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Coast Capital Savings initiative helps the poor

Christina Wong, a Coast Capital Savings SFU Venture Connection client, is changing lives in Vancouver’s poverty-stricken Downtown Eastside (DTES) with her Employ to Empower (ETE) program, SFU Innovates reports.

Coast Capital Savings SFU Venture Connection Idea prize recipient Christina Wong, who helms Employ to Empower, with Marcel Mousseau, a DTES artist who designed the Cardboard Project.

Wong is executive director of ETE, a non-profit organization working to eradicate poverty by helping the homeless obtain long-term employment. This is key to their ability to integrate into society. ETE was awarded the Idea Prize by Coast Capital Savings SFU Venture Connection a year ago.

Often referred to as one of Canada’s poorest postal codes, the DTES has about 20,000 residents. Many deal with drug addiction, mental illness and sex work. More than 1,000 are homeless, living and sleeping under the eaves of buildings or in makeshift tents.“With ETE, the positive change we hope to create is by providing an experience rather than a service that’s holistic,” Wong told SFU Innovates. “Not only do we care for employment but we care for all other factors such as housing and mental health,” says Wong, who studied psychology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC.

One of the most notable successes occurred this past December when the ETE hosted its first Cardboard Project in partnership with DTES artist Marcel Mousseau. The Cardboard Project showcased a collection of writings by DTES residents who shared something in the past that changed who they are. Mousseau, who is an ETE client, spoke at the event on the theme of recovery. The ETE also hosted its fifth Street Store Vancouver, a pop up, free clothing store that allows people to pick what they need at no cost.

Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection is SFU’s flagship program for early-stage ventures, offering support through incubation, mentorship, office space and access to the university’s vast entrepreneurship community. First launched in 2008 at all three SFU campuses, the initiative also created the first university-wide Student Entrepreneur of the Year competition. In 2017, Coast Capital Savings Credit Union (571,000 members, $24 billion in assets) committed $1 million to further the success of the innovation support program. ◊