Helping Teens Reach Their Potential

Wendy learned the importance of giving back at a young age. Now she helps kids finish high school.


Wendy resized 136A6714.jpg

“I came home from school one day and my mom was in the kitchen. I looked in the living room and noticed our couch was missing.

I looked at my mom and said, ‘What happened to the sofa?’ She said, ‘You should ask your dad.’

It turned out that my dad had learned about a parent in our school who had fled an abusive situation in her home. She and her kids had found a new place to live, but they didn’t have any furniture. So he came home and loaded up our sofa—one of those big sectionals—put it in the back of the truck, and took it over to her place.

This wasn’t the only time something went missing from our house because my dad was helping someone. That story stayed with me throughout the years. My dad’s example sent an important message to me at a young age: When people need help, we help them. That’s the house I grew up in.

I first became involved with United Way through a campaign in my workplace. I was looking for different ways to get involved in the community and met with a United Way staff member. She said, ‘I know exactly what I’m going to connect you with.’

I went to an initial meeting and heard a couple of amazing speakers talk about the work United Way was doing in the community, including some of the work they were doing with vulnerable youth to help them finish high school.

I thought, ‘This is exactly the room I need to be in right now.’

Providing support to young people—through things like food programs and counselling—allows them to focus on school, and that is such an important step. Completing high school is a big gateway into so many other things in life. That support is crucial to help kids realize their potential.

If we can unleash that untapped potential in our community, the world’s going to change. All it takes is, ‘Yeah, I’m in’.”—Wendy

When people need help, we help them. That’s the house I grew up in.

Like Wendy, you can help teens reach their potential.

A Lesson in Empowerment

Emily struggled at school, but a United Way program helped her get on track


136A6397 blog.jpg

“When I was in grade 11, I had a big falling-out with my family and ended up moving out. After I left my family home, I felt really overwhelmed by having to manage school and life. Just getting to school was a challenge on its own, even without the homework. And there was a lot of homework, because I was in advanced placement classes. I was falling behind. I would get the bare minimum done and I missed so many assignments. My attendance record was bad.

Then I connected with a United Way high school completion program and the staff really motivated me to want to be there. They were people I needed to be accountable to. I knew that if I didn’t come to school and my marks started falling, or if they thought I wasn’t going to graduate, they’d notice: ‘Hey, what’s going on? Why aren’t you getting things done? We know you can do this.’

I want to be a role model for my two younger brothers. I want to give them hope and make them believe that, even if things seem a little challenging now, they can graduate. With the help of people who can give them a safe space to work on their homework and the guidance that they need to understand their schoolwork, they can follow their dreams. They can graduate and go as far as they want to.

And I want young women to understand that, as scary as life may be and as many obstacles as we face, if they really believe they can succeed and they have the resources around them to make success possible, there’s no way they’re going to fail. 

I’ve had to take a complete detour, and I’ve had to do a lot of things differently in order to get to where I want to be. It’s been very challenging, but it’s definitely been worth it.” — Emily


I want to be a role model for my two younger brothers.

You can help local students like Emily.

A Place to Find Comfort

When Nuhaa’s family first moved to Canada, it was a difficult adjustment. But a United Way program made it easier.


“I was born in Syria, but when I was four, my family had to leave because it was too dangerous there. So we went to Jordan. I liked it there because my grandparents and aunts and uncles would spend summers with us. When I was eight, we moved to Canada because my parents thought we could have a better life here.

Coming to Canada was not good and not bad. I was excited about meeting other people, but I missed my family and I was scared of going to school because I was shy. I was afraid nobody would want to play with me or be my friend because I didn’t speak English.

Our neighbour told my mom about a United Way after-school program where I could get help with homework and do activities. I was so excited to go there! I have fun, and all the new people I meet are really nice, like my friend Reema. I love her because she’s kind. My favourite part of this program is when we have circle time. That’s when we can play a game, draw or colour. We have a lot of fun together, and now I feel less shy. I’m happy that I get to go to this after-school program.

I feel more comfortable in Canada now. I can speak English, and I’m more confident. I even got to be part of a student art exhibition at the art gallery in my city.”—Nuhaa

“Now I feel less shy.”

You can help local children like Nuhaa.

Salon Professionals Learn New Skills in Domestic Violence Awareness

United Way employee, Perri Garvin, has lots to say about domestic violence and he's been speaking about it for more than 20 years. He's spoken with clients experiencing domestic violence as a volunteer on the Support Network Crisis Line, he's been personally involved in a rescue and he's had friends involved in domestic violence situations. He is now a presenter with the "Cut it Out" - Salons Against Domestic Violence program to bring awareness and knowledge to client based services where staff might meet clients in domestic violence situations. 

