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WoodGreen champions financial empowerment to build self-sufficient communities

22 November 2023
Author: Anitha Thillainathan
WoodGreen Community Services, a pillar of support in Toronto, positively impacts the lives of 37,000 individuals annually. Their diverse initiatives range from enhancing seniors' well-being to aiding newcomers in their Canadian journey, addressing housing challenges, and preparing youth for the workforce. As a significant United Way of Toronto member, WoodGreen actively contributes innovative solutions for pressing social needs, earning recognition across the Greater Toronto Area.  WoodGreen also has considerable experience in helping low-income adults to improve their financial well-being. Their Financial Empowerment (FE) Program endeavours to alleviate and help individuals transition out of poverty through offering a full suite of specialized empowerment interventions, including financial literacy workshops, one-on-one financial counselling, benefits assessments, and free year-round income tax preparation. Prosper Canada is honored to collaborate with such impactful community organizations like WoodGreen. In this spotlight, we explore recent successes, encountered challenges, valuable lessons learned, and an inspiring client story that underscores the transformative impact of their efforts. 

Navigating challenges in a dynamic landscape  

The WoodGreen FE program, like any program dedicated to community service, has faced challenges. The escalating housing and affordability crisis presented a surge of distress calls from those struggling with housing-related financial turmoil. Simultaneously, a staffing shortage added complexity, demanding swift solutions to maintain service quality. Despite effectively addressing staffing gaps, productivity loss during this critical period heightened the strain on services, resulting in a growing waitlist. 

Turning challenges into opportunities: The WoodGreen approach 

Despite the difficulties, WoodGreen FE has not only endured but also succeeded. Every July, seniors' lapses in Guaranteed Income Supplement leads to a surge of crisis calls, underscoring the urgency to act. WoodGreen proactively addressed this issue this year by providing webinars for senior support workers across the city. The objective was clear, equip professionals with the skills to identify clients in crisis, intervene promptly, and connect them with WoodGreen's tax filing and financial counseling services. 

Learning and adapting in the face of crisis 

In response to the housing crisis, WoodGreen has initiated new network collaborations and service pathways for people who are facing homelessness. Through filing tax returns and expediting access to Notice of Assessment documents, they have facilitated access to the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit. Access remained slow and frustrating despite a $13.4 million government allocation for COHB. Undeterred, WoodGreen is intensifying efforts, recruiting tax volunteers to enhance filing capacity, and employing targeted outreach to reach their demographic. 

An inspiring client journey: Jacob's transformation 

Meet Jacob, whose inspiring journey speaks volumes about the incredible impact of WoodGreen. At 65, facing memory impairment and the imminent threat of eviction due to rental arrears, Jacob sought WoodGreen's aid. Through several sessions with a Financial Empowerment (FE) social worker, it became clear that Jacob's financial struggle was rooted in memory lapses. 

The FE social worker intervened, setting up pre-authorized payments for Jacob's rent, preventing future missed payments. Unearthing additional unnecessary expenses, Jacob's social worker helped him cancel unused services and address debts while also guiding him through eight years' worth of back taxes. The result? Jacob paid off most of his rental arrears, eliminated unnecessary expenses that he had lost track of and established financial stability. The FE worker helped Jacob receive over $12,000 worth of returns and over $8,000 worth of tax benefits for the eight years of back taxes. His story exemplifies the impactful, transformative work WoodGreen accomplishes daily, making a tangible difference in the lives of Toronto residents. 

Wood Green’s journey is a testament to the power of community organizations in fostering financial resilience. Through challenges and triumphs, they stand firm, creating real, positive change in Toronto's diverse communities. Prosper Canada is proud to stand beside them in this pursuit, championing financial empowerment for all.


Anitha Thillainathan is a Senior Officer, Marketing and Communications at Prosper Canada.

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