Fireworks Cooperative bases their work around being a service to others and the power of mutuality. “Any member – staff, volunteers or participants – at any time could be in the kitchen pitching in and doing the dishes,” says Executive Director Marina Giacomin, “because of this idea of mutuality and global service to each other.” According to Giacomin, mutuality is also about recognizing that we can all teach and learn from each other, regardless of what circumstance we may come from. “None of us are experts here,” she says, “we might know about recovery and pathways into healthy living that enable us to guide women, but the women also know so much about life too that they can teach us right back.”
The founder of Fireworks and Servants Anonymous, who in the spirit of anonymity will remain just that, began her practice of service by walking the streets of Calgary and handing a single red rose to women selling themselves on the street. The gift of a rose was an invitation to these women to discover their own self-worth and follow a more life affirming path.
This simple loving act grew into what is now the Servants Anonymous Society, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide long term care for female victims of the sex trade and related issues such as addiction, poverty and homelessness.
Like a rose, Fireworks blossomed out of the need to create a sustainable income to support their services. After purchasing an old sweater factory and converting it into a posh and contemporary hospitality establishment, events hosted at Venu1008 directly fund and support SAS’s life building programs and services for women leaving the sex trade. At the same time, the participating women receive quality job training by working in the kitchen and preparing the venues for events.
Providing an opportunity for women to heal through the life skill programs while also giving them a chance to contribute to the joy of the Calgary community helps the women to persevere through any challenges they may face upon their healing journey. “Many of the women here are also recovering from addiction,” says Giacomin, “for people who are healing from addictions the opportunity to also give back to the community helps build their resiliency factor, the feeling of being capable and developing self-efficacy.”
With a choice between an eclectic art infused venue or the vintage inspired Fireside Room along with in house catering managed by Shawna Yalte of Desktop Catering, Fireworks has become a competitive business in the hospitality industry.
Yet Fireworks and SAS’s dedication to providing hospitality and service proved to have its challenges. Before Fireworks and the purchase of their building, SAS humbly began making a profit by selling soups and sandwiches out of the basement of downtown Calgary’s CUPS. Many meals however were given out for free to those who could not afford to buy themselves food. “If you wanted a soup and sandwich, you were going to get a soup and a sandwich”, notes Giacomin.
Although Fireworks was intentionally opened to generate an income, the organization still struggled with giving out freebies. At the same time their event space wasn’t up to industry standards, “it looked like a bingo hall,” comments Giacomin. The explosion of passion and vibrant service that Fireworks wished to provide had fizzled.
They decided to light it up one more time by hiring an accountant and making significant renovations to the building in order to become a competitive leader in the hospitality industry. “We really had to hone in and focus on what our niche was,” says Giacomin, “and that is hospitality.”
In retrospection, Giacomin sees the importance in learning everything you can about business principles and the market you want in on. She also offers this piece of advice for those starting their own social enterprise, “As much as possible try to go with the spirit of YES! Because no limits your opportunity to be creative and innovative.”
This upcoming year is SAS’s 25th anniversary and they are proud to say that this is the first year they have money in the bank to pay their business and spread the gift of service.
Case Study Jasmine Retzer, Student, Mount Royal University