Cut it out graphic.jpg

The program is organized by Fort Saskatchewan Families First Society and supported in partnership with Stop Abuse in Families Society (SAIF), Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation and United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.



"Cut it Out" is an educational presentation to hairstylists to teach them how to recognize the signs of domestic violence with their clients. Stylist have the unique opportunity to help clients who are experiencing abuse in a domestic relationship because the salon environment provides a comfortable place of communication and clients build trusted relationships with their stylist.  Stylist get to know their clients in a way that may help them recognize signs of abuse that others might miss.

 Perri Garvin, United Way and Jenn Vogel, Families First Society, speak to salon students about domestic violence awareness. 

Perri Garvin, United Way and Jenn Vogel, Families First Society, speak to salon students about domestic violence awareness. 

The initiative teaches hairstylists how to be aware of and discuss the signs of domestic violence with their clients and it also provides them with information on what community resources are available to victims of abuse. Participants are given information, such as:

  • how to recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship
  • how to respond by safely supporting the person experiencing abuse
  • how to assist the client to get help through available local resources 

Presentation are made to students at the 3 different hair & beauty schools or on a 3 month rotation to present to the new classes. This program is based on the model developed in Alabama in 2002 and the Ontario model based on the death review of Arlene May, who was killed by her boyfriend and had told her hairstylist that she was worried for her life.

I do believe the more people we speak to about domestic violence the better chance we have of stopping it. This is an issue that can be prevented we just need people to understand that they can do something to help. - Perri

Tyler Tollefson : A Life Enriched From Volunteering

Volunteers play a key role in guiding United Way’s annual campaign. Campaign Cabinet is made up of 40 dedicated local business, labour and social service sector leaders who share their skills, time and talent to raise money for United Way. Tyler Tollefson has been volunteering on our Cabinet for 10 years. In his day job he is Vice President, Legal Representation at Legal Aid Alberta. As a United Way volunteer, Tyler heads the Leadership Giving team, which works to attract donors who give $1,200 per year or more. Tyler shares his thoughts on why he volunteers.  

 Tyler Tollefson, United Way Campaign Cabinet member

Tyler Tollefson, United Way Campaign Cabinet member

Volunteering is a key part of my mantra to living life. So long as family (and friends), volunteering and work are in balance it makes for a happy, healthy and rewarding life.

With a history of volunteering, I’m always open to new experiences and opportunities and to be honest my involvement with United Way began simply with an ask from someone I respected. Because I was new to Alberta at the time, I had more free time than usual and knew of the United Way from a brief volunteering opportunity many years prior in Saskatchewan.

I started as an Employee Campaign Chair and next year joined the Campaign Cabinet. I’ve now been on Cabinet for 10 years and during that time I’ve chaired a number of portfolios (depending on the needs of the United Way) including: Emerging Accounts, Real Estate, Accounting and Legal, Shared Value, Leaders of the Way and Individual Giving. This will be my second year on the executive.

Tyler pie before.jpg
 Before and after photos of taking pies in the face for United Way

Before and after photos of taking pies in the face for United Way

 Red Tie Gala with Change Starts Here performers

Red Tie Gala with Change Starts Here performers

tyler rtg 2.jpg

I wouldn’t attempt to rank all the great charities out there but it’s easy for me to promote the United Way given their approach to the community. It’s local and that helps to address, in part, my wish to give back to the community where I live. Secondly, but no less important, is the fact that the organization takes a holistic approach to helping people affected by poverty. What this means is that the organization strategically funds dozens of local charities to ensure that all aspects of a person’s needs are met.


For anyone considering whether they should volunteer, I’d like you to know that I’ve found that when you give it all you can in life surprising outcomes can be the result and this is no different with volunteering.


Earlier this year I was making thank you calls to donors and one of the hundreds of people I reached asked me if I had some additional time after I had thanked him for donating. The young father relayed his own personal story which was very impactful. He told me that he never saw the need to donate but that now he will donate for the rest of his life given recent events that had a very bad effect on him and his young kids. He concluded by thanking me and telling me how grateful he was for the work that I was doing! It gave me chills a few months ago and it still affects me today.

Even though I don’t volunteer and donate for my own purposes, these unexpected boosts are fantastic and it would be my wish that everyone could have these experiences from time to time. These are truly the rewards that can enrich a life.


Tyler Tollefson, VP Legal Representation and Advice, Legal Aid Alberta

Cabinet member; Team Lead, Individual Giving

Faces of United Way: Cory

“I was born with albinism and growing up I faced a lot of adversity. Part of my albinism is that my vision is twenty-two hundred, which basically means that everything is zoomed out. If you’ve ever turned a lens or a pair of binoculars over, that zoomed-out look, that’s kind of how I see the world. Everything is in perspective, it’s clear, I see colours and shapes and everything, it just looks far away. I’ve seen like that since birth.”

