But within minutes of meeting Jackie, a young woman from Manitoba’s Swan Lake First Nation, her clear-eyed confidence about the future fills the room with something like a warm glow.
“I’m on a path now, a better path,” Jackie says. “When my sentence is over, I’m going back to Swan Lake. I’m going to get my girls back. I’m going to start my own business. These are things I’m going to do.”
She credits many things for her certainty—self-reflection during her incarceration, maturity, the fellowship and help and comfort from staff and fellow inmates at Buffalo Sage.
And she gives a strong nod to Empower U, the financial literacy and matched-savings program offered through several Edmonton community partners, including Buffalo Sage.
In eight years, Empower U has taught more than 1,000 Edmonton women from diverse circumstances how to save, budget, build credit and otherwise feel confident in a financial system that isn’t always a positive place for people with low incomes or difficult personal lives.
ATB Financial leads the financial literacy training and contributes to a matched-savings component that donates a toonie to every participants’ saved loonie. Participants use the money to improve their lives, for small essentials like eyeglasses or laptops, or rent payments.
At Buffalo Sage, saved money is a crucial building block for a better future.
Before the Empower U training, Jackie never saved, never wrote out a budget and didn’t understand how to escape the crushing weight of bad credit.
Now, in the weeks before her release, she’s saving money for beads and material for the beautiful Indigenous crafts and clothes she makes. She’s even applied for a credit card.
She feels ready for what’s next.
“I’ve learned how to ask questions. It’s almost like I understand now that I have a right to know these things about money, where before I just assumed that what you did was stumble around in the dark and deal with the bad things that came along.”
These feelings of knowledge and security are shared by the majority of Empower U graduates. Some 93 per cent say the program has boosted their confidence.
One of Jackie’s peers at Buffalo Sage, a fellow Manitoban who’d prefer not to reveal her name, says she existed month-to-month before her incarceration. She was often robbed on the street because she carried cash from assistance cheques.
Now, after completing Empower U, she has three accounts—a chequing, a savings, and a credit card. Buoyed by a 98 per cent mark in Grade 12 math, she has her eye on an electrician apprentice program once she’s served her time.
“Now when I talk to my kids, it’s on the phone. I sing to them, from far away. But when I see them next, I’ll be in school. I’ll have money saved. It’ll be a situation we can all be proud of, together.”