As we celebrate the retirement of financial empowerment champions, Katie Walker
and Hélène Ménard
, we take the time to reflect on their legacy of work, the impact they’ve had in their organizations and community and the ingredients that make them true champions of financial empowerment.
As they embark on their next chapter,it is clear they’ll be leaving big shoes to fill.
The key is collaboration: A tribute to retiring Financial Empowerment Champion Katie Walker
When we talk about financial empowerment (FE), we may think we have a good handle on what that means in our work. Perhaps we conjure up in our minds a financial literacy course, a tax clinic, one-on-one coaching towards achieving a money goal. All of these supports are financial empowerment interventions and extremely helpful by themselves. However, we know that they are even better when they go together, hand in hand. This is also true of our individual and collective efforts to help people with their money. Individually we can do great things but when we work together, even greater things are possible.
This July, Katie Walker retired from her role as a financial empowerment social worker at the City of Edmonton. Today, Prosper Canada recognizes Katie’s legacy as a champion of financial empowerment, and more importantly, a champion of collaboration.
Starting as a social worker with the City of Edmonton in 1982, Katie’s purpose to help people any way she could. Katie’s first work with financial empowerment started in 2005, setting up free tax clinic sites across Edmonton. Over the years, this network of tax-filing sites has grown into the well known e4c
program, Make Tax Time Pay
(MTTP) with over 40 sites across Edmonton.
Katie’s work with tax clinics continued in 2008, when she attended a presentation by Louise Simbandumwe of SEED Winnipeg
. The topic: “Free” money for children’s education after high school through the Canada Learning Bond (CLB). Sharing about this “free’ money with families living on a low income in subsidized tenant centres became a passion for Katie. Collaboration with others was a priority, and Katie was able to contribute to Bissell Centre’s Financial Connect
Program, sharing information about the CLB and other government benefits.
For 5 years Katie co-chaired the Edmonton Financial Empowerment Collaborative
. This was a dedicated group of 30+ organizations that came together to support financial empowerment across Edmonton and the surrounding area. Together with this group, including Joanne Curry of the United Way, and Heather Morrison of the City of Edmonton, they brought the first FE Conference to the city exemplifying incredible dedication and teamwork committed to bringing FE to its citizens.
The theme of connecting people to benefits continued, and Katie connected the City of Edmonton to other community stakeholders to create You Can Benefit
, launched in 2017. This tool provides information about government benefits, guiding people to those for which they may be eligible.
Katie’s work finally connected with Prosper Canada in 2015 at the ABLE conference in Toronto. Soon after, Prosper Canada’s Prosperity Gateways: Cities for Financial Empowerment
project would begin, and Katie helped pave the way to make Edmonton the first City in Canada a project partner.
As one of Prosper Canada’s leads on the project in Edmonton, Galen McLusky sums up Katie’s collaborative and open, caring spirit, “Katie was not just a collaborator on the project, she also became our chauffeur, our tour guide, and our gateway to connecting with diverse people and services across the city. We truly could not have understood the city any better in such a short period of time, without Katie’s help. Katie helped us learn about all of the agencies and how they interacted in the city, the different regions of the city, and these connections helped us to see what might be possible. The ease with which people welcomed us into their offices is a testament to the impact of Katie’s work.”
Katie also became a model for how city staff could support vulnerable people in Edmonton. Seeing the way she provided information and support to people as we, at Prosper Canada, engaged them, through the project helped us imagine what might be possible, and it’s no accident that the City’s current social workers welcomed her guidance, support, and training as they moved into this new role.
Similarly, John Stephenson of Prosper Canada recalls his experience with Katie which came after the completion of a week’s worth of research interviews for the project . “Shuttling from one interview location to another I learned a lot about Katie’s passion for cycling, wilderness adventures, and family. At one point, she said, ‘This was the best week of my professional career.’ At that moment, I learned about Katie’s passion for others. A light bulb went on for me: The common thread pulling Katie’s work together was collaboration.” Her idea of collaboration is to deeply listen, build empathy and compassion into every interaction, champion the hopes and dreams of others, and make sure the environment is right for others to take the ball and run with it.
Now more than ever, we know that the key to real, meaningful change, is the front line staff that diligently listen and put their needs second to the hopes and dreams of others.
As Katie retires, we all hope we can follow her lead and be collaborators, and true partners in this journey toward financial empowerment. Lianna Chondo, Katie’s colleague at the City of Edmonton, summarizes Katie’s contribution to the world perfectly, “Katie has a remarkable ability to connect with people and to foster meaningful connections with others. She brought an abundance of energy, kindness and hard work to everything she did, resulting in a legacy of work that has made a difference.”