“At five years old, I met with a disability counsellor who told me all the things that I wouldn’t be able to do in life. They told me I wouldn’t be able to play sports, that I wouldn’t be able to drive, that my career choice would be selective and education would be tough for me. So I came out of that meeting with drive and determination to prove that individual wrong, and prove that I could do anything that a normal person could do. It wasn’t easy. I grew up with a lot of battles and people putting limitations on me that I didn’t think existed.”

Luckily I had great parents who supported me wholeheartedly. They always let me live out my dreams and do the things I wanted to do. I dirt bike, downhill ski, I played basketball in junior high and high school, and I played football on the varsity team.

“Beyond a strong friend base, one of the most important resources I had growing up was the Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB). They were a really strong support system for me because with so much negativity living as someone with low vision and with so many naysayers, having my parents, friends and the CNIB supporting me in every decision I made really made a difference and I’ll always be so grateful for that ... I wanted to give back to the CNIB so I started volunteering with them so I could help kids and give them similar opportunities. Just this summer I was able to organize a basketball camp for children with low vision ... To me, the miracle of the camp was seeing these kids transform from having no confidence, to their state when they left where they were inspired to go out and try new things and realize their potential, because they didn’t have any basketball skills when they came in and they left with the ability to dribble the ball and make some baskets, all those basketball skills, and they lit up ... To see them building towards something they didn’t even think was possible was a great experience.”

National Volunteer Week April 15 - 21, 2018

We are very fortunate to live in a community so willing to step up to help lift people out of poverty. We appreciate and thank you for many of the things you do including building Homeless Connect care kits, sorting food and preparing hampers at local food banks, sorting coats and winterwear for people in need, cooking and serving food for families and seniors and building school supply kits. 

In 2017, more than 2000 United Way supporters participated in volunteer work throughout the Alberta Capital Region. For National Volunteer Week, we want to recognize and celebrate our volunteers for their ongoing commitment to the community. 

 Enbridge Day of Caring building Homeless Connect Kits

Enbridge Day of Caring building Homeless Connect Kits

 Volunteers sorting donations at the Food Bank

Volunteers sorting donations at the Food Bank

 Imperial Day of Caring at Edmonton's Food Bank

Imperial Day of Caring at Edmonton's Food Bank

 CWB Day of Caring at IKE sorting coats for kids and families

CWB Day of Caring at IKE sorting coats for kids and families

 Stantec Day of Caring sorting school supplies

Stantec Day of Caring sorting school supplies

It also takes a great number of volunteers to organize and participate in learning opportunities such as The Brain Architecture Game and Poverty Simulations. In 2017, more than 175 people volunteered to participate in Poverty Simulations across the Alberta Capital Region. 

 Heartland Challenge Brain Architecture Game

Heartland Challenge Brain Architecture Game

 EPCOR participating in a Poverty Simulation

EPCOR participating in a Poverty Simulation

 THANK YOU! Happy National Volunteer Week!  To get your workplace involved to help out in the community, contact

Faces of United Way: Kristin

“I was assaulted by someone I had known for 15 years. Eighty per cent of survivors have experienced acquaintance sexual assault, so someone they know or someone they care about. So for me, it felt important to speak out, to give a face to a lot of peoples’ experiences and then it empowers people to start talking … it makes me feel that talking about it is worth it.”


“When I initially disclosed to a social group I was close with for 15 years, which included my brother, none of them believed me, and they all stopped speaking to me and they still hang out with the person who assaulted me. That was incredibly painful and incredibly difficult because not only was I going through this, but I was pretty much completely alone.

When I saw the ‘I Believe You’ campaign, it inspired me to talk about it. - Kristin

"I decided I wasn’t going to hang on to this because it was toxic to me to keep holding this inside of me — not speaking about it and keep shoving it down is not healthy. So I decided to post about my experience on Facebook before I went to bed and when I woke up, I was amazed at the feedback I was receiving from people, things like, ‘That’s so brave of you, thank you for sharing your story, we support you, we love you’. It was huge and I think then I started feeling more comfortable and then speaking about it in a more public way started to feel more comfortable. It is empowering to talk about it because it takes away that shame and the secrecy that is so toxic to survivors.”

“I work on behalf of the Sexual Assault Centre in Edmonton and I’ve been doing a lot of media stuff around the I Believe You campaign, which is connected to building a culture of belief and support for survivors of sexual violence ... With the campaign, we’ve seen a 53 per cent increase of people accessing the Sexual Assault Centre’s services across the province, that’s the provincial average. In Sherwood Park, it’s been a 90 per cent increase of people coming into the centre looking for support, so it creates this environment where people begin to feel okay talking about this with a counsellor and getting some help …

The goal is to change the culture so it’s knee-jerk for people to say ‘I believe you’ when someone discloses to you. And to ultimately prevent sexual assault from happening.”

