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Investing in the Indigenous community

Bank Assiniboine Credit Union
Client Urban Circle
Location Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

In 1990, a small group of women from Winnipeg’s North End were volunteering at a secondhand clothing outlet and wanted to get training that would lead to full-time employment. Together with the help of the volunteer coordinator, they put together a proposal for funding and the first 6-month training program for 12 women was launched. From that very modest beginning grew Urban Circle Training Centre, now one of the most successful Indigenous training programs in Manitoba.

Eleanor Thompson, founder and Director of Finance and Development of Urban Circle, and Haven Stumpf, Director of Operations, have no doubt about the positive impact the organization creates in the community. “Accessible education is key to social transformation and is the foundation upon which communities can build,” says Thompson. “Kids see their parents’ pride in identity and their accomplishment in getting an education and they want expect the same thing for themselves. The positive ripple effect is undeniable,“ says Stumpf. Urban Circle now has over 150 students enrolled annually in certified training programs and over 85% of these students graduate successfully and secure full time employment or go on to post-secondary education. The teachings of the Elders are at the heart of Urban Circle’s holistic educational model and graduates point to this as the reason for their success.

Urban Circle offers grade 12 completion, Red River College certified courses in Nursing Assistant, Educational Assistant and Family Support Worker, as well as training in the trades, providing Indigenous people with the starting point to access Red Seal certified apprenticeship programs. An Indigenous perspective is offered, grounded in the seven sacred teachings – Truth, Humility, Love, Wisdom, Respect, Courage and Honesty. An on-site day care allows families to remain close and parents to feel less stress knowing their kids are being cared for while they attend classes. An intergenerational model offers parents, grandparents, children and Elders an opportunity to learn Indigenous language together and to celebrate life in community.

But it wasn’t always an easy road. When it came to two major capital projects to build a permanent home on Selkirk Avenue, the organizers discovered that no financial institution was willing to help them get started… until they met with ACU. “All this could not have happened without ACU,” says Thompson. “They recognized the wealth of human resources in the Indigenous community; and if you invest in the Indigenous community, it will have a positive effect on all of society.”

ACU stepped in and worked with Urban Circle, gave them the original loan needed for their first capital project, set up a flexible account to run their business, and established the business relationship that is still thriving today. Now Urban Circle invests with ACU, and its students not only learn money management skills in the Financial Savings Circle program, but they bank with ACU as well.

“ACU cares about the community and has helped grow the financial self-sufficiency not only of Urban Circle, but of the people in the community we serve,” says Stumpf.

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