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Immigrant Focus: Joem Balbiran-Weinkauf, Aha! She Did It Again!

I met Joem in July of 2011 as I am walking out of Superstore. It was my second day in Lloydminster moving from cowtown. Back then, I was a food crew at a Japanese restaurant inside the mall. I can still vividly remember the moment when a total stranger rolled down the window of a truck's passenger side and greeted me with an ear-to-ear grin, in Tagalog, "Kabayan! How are you? I am Joem, are you new in town? Of course, my folks taught me to never talk to a total stranger but who could resist a conversation with that welcoming gesture? So I stopped and introduced myself and the rest is history.

Seven years later, when a group of Filipino members of the Lloydminster Tennis Association was asked to run a new annual tennis tournament, Joem and her husband Darren Weinkauf were quick to support the group. The first Filipino-organized and hosted tennis tournament was born, the 1st Sunlife Fil-Can Tennis Tournament. The success of the event has paved the way for other businesses and organizations in town to commit to sponsorship the years that followed, which resulted in the renaming of the tournament to The Border City Tennis Championships, now on its seventh year.

Joem also started the initiative to fundraise for Filipino immigrant and non-immigrant families who have difficulties dealing with financial constraints brought about by a member's underlying medical condition. Through the Bottle with Love campaign, Joem and Sunlife Financial Services and Brighter Horizons Financial Services, Inc. efforts to reach and help out people in need has slowly grown and replicated by other Filipino businesses and groups in the Border City. Other than this, this small but terrible lady boss has also done other community projects such as Socktober among others, and has supported various not-for-profit organizations in the city.

But where does Joem get inspiration to do and achieve things almost all at the same time? Where does she draw her unperturbed strength in pushing boundaries and breaking barriers? That, I had the pleasure to chat with her as she selflessly shared her exciting and successful journey to immigration, financial and community advocacy, and now as a first-time author.

Q. Joem, tell us a brief background about your life in the Philippines and your early years as an immigrant in Canada? Joem: In comparison to my life here in Canada, I surely lived a financially-challenged life in the Philippines. My dad died at 45 as he was denied medical attention due to lack of financial capability to cover the finances. My mother was earning 100 Philippine Peso a day, today's equivalent of about 3 Canadian Dollars.

I attended University and finished a degree but I still had a hard time finding work, and my wage was not enough to support myself, even. This “poverty mindset” has become a reason why I was still financially struggling during my first six years in Canada. Poverty mindset has made me copy what my friends and my neighbor's perception of “richness”, which to them is living a lifestyle they cannot afford.

Q: When you immigrated, did you feel the fear that you might be a victim of systemic racism because of the color of your skin and being a minority woman? Joem: It never occurred to me that there is such a thing as "systemic racism and minority concerns” until I applied for a different position in the Credit Union I was working with. The position posted was for a Loan Officer/Credit Analyst. I was a Delivery/Errand Person with the CU when I applied. Of course, my aspiration was to experience working in different positions and capacities in the company, but the Human Resources kept telling me I had no credentials, and that I needed to go back to school to study. I followed the HR advice and sent myself to courses and brought all the credentials that I have been asked but I was told I am not qualified in any of the positions I applied for. In the end, I was told that being an Errand Person was all the CU could offer, so I built my own financial business (Brighter Horizon Financial Services, Inc.) and it has been running successfully for the last 13 years.

Q: What was your biggest realization upon setting foot in Canada? Joem: My biggest realization was that I might be living my dreams in a promised land but if my mindset is the same from where I was from; then all that has changed was my physical location and my postal code. Then, it would be very likely to miss the opportunities that Canada had to offer.

Q: How did you cope up with distance and physical disconnection from your immediate family members during your early years in Canada? Joem: I could easily adapt to any situation I find myself in. My early years in Canada were some of the best years of my life. I was able to build a “family” outside my bloodline, through fellow immigrants. My days off from work were memorable. We would do cook outs, we would dance, attend and serve the church, volunteer in community events, and at times go out and meet new people.

It stopped though the moment I received my Permanent Resident Visa as I started working in many capacities. I put hours like there is no tomorrow. I was on the clock 16 hours daily, 7 days a week but I was still broke - I was like a glorified slave; slave for wants.

Q: Where did you get strength and the will power to say, "I can and I will do it?" Joem: Reading my manual, the BIBLE daily surely gave me wisdom and the will to discover what is my purpose here.

Q: You have a very successful career in the insurance industry. How did you get involved, and what would you like people to understand about your industry? Joem: Yes, I am very successful in the insurance industry. My trophies can attest to that as well. But a lot of people did not see the hard-work, the dedication, and even the rejections I experienced in my first seven years. Even to this date I still put in hours to check if the system I created is still feasible.

