Celebrating 10 years of building stronger financial futures through Empower U - United Way Alberta Capital Region

Celebrating 10 years of building stronger financial futures through Empower U

November 8, 2022

Pamela Spurvey, an Empower U graduate and current facilitator, shared her story of how the course helped her break the cycle of generational poverty.

Over the last decade, 2,000 people in the Alberta Capital Region have built stronger, more stable financial futures with the help of Empower U.

United Way of the Alberta Capital Region’s Empower U initiative is a collaborative of local non-profits agencies that helps people living with low-income reach their financial goals by offering financial literacy advice, a match-savings program, and financial coaching opportunities.

As part of Financial Literacy Month, United Way and ATB Financial hosted a 10-year anniversary event to celebrate the achievements of Empower U participants.

“Your hard work, your dedication, and your resiliency has not gone unnoticed. There are so many people who care, who are rallying behind you, and cheering you on,” shared Rob Yager, President & CEO of United Way of the Alberta Capital Region at the event attended by Empower U graduates and their families, agency partners, program facilitators, and funding partners.

Empower U grads share powerful stories of resiliency

“I am an empowered woman, and so are you.”

Tsitsi Chiwara,
Empower U participant and divorce lawyer

Compelling evidence shows that women and the families they care for are more vulnerable to poverty. This can result from a variety of circumstances, including being more likely to work low-wage and insecure jobs, experiencing domestic violence that includes financial abuse, as well as racial discrimination and biases when accessing banking systems. In recognition of these barriers, most Empower U courses are geared towards women.

“We are women claiming and holding power to make our own decisions, stand up for our rights and say no to violence, discrimination, and harmful traditional practices. [But] women’s empowerment through financial inclusion remains unfinished business,” shared Tsitsi Chiwara, a recent Empower U grad who was called to the Alberta Bar in 2021.

Tsitsi says Empower U is bridging the gap between unfinished business and women’s empowerment, creating a safe space for women from all walks of life to come and take charge by building secure financial futures.

“The program changed my thinking as a marginalized woman, victim of domestic violence and immigrant, creating a sound future for myself and my children,” she said.

In addition to speaking, Pamela Spurvey also opened the Empower U celebration by sharing her thoughts on the importance of land acknowledgements and a Cree water song.

Empower U graduate Pamela Spurvey recounted her struggles with addictions. After being arrested, she served her time through the Edmonton Drug Treatment Court instead of entering the prison system and worked hard to rebuild her life. Pamela regained custody of her children, found a job at Edmonton Drug Treatment Court, and discovered the Empower U program at Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE).

“One of the things I learned was that I could have power over money, that it did not have to have power over me. That was an incredible learning tool for me.’”

Pamela brought her family to the event, and her voice was bursting with pride as she shared how her daughters are also Empower U graduates building strong futures for themselves and their children.

“I have the honour of making generational change from generational poverty to generational success. If people are given a chance, change can happen. My grandchildren will know financial security because of what I’ve given to my family.”

Pamela’s life has come full circle: in addition to her job as an AHS Peer Support Worker, she is an Empower U facilitator for CEASE — the same agency where she took the course a decade ago.

“Thank you for giving me that chance to change my life and teach others. It’s such an honour to use my lived experience to hold them up until they can find their way to the path I’m on today.”


Rob Yager, President & CEO of United Way of the Alberta Capital Region, and Tanya Hulbert, Vice-President of Everyday Financial Services at ATB Financial, cut a cake celebrating Empower U’s 10-year anniversary.

Partners work together to support better programming

Empower U is a collaborative between 10 agencies in the Capital Region who deliver the program and United Way as administrative and backbone support.

Each agency partner has unique and diverse programming, so the collaborative approach offers opportunities to share knowledge, while also being flexible enough to meet participants needs.

“There is a very strong collaborative spirit when it comes to Empower U, and that is why it’s been so successful for these 10 years. And when something is not working, we come together to work through that,” says Kathy Burgett, Program Director at Norwood Child and Family Resource Centre.

“The participants and graduates are the heart of [Empower U’s] success. Thank you for being brave, for talking about the things that most of us keep private: our finances. Because of your bravery, we can work to make a difference in many of our lives.”

Empower U also receives support and funding from several organizations in the Edmonton area, including ATB Financial. Tanya Hulbert, Vice-President of Everyday Financial Services at ATB Financial, says ATB is honoured and inspired to play a role in the lives of so many people who are empowering themselves to reach their own financial dreams.

“Almost 90% of program participants report feeling more comfortable self-advocating and more confident with banking.” Tanya says. “We’ve seen similar numbers with increased self-esteem and self-confidence [and] almost all participants shared that they walk out of the program feeling more hopeful for the future.”.

5 tips to give yourself a financial check-up

Carol Cimino is Business Development Manager with ATB Financial. She volunteers through United Way’s Each One, Teach One financial literacy workshop and is an Empower U facilitator. She shares her top five financial literacy tips that can help anyone.


Young multiethnic couple examining home finance

  1. Track your spending. This helps give you a full picture of where your money is going and changes you might be able to make to improve your finances.
  2. Pay yourself first. When you’re creating a budget, be sure to include a line item for savings.
  3. Create a financial safety net. Ensure savings are going into an emergency fund that is easily accessible. A common goal is to have at least three months of income set aside should you lose your job.
  4. Employ the avalanche method. This is where you pay off your high-interest debt first before moving to debt with lower interest. The avalanche method helps you save money because you accumulate less interest.
  5. Pay on time, every time. Late payments can impact your credit score, and you could owe late fees or other fines.