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Asset-Building: A Skill for All Seasons

Many families living on low incomes struggle to meet basic needs. Saving and investing for the future are usually completely out of the question, and yet they are critical to overcoming poverty. As Ray Boshara says: Without income, you can’t get by. Without assets, you can’t get ahead.
Momentum’s Financial Literacy programs help people living on low incomes learn how to manage and save their money. Through savings, participants build assets, which are key to having a sustainable livelihood.
Assets enable you to . . .

  • Bounce back after an emergency
  • Take productive risks
  • Plan for the future
  • Feel confident and hopeful
  • And ultimately, exit poverty

Momentum’s matched-savings programs are very successful at helping participants build assets. We offer four such programs, including one specifically for young people between the ages of 16 and 24.
Youth Fair Gains (YFG) has been running since 2002. During the course of the nine-month YFG program, participants learn about managing and saving money. They must save between $5 and $50 each month and, at the end of the program, their savings are matched four to one. They can spend the savings on any durable asset: education, tools for work, RESPs for their children, or starting or expanding a small business.
In 2015, Momentum completed a reach-back study conducted to better understand the lasting impacts of the program. It provided us with benchmarks and comparisons to similar programs in Canada and abroad, and it showed us where we could improve the program.
One of the most important and gratifying results of the YFG reach-back study was finding that long after the program ends, participants continue to use the skills they developed. As we work with them, we see the whole picture of our young participants’ lives. We know that for them to save every month often requires overcoming substantial obstacles. We know they overcome those obstacles during the program. But we didn’t know if any of what we taught had stuck once they graduated.
Shauna Parks is a shining example of a Momentum graduate using what she learned. Currently, she is the Executive Director of Sunrise Community Link but we first met her when she became a participant in the second YFG cohort. As she was growing up, she never learned much about managing her money. By the time she was 21, she had student loans, credit card debt, and no plan to pay them back.
She’s not sure where she first heard about Momentum, but she does remember YFG. The facilitator was great about teaching the necessary skills in balance with what was actually important to Shauna. The one-on-one coaching helped her to apply all she learned in the classroom, and the program set the tone for the planned and mindful way she has approached her finances ever since.
Shauna put her YFG savings toward education, as 94% of participants do. In her case, she used the funds to help her get a Bachelor of Social Work. While she was at university, she saw a job posting for the YFG Facilitator at Momentum. She applied, and worked at Momentum for three years. She then moved to Winnipeg and worked for two years in Child Welfare.
All this time, she had been building her assets using the money management principles she learned at Momentum. She was the first person in her family to buy a home, and she has bought and sold several since. All her children had RESPs in their names within months of their birth.
When she returned to Calgary, Shauna completed her Master of Social Work degree. Shortly after graduation, she saw an ad for the executive director position at Sunrise Community Link. The organization offers resources and support to individuals and families in East Calgary. Its goal is to address vulnerabilities, facilitate personal development, and engage participants in contributing to community resilience.

If you ever have the opportunity to do something meaningful for someone, don’t walk away, walk alongside. The people you work with are experts in their own lives. Your role is to empower, and to make space for sharing stories, for reflection and for learning. For change to be sustainable, you have to move past offering simple, one-size-fits-all solutions, and instead respond to the complexity of each person’s life.
– Shauna Parks

Shauna uses what she learned at Momentum in her work, as she has in her life. Careful planning helps the organization be proactive. Paying attention to program outcomes and the organization’s finances allows her to be realistic in her negotiations with funders. She balances the need to respect each individual with the importance of seeing the bigger picture.
She is proud of her relationship with Momentum, and very happy to be expanding it further. Early in 2015, Momentum invited eligible agencies to design matched-savings programs of their own. Shauna applied, and Sunrise Community Link was accepted. It is now one of two organizations receiving training, support and funding to offer a matched-savings program to their participants. Sunrise $avings was launched in October 2015.
Shauna is the first to acknowledge her own limitations. She approaches her life and her work with a sense of humour—and a sense of seriousness. She knows that no individual can solve all issues. But she also knows that the work each of us does is an important piece in a bigger puzzle, and it should never be taken lightly.