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Left: Deirdre Pinnock, Employ to Empower entrepreneur; and Christina Wong, executive director and co-founder, Employ to Empower


SFU alumnus Christina Wong’s charity answers the call for help from the Downtown Eastside

May 14, 2020

Imagine not having a single person to connect with during this coronavirus pandemic. No one to check on you. No one to listen. No one to make you smile.

In Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES), this is a reality for many residents in the community who were already facing challenges around loneliness prior to the pandemic. To address this problem, SFU alumnus Christina Wong, a client of SFU’s Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection, is using her registered charity to throw a lifeline to those residents.

Employ to Empower (ETE), a program that offers DTES residents access to development and entrepreneurial resources, is piloting a service in which its enlisted DTES entrepreneurs make phone calls to socially isolated residents. #CallToEmpower, in collaboration with ​EMBERS Eastside Works hub​, lends residents a friendly ear, listening to their struggles and informing them about local COVID-19 resources such as food, shelter and showers.

ETE Executive Director Wong says the idea came to her after she met a 91-year-old grandmother who lived alone with no Wi-Fi access and no family nearby.

"She had called her friend, who happened to be in our entrepreneurship program, to ask where she could get help with groceries because she was self-isolating.

"So, I decided to buy the groceries and deliver them to her. As we got to know each other through her front door, she said she wished she had people to check on her more often."

The entrepreneurs receive training, business mentorship, and an honorarium for their time.

Employ to Empower entrepreneur Deirdre Pinnock will be starting to call residents in the coming days.

“I’m staying apart by doing my part; I truly want to be all in this together,” she says.

Community coming together

Individual donors James Pelmore of ​Foundation Wealth Partners​ and Scott Shaw, co-founder of the ​Sutton Group​, helped raise the first $5,000 for the pilot, and TELUS donated smartphones to the program participants.

"We couldn't have done this without the support from TELUS,” says Wong. “They're donating smartphones to the participants in the program so that they don't have to worry about using voice minutes or wireless data while supporting their peers in the Downtown Eastside community.”

How you can help

To help, you can donate, and learn more on the ETE website. Funds raised will help pay for honorariums, mentorship, training and administration until the end of August.

About Employ to Empower

Wong co-founded ETE in 2018 to provide residents in the DTES with access to development and entrepreneurial resources, like affordable microloans and business mentorship, to have long-term positive impact on their personal and economic well-being. ETE also actively advocates for positive social change in the DTES.