Join us in thanking Katie for asking great questions, championing the voices of others, and bringing us all together to accomplish great things.
And now Katie, on to your next great adventure! We cheer you on!
Hélène Ménard: The legacy of a passionate financial empowerment leader
Photo: Gynette Moise (Budget counsellor), Hélène Ménard, Ana Fremont (Prosper Canada), Marc D’Orgeville (Executive Director), François Leblanc (Budget counsellor)
When Prosper Canada launched the Ontario Financial Empowerment Champions
project in 2016, we issued a province-wide call for proposals to identify local non-profit organizations that were skilled, experienced, and ready to help us build the financial health of 50,000 Ontarians with low incomes.
EBO Financial Education Centre
was already an important partner in another project, so we were delighted when Hélène Ménard, EBO’s Executive Director, answered our call. After an extremely competitive process, we selected EBO to be one of our partners for their longstanding commitment to serving people with low incomes and helping them to build a better future; and for their leadership in helping to move our field forward. Anyone who has met Hélène knows that she is a passionate and committed ambassador for this work and a true Financial Empowerment Champion in her own right.
Hélène led the way at EBO from March 1993 to June 2021. Through her leadership and long-standing ties to a wide array of stakeholders from federal, provincial and local organizations, EBO accomplished the following among many other things:
- Received the Community Builder Award from the United Way in 2009
- Selected as host of the Canadian Task Force on Financial Literacy for the national unveiling of the country's first national financial literacy strategy
- Founded and chaired the Financial Literacy Action Network of Ottawa (FLANO), one of the country's first community financial literacy networks in Ottawa in 2012.
According to former budget counsellor and Hélène's long-time colleague at EBO, François Leblanc, “she mobilized and worked with partners in all sectors, taking part in many committees, working groups, and leading round tables that aimed to fight poverty in Ottawa. More importantly, she used all the channels at her disposal to advocate for the rights and well-being of the socially and economically vulnerable residents of the City of Ottawa”.
With vigilance and humour, Hélène continuously took a partnership-approach to ensure the availability and sustainability of financial empowerment services as a key support to vulnerable people. Her commitment to working in partnership with the private sector, non-profits, and the public sector facilitated the integration of financial empowerment into more client interactions and a broader range of services over her 28 years at EBO.
It was for all of these reasons that on November 6, 2019, more than 125 guests—including members, partners, and funders of EBO—gathered at Ottawa City Hall to celebrate EBO’s 40th anniversary. Remarks were shared by Jim Watson, Mayor of the City of Ottawa, who emphasized the long-standing partnership between the City and EBO Financial Education Centre and made the following official proclamation
“The City of Ottawa has been a leader in financial empowerment by supporting EBO Financial Education Centre for nearly 40 years; therefore, I, Jim Watson, Mayor of the City of Ottawa, do hereby proclaim November 7, 2019, Financial Empowerment Day in Ottawa.”
In a recent tribute, a group of financial empowerment and community development leaders expressed their congratulations to Hélène on a meaningful, purposeful, and successful career as an advocate for the vulnerable among us. Each expressed their gratitude for Hélène her warmth, inclusion, vision, commitment, and leadership. Helene’s impact is far-reaching both for those she has worked with personally and professionally. Her tenacious advocacy is proven in the strengthened community she served. A colleague shared a quote by Maya Angelou, to express the sentiment of all who have the good fortune to cross paths with Hélène, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
In collaboration with the Board of Directors at EBO, Hélène has ensured that her legacy will carry on. Former colleague and incoming Executive Director, Marc D’Orgeville had this to day, "From her relentless advocacy for all segments of vulnerable people and through her unique laughter that warmly enveloped you to win you over, Hélène inspired a multitude of people throughout her career. She can now retire in peace knowing that many will continue her fight for greater financial empowerment for everyone. Though, her laughter will be dearly missed."
For her part, Hélène is happy to have worked to bring poverty issues to the forefront of the political agenda and promote financial literacy as a lasting solution. "I feel privileged to have worked to raise awareness relating to poverty and how families are struggling uselessly because this country has the resources to address their struggles but politicians choose not to address this topic."
Hélène is so proud of the team of professionals "that I had the privilege to work with to promote budget counselling. This little franco-ontarian organization has grown and has become one of nine Ontario organizations named Financial Literacy Champions! What a dedicated team to achieve such recognition of EBO’s work and mission."
On behalf of everyone at Prosper Canada, we congratulate you, Hélène on an outstanding career and thank you for the lasting contribution you’ve made to our field. À bientôt!