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Employ To Empower

We are a Vancouver-based charity that empowers people with barriers through entrepreneurship.

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Every December, Vancouver hosts the Street Store, an annual free, dignified shopping experience for Downtown Eastside residents called the Street Store. This special event was started in 2014 by Christina Wong and takes place in the heart of the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood at the intersection of Columbia and Hastings. During her time leading and organizing the Street Store, and through her conversations with the community, she gained a better understanding of the real challenges and experiences of people living and working in the Downtown Eastside.

In 2017, Christina was at the Street Store when she met a four-year-old boy named Justin, who would effectively change the course of her life forever.

Upon opening the doors of the Street Store Justin came running in, full of energy and liveliness, excited about the possibility of finding a toy for Christmas. After spotting a guitar in Christina’s hands, he charged at her full force and immediately began playing with the strings and trying to make music. Later on, Christina had the opportunity to meet the boy’s parents, who expressed grief that they could not properly provide for their son, due to lack of a stable income as artists.

It was in that moment that the idea for Employ to Empower was born and Christina’s quest to positively impact the community through employment and entrepreneurship began. The following month, Christina quit her full-time job and with the support of co-founder, Stephanie Chan, officially launched Employ to Empower.

Our Mission

We focus on providing personalized support.

Our mission is to empower individuals who face work and social barriers to cultivate community connections through entrepreneurship and self-advocacy opportunities.

Our Vision

Every person has the opportunity to achieve self-reliance, financial well-being, a sense of belonging and contribution to the community.

Our Annual Report

Read our 2021–2022 Annual Report

Our Values.


We aim to cultivate an interconnected community of impact makers.


We collaborate to unlock self-confidence, self-belief, and self-agency so our community can step into their power.


We strive to create an environment where we meet each other where we’re at, without judgment.


We work together to reduce the systematic barriers to endless opportunities.

What We Do.

Employ to Empower takes a compassion-focused, holistic approach to empowering residents in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside through business skill building, mentorship, and advocacy.

Stage 1: Business Skills Training

This stage offers foundational business skills that support you in creating a basic business plan for your business idea.

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Stage 2: Mentorship

Our mentorship program supports residents and their business aspirations through access to: Personalized weekly mentorship sessions, free counselling from registered counsellor, specialized workshops, monthly networking events, a part time co-working space and affordable micro-loans.

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Step 3: Community Partnerships

After a couple months of mentorships, entrepreneurs may get the chance to be featured on marketing platforms such as: Documentaries, workshops with private schools, and short video series. Our goal is to shift the stigma and share the talent of in the Downtown Eastside community.

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Headshot of Timothy

Timothy Ames


Vayuri Bhagwandeen, CPA, CA (SA)

Treasurer, Financial Planning and Analysis

Adam Lorant

Member at Large, Partner @ The Evidology Group

Scott Shaw

Member at Large, Co-Founder @ Sutton Realty

Sonali Sharma

Founder & Lawyer @ Athena Law Vancouver

Ralph Baddour

Managing Director @ Badhouse Ventures

Sarah Lubik

Academic & Executive Director @ SFU Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship

Christina Wong

Co-Founder & Executive Director

Christina brings a diverse skillset to the team, reflecting a combination of: 17 years of involvement in the DTES community, 13 years of sponsorship experience, a major in Psychology from SFU and eight years working with people who face disabilities. She is very fortunate to have a passionate and competent team to help achieve a mission that is much greater than us - empowering entrepreneurs to overcome barriers and beat the odds. Recently, she was nominated for the 2024 YWCA Women of Distinction in the Community Champion category and a recipient for the Globe and Mail Top 50 Business Changemaker recipients in Canada.

Charissa Landicho

Community Partnerships Lead

Charissa is the Community Partnerships Lead at Employ to Empower works directly with a team of events specialists to curate documentaries, short video series, private school workshops & events that focus on destigmatization, education and awareness of the entrepreneurs in the program. She is also the co-lead for our annual Vancouver Street Store event.

robert jago

Robert Jago

Mentorship Lead

Robert Jago is an entrepreneur and journalist from the Kwantlen First Nation. He was born and raised on traditional Kwantlen territory in Richmond, and has a degree in political science. Robert has lived and worked on the Downtown Eastside for 20 years, first as a homeless teen, and then as a business owner in the education services sector.

Lara Debie

Business Skills Training Lead

Lara is responsible for the Business Training pillar within ETE, this includes participant outreach, leading workshops and the 10-week BST program.
She joined ETE initially as a Volunteer Community Mentor in September 2021 and then started in her role in April 2022.
Lara especially loves seeing the participants grow their self-believe and self-confidence during the 10-week program. From coming in with 'just' an idea, to presenting their initial business vision.
In her personal time, she loves exploring different places, taking long walks and eating good food; cheese is a necessity.