United Way of the Alberta Capital Region partnered with Faces of Edmonton. Faces of Edmonton features faces and stories relating to the United Way and its work in your community. We’re looking forward to sharing these portraits and stories with you. To learn more about United Way's work check out the Report to Community online.

Listening Can Change the World

NCP_4758 smaller.jpg

When Amanda Dauvin speaks about homelessness, she speaks from firsthand experience. Homeless twice before the age of 15, Dauvin grew up in a family that faced challenges such as poverty, mental health issues and addiction.

Dauvin shared her story as Keynote Speaker at the 23rd annual Mac & Cheese Luncheon, held at the Westin Edmonton last week. More than 350 people were in the audience to help raise funds for the seven members of the Inner City Agencies Foundation. The event is produced in partnership with United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.

 Keynote Speaker, Amanda Dauvin, 23rd annual Mac & Cheese Luncheon

Keynote Speaker, Amanda Dauvin, 23rd annual Mac & Cheese Luncheon

“In a society of First World problems like too-cold coffee, slow traffic, and a furnace that won’t sync with your smart phone, it is easy to forget that things like homelessness, poverty and hunger are First World problems too,” said Dauvin.

“We can choose to see homelessness as a permanent, unfixable problem that maybe doesn’t even concern us, or we can choose to recognize ourselves as the ones with the honour of making real and effective change.”


Thanks to her own determination and fortitude, and with support from several agencies including a food bank and a women’s shelter, Dauvin not only survived but is thriving. She has two university degrees, is a mother and runs her own business, A Cadence Coaching.

Dauvin now uses her story as a bridge between those who experience homelessness and those who can help. She volunteered her time as Keynote Speaker because she values the daily support provided to vulnerable residents of Edmonton’s inner city by Bissell Centre, Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Street Community Services, e4c, Right at Home Housing Society, Edmonton People in Need Shelter Society, and Operation Friendship Seniors Society.

 Jimmy Morrison, OFSS; Keith Hennel, ICAF Co-chair; Amanda Dauvin; Jeff Baker, ICAF Co-chair

Jimmy Morrison, OFSS; Keith Hennel, ICAF Co-chair; Amanda Dauvin; Jeff Baker, ICAF Co-chair

I believe one solution lies in the simple act of listening,” she said. “Listening to the stories of those we are here to support today, and doing so free from judgment, so that we can truly make an effective change in not only their lives and wellbeing, but also for generations to come.

Learn more about the Inner City Agencies Foundation.  


Faces of United Way: Rhea

“I work for The Family Centre, and I’m a youth liaison in south west Edmonton ... I was born in India and being in India you are exposed to poverty. I was in India for eight years and then moved to Australia and basically grew up in Australia. And my father is a single father and he raised us, so food security was definitely an issue for our family, but my dad did a really good job of hiding that.”


“I sort of fell into this field of human services so I lucked out because I really enjoy it and it feels natural to me. I’m happy to be doing the ground work and helping directly, you know. I like seeing the change.

Just to have one kid say, ‘I don’t know where I’d be without your help,’ it really means a lot and reminds you that this is why I do what I do... - Rhea

When you see the confidence of a child grow, it’s a huge thing. I’ve built relationships with kids so it’s comfortable. I really enjoy that. When kids realize the potential they have, it’s a huge moment. Sometimes they just need someone to flip a switch in their head to make them think ‘Maybe I can do this.’”

“Finding employment is a big challenge for youth I see, also food security, transportation and health. We need more shelters. There’s only one youth shelter in Edmonton and it’s full every night. And what happens when there’s overflow — where do those youth go?”

United Way of the Alberta Capital Region partnered with Faces of Edmonton. Faces of Edmonton features faces and stories relating to the United Way and its work in your community. We’re looking forward to sharing these portraits and stories with you. To learn more about United Way's work check out the Report to Community online.

Hope For a Brighter Future

At age 23, Travis learned he had mental health issues, making it difficult for him to function, be around others and hold a job. After a decade spent learning to accept his condition and gaining stability through medication, he was ready to be more independent. Thanks to the generous support of donors like you, Travis was able to receive employment support to find a suitable job. He also received training for managing stress and building relationships. Today, he’s proud that he has spent a year working at a job he enjoys and now has hope for the future. 


You can help people like Travis. 



Do you know how to really listen?

If you’re like most people, you probably consider yourself a pretty good listener. But you might not be as good as you think you are. It’s true—in their 2013 book, The Plateau Effect, authors Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson point to several studies that show most of us actually “stink at listening.”

