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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

Christina Wong

Co-Founder & Executive Director

Christina brings a diverse skillset to the team, reflecting a combination of: 14 years of volunteering in the DTES community, ten 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 an incredibly team to help achieve a mission that is much greater than us - cultivating sustainable change for entrepreneurs who face barriers. Recently, she was nominated for the 2020 YWCA Women of Distinction in the Non-Profit category and a recipient for the Globe and Mail Top 50 Business Changemaker recipients in Canada.

Charissa Landicho

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 leads the Business Skills Training programming at Employ to Empower, facilitating Ideation Workshops and the 10-week Business Skills Training program. She values genuine and authentic human connection and is passionate about supporting people in creating self-confidence. This is what she brings into all her work at Employ to Empower and how she interacts with entrepreneurs and community organizations. As well as how she operates within her own Coaching practice, where she works with clients 1-1 in order to create the life they want and live it confidently. Lara holds a Master of Laws degree in Health Law from the University of Amsterdam (NL) and is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach.

Headshot of Alberto De Castro

Alberto De Castro

Business Skills Training Coordinator

Alberto supports the Business Skills Training Program and the participants who go through the early stages of their entrepreneurial journey. He is passionate about creating and implementing strategies that bring internal and external program resources together, making it more accessible to the communities we support.

Vivian Wong

Marketing Lead

Vivian is an undergraduate student studying Health Sciences and Entrepreneurship & Innovation at SFU. This past December, she championed the Vancouver Street Store 9.0 and transitioned into the Marketing Lead. When she isn’t creating content or project charters, you can find her drinking a London Fog.

Isa Seto

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.

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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