This grassroots financial literacy program aims to support marginalized youth

Financial literacy education can help young people navigate inequitable wealth systems, says Qui, Literacy Central Vancouver Island’s youth literacy coordinator.
A rainbow flag, books and posters in the windows of a store front.
The Well Read Books used book store is a community hub and the home of Literacy Central Vancouver Island in downtown Nanaimo. Photo by Lys Morton/The Discourse

As more signs point to a coming recession, one B.C. organization is taking an innovative, grassroots approach to preparing local youth to navigate and manage their financial future. 

“Financial literacy is a critical part of how youth have to navigate the extremely difficult circumstances they are placed in today in our society,” says Qui, Youth Literacy Coordinator with Literacy Central Vancouver Island (LCVI), based in Nanaimo. “The most basic needs of young people like housing, food, mental health support, and education are often things that can feel unattainable due to financial barriers.”

LCVI will launch a four-part workshop series, called Dollar Cents, next year. The program is for youth between the ages of 16 and 29, with topics focusing on budgeting, saving, debt, and managing the cost of living.

The program pulls from Qui’s own lived experience as a youth facing barriers to financial education and access, and the stories of local youth facing similar challenges. LCVI is developing the workshops to be accessible and engaging particularly for youth who have been marginalized and excluded from access to wealth, financial institutions and information.

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“There are many trans youth I know who are on the cusp of entering post-secondary, and fear if they pursue medical transition that they will be cut off financially from their parents and forced to forfeit their education. There are many more young people I know who have grown up in poverty, and have never even thought financial stability possible, let alone post-secondary.”

Rather than lecturing students on the benefits of savings accounts and investments, the workshops will invite youth to develop their own fictional characters as a vehicle to explore and overcome financial barriers. 

This characterization can help to alleviate the shame that can become a barrier to financial literacy, Qui explains. This is especially true for marginalized groups who often face overlapping financial burdens, such as aging out of foster care or inaccessible work opportunities

By learning about money through storytelling, the Dollar Cents aims to deliver financial literacy training that actually helps the young people who need it. 

Financial literacy is more than facts

As Canadians face more uncertain futures and increasingly complex financial systems, more groups are paying attention to the need to boost financial literacy, particularly among those who face barriers. The federal government launched its first National Financial Literacy Strategy in 2015, and another in 2021

The strategy defines financial literacy to include “not only the skills and capacity to make informed financial decisions, but also actions or behaviours that lead to positive financial outcomes.” That means that financial literacy is about more than about what you know, it’s about how you’re able to benefit from putting that knowledge to use.

And more groups are recognizing that successful financial literacy needs to deal with the emotions that come up around money, and not just raw information. The relatively new field of Financial Therapy brings the psychology of human emotions and behaviour together with the skills of money management to help people take control of their financial lives. 

A 2020 review of financial literacy research in Canada found that detailed data on youth financial literacy is lacking, beyond broad international comparisons. There’s little known about risk factors, group differences or the effectiveness of intervention programs. 

And ineffective programs don’t do any good. A 2011 National Report Card on Youth Financial Literacy found that only youth who had good experiences with financial literacy programs benefited from them. Those who took a course but had a bad experience saw no benefit. 

In practice, this means that literacy education programs that target a general youth audience are likely to further marginalize young people who face significant barriers, who don’t see their specific challenges reflected in those programs. 

There is no one-size-fits all approach, which is why grassroots programs targeted to the needs of specific communities, such as LCVI’s Dollar Cents, can be so important. This point is clear in the National Financial Literacy Strategy, which emphasizes reducing barriers by communicating in ways people can understand, reaching people with information targeted to their specific needs, and leveraging community partnerships. 

Meeting youth where they’re at

LCVI hopes to build on the strength of its community relationships and past programming to deliver financial literacy training that genuinely serves local youth, particularly those who have been marginalized.

The non-profit, founded in 1990, has offered tutoring, English literacy classes and family reading resources over the years and has grown to become a community hub in downtown Nanaimo. 

As part of its increasing focus on youth, LCVI facilitated the creation of PLACE, a youth literary magazine, and organizes events including Trans Day of Remembrance ceremonies.

A magazine page reads: “Anonymous entries. Many of our youth face persecution daily from bylaw, police and other members of the public if they are visible, so they have chosen to remain anonymous in this magazine for their safety. The following poems came from a group of youth who were displaced from Wesley Street: No water in the summer / No shelter in the winter / No second chances in the Spring of COVID / No masks, no entry / No phone, no appointments / No sleeping on a sidewalk / No resting in a park / No chance to let my guard down / Until everything has gone quiet and dark.”
PLACE magazine shares stories, poems and art from young people in Nanaimo. The summer 2020 edition served to uplift the voices of unhoused youth. Photo by Anna McKenzie/IndigiNews

Qui hopes the Dollar Cents program will give youth in the region the self confidence to explore their financial opportunities and deal with money stressors in a healthy and productive way. Their personal experience and connections with community youth helped drive the focus of the program.

The workshop series is inspired by the LVCI’s Money Stories program, a financial literacy workshop for women who have experienced domestic violence or poverty. The program focuses on healing from economic abuse through a decolonized lens. It explores how economic abuse can affect Medicine Wheel teachings, which centre on the interconnect of self aspects; the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual.

In that program, too, participants are asked to explore money through the lens of a character. They then use storytelling to explore familiar financial struggles. Character building involves asking: What is their income, age, expenses, goals, and current living situation? Does this character have kids? Are they a single parent? Do they have financial support from parents? 

With those questions in mind, participants learn the skills and knowledge to navigate what financial options are available and how best to manage financial resources. 

As a young person who grew up facing overlapping barriers, Qui understands the importance of serving youth with financial literacy information that truly meets them where they are at. 

“I believe that financial literacy offers empowerment to youth, because it gives us the knowledge and languages to navigate the systems and structures that are based in-equitably on wealth that we cannot escape from in our pursuit of our futures.”

Youth can register for the program via email ([email protected]) or phone (250-754-8988) in late January. While an exact date for when registration will open hasn’t been set yet, any updates and information about the series and registration opening will be posted to the LCVI social media channels and shared with students at Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools.


This reporting was made possible through the financial support of Coast Capital, a member-owned cooperative. The article was produced with full editorial independence; Coast Capital was not involved in the story selection, reporting and editing process.

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