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Creating change in challenging times: Highlighting our partner's efforts

6 August 2020
At Prosper Canada, we pride ourselves on our ability to connect, engage and support our frontline partners. This allows us the fortunate perspective of seeing smart and inspirational efforts that may not be seen by the broader population. We see how every day our partners are exemplifying the ability to adapt quickly, pivot and respond to what seem to be insurmountable challenges. We look to these organizations as beacons in these times of uncertainty. We applaud them, we are motivated by them and we are encouraged by their creative, nimble and committed approaches to the critical work they’re doing especially during COVID-19.
Community partners adapt and respond to Canadians’ needs during COVID-19

Agincourt Community Services Association (ACSA) - Using social media to meaningfully connect and engage
Located in the Scarborough community, ACSA is an organization that works to address a variety of issues including systemic poverty, hunger, housing, homelessness, unemployment, accessibility and social isolation. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic ACSA created a simple yet compelling video that they shared on Twitter recently summarizing their commitment to staying open and supporting their community. They highlighted a call to action for food support for their community and clients and showcased how that SOS was answered with overwhelming donations. 
ACSA managed to turn a 10,000 square foot space into a Food Bank, staff and volunteers all stepped up to help organize donations. One thousand one hundred and fifty families receive food weekly at the Hub. Seniors, families living on low income, and newcomers, are all able to access the Food Hub supported by community volunteers and Youth Leadership teams. These volunteers are committed to showing up and aren't letting the pandemic or fear stop them from continuing in their mission of offering a hand up to those most in need. 
Mobile tax clinics carried out by the Financial Empowerment and Problem-Solving (FEPS) team continued to support virtual tax filing and ACSA pilot projects ensured youth and community members were checked in on and were able to engage with each other, keeping connection and contact top-of-mind. Using Facebook Live ensured that children, families and those underserved were empowered and had their needs addressed face-to-face. 
ACSA’s use of Twitter and Facebook highlights the ground swell for digital outreach and how mobilizing these efforts can inspire and connect with people in need. Pausing or closing their services was simply not an option for ACSA. 

View their Twitter video

Family Services of Greater Vancouver (FSGV) -Developing financial empowerment support digitally 
In response to the expanding need for financial help in the Vancouver area, FSGV developed the C-19 Money Navigator under their financial empowerment banner. Understanding that changes in employment, decreased income, not knowing how to pay rent or afford the next meal, and the overall uncertainty of what is to come, was causing many people great anxiety. For FSGV, this meant that they needed to create a means by which they could help and support their community quickly. 
By creating the C-19 Money Navigator, FSGV is able to offer online resources and live chat (with chat translation available in English, Español, Việt, Français, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Farsi) providing financial supports, and money tips. They provide personal navigators who can help clients access benefits and applications unique to their situation. Their money coaches allow for booking online appointments to create budgets, help with payment plans and get referrals to other providers. 
The C-19 Money Navigator is free and is available 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, providing multi-lingual supports for individuals and families during this difficult time. They are clear in their mandate to be non-judgmental, confidential and supportive all while utilizing the digital platform.
The site also offers COVID-19 income support and relief measures, how to access financial supports for students and graduates and help if paying the rent becomes a challenge. As well, accessing specific utility supports in BC, how to file taxes and handling debt overall in this crisis are front and centre on the site. 
FSGV has also included the Financial Relief Navigator (FRN) portal on its site to help BC residents find benefits and relief that may not be captured currently on their site. 
As we well know, it takes an incredible team, who are willing to work swiftly and with the end-user always in mind, to develop a digital tool in times where face-to-face is a challenge and often next to impossible for some. Using their current site, FSGV brought the right kind of support to their clients.

Credit Counselling Sudbury (CCS)– Pivoting to provide free volunteer income tax filing
As Sudbury’s only not-for-profit credit counselling agency, a typical day includes helping clients reduce and manage their debt, deal with collection calls, providing advice on improving credit scores, and providing assistance and guidance when considering bankruptcy and other insolvency issues. These services help people to resolve debt, manage money problems and reduce stress impacting family dynamics, regain self-esteem and establish overall sense of well-being. As COVID-19 impacted the ability of many living on low income to file their taxes, this is where Credit Counselling Sudbury (CCS) stepped in to help. CCS made the decision to pivot to support those who needed help to organize their information and file their taxes.
Tax filing, can be challenging for some people, particularly those living on low income who may lack support or have trouble navigating the complex tax system. Adding to this stressful experience is the fact that tax filing is the gateway to accessing some benefits including new emergency benefits which are a lifeline for many people during these challenging times.
Since COVID-19 hit, CCS recognized that they needed to adapt to an alternate tax-filing delivery model and support their community with free volunteer income tax filing, help navigating COVID-19 benefits including support dealing with financial institutions. Continuing to offer free credit counselling advice is additionally helpful throughout the process. 
CCS quickly deliberated and pushed forward to resume tax-filing services, free of charge, following the COVID-19 physical distancing and safety rules. 
Their easy to use drop off system, includes a 48 hour turn around, communication of any necessary changes, phone appointments to set up signing times and helping ensure clients are receiving all eligible benefits. 
Helping clients in these precarious financial times is more important than ever. Thanks to organizations like Credit Counselling Sudbury who were able to leverage their natural expertise, has allowed people living on low income to have somewhere to turn and someone to help guide them. Support through stressful and difficult experiences such as tax filing ensures that those who need it, receive their benefits and are not cut off from any essential government supports.
Family Services Thames Valley (FSTV) – Making the most of unconventional volunteers
What became clear to Robert Leyland, financial empowerment project lead of Family Services Thames Valley, when COVID-19 took hold was that the traditional way they had been delivering tax-filing clinics to some 14,000 people living in London, Ontario was not going to work as it had historically.
Agencies that normally support people on low income file their taxes through trained volunteers were typically comprised of older people and those at higher risk of contracting the virus. Despite this hurdle, instead of shuttering their plans, they took up the challenge and tapped into a totally new cohort of volunteers, University of Western Medical Students. Who better to support low-income individuals and families with the new strict safety and health protocols, than medical students? They already have insight into best practices in these types of circumstances and were the ideal fit to help.
Once Canada Revenue Agency announced that virtual tax-filing clinics could be held in a modified fashion, FSTV began working with clients, and the students jumped on board to help. Originally having planned to help support tax filing through document pick up, the students are now considered “dispatchers” channeling phone, email and online contact forms to virtual tax clinics affiliated with FSTV that can help.
FSTV exemplifies the ability to think outside the box and reach out to people beyond traditional contacts - creative thinking at its best.

We're grateful to all our partners for their incredible efforts to ensure that those living on low income have the necessary supports to weather these difficult times. We look forward to sharing more stories on how organizations have been changing and adapting their services to meet the needs of those who are vulnerable and financially impacted by COVID-19.