Employ To Empower

About Us

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Our Story

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.

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 Skill Building

Our business skill building program offers soft skills and basic business fundamental courses.

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Stage 2: Mentorship

Our mentorship program supports residents and their business aspirations through personalized weekly mentorship sessions and access to affordable microloans.

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Step 3: Advocacy

We actively engage in advocacy work in the broader community and are committed to bringing about positive social change for the Downtown Eastside and it’s residents.

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Meet The Team

Employ to Empower is a team of qualified, self starting, and adaptable professionals who put compassion first, and are committed to creating positive social change in the Downtown Eastside community.

Scott Shaw

Co-Founder @ Sutton Realty

Breanne Lehodey

Associate @ BLG Law Group

Adam Lorant

Investor @ Magellan Angel Partners

Christina Wong

Christina Wong

ED @ Employ To Empower

Darius Maze

Vice Chair @ Employ to Empower

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

Head of Advocacy Programming

Charissa is the Head of Advocacy Programs at Employ to Empower works directly with a team of events specialists to curate events that focus on destigmatization, education and awareness of the entrepreneurs in the program. She is also the lead for our annual Vancouver Street Store event.

Truman Wong

Head of Operations

Truman is an active champion in the community and is leading our development programming for our basic business fundamentals and ideation courses at Employ to Empower.

Hosea Cheung

Media Relations Coordinator

As Marketing and Communications director for Sageus Strategy + Digital, Hosea supports the external relations strategy by communicating ETE’s story to the broader community through impactful storytelling.

Vivian Wong

Vancouver Street Store Project Lead

Vivian brings her contagious upbeat energy to the team AND is a project management QUEEN. She's led reputable events like TEDxSFU in her past experiences. She will be leading this year's Street Store event coming up in December 2022 and bringing her secret sauce to the team.

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.

Deborah Scott

Partnerships & Engagement Lead

Deborah has a combination of marketing, entrepreneurship and a boundless, genuine heart to support our community. She will be working on helping ETE curate and design a partnership/engagement strategy so ETE can engage corporations/donors/individuals in a meaningful way.

Lara Debie

Business Skills Training Lead

Lara supports individuals in creating the confidence that they need to stick up for themselves, and to create life that they want. She facilitates and leads the 10-week business fundamentals program, focusing on creating a business plan, get really clear on what the participant wants their business to be/look like, and create a pitch/presentation about their business.

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 my 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

Atif Saad

Founder @ Co-llective Marketing

Sharon Makina

Big Sisters of BC

Haley Grewal

Upstation VC

Natasha Dion

Natasha Dion

Senior Designer @ Co-llective Marketing

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.

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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