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John shares how travelling to host budgeting workshops pays off

20 February 2018
Author: John Cockburn
Growing up in a small northern town, I have become accustomed to measuring distance in hours and not kilometres. Where I was born and raised it was two hours to the nearest mall, movie theatre, or fast food joint. I would often pile as many friends as I could into my dad’s old car and drive two hours to eat some McDonalds and watch two movies then drive back home. It wasn’t long before the journey became more exciting than the destination.
Since starting to work through the Ontario Financial Empowerment Champions project at Sudbury Community Service Centre (which is considered the south to me), I realized that travelling to remote communities was going to be a big part of my job. Some First Nations communities in our catchment area are starved for budgeting advice and strategies, and are in dire need of help with setting up Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP) clinics. This is something my Agency and I are happy to do.
It has been our experience that most First Nations communities prefer to meet you face-to-face. They do use email and teleconference to connect and interact with other agencies on a regular basis but they prefer the connection that is made when someone comes out to sit with them in person. Becoming a member of their community means something to them because it provides a sense of friendship and trust that is difficult to foster over the phone or email.  
I have hosted three budgeting workshops in some remote First Nation communities, one of which happened at Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation after the first snowfall.  It was at this workshop where I realized the importance of coming out to meet with the members instead of having them make the trek to our Agency in the city. All but two of the 12 attendees arrived for the session on snow machines or quads (four wheeled ATVs). It was clear that having these people make the 200km journey to see us in Sudbury on snow machines was neither realistic nor recommended.
The group started as normal with introductions and the basics, but soon the members warmed up and really got involved with the workshop. They were opening up about their financial situations and sharing their budget woes in a way that no other group had done for me to date.  Making the trip out to see them allowed me to connect in a way that would never had been possible through a laptop camera. Having worked as a credit counsellor in the past allowed me to help each individual with ideas and resources they didn’t know existed. I was providing solutions to their everyday problems that were practical and achievable. I could feel the weight of money stress and debt pressure lift from everyone’s shoulders.  
Every one of the attendees came up to me after the presentation and thanked me for making the trip. They knew it was a long ride to see them and they were happy that I made the effort. For the first time since making those trips as a teenager the destination had become better than the journey.  
Sudbury Community Service Centre and Credit Counselling Service of Sault Ste. Marie & District are collaborative partners on the Ontario Financial Empowerment Champions project. For more information about the Ontario Financial Empowerment Champions project, visit:


John is the Financial Empowerment Coordinator with the Sudbury Community Service Centre and Credit Counselling Sudbury. He has varied life experience, working in every field from 911 dispatch to credit counseling, which he feels helps him connect with the people he is helping on a personal level. Born and bred in the north (Chapleau, ON), he has a passion for helping people in the remote and isolated corners of the province.

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