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FROM THE FIRST DAY in the Business Support Program, I knew it was a blessing in my life. It was no coincidence that I heard a couple of girls talking about it at church. It was a very emotional time for me and I was open to a fresh start. I’d had an idea for a business to empower women and girls, but it had been on the backburner for so long.
I was born and raised in downtown Toronto in a very abusive household. My father was an alcoholic and he was sexually, physically, and mentally abusive. I was taken out of the home when I was 14 with my sister, and placed into foster care.
When I was 15, I got involved with a guy who was extremely physically abusive. I got the courage to leave after five years, but it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I felt like, “Okay, this is it. My life is stable, I’m married, I’ve got a new baby.”
Everything seemed so perfect, but that bubble burst when I found out he had committed adultery. That betrayal brought me back to the pain I was so familiar with when it came to men. I had to leave but I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I went to a shelter with my 17-year-old son and my one-year-old little boy.
Being at the shelter was so eye opening. Some of the other women had no money, no job, and no family members. Most of them were in abusive relationships. I forgot about my own problems. My purpose was bigger: I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless. I wanted to inspire women who were abused and abandoned. But I didn’t know how to get started.
In the Business Support Program, they taught me about registering a business and figuring out cash flow and projections. I left with a critiqued, professional business plan, and so much more. The emotional, mental, and spiritual support was extremely empowering. I graduated feeling like I could fly.
I launched my business, the D.e.v.a. In You Group, where I facilitate personal development workshops for youth. Many of them are at risk of dropping out of school, or are caught up in the juvenile and criminal systems. A lot of them are teen moms.
From time to time, I go back to Microskills and talk to the new students. I also go to high schools and share my story. My story touches young people because so many of them are living it too, or they have lived it.
I tell them: 'Being a leader is not how many people serve you. It’s about how many people you serve.’ When I say that, it’s like a bell goes off in their heads.
--As told to Anqi Shen
The Business Support Program for Women Entrepreneurs is delivered by Community MicroSkills Development Centre and is a Canadian Women’s Foundation funded program.