I can help people others who are still struggling.”

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Understanding Poverty

Poverty is the most #UNIGNORABLE issue our community is facing today. It’s complex and trying to understand it can be challenging.

United Way of the Alberta Capital region offers a poverty simulation as a learning tool to help increase understanding about the difficulties living in poverty brings on a daily basis.  It works towards bringing a new perspective to how difficult it is to emerge from poverty when the necessary supports aren’t there.   

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The role-play experience, lasts an hour, representing a month, with each 15 minute segment representing a week.  Participants are given a family member role in one of 26 fictional low income families and interact with volunteers acting as agency workers, employers, daycare providers and other business owners to experience the challenges facing people in poverty. Each new week brings its own set of challenges to the participants.

Participants experience homelessness in a poverty simulation

Participants experience homelessness in a poverty simulation

Participant count money available to pay for expenses and bills

Participant count money available to pay for expenses and bills

I found the experience eye-opening and life changing. - Judy

 After the simulation, participants surveyed revealed their understanding of the difficulties in improving one’s situation and become self-sufficient on a limited income rose from 28 per cent to 94 per cent. In addition, the understanding of the difficult choices people need to make each month when stretching a limited income also rose significantly from 32 per cent to a 95 per cent awareness.

Participants discuss their experiences within the poverty simulation

Participants discuss their experiences within the poverty simulation

“I found the experience eye-opening and life changing,” said Judy Batty, “In fact, it’s what prompted me to change my job at United Way to become the Poverty Simulation Program Co-ordinator.” She goes on to say, “I think it’s a great learning opportunity and I’m happy to see a growing interest in the program because it means more people are becoming aware of the obstacles people living in poverty have to overcome each day.”

For more information on participating in a poverty simulation, please contact Judy Batty at 780.443.8384 or email jbatty@myunitedway.ca.

2019 Dates

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Feeding Hungry Bodies and Minds

For Tamara Kelly and her 13-year-old daughter, Kyah Connell, the e4c School Nutrition Program has literally changed their lives. The program is presented by Edmonton Civic Employees Charitable Assistance Fund in all five of United Way’s All In for Youth schools.

Tamara Kelly welcomes students to the Spruce Avenue School kitchen

Tamara Kelly welcomes students to the Spruce Avenue School kitchen

Kyah went from struggling to get C’s and D’s to becoming a straight-A student who loves school.

As a single parent, Tamara found it hard to get Kyah to eat breakfast or pack a lunch before school. Then they signed up for the e4c School Nutrition Program at Delton Elementary, an All In For Youth school.

“It took a lot of anxiety out of things,” Tamara remembers. “Kyah knew that she could just get up in the morning and get ready and she didn’t have to worry about her lunch being yucky or somebody taking it. She knew that it was going to be a good lunch every day.”

That was reassuring for Tamara too. “I knew Kyah was getting a hearty sandwich rather than whatever I could send her, so that was a big help,” Tamara says. “I knew she was getting her fruits and veggies. That was huge for me as a parent.”

Tamara soon noticed a difference in Kyah’s behaviour and her grades.

“Kyah went from getting in trouble at school a lot, to in all of Grade 4, she never had to go to the office once,” Tamara says. “She was able to focus more on her studies rather than worrying about food.”

Getting ready for lunch

Getting ready for lunch

Tamara, who had experience working as a cook in hotel and restaurant chains, volunteered to help serve lunch at her daughter’s school. Eventually she was hired on as the e4c Nutrition Support Worker at Spruce Avenue Junior High, another All In For Youth school.

As Spruce Avenue’s “Lunch Lady”, Tamara feeds approximately 220 students every day, and also offers nutritious snacks such as fresh fruit and homemade trail mix throughout the day and after school. The program uses a “Fresh Food Model”, which means everything is as fresh as possible.

“We stay away from anything processed,” Tamara points out. “When we serve cheese slices, it’s actually cheese. It’s shredded mozzarella cheese or shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Everything is whole grain; we don’t serve white bread. Sandwiches are roast turkey, diced chicken breast, or roast beef. And the kids here love tuna.”

Tamara Kelly adding grated cheese to fresh turkey sandwiches

Tamara Kelly adding grated cheese to fresh turkey sandwiches

I can tell for some of the kids, this might be the only meal they eat in a day.

After getting injured in a car accident and being out of work for eight years, Tamara is thankful to have found her place in the Spruce Avenue kitchen.

“It’s helped me teach my own children the value of hard work,” she says. I’m showing them that even though you’re having a bit of a hard time and you don’t think you can do it, you really can and you just need to push through and have a positive attitude.”