In my first few years as financial mentor I was chased by a dog, and people dodged me when I am about to cross paths with them because they were afraid that I might sales-pitch them into buying insurance. People turned-off their lights when I parked outside their houses. Regardless, I strongly believed that I was selling the right financial products, capable to help provide assistance to people in different stages of their financial state, like when an uncontrollable event happens, when someone hangs up their work clothes into retirement, when someone is buying a house for the first time, or saving up for education; so I persevered in great magnitude as I fully embraced the challenges that I had to face.

I am in the industry since 2008. This was the time when a flock of newcomers and non-immigrant workers came to Lloydminster and area. There was a new immigrant who died in an accident just two months into moving to Canada. The Filipino community is a generous community but we had a hard repatriating the remains of the deceased back to the Philippines to his family as they requested to have him laid to rest back home. During that time it cost $20,000 to repatriate remains. With my childhood experience of losing my father because of the absence of an insurance, and with the inspiration that the community fund raising has shown me, I took everything to be part of my arsenal in joining the industry.

A Photo of the 2018 Meridian Source Publication on Today's Women in Lloydminster

Q: In 2018, you are the only Asian-Canadian woman featured in Meridian Source's Today's Women in Lloydminster along with eight others. Your representation means a lot to other Asian women who are looking up to you. How does it feel to have a big number of following and at the same time, knowing that being recognized in the community, you could be a precedent to better things to come for immigrants? Joem: I feel honored and humbled. I have a strong hope that it gives inspiration to anyone who has an unperturbed passion in serving the people. I am optimistic that it sends a message to anyone who dreams big that with every success and opportunity comes a great responsibility, and surely it requires a great team work.

Q: You published your first book recently, Aha! You Are Rich, Claim It! First, big congratulations! Second, let us talk about where did your inspiration come from in writing and publishing it? How was the process? What do you want your readers to take away from reading your book other than a lot of life's lessons?

Joem: I am surely hesitant to publish the book for the reason of fear, rejection, basing and trolling. At this stage of my life, these are the things that I do not look forward to experiencing. But the desire to help and educate millions of people have pushed me for the last eight years to do something. It disheartens me to just sit down and hear stories of how a lot of people missed their opportunities or lost their hard-earned money because of not being rightfully educated on financial mindsets and strategies.

I have a team of four people who serves 5,000 clients across Canada but I am only limited to having one body and working the 24-hour time frame to help people who would like to be financially educated. So, I believe that by writing my experiences, and sharing my financial mentoring and people skills, this book will be a good introduction to basic financial knowledge. It is a good learning tool on how my mistakes within the last 13 years help develop a tool for anyone to have the right financial mindsets and strategies.

The book will surely educate: 1. Canadians on the Financial Strategies that I used in attaining my “retirement”/Financial Freedom at 41 in spite coming to Canada penniless, and starting a businesses, still without any money; 2. Immigrants on the financial mindsets that go with moving to a foreign land, embracing an immersed cultural lifestyle, and living a new financial culture; 3. Millennials on dollar cost averaging and using time to their advantage in the game of investment; 4. Christians and Non-Christians on reading their manual as the only way to claim their richness; 5. People who are in debt on the five (5) ways to eliminate bad debt in five years; and on Lifestyle Protection of Economic Cycle. The last one is very important. Let me tell you why. I sat down with thousands of people who were earning massive income during the Alberta Oil boom but lost their hard-earned investments because they did not have the right mindsets and financial strategies. Lastly, the book helps explain how to create six sources of income/cash flow using the banks' money by seeking to educate Sales People and Businessmen on how to be profitable and how to thrive in an unpredictable market.

My company has always been on top in sales credit across the country almost every year, and just last year during the COVID-19 lockdown, my team still hit our goal and remained to be the number one in Sun Life sales credit across Canada.

Q: Do you have a particular part or chapter of your book that if you want to talk over and over again to inspire women of color and immigrants, you would happily sit down and start a conversation?

Joem: Chapter 3, page 86 – I talked about giving. Women and immigrants in general are generous in nature, but the kind of “giving” that I talked about in the book is special. It is the giving that will last a lifetime - the giving that will create a legacy. I would not divulge too much about it to encourage everyone who has a copy of my book to read through that particular chapter by heart.

Q: Aha! You are rich! Claim It is a very positive phrase. Very catchy. How would you like people understand this in layman's term?

Joem: Thank you for asking this question. I have very few people asked me about the title. I truly believe that each person has their own “richness” but the question which the book particularly talked about is “what is richness”. Let's take a good example and never go far. Hollywood is a place for fortune and fame, yet a lot of the celebrities are into drugs and alcohol; and at some point, a good number of them commit high profile crime or suicide. I myself have sat down with many multi-millionaires who acknowledged that their lives were miserable. So, people need to know their own personal meaning of richness and they will know more about richness by reading their manual.