But there’s good news, says Jerilyn Dressler, the executive director at Calgary’s Distress Centre: We can all become better. She should know—the Centre provides 24-hour crisis support through professional counselling, help lines and online chats, so listening, and training people to listen, is a big part of her job.


“When we first start training new volunteers for our help lines, we see a natural tendency to jump to solutions with callers or with each other,” she says. That usually means the listener has jumped to conclusions based on personal experience or pre-conceived notions. There’s an unfortunate outcome to that misstep: it may inadvertently alienate the person they’re trying to help.

So, how do you really listen? Dressler says it’s important to have your friend focus on the main problem, and really allow them time to talk about its impact. You want to ask questions that will further shed light on the situation: What was the last straw? What was the thing that caused you to bring this to my attention? “You want to focus on the feelings and emotions surrounding the situation and make sure you’re demonstrating empathy,” says Dressler.

Once you think you have a grasp of the issue, you can start paraphrasing some of the problems and how they are creating issues in the person’s life—but continually check in to ensure what you’re saying is accurate. “Always offer an opportunity for the other person to correct you, because you may have gotten it wrong,” Dressler says.

Even once you understand the person’s issue, it’s best to be careful when dispensing advice. Instead, have friends come to their own conclusions. This is because suggesting change before someone is ready can be damaging. “People might not be ready to think about making changes and by suggesting one, you are actually pushing them into an uncomfortable place,” says Dressler. “This can make them back away from you as a confidant.”


People who are in distress often feel alone and unheard, especially when dealing with sensitive topics like suicide or abuse.

If that’s what your friend is going through, keep in mind that their family or other friends may react strongly, or even judgmentally, which makes them feel like no one is really listening. In these cases, it’s important to respond in a non-judgmental way and direct them to a professional service like the Distress Centre’s crisis line or 211 program to get help.  "And don’t think of crisis support as a last resort," says Dressler. "It’s a service that’s open to anyone who needs an impartial or non-judgmental perspective, and it can make a huge impact."


If you live in Edmonton and Area, you can contact the local Distress Line if you need someone to listen. 

Putting Empathy to Work

Jerilyn never intended to be a social worker. As a psychology undergraduate student looking to build practical skills, she started volunteering at Distress Centre Calgary, a United Way–supported agency, nearly two decades ago. The experience changed the direction of her life.  

An opportunity to volunteer for the agency’s 24-hour crisis telephone line, which helps people experiencing any level of distress, inspired Jerilyn to pursue a master’s degree in social work and a leadership role in the “helping profession.”


Today, she works as the agency’s executive director, providing leadership to a team of dedicated and compassionate staff and volunteers, many of whom have experienced their own personal struggles.

We’ve all faced adversity in the past—including me. There were times, growing up in a small town, when I didn’t have anyone to talk to. - Jerilyn

When Jerilyn learned about the agency’s crisis line and on-site counselling services, she was amazed. “To be able to call a line where you know someone is there waiting for your call—that would have meant the world to me. To not feel so alone at that time,” she says.

In fact, this vital community resource for people from all walks of life is what inspired Jerilyn to put her own experiences to work for the benefit of others. She’s incredibly grateful to United Way donors, like you, who are helping to ensure that help is there—when and where it’s needed—for many of the one in five people who will struggle with a mental illness in any given year.  

I definitely wouldn’t be the person that I am today without the Centre. This is not only a career; it’s part of who I am as a person.

How to help your teen save money

 The importance of financial literacy for teenagers

By the time Kim Deep’s three children were teenagers, they were all financially literate. She started them early, at ages three, six and 10. Each kid would separate their allowance into jars representing what they could spend on things like movies, gifts and big purchases, as well as what needed to be socked away for savings. They all paid their fair share to Mom and Dad, too. A portion of their earnings had to go towards rent, clothing, and other essentials, so that they understood money is not just for fun – it’s essential for everyday necessities.  

Deep is a financial expert who runs Business by Numbers, a company in Edmonton that helps organizations balance their budgets. She’s also written a children’s book about finances and for years ran financial literacy workshops for youth. When it comes to educating kids about money management, she says, the earlier the better. But it’s vitally important that teens understand finances and how to manage money on their own.

The teenage brain is very susceptible to marketing, making the desire for the newest piece of technology, or the trendiest clothes that much stronger. But instant gratification rarely coincides with financial responsibility.

“It’s incredibly important to teach teens to have a purpose and intention for money. If they don’t have goals, they are going to buy the latest thing because they think they have extra cash,” says Deep.

Using a jar system like the one Deep used with her kids may be low-tech and simple, but seeing their savings grow in a tangible way can be motivating. 