“This work gives me purpose,” Tamara concludes. “I love it when students come up and hug me and say, “You know, that was the best lunch we had this week.” It just makes my heart grow.”

Tamara credits civic employees for making the e4c School Nutrition Program possible in All In For Youth schools.

“Thank you. You’re doing such a fantastic job in helping us to make sure that kids are nutritionally supported,” Tamara says. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without you.”


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From Post-Partum Depression to Finding Purpose

United Way programs helped Cindy find purpose and happiness in life.

Cindy McDonald can still taste the charcoal, and she can still remember the bitter question when she opened her eyes to see she was still, somehow, alive. 

How do you go from wanting to die to being alive but without a reason to live?  
Jessica Monk and Cindy McDonald

Jessica Monk and Cindy McDonald

Cindy brought her story of recovery after a failed suicide attempt to 300 City of Edmonton employees gathered together at the Central Lions Recreation Centre to help kick off the City’s 2018 United Way campaign. She told them how, stalked by dark thoughts after being diagnosed with severe post-partum depression, she had overdosed on medication one night. 

She looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. She said, “That’s it, I guess.” She went back to bed, lay down next to her husband, and waited. She woke up looking at a team of health care workers.

“I was alive and I was angry,” she said. 

Cindy got help. She learned she was not alone. After she received the support she needed she then started giving back, helping on a suicide distress line in Edmonton that “wouldn't stop ringing.” 

She told the crowd: “If I had known about that line before, I could have told people how I was feeling.”

City of Edmonton, campaign kick-off 2018 at Central Lions Recreation Centre

City of Edmonton, campaign kick-off 2018 at Central Lions Recreation Centre

Cindy made a crucial point during her talk: being a wife, a mother of two, a daughter, a soccer and hockey mom, none of these social roles she played in family and society guaranteed she would actually feel safe and secure and together with others. What helped were the resources provided that took invisible mental health as seriously as visible physical health. 

The help got her to the point where she could now look out a room of strangers at the City of Edmonton and say: “God doesn't give you another day because you need it. You have another day because someone needs you.” 

Jessica Monk, the City’s 2018 United Way Campaign Chair, told the audience she understands United Way as an extension of her work as a City of Edmonton team member. “As City of Edmonton employees, we have made a commitment to serving our neighbours,” Jessica said. “There is nothing left to do but give.”


By Glenn Kubish, Director of Communications, City of Edmonton

This article originally appeared in the City of Edmonton’s staff newsletter in September 2018.



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1 in 5 students does not graduate. #UNIGNORABLE

One in five youth in Edmonton does not complete high school. For many local students, the goal of graduation is out of reach because of personal or family related challenges. Furthermore, parents who don’t complete high school are most likely to have children who follow this pattern, perpetuating a cycle of poverty. United Way aims to break that cycle.

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When families are struggling, they often lack funds or connections to get the help they need. United Way brings together programs and services to help socially vulnerable children achieve their best. By taking care of critical needs now, we stand a far better chance of helping students get through tough times, build skills and set them up for poverty-free futures.

United Way envisions a community where every student has the opportunity to complete high school with pride – paving the way for post-secondary and career opportunities, allowing them to reach their full potential and live healthy and fulfilling lives. Students who are educated, healthy, and supported can transform their communities and pass on the benefits to their children, and to their children’s children.

Roughly 20 years ago, education consultant Sandra Woitas was the principal at Norwood Elementary School in Edmonton. She identified many needs in the school which her teachers did not have the expertise or time to address. So she connected with United Way and some of its funded partners to bring student services directly into the school.

Sandra Woitas

Sandra Woitas

As the former Executive Director of the Edmonton Public School Foundation, Woitas then helped create a partnership with United Way to fill in the gaps of resources to help keep at-risk kids in school.

“Classrooms are becoming increasingly complex and students’ needs are incredibly diverse,” shares Woitas. “The complexities we face in education demand collaboration.”

By providing wrap-around services, United Way  helps solve the complex problems experienced by vulnerable students and their families. Thanks to the help of donors, United Way invests in a range of coordinated supports such as nutritious food programs, reading and writing coaches, in-school mentors and counsellors, after-school programs, and even supports for a student’s family.


After almost dropping out, Emily got the supports she needed to graduate high school with pride. Click below to see her story.