Alberto De Castro

Business Skills Training Coordinator

Alberto supports in the Business Skills Training at ETE by assisting in the development and implementation of program and workshops content & materials, facilitating outreach activities to share about our programs in the community, and manages intake with new participants coming in our programs. Alberto joined ETE since March 2023 and has grew to realize the joy in being able to meet with folks who join our programming and learn about their unique inspirations and motivations for the idea they are taking into the program. Fun fact about Alberto is that he has a weekend routine to have lunch at the T&T Supermarket and trying out different combinations of cooked food over rice.

Vivian Wong

Marketing & Circular Economy Lead

For the past two years, Vivian has jumped into various roles at ETE, from Vancouver Street Store 9.0 Lead, Vancouver Street Store 10.0 Co-Lead with Charissa, to currently our Marketing & Circular Economy Lead. Her day always starts off with her google calendar and a hot cup of green tea. In her role, she manages all our social media content and engagement, supports with special projects, and currently building processes on how we can further empower our entrepreneurs. A fun fact about her is she's a huge Formula 1 fan 🏁

Isa Seto

Operations Lead

Isa is passionate about creating an environment and culture where individuals feel valued, appreciated and seen and will carry this into all her work at Employ to Empower. She is excited to own all things engagement, culture, volunteer and operations within the Employ to Empower community.

Shirley Fung

Business Skills Training Facilitator

Shirley is a Business Skills Training Facilitator at Employ to Empower. She has 3 years of experience in the education field and many years of volunteering experience at different non-profits. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Master of Philosophy in English Literary Studies from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She came to Vancouver in 2023 and is passionate about empowering people through knowledge transfer. When she isn’t working, she is often exploring the city, reading books or taking film photos.

Samantha Devlin

Registered Clinical Counsellor

Samantha is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) who is passionate about providing client-centered care in her community. She has 9 years of education and clinical training in psychology, counselling, and human development from SFU and UBC; as well as 10 years of collective experience from different non-profit organizations in Canada. She has worked with youth and adults of all ages, managing a wide variety of mental health concerns. She is particularly skilled in supporting clients who are experiencing stress, processing loss, seeking to enhance self-awareness, those navigating big life transitions, and/or individuals who are struggling relationally. Samantha provides a friendly, warm, and welcoming space to share your story and process your thoughts and feelings. She is an empathetic and non-judgmental listener, who can work with clients to collaboratively accomplish goals and explore new perspectives on whatever your current life experience and concerns happen to be.

Nicki Fung


Nicki is the Mentor-In-Residence at Employ To Empower. Nicki's business experience comes from 8 years of management consulting with PwC, as well as 10 years of running her own company as Co-Founder and COO, before the company was sold in 2021. Nicki holds a BSc from UBC and an MBA from INSEAD. Nicki has now pivoted in her career and is studying to become a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Janice Wang

Marketing Coordinator

Janice is an undergraduate student in her final year studying Interactive Arts and Technology with a concentration in Design at SFU. She is passionate about marketing and design. When she's not busy with school or design projects, you'll probably find her hiking, skiing, or hunting down the best food spots in the city.

Jackie Crowley

Marketing Coordinator

Jackie is an undergraduate student, having just completed his third year at UBC studying Cognitive Systems. He is enthusiastic about technology and UX design, striving to contribute to creating digital solutions that positively impact others. In his free time, Jackie is a fan of the NBA and also an avid runner.

Janice OBriain

ED @ Venture Connections

Dr. Sarah Lubik

ED @ Charles Chang Institute

Alisha Masongsong

Director @ Exchange Inner City

Sharon Makina

Big Sisters of BC

Amy Hemmerling

Amy Hemmerling

Cillema Film / Videography

Alex Bocajj

Alex Bocajj

Cillema Film / Videography

Len Pierre

Cultural Competency Advisor

Len is supporting Employ to Empower's leadership team with integrating indigenous worldview in to ETE's programming.

Vivian Chan

Chief Channel Officer Company at NexTech AR Solutions

Vivian is an advisor with ETE and supports with providing guidance around marketing, leadership and human resources.

Amanda Mah

Social Media Coordinator and Specialist Mentor

Amanda is a digital marketer who is supporting the Brand and Marketing team with social media. She also supports the Development Course by teaching digital literacy to entrepreneurs who face work and social barriers.

Sheila Kern

Strategic Planning Advisor

Sheila is supporting Employ to Empower's leadership team with defining the brand purpose to achieve the goals in to ETE's programming.

Headshot of Katrina Pacey

Katrina Pacey

Meditation & Consulting

James Pelmore

Partner, Private Wealth Manager

Have Questions?

Contact us for answers to all of your questions or to sign up for our services! We're always available to answer any of your questions or provide you with support if needed.

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