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Unique mentoring program ‘unlocks power’ of budding Downtown Eastside entrepreneurs

By November 10, 2022No Comments

Barbara Gastelum is a wonderful example of a dedicated Vancouver entrepreneur bringing her unique artistic flair to a solution with proven potential. Like anyone who has built a business from the nugget of an idea, the Expressive Arts Registered Therapeutic Counsellor knows it takes more than hard work and dedication. In addition to countless hours spent thinking through all the details such as marketing, pricing, overhead, customer service, and on it goes – the support of others as sounding boards is immensely valuable.

Barbara founded Senseslab in 2018 as a self-exploration platform to help clients’ find new ways to connect with themselves and their loved ones. (Learn more about Barbara’s work by watching this video.) More recently, her Employ to Empower (ETE) mentor, Lara Debie, has played a vital role in helping Barbara navigate each step of her business systematically, and to understand where she needs help.

Barbara and Lara pose in front of a brick wall and embracing. Barbara is standing behind Lara holding her shoulders. Photo is taken from above and both are smiling up at the camera.

ETE’s mission is to help turn dreams into reality by providing Downtown Eastside residents like Barbara with entrepreneurial resources. Through its business skill education program, entrepreneurs are connected with community mentors from diverse industries to support the growth and development of each entrepreneur’s vision.

Lara, a professional life coach who moved to Canada from the Netherlands in 2018, has mentored with ETE since 2021. ETE is always on the look-out for more volunteers and industry experts to share their time, experience and expertise with new entrepreneurs. “I am proud of Barbara for working through her fears and self-doubt,” Lara says. “She has gone from being unable to think of the smallest thing to do next, to getting on stage in front of an audience and sharing her story to inspire others to take their first steps.”

The rewards have been mutual for Barbara and Lara. Through talking, exploring, and building a relationship on trust and respect, they have learned a great deal from each other.

“In the Netherlands the social system is very different, and people have access to resources more readily,” Lara says, adding that ETE is taking the kind of progressive approach desperately needed in the DTES. “ETE sees the bigger picture and acknowledges people for who they are. They provide the working tools to help people take back their independence, and to give them confidence and pride.”

Reflecting on their mentoring journey together, Barbara is appreciative that Lara pushed her and helped her turn a vision into reality one step at a time. “Lara was very patient with me, and I am grateful for her kindness and professionalism in every way. She gave me a lot of resources and even helped me organize my website.”

Senseslab’s founder has ambitions to grow its client base provincially, and eventually nationally and even internationally. Currently, the program is developed for seniors, but in the new year Barbara is working to include young people. After all, she points out, “creative expression is for everyone.”

When discussing tips they can both share for incoming entrepreneurs, the pair comes up with this

  • Believe in yourself, even when life is tough
  • Surround yourself with the right people to support you and help you to blossom
  • Get to know people and allow them the opportunity to get to know the real you

Equipped with new and empowering wisdom and confidence, Barbara “has unlocked her power,” Lara says. “Now, she’s a driving force to build her business.”