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Breaking the Cycle of Addiction

It’s well known that our genetic makeup plays a role in how our brains develop, but we are just learning how much our childhood experiences impact how our brains function as adults. A recent study on brain development called The Brain Story found that if a child’s brain is being built in an environment with toxic stresses, it can have a lasting impact. This helps explain the fact that a child who grows up with a parent who is struggling with addiction is eight times more likely to develop an addiction as an adult.

David Rust, the Project Lead for the Community Mental Health Action Plan, has seen firsthand how addiction and toxic stress during childhood can be linked. David has spent the vast majority of his 38 year career working in the community to help local youth. Throughout that time he has witnessed gaps in community supports for people dealing with childhood trauma and abuse.

David Rust - Project Lead, Community Mental Health Action Plan

David Rust - Project Lead, Community Mental Health Action Plan

The Community Mental Health Action plan is working to fill those gaps by building partnerships across the province, including with United Way of the Alberta Capital Region, a founding member of the initiative. United Way currently provides vision and strategy guidance, mobilization of funding, and co-chairs the work with the City of Edmonton. The plan aims to maximize collective resources, leverage opportunities to fill gaps in service, and foster innovative approaches to integrating services.

By working closely with community members who struggle with mental health or addiction problems, we are learning from their experiences to make services more accessible and ultimately more successful,” explains Rust.

To learn more about the powerful role of relationships and childhood experiences on the developing brain, community members can attend a Brain Architecture Game at United Way. The Brain Architecture Game is an experiential tool to learn about early brain development – what promotes it, what derails it, and what the consequences are for individuals and society. New Brain Game dates will be added in early 2019.

United Way, along with its partners, is working to break the cycle of addiction through early identification and intervention while streamlining support networks in order to make them easier to navigate. United Way also funds a variety of programs that provide a safety net for those seeking addiction support and services. Free programs like the Armoury Resource Centre offer addiction counselling for youth, and all age drop-in counselling is available at various locations throughout the Edmonton area. If you or someone you know is in need of support, you can dial 211 to be connected to local services.

Travis was in a battle with addiction that left him without a home. Luckily, he got help from a United Way supported program that helped him recover. Now he is helping others. See Travis’s story in the video below.



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Partners in Financial Empowerment

Financial Empowerment has been on United Way’s radar since 2006, when we started exploring financial literacy and asset building as mechanisms to support families living in low income.  United Way and the City of Edmonton have been part of the Edmonton Financial Empowerment Collaborative (EFEC) from the get-go.  Our Financial Empowerment framework (EARN, SAVE, BUILD) speaks about the importance of applying multiple interventions to help boost household income, reduce debt, increase savings and grow assets. EFEC and United Way have adapted Prosper Canada's Financial Empowerment framework to improve the financial security of people who are financially vulnerable through:

Financial Information and Education  -Tools and training for front line service providers and onward delivery of tailored, high quality financial information and education

Financial Coaching -  Free financial coaching/counselling to help clients build and follow a personal financial plan that will enable them to increase savings, reduce debt, build their credit score and invest in their future

Boosting Income (through tax filing and help accessing benefits)  - Expanding access to free community tax clinics and offering screening and assistance to help clients access income benefits they are eligible for but not receiving

Assisting Families to Open RESPs and RDSPs  - Informing families about the benefits of saving for their children's education and assisting them to open RESPs/RDSPs and to access related savings grants and incentives

Facilitating Access to Basic Banking  - Helping low-income people to open bank accounts and access financial services that support effective money management (e.g. direct deposit) and reduce reliance on payday loan services


In 2012, we launched the Empower U Building Confident Futures which is a poverty reduction initiative aiming to improve the economic security of individuals living with low income.  The program supports primarily women who may have experienced personal traumas – historical and intergenerational, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, poverty and/or involvement with the justice system. This program provides financial literacy education and 2:1 matched savings.


In 2016, United Way launched the Financial Pathways Collaborative, which is a partnership with eight financial institutions, United Way, E4C, and City of Edmonton that collaborates to provide financial literacy education to individuals and families living with low income in the Alberta Capital Region. The Each One Teach One program was born from this unique collaboration, this program provides financial education to community members and help build their knowledge, skills and confidence to make the right financial decisions for themselves. All sessions are FREE and facilitated by trained professionals from local financial institutions.


e4c Make Tax Time Pay (MTTP) funded by United Way since 2015 is a free tax preparation program that files taxes for people with low income all year round.  In 2017, there were 31 MTTP sites, 5,370 tax returns were filed and 4,230 unique participants were served.  In addition, the anticipated refund was $1.7M, anticipated GST $1.8M and anticipated Canada Child Tax Benefit $8M.  Over $11.5M money back in the pockets of low income individuals and families.