Deep recommends:

  • 10 per cent of their money into long term savings,
  • 10 per cent into fun (it’s as important to enjoy their money as it is to save it),
  • 10 per cent into giving (which creates awareness and social responsibility),
  • 10 per cent into a contingency fund,
  • 10 percent into education savings, and
  • 50 per cent into necessities like shampoo, school supplies and lunch money.

Having a system—whether it’s the jar system or an online program or apps for management—will alleviate the emotional rollercoaster that money brings into our relationships,” she explains. Read: no more whining for extra cash when their allowance runs out – if there’s nothing left in the fun jar, they’ll have to save up for their next trip to the movies. A system is also an effective way to change mindless spending habits like wracking up iTunes purchases or buying daily lattes.

Of course, instilling these values and knowledge around money is not an easy process. Deep believes most teens will make mistakes when they first start out. “But I’d rather they spend money foolishly on smaller dollar amounts when they are learning, than when they are 22, and they ruin their credit rating because they took on a car loan and didn’t know what they were doing,” she says.

One way to set them up for success, though, is allowing them to spend their cash on stuff they really want – sometimes. “People get into trouble when they save all their money for later,” Deep explains. “Because if fun is withheld, you may binge later and blow it all. It’s about having doses of fun, and being conscious of where the money is going.”

Safety, Community and Belonging

Safety, Community and Belonging

A place to feel safe—and to belong. After fleeing an abusive relationship, Dawn worried she might never be able to get the fresh start she so desperately needed. She felt overwhelmed, alone and hopeless and couldn’t imagine a better future for herself. “I didn’t think my life was going to improve,” she says.


After moving to a new community in Winnipeg’s north end, Dawn connected with the Andrews Street Family Centre, a family resource centre supported by United Way donors like you. There, she found what she was seeking: safety, belonging and love. “I made connections with good people,” says Dawn. “When I discovered that I was worth something, a whole new world of possibilities opened up.”

The centre—a hub of activity and a vital community resource for local residents—made Dawn and her family feel welcome. She and her grandchildren shared community meals, including soup and bannock lunches, with others at the centre. Soon, Dawn was inspired to give back, and used her skills to connect members of her local community with work opportunities at the centre.

Today, Dawn works as a preschool teacher there and helps children, many of whom share her Indigenous heritage, get a good start in life. It’s a safe and happy place where kids, families and local residents can access all the vital, wraparound supports they need to thrive, including nutritious meals, and Indigenous language and cultural learning. “We help plant the seeds of success,” says Dawn. “I want kids to develop a love of learning so they’ll do better when they get to kindergarten—and to develop skills that will help them throughout their lives.”


Dawn’s sense of hopelessness is long gone. She’s full of ambition and plans for a future she once believed was impossible. The help she received at the centre—and the role she’s learned she can play in the lives of others—has given her a sense of worth and belonging. “When we help each other out, we can make a big difference. That’s the definition of community.”

A Life Changing Meal


Alasdair has worked in the food and hospitality industry for much of his life. So when he lost his job as a server due to an alcohol addiction, worries about where his next meal would come weren’t far from his mind. In fact, they became a daily and stressful reality. “For a while, money was really tight,” says Alasdair. “But then it got to a point where I couldn’t even afford food.”

Like many people living in poverty, Alasdair felt helpless and afraid for the future.

I was lost and I didn’t know what was going on.
My self-esteem was completely shot.
- Alasdair


But sometimes, help can come in unexpected ways. It was during a walk though his local neighbourhood that he decided to stop by an agency supported by United Way. There, he connected with a community meal program that offers people living in poverty two nutritious meals a day.

Those first meals inspired Alasdair to keep coming back. Soon, he began using other services offered at the agency and he also started to make friends at the centre.  Gradually, his confidence grew and an opportunity to volunteer in the kitchen came knocking.

“I knew my way around a kitchen because I had worked at restaurants my whole life,” he says. “I was so grateful for the food, so I thought the least I could do was help out. I started feeling better right away. Volunteering showed me that I could improve my situation and give back at the same time.”


You can help people like Alasdair

With his newfound confidence and improved skills, Alasdair recently landed a job as a custodian at a local community centre. But despite a busy full-time schedule, he still volunteers at the agency because he understands just how life-changing healthy meals served with compassion can be. “For people living in poverty, including those struggling with mental health issues or homelessness, a healthy meal is really important to their well-being,” he says. “But sharing a meal means a lot, too. It makes people feel better about themselves—and it builds a real community.”


A recipe for community change, thanks to donors like you.


Can We End Poverty?

Ask the Expert

Daniyal Zuberi is the RBC Chair and Associate Professor of Social Policy at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Toronto. In 2015, he was elected to the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada. He was previously the William Lyon Mackenzie King Research Fellow at Harvard University.

