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Holiday gifts created by local homeless

‘The only way to truly help someone overcome their adversity is by providing them the tools and supports necessary to overcome it themselves,’ said Justin Chan

Justin Chan is part of the ‘passion generation,’ led by a desire to leave the world better than the way they found it. The Community Company, started in the most unique way – a fast food order with a complete stranger.

While walking to work one day, Chan decided to take the initiative to invite a homeless man to lunch. He remembers the order distinctly, he said, “I’ll have a Quarter Pounder with cheese, extra pickles, no onions, extra mustard, large fries, and a large root beer. No ice.”

“Homelessness is a complex issue, and it’s so much easier to avoid eye contact than to acknowledge the problem exists,” says Chan. “I let my ignorance get in the way of humility and I actively ignored someone who was vulnerable in my own community.”

In 2016, Chan started Homeless in Waterloo, a project meant to humanize those experiencing homelessness in Waterloo Region. "In just six months, our platform grew to over 6,000 followers and an average story was read by over 14,000 people in Kitchener-Waterloo alone."

This project proved to him the power of social media, inspiring him to start The Community Company. Chan believes "the only way to truly help someone overcome their adversity is by providing them the tools and supports necessary to overcome it themselves."

The Community Company works with individuals experiencing life-changing adversity, which includes homelessness, surviving an abusive relationship, and individuals facing health challenges. Chan refers to them as creators. He says his company has two goals, "to provide them with social and financial capital."

"By purchasing a product that our creators made, you are saying that you value them as a person and value their worth," said Chan.

Andrew, a local creator, says the Christmas cards and tote bag he designed helped to prove his self-worth, "that I am worthy, that I can do good, and that I do have a lot to contribute," he said.

Andrew shared his experience with homelessness, online. In response, two teenagers approached him at the mall to thank him for being an inspiration. "Imagine sharing your heart, after being ignored for so long and getting that kind of a warm response," said Chan.

It’s important that his creators also gain financially - 50 per cent of all profits are shared with them. "In our first year, we've shared an average of $209 with each of our 12 creators."

Considering the possibilities, he says, "If selling 100 of someone’s product earns them $200 in profits, just imagine the impact we can have on their lives if we sell 5,000. I always tell our creators that we're one Oprah, or Ellen, retweet away from this becoming a reality."

Anyone can apply to become a creator on our website. "We go for coffee with interested individuals to ensure the fit is right and to learn more about their passions and dreams. While sharing your story and your passions on social media can be extremely rewarding, it also means you are being vulnerable, and some individuals may not be ready for that yet," he said.

All of Chan’s community partnerships start with a friendship. "Understanding where people’s hearts are allows us to create something beautiful together."

When asked what he gets out of this, he says, "there is no better feeling in the world than seeing someone discover their true self-worth and walk around with their head held high as a result of the support that you provided."

He admits that since inception of The Community Company he hasn't earned anything for himself. "I have not paid myself a single dollar." He believes that by creating change; good things will come to him as well. "Purpose is what gets you up in the morning. Purpose is what makes those early mornings and long nights worth it."

The Community Company operates out of the Communitech Data Hub, in Waterloo, and is part of Laurier's Launchpad program. Check out their holiday gift guide for an opportunity to support local creators.

"Our vision is to foster a community where everyone has an opportunity to inspire and create."

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