 

United Way of the Alberta Capital Region is proud to partner with government, businesses and local agencies and will continue to do so to address economic insecurity and financial instability for low income households.  If you would like more information, please contact the department of Community Building & Investment at 780-990-1000.

Homelessness is #UNIGNORABLE

Homelessness is #UNIGNORABLE

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Poverty takes many forms. Sometimes it’s an empty lunchbox, sometimes it’s having to choose between filling a prescription or paying a utility bill, and sometimes, poverty becomes so extreme that it results in someone becoming homeless. Currently, roughly 1,700 people are experiencing homelessness in Edmonton*.

Attaining and maintaining quality, safe and affordable housing is a challenge for many people living in poverty. Shelter is by far the biggest expense for people living with low income, with some people spending 30 percent or more of their total household income on housing costs.

Mike lived his life on the streets, selling scraps to survive.

Mike lived his life on the streets, selling scraps to survive.

United Way of the Alberta Capital Region envisions a community where people are able to access and maintain their basic needs. We know that individuals thrive when they have a stable and safe home. United Way helps create a network of community supports to provide comfort, dignity and opportunities to improve housing stability.

Thanks to the help of donors, United Way invests in several programs and initiatives that help people access and maintain safe and secure housing. These include care kits of hygiene items, a shelter for those fleeing domestic violence, emergency response funds to prevent evictions, welcome home kits of household goods for newly housed individuals, and connection to additional support services and benefits. United Way also works collaboratively with our partners to advance systems and policy change to provide stable housing.

Asare has the opportunity to volunteer with United Way and address the issue of homelessness.

Asare has the opportunity to volunteer with United Way and address the issue of homelessness.

Every individual is unique and no story is the same, but many people experiencing homelessness are also battling debilitating issues such as mental illness, addiction and trauma. In addition to housing supports, investments are made in services such as distress lines, counselling, and financial literacy to address both the urgent and long-term needs of the whole individual.

After many years of living on the streets, Mike received a range of supports that helped end his homelessness. Click below to see his story.

Source:  Edmonton Social Planning Council’s 2018 Tracking the Trends Report


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Mental Health is #UNIGNORABLE

Mental Health is #UNIGNORABLE

United Way is taking action to support community members

with mental health issues

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Many of us regularly make choices about food and exercise in order to maintain our physical health, but it is easy to forget that taking care of our mental health is just as important. With 1 in 5 Canadians personally experiencing a mental health problem or illness in their lifetime, this issue is not to be ignored. That translates to roughly 260,000 local people.  

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Cindy McDonald, an employee with United Way, feels like she has a very fortunate life. However this mother of two did not always feel so lucky. After giving birth to her second child, she began to feel depressed and withdrawn from friends and family. Symptoms like this can often be brushed off as the “baby blues.” After a near life altering decision, McDonald was eventually diagnosed with severe postpartum depression.

“Mental health was treated like a taboo topic 20 years ago,” McDonald recalls. She describes the lack of understanding as a serious roadblock to her health. Over time her untreated depression got so severe that she became suicidal.

When Cindy found herself with a knife in her hand determined to end her life, she received professional intervention that saved her.

After successfully completing a patient care program at one of the local hospitals, McDonald wanted to channel her experiences with mental health to help others. She spent time volunteering at the Distress Line in Edmonton, coaching and listening to people in their time of despair. McDonald remembers that the number of calls was very demanding and that many people just needed someone to listen.

United Way supports mental health programs that provide a safety net for individuals in their time of need such as the Distress Line, a 24/7 resource for people who are feeling overwhelmed, experiencing abuse or suicidal thoughts. The distress line receives approximately 1,300 calls a month and 30 per cent of callers are in crisis. If you or someone you know is in need of help, please dial 780-482-HELP to access the line.

Additionally, United Way helps fund various counselling services with local agencies which are accessible through 211 and is a partner in the Community Mental Health Action Plan. The goal of the plan is to maximize collective resources, leverage opportunities to respond to existing gaps in service, and foster innovative approaches to integrate supports and services. 

Because of programs and initiatives like these, people in need are being heard and connected with the supports that can help them overcome their challenges. By allowing for open conversation around a once unapproachable topic, United Way and its supporters are helping to create an inclusive culture to let others know they are not alone.

“I’m grateful that I got a chance to be a healthy mom for my kids,” says Cindy. “And with the supportive resources available now, I know more people will continue to get the help they need.”


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