His innovative social policy research has made important contributions to the study of urban poverty, inequality, health, education, employment and social welfare. He has authored three books and other publications that examine the impact of public policy on vulnerable and disadvantaged populations in Canada and the United States. We spoke with Daniyal for our ‘Ask the Expert’ series to provide a big-picture lens on poverty across North America. 


What are some of the common drivers that contribute to poverty across North America, whether in Winnipeg or Washington?

Poverty in North America is multi-faceted, affecting many individuals, families, and communities. The real cause of poverty is the lack of income. Many people are working longer and harder simply to tread water, living only one or two missed paycheques away from major financial hardship.


With the explosion of precarious employment, too many households struggle to balance work and family life requirements as individuals take on multiple jobs to make ends meet and deal with the stress and anxiety of supporting their families. A job is no longer enough and they struggle as the “working poor” trying to find affordable housing and childcare for their families. 

For those unable to find work, they receive very limited support. Most of these individuals can’t access employment insurance benefits due to program restrictions. They join tens of thousands of others on waitlists for housing assistance and subsidized childcare as well as heavily-subscribed charitable programs such as food banks. Instead of helping and enabling these individuals and families, we trap them in poverty, failing to provide the training, support and education they need to upgrade their skills and find secure living-wage employment.


How have changing labour market conditions, including precarious employment, impacted poverty?

The changing labour market is a major contributor to growing poverty in North America. With a shift away from manufacturing to the service sector in a globalized economy, we’ve seen a rapid expansion of precarious employment including poverty wage, part-time, and insecure jobs that fail to lift individuals and families above the poverty line.


Our employment protections and social welfare policies have failed to evolve to protect people from poverty in this new economy. When hours are cut or workers are laid off, many can’t receive support from employment insurance because they haven’t worked enough hours to qualify. It’s important to note that these changes do not affect all workers equally. Women and racialized minorities, especially new immigrants, are the most likely to work in these precarious jobs. They’re forced to make impossible tradeoffs between working extra hours, but spending more on childcare, paying for rent or food. This is true in both Canada and the United States.


Is there a single, best way to tackle poverty? If not, what are some common solutions we should be working towards?

No, I don’t think there’s a single solution. We need to continue to promote proactive policies and programs to prevent poverty and support struggling individuals and families. For example, we can raise social assistance rates to bring those households up above the poverty line.

Expanding access to high-quality early childhood education will increase maternal employment and incomes by sending more mothers into the workplace, generating greater tax revenue and also reducing poverty. The research is clear that “housing first” and harm reduction approaches are far more effective than punitive measures to address problems such as homelessness and addiction. The latter results in an extremely expensive, reactive system where we end up spending more than required for policing, incarceration, hospitalization, and shelter services. We also need to focus on issues like raising the minimum wage, addressing a growing mental health crisis and providing individuals, including youth, with the training and support they need to find good jobs. Solutions at the local level are also important and include investments in high quality transit and community infrastructure. These include things like community hubs and health centres, parks, and community gardens that can really improve the quality of life for people in low-income neighbourhoods. These programs, along with significant policy reforms, could work together to reduce poverty quite dramatically.


What is the role of the non-profits like United Way in mitigating the effects of poverty?

We have a healthy and vibrant social services sector. We need to continue to build on that and expand it. United Way and other organizations do great work in providing services and supports for vulnerable and at-risk populations.

AB Transportation Kick Off 2.jpg

United Way does a particularly great job of raising awareness of important issues like precarious employment through its research. It also brings together coalitions to mobilize, to advocate for policy reforms and new programs and to fundamentally address some of the root causes of poverty with the goal of eradicating it.


Can we end poverty?

Absolutely, yes. Fundamentally we have to understand that we can end poverty if we have the political will. There are many places in the world—including Scandinavian countries—that have largely eliminated poverty. But it’s still extremely rare. Canada has done a lot more in terms of supporting those living on a low income and reducing poverty compared to the United States where we’ve seen a lot of cutbacks and a really rapid increase in deep poverty. Although there is a long way to go, I don’t think we should ever lose hope. I think, in fact, this is an important reminder why this work is so tremendously important. We can’t stop fighting to improve the quality of life for people living in poverty.  

Unique Stories Displayed Through Art

City employee, Elizabeth Halpin, is turning a night of terror into triumph by sharing her story. In 2012, she was sexually assaulted in a violent attack, but today, she is determined to reach out to others in need of help.

As one of seven local stories of triumph featured on the United Way’s “It Looks Like Me” art installation, Elizabeth is helping show United Way supporters what their donation looks like and let survivors of assault know that they are not alone. Elizabeth has spoken at numerous workplaces to share her story of how reaching out for help likely saved her life after struggling with PTSD, panic attacks, and agoraphobia.

