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Dreaming big: Financial empowerment leads to a life transformed

26 November 2021
Author: Wendy Abbott-Serroul
Carla Macias came to Canada from Ecuador in the winter of 2007 on a resident card. She came to reunite with her husband and brought along with her a son who was later diagnosed as struggling with a learning disability. Her family settled in North York, Ontario and she soon realized she was once again pregnant with her second child. As she became more familiar with the Canadian way of life, she quickly recognized that language was going to be a barrier and she was keen to find a way to improve her English. She also felt that she was facing certain elements of discrimination based on her accent and her inability to speak fluent English. She felt very low and quite alone in her experiences. Throughout, she was busy trying to look after her son and also worked in the evenings. Her husband was working mornings in order for them to share the childcare responsibilities. 

As Carla became more familiar with the Canadian system, she  learned that her and her husband would need to file their taxes. Unsure how to do that and where to go she was advised that the Jane/Finch Centre might be able to help her. She had heard about tax information programs from others and asked how to go about learning more. She was connected with a community worker who was able to help her as a result of their training in the Financial Empowerment and Problem Solving (FEPS) program which provides free, confidential, one-on-one support to individuals living on low incomes to help them build their financial health. 

Her community worker was not only able to support her with critical tax-filing support that enabled her to receive important financial benefits, but she was also able to do so much more. The worker at the Jane/Finch Centre was able to connect her with other Spanish speaking people in her community so she no longer felt isolated and alone. They encouraged her and provided resources to help her improve her English language speaking. They were also able to help her apply for OSAP so that she could go to school and pursue her hopes of becoming a civil engineer. On top of that assistance, including key financial advice, her community worker also helped her find day-care for her son and critical disability and child benefits. At every step of the way they helped her complete all the necessary applications. 

In just a very short time Carla felt as though the community worker had propelled her forward in her goal of establishing her family in a meaningful way in Canada. She truly felt as though those who helped her had begun to feel as though they were friends and family.

Carla was so encouraged by this experience and continued to follow through on improving her English. The financial support gave her family peace of mind and enabled her son to graduate from high school and begin a chemical engineering degree in college. Carla feels so grateful for all the advice and assistance the community worker provided. Without the support of the Jane/Finch Centre, Carla feels her unfortunate initial experience in Canada would not have improved. Having learned how to file taxes, access the Canada Learning Bond, OSAP, and Disability Benefits, she has been able to save and buy property for their son, and pay for his schooling and most importantly invest in his future.

“I do not have words to express the happiness I feel that I can help other newcomers because, despite my accomplishments, I also experienced some barriers when I was a newcomer. In fact, I experienced domestic violence, discrimination for my Spanish accent, and being a woman (the Civil Engineering field is very male dominated and to find a job in this field was hard for me). For this reason, I kept studying. Despite these barriers, I had the opportunity to meet with people like the lady from the Jane/Finch Centre, she was a real angel for all my family. She also taught me to fight for my rights, to speak up, and she inspired me to help more people in my community.”

For herself, Carla’s education journey shifted through this process and she is currently completing her degree in disciplinary studies. She would eventually like to become a tmath or Spanish teacher and currently works in a community centre that supports children and young people. 

 “If my experiences can get attention, I am happy to help other immigrants. Despite the achievements that an immigrant like me can obtain, we also face barriers, and to overcome these, we need to stand up with determination and courage because our family, friends, and community are watching us and learning from us”.

Carla believes that her mission is to pay her experience forward and to empower other women in her community to follow in her footsteps to learning, growing and sharing back all that she has experienced since coming to Canada. There is a bright future for many in the Jane/Finch community thanks to the commitment of the staff there and the legacy they leave with the people they help.

View a video of Carla sharing her story.

Jane/Finch Centre is a community based organization driven by passion, innovation, and a strong commitment to social justice, community engagement and collaboration. Jane/Finch Centre is a Financial Empowerment and Problem Solving (FEPS) program partner. The FEPS program is currently delivered by West Neighbourhood House, Agincourt Community Services Association, Jane/Finch Centre, The Working Centre  in partnership with Prosper Canada. 

To learn more about Jane/Finch Centre, please visit:


Wendy Abbott-Serroul is the Senior Marketing and Communications Manager at Prosper Canada. She works closely with the entire organization to identify communications needs and supports the efforts to increase awareness and the profile of Prosper Canada.

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