Groundswell Education Society is a learning space where people with barriers to education or employment learn how to become socially conscious entrepreneurs.
Sarah Kothlow is a former foster child who joined Groundswell’s Uprising program for youth exiting foster care. She followed a six month program that allowed her to start up her own granola company called R.E.V. Up Granola (Radical East Van Uprising Granola), which she now sells at cafes and farmer’s markets.
“The foster care experience can put barriers to your employment, especially if you’re younger, so having a program like Uprising was really helpful for me,” said Sarah. “I’m all about making new opportunities for youth that are in care or have been in care and I thought this was really great chance to do that.”
Groundswell takes a unique approach to entrepreneurialism by guiding small groups of 10-20 students through personal and professional development, then working with them to create a socially conscious business plan that can grow into a social enterprise. The end goal is to create employment opportunities for young people under 35 years old, which will in turn create more employment options for others in their community. Some of the initiatives that Groundswell students have launched include the Good Food Project, Surrey Youth Space and the Wood Shop Workers Co-op, as well as Sarah’s R.E.V. Up Granola.
“It’s pretty amazing to see the transformation that people go through in Groundswell,” said Paola Qualizza, co-creator at Groundswell. “They arrive with a lot of unknowns in their life and want to do something different but don’t have the confidence, or feel like they aren’t connected to the right people. By the end of the program you can see their confidence soars and can actually see that there is potential out there to create economic alternatives that are more just and democratic.”
Central City Foundation donors support innovative programs that create opportunities to build skills and employment, which is why CCF donors supported Groundswell by funding desks, lights and shelving units for the learning space located in the back of the Groundswell Café located on Powell Street.
“The funding from Central City Foundation helped us to function as a classroom, which has made the space a lot better for students to work and learn,” said Qualizza.
For Sarah learning through Groundswell meant that she had an opportunity to financially empower herself and gain a support network she wouldn’t of otherwise had. Now she is studying social work at Douglas College, but is also working towards expanding R.E.V. Up Granola.
“I’d never thought about having my own business before, and a lot of things about it are really intimidating and hard to do without having mentors,” said Sarah. “I think programs like this are really good not just for former foster care youth but for everyone. I think it can really change people’s lives.”