Cardboard Project 5.0-Celebrate Community Talent

On the evening of September 21st, 2023, at Simon Fraser University Harbour Center, over 130 guests welcomed the heartwarming return of a fundraiser in its 5th year that beautifully showcases the boundless talent and resilience of the DTES (Downtown East side) community.

This was a joyous occasion where guests came together to soak in the wisdom and narratives of the Employ to Empower entrepreneurial community, all while immersing themselves in an evolving art installation that brought to life the rich tapestry of community stories.

This annual event was filled with inspiration, celebration, and a keen sense of community, shining a spotlight on the extraordinary entrepreneurial talents within the Downtown East Side (DTES) community while urging attendees to set aside their internal biases and allow the person in front of them to guide the conversation. Projects like this help to de-stigmatize the DTES by celebrating the immense talent within this vibrant community. This year’s theme, ‘Unity in Community,’ served as a powerful testament to the strength, creativity, and unity that thrives amidst adversity.

A Celebration of Community Talent

Christina Wong, Employ to Empower co-founder and Executive Director, was inspired to launch this unique project by the sight of individuals in the DTES holding cardboard signs with pleas for assistance. While these signs conveyed immediate needs, they fell short in capturing the essence of each person’s unique journey. Wong sought to delve deeper, believing that understanding someone’s past could offer profound insights into their present.

It is no small task to recognize and cultivate a community, but The Cardboard Project creates a space that brings together a diverse group of individuals and an opportunity to reflect on the immense talent they have, through entrepreneurship. What started as a simple collection of community responses written on cardboard has evolved into a captivating art installation that asks a profound question: “What is something that brings you a sense of belonging?” Each piece of cardboard tells a unique story, a testament to the innate human attributes we all share and offering a glimpse into the rich and diverse experiences of DTES residents.

A Journey of Entrepreneurship

At the heart of the project are the entrepreneurs themselves, individuals whose journeys inspire and captivate, who continue to thrive despite facing their share of challenges. We learned how the core of the project is the people – individuals like Mark, Doug, and Marcel who, though no longer with us, have left an indelible mark on our hearts and minds.

A feature of the evening was a mini docuseries of new members of the Employ to Empower community:

  • Michael Cruickshank, Founder of Joharassit’s Corner: Mike, an avid gamer since childhood, found inspiration for his business from the cherished memories of playing video games with his family. His journey into entrepreneurship was nurtured by his oldest brother and father, who were his gaming friends.
  • Jeanne Harris, Gitxsan Instructor & Mentor: Jeanne, a proud member of the Gitxsan Nation for the House of Geel, embarked on a mission to share her language and culture. With her background in nursing, she moved to Vancouver, BC, and is dedicated to preserving and promoting the Gitxsan language.
  • Paul-Christian Hansen, Life Model: Born and raised in Calgary, Paul’s academic journey led him to become an artist model with a Masters degree in artist modeling from the University of Sydney. Over the past three years, he’s gradually built his reputation as an excellent artist in the Fine Arts community.

Supporting Entrepreneurs Facing Barriers

The Cardboard Project 5.0 was a fundraiser with a purpose:  to raise money and empower 170 more entrepreneurs by the end of 2023. The evening was not just about the stories; it was a fully catered experience that brought people, and a community together. The unique silent auction offered items and experiences crafted around the products and services of the Entrepreneurs, creating connections between attendees and the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Employ to Empower supports entrepreneurs who have faced work and social barriers, providing them with the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. This event reminded attendees that entrepreneurship is inclusive, and barriers can be transformed into stepping stones. Entrepreneurship can bring communities one step closer to the vision of a circular economy, empowered by community projects that welcome individuals from all walks of life.

The Cardboard Project 5.0 was a resounding success, not only in exceeding its fundraising goal but for displaying unity in community. A total of $48,379 was raised, which will provide 3,216 days of training and directly support 10 aspiring entrepreneurs to complete their programming. This event celebrated community talent, empowered entrepreneurs, and fostered a profound sense of belonging.

Call to Action

The Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship at SFU is dedicated to developing the entrepreneurial mindset and is proud to have supported Employ to Empower within its Coast Capital Venture Connection incubator and also to recognize Christina’s impact via multiple awards at Coast Capital Venture Prize over the years.

If The Cardboard Project has sparked your passion for creating positive change, we invite you to explore the resources and support offered by the Chang Institute. Our programs are designed to nurture and empower budding entrepreneurs, providing the tools and knowledge to turn visions into reality. Visit the to learn more about these innovative SFU programs and how they can help you embark on your entrepreneurial journey.

For those who are eager to make a meaningful impact on communities like Vancouver’s DTES, consider getting involved with organizations like Volunteer your time, skills, or resources to support initiatives that uplift and empower marginalized individuals. Your contribution can be a catalyst for positive change. To learn more about how you can join the movement, explore their volunteer and support opportunities. Christina’s featured episode on the Chang Institute limited series podcast Inspiration Station is also available now! 

— About —

Employ to Empower is a local charity dedicated to empowering individuals facing work and social barriers through entrepreneurial resources. The annual Cardboard Project fundraiser serves as a platform to nurture and amplify the remarkable talents within the Downtown East side community. Christina Wong,  Executive Director of Employ to Empower, is a Psychology alumnus from SFU and received her entrepreneurial start at SFU’s Coast Capital Venture Connection; she is also a multi-year Coast Capital Venture Prize winner.

The Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship is the academic and interdisciplinary hub for entrepreneurship and innovation at SFU. The Institute is creating Canada’s most comprehensive and inclusive continuum of interdisciplinary, experiential programming to develop the entrepreneurial mindset, working closely with all SFU faculties and innovation partners within one of Canada’s most supportive university ecosystems.

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