Q: You and your family are Godly people. Your skills and talent are God-sent to many. You have a very inspiring insight on finding financial freedom and Christianity. Can you talk a bit how faith and finances go hand-in-hand? Joem: True, myself and my family tried to live a Godly life. We believe that that is the only way to live. A life that provides financial support to our family and deliver quality service to the community. Let us enjoy the fruit of our labor and the blessing of the almighty. I encourage anyone who reads this article to try to live a life that we can afford and sustain regardless if the economy is a boom or a bust. I truly believe that faith without action is pure foolishness, and God’s financial freedom is the only way.

Q: You are a businesswoman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, among other things. Your family is your greatest blessing and I have seen how each of them are very supportive of you, from Darren and Micah, to your mom, your sisters and your in-laws. You help people in need, you advise clients on handling their finances, you do talks and presentation. Now you are an author. Where do you get your energy? Do you still sleep? What are other things that you want to tick in your bucket list? Joem: I love my eight hours of sleep. I still try to cook supper five days a week, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have more time to play around the kitchen and cook lunch for my loving husband, Daren since I am working from home.

The reason why I was able to do all these things is the team that I created: I have the best team of workers ever assembled. That is why I leverage my time. I delegate the things I cannot do to someone whom I know is up their alley. This gives me the luxury to live a balanced life, where the job is equally done by the great team I gathered. This also makes me do what is important as I am able to buy my time.

I created a working system so I can do what I love. It was tough in the beginning but with common sense, right strategies and God’s Grace, I believe I am where I planned to be seven years ago.

In my bucket list, I still plan to establish a publishing company. I paid big time in publishing my book, and now that I know the ins and outs of publishing, I'd love to be able to help someone with the dream of writing their own book.

I am still looking forward to mentor someone who likes to be a financial advisor. I would also like to create a movie for Prime or Netflix, start a vanity company, build a Retirement-Purpose home, and build a school for the poor.

My Darren will say, "Enough!"

Q: You have given a big part of yourself to the community. You have helped many Filipino immigrants in times of needs, did you leave anything for yourself? Joem: Good question. I would always offer myself to help out. It is my best resource. I cannot give what I do not have, so I make sure that my presence is more than enough for anyone who needs a hand from me. What do I leave for myself? I give myself the opportunity to sit back and feel the richness given by the Lord, my peace, my family and my health. Those are the things that I am grateful I have. Turn to page 65 of the book “Aha! You are Rich! Claim it! and you will read more. Q: When is the next book coming out? Your first book is sold out. We need to know details of the next one. Joem: The second book will be co-written by my daughter, Micah. The third publication will be stories of healthy relationships; but for now I will savor the overwhelming support I got for my first book, and enjoy the success I am getting in this wonderful journey of publication. Q: Anyone you would like to thank in your journey of writing and finally publishing your first book? Joem: Yes. Firstly, I would like to say thank you for these great yet challenging questions. Keep up the great work! Of course, I would like to say thank you to my spouse, Darren, my daughter, Micah, all my family members and to everyone who welcomed me into their lives and homes. I am grateful to have known people who are open and honest to share their goals, desires, dreams and challenges. I am humbled and thankful to all of them for letting me do my purpose. Of course, to my Creator for not giving up on me and for the part He has given me in His big plan. Q: Any word you want to put out for all the immigrants who have Canadian dreams, to the different immigrant communities, newcomers and settlers and to all men, women and families out there? Joem: I will say, we can never be everything, so surround yourself with trusted people and experts. Second, to newcomers and immigrants, make sure to financially educate yourselves before living the lifestyle of your dream. Learn the ways of the financial game plan in Canada or anywhere you want to go to fulfill your dreams.

It is also good to check your thoughts from time to time - "thought picks". It is always easy to get lost in our Canadian dreams when we forget how common sense work.

Above all, believe in God’s grace and read the manual, the book of all times, the book that gives life.

Joem has pushed the barriers and has played a big role in creating a field for immigrants to get involved and prosper in their new homeland. She has helped pushed the boundaries that other immigrants before her have started. Her story could be compared to the story of David defeating Goliath, but her victory is not for herself to keep but for her people to share, celebrate and prosper.

So the next time a stranger rolls their window down in the Superstore parking lot, and greets you with a big grin ear-to-ear, maybe... just... maybe... stop and say Hello! and you who knows, you might have found a new friend.

Happy Asian Heritage Month, fellow Asian-Immigrants!

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