Elizabeth Halpin Edited.jpg

"Without United Way, I     wouldn't have been able to access the therapy I needed.  I would probably still be afraid to leave my house and definitely would not be working here today." 


Now, her photo is displayed proudly beside portraits of Mike, Danny, Nicole, Kim, Lincoln, and Sarah, all individuals in the Alberta Capital Region who have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their lives after connecting with a United Way supported program.

Each unique shape in the installation represents us and our individual stories, and demonstrates that each person is needed to support the other. The interactive installation aims to help viewers see that each of us has the power to transform the life of someone in need and to also have our life be transformed by the support of a caring community. It shows that a community champion can look like each of us!

“My goal was to create an immersive experience,” Sean Thompson, the piece’s designer explained. “I hope that viewers leave inspired and informed.”

Art installation at Edmonton Tower.jpg

The installation was made possible by the sponsorship of PDQ Signs, Signworks Plus, and Mindcore Interactive.

It will be available for public viewing at the Edmonton Tower’s main lobby, 10111 - 104 Avenue, until October 27th.

Viewers are invited to take photos with the installation and post their personal story of triumph using the hashtag #UWACR2017.

Would you like to display the installation in your workplace for your United Way Campaign? Please call 780-990-1000.

The Benefits of Eating Together

It's Good For Your Health

Imagine there was one simple thing you could do to ensure your kids ate less junk food and got better grades, your parents stayed more socially connected and you felt less stressed. Sounds like magic, right? Actually, it’s something a bit more commonplace than that: dinner.


Though researchers aren’t sure exactly why it works, several studies have found a connection between eating a meal together and our physical and mental health. The advantages seem particularly strong for kids, who benefit from seeing healthy eating habits and positive communication modelled at the dinner table, but, according to Twyla Nichols, the coordinator of YWCA Halifax’s Food First program, we all stand to gain something when we make time to eat together. “When you sit down and eat, you’re relaxing,” she notes. “You slow down.”


Decreases Social Isolation


This is especially true for seniors, who tend to be at a higher risk for social isolation. Social dining or communal meals can help them feel more connected taking the focus off eating and placing it on conversation, community and enjoyment. 

Jimmy Morrison, Community Relations Supervisor, with Operation Friendship Seniors Society, in Edmonton, has seen some of the benefits firsthand. "Many of the seniors that visit the agency don't have family," says Jimmy, "but there is a sense of family here. The clients look out for each other and make lasting friendships." They enjoy talking, playing games, and having meals with other seniors and community members. Holiday meals are sponsored by the Kinsmen Club of Edmonton and Kinette Club of Edmonton. It really benefits the seniors because they have a place where they feel at home where there is companionship and a warm meal. Jimmy says, "Often I hear clients tell me it's nice to know people care about them." 


Join a Local Community Dinner 

2017_HolidayMeals_Thanksgiving_Public - Copy_Page_1.jpg
2017_HolidayMeals_Thanksgiving_Public - Copy_Page_2.jpg

Learn more about how food security affects all Canadians on the Food Secure Canada website. If you or someone you know is struggling with food security, visit Food Banks Canada to find one near you.

If you’d like to help serve a community meal, volunteer to prepare and serve a meal at one of United Way's community partner agencies, please contact Judy, Volunteer Coordinator by calling 780-990-1000. 

3 Ways to Spend More Time With Seniors

As we age, one of the biggest threats to our independence is social isolation. And the need to keep seniors mentally engaged in their communities has never been greater.



Connecting with seniors provides a meaningful—and mutual—learning experience—and it doesn’t take much. Here are three things you can do to connect:

1. Be a good neighbour

You can be part of a “natural system of social support” which means you’re getting involved not because it’s your job, but because you genuinely care about your neighbours. For instance, if you’re going to the grocery store, pop by to check in on a senior down the street to see if he or she could use a carton of milk. 

2. Leverage your skills

Think about what you do best and use your skills as a way to get involved. Great at knitting? Start a club at a local seniors’ residence or community centre. If you’re an accountant, set up a financial planning clinic for older people. Using your own interests as a starting point for volunteering makes the experience more meaningful for everyone. 

3. Strike the right balance

It’s not always about doing things for seniors; it’s about doing things with them. Often the best relationships start with providing a service (such as shopping, yard work, minor repairs or transportation) in order to develop a more meaningful relationship. These types of services help build rapport and from there, it can be about spending time together doing puzzles, talking, having tea, or going for a walk. 

Want to help the seniors in your neighbourhood?

Contact Volunteer Alberta, search your local area and find out if there are volunteers needed to provide services to seniors, including light yard work, transportation, and regular social visits.