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Helping learners gain financial independence through financial literacy

For over 50 years Epilepsy Toronto has been supporting people with epilepsy and their family members. The non-profit offers services such as counselling, support groups, employment, public education and advocacy.

The organization recently came across Money Matters through TD Bank. Money Matters was developed by ABC Life Literacy Canada with support from founding sponsor TD Bank Group through the TD Ready Commitment. Leah Sultan-Khan, Director of Community Engagement & Public Education at Epilepsy Toronto, felt that Money Matters would be a great fit for Epilepsy Toronto’s new Securing Futures (SF) Program. This SF pilot aims to support vulnerable adults with epilepsy to gain the life skills and housing opportunities they need to live independently. These skills include financial literacy and budgeting.

Epilepsy Toronto ran four Money Matters workshops virtually during Epilepsy Awareness Month in March.

“Most of our clients in the SF program are in their mid-20s to mid-40s and live at home, so by running Money Matters as part of our broader life skills pilot program, we’re able to provide learners with a solid foundation of financial literacy to live independently,” says Sultan-Khan. “These clients are receiving income support, so it’s important that they understand banking options, spending plans, needs and wants, credit, etc., in order to feel empowered to stand on their own.”

According to Sultan-Khan many individuals with epilepsy have co-existing conditions such as developmental or learning disabilities, ADHD and anxiety, so programs such as Money Matters are extremely beneficial as they appeal to a variety of learners and are fully customizable.

Money Matters workbooks are user-friendly, written in plain language, and work as an excellent resource for learners to refer back to frequently. The workbooks cover four topics:

  • Spending Plans
  • Banking Basics
  • Borrowing Money
  • Ways to Save

Additionally, the program has been adapted and is also offered as Money Matters for People with Diverse Abilities, which aims to meet the needs of learners with various intellectual, verbal, physical and nonphysical capabilities. This program has six workbooks, including:

  • What is a Bank?
  • Ways to Pay
  • Needs, Wants, and Spending Plans
  • How to Use an ATM
  • Understanding Your Paycheque
  • Money Safety

All Money Matters workshops can be delivered with the support of TD Bank volunteers, and Epilepsy Toronto was keen to take advantage of this element.

“Connecting with the volunteers ahead of time to talk to them about our learners and how to better understand our audience was extremely valuable for effective program delivery, and it was an important part in the customization of the workshop,” says Sultan-Khan. “We spoke to them about the importance of using plain language to appeal to the different learning styles in order to reinforce the messaging and optimize learning.”

Sultan-Khan explains that many people with epilepsy have memory issues, so having a visual component together with discussion helps learners grasp concepts and allows them to apply conceptual information pragmatically.

She further mentioned that the physical workbooks and handouts from the program helped learners retain quality information, as they had a resource to reference. “Clients would review the workbooks prior to each session to familiarize themselves with the content, which helped with memory and reinforcement. It’s this customization that sets Money Matters apart from many other financial literacy programs.”

When it comes to the response from the learners, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. One learner said he felt more confident, happier, and ready to get a credit card. Another said she felt more in control when she started documenting transactions and saw where she was spending her money.

“Overall, our clients learned solid practical skills and financial terminology,” says Sultan-Khan. “They felt more confident in managing money as they prepare to transition to independence. They identified budgeting, credit scores and saving strategies as a few of the most important and useful topics covered in the sessions.”

Sultan-Khan’s colleague, Carter Hammett, who runs the employment services program at Epilepsy Toronto, echoes the sentiments about Money Matters.

“Many of our clients live on income support, and it’s not very empowering,” he says. “Money Matters was instrumental in helping them maximize limited resources and take advantage of financial vehicles such as a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP).”

Hammett says he believes financial literacy is strongly linked to employment, leading to greater independence.

“We teach our clients that they have they have to accept responsibility for a paycheque and do proper budgeting if they want to learn to live independently.”

Epilepsy Toronto’s employment program is the only employment program in the country dedicated to supporting the needs of job seekers with epilepsy. To learn more about the organization, visit www.epilepsytoronto.org. For more information about Money Matters, visit www.abcmoneymatters.ca.