Self-Employment Program aids entrepreneurial success in Castlegar

Community Futures Central Kootenay a source of educational and financial support for local businesses.

Wanita Hunter-Oglow

CORRECTION: Apology for the incorrect identification in Oct. 24 print edition. The photo caption here is correct

Having once been burdened by the weight of student debt, Jennifer Keirstead could hardly believe her good fortune while starting a business through Community Futures Central Kootenay. A friend recommended the organization as a source of educational and financial support, and following up on that tip paid immediate dividends when the Castlegar area resident enrolled in its Self-Employment Program.

“The support and inspiration I received from the teachers was amazing,” said Keirstead, who launched a holistic nutrition practice in 2009. “The classes were incredibly informative and fun.”

“I have always paid for my education and (gone) into a lot of debt in the past to pay off loans and applicable interest,” she said. “Having free education on how to start your own business is a dream come true. This program truly opens doors for the people of the Kootenays, allowing them to work in the field of their passion. This, in turn, creates a positive and happy energy in the community. This is why I love living here.”

Indeed, clients throughout the region have been singing the praises of Community Futures since its inception. Its professional staff has helped local entrepreneurs launch nearly 1,500 businesses, accounting for more than 2,200 jobs through the self employment program.

Businesses started through the Self-Employment Program over the past eight years have collectively averaged sales in excess of $1.3 million annually.

Among them is Castlegar Meal Delivery, owned by Wanita Hunter-Oglow, a chef who prepares nutritious, hot dishes for people who don’t have the time or energy to cook for themselves.

“I thought the most valuable aspect was the access to the training and encouragement,” she said of the program, “But the living benefits were also vital at the beginning while I was figuring out what was or wasn’t working.”

The Self-Employment Program is open to people who are either receiving Employment Insurance or who have done so in the past three years, and to persons with disabilities and persistent multiple barriers. They receive free access to professional business counselling and up to 48 weeks of financial support while developing and implementing their business plans. They sky’s the limit as far as possible ideas.

Self-employment or business experience is not a prerequisite for the program, according to Pamela Clausen, a self-employment counsellor who has seen even those with basic skills thrive over the long haul.

“Everybody has potential,” said Clausen. “Entrepreneurs come from all walks of life and all levels of education. If you have a passion for what you do and are willing to work hard, let’s see if we can help turn your passion into a full time business.”

Community Futures Central Kootenay is a not-for-profit community economic development organization and can be reached at 352-1933 x 100.