Montreal candle-making company creates jobs for people in need

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“You are getting to the point where you want to give back,” said the founding lawyer of Riau Canada of the company that makes eco-friendly scented candles and donates part of its profits to counseling and rehabilitation services for people using homeless shelters and other community organizations. .

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On a rainy Thursday morning in St-Henri, scented candles were made by a group of women from very different backgrounds, who were learning all the tricks of the trade.

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Clémence Tshikangu and Maria Maksoudian unwrapped pots in which to pour a new batch of hot wax. The two employees were referred to the new company, Riau Canada, by community organizations that help people in need.

Riau COO Louise Bourassa and CEO Franca Ciambella took a break from calls and strategy discussions to offer a tour of the small loft to a Gazette reporter and photographer.

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Ciambella admits that she feels like a fish out of water. Having worked most of her career abroad as a lawyer specializing in international mergers and acquisitions, financial technology and cryptocurrencies.

“I was a big thief – I still do, in a lot of ways,” she said, “flying all over the place, staying in the best hotels, having top notch clients and being in a certain milieu. I have acted for all the major Canadian companies; they all know me. But you get to the point where you want to give back.

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Ciambella came up with the idea for a candle company that employs disadvantaged people upon returning to Montreal in January 2020.

“I came back… at the start of COVID, wanting to take care of my family after living in Singapore for 30 years,” she said, “I noticed so many people on the streets, a lot of homeless. It really affected me.

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“Then I remembered some of my American missionary friends in Asia who had started a candle making business employing people on the streets. They are based on a small island (in) Indonesia, in the province of Riau.

Riau Canada Director of Operations Louise Bourassa, right, with President and Founder Franca Ciambella.
Riau Canada Director of Operations Louise Bourassa, right, with President and Founder Franca Ciambella. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

She spoke with her friends and decided to start Riau Canada as a North American subsidiary of Riau Candle Company, using many of the same recipes to make hand-cast, eco-friendly soy candles for a cause. Candles come in four sizes and over 15 scents, including wild rose, amber and ash, spice market and blue hydrangea, as well as seasonal Christmas tree and merry mistletoe.

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Although Riau Canada is a for-profit company, 35 percent of its revenue will be donated to reintegration counseling services at homeless shelters and community organizations, according to Ciambella. But the most immediate results can be seen on the faces of the three employees hired through community organizations since the launch of operations in early October.

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Some of them faced problems such as homelessness and absence from the labor market for an extended period.

“They help people who are having difficulty finding work,” said Tshikangu, who was referred to Riau Canada by the Welcome Hall Mission and started working just over a week ago. “They are looking for people like us.

“I like it,” she added. “I did a little practice. The work is good, peaceful and calm.

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Maria Maksoudian was referred by the Movement for Integration and Retention in Employment (MIRE).

“The atmosphere is really, really good here,” she said. “Before, I had a little trouble finding work. But it is good. We smell good at the end of the day. I am happy. I feel good. At least I got a job.

Ciambella hopes to help many more people re-enter the workforce. It has plans for expansion across the country and into the United States, with the help of Riau Candle Company’s relationships in the United States. Riau Canada is already filling orders and its website ( riaucanada.com ) is open for business.

“What makes it really useful is when I look at the people (who work here) and think, ‘Maybe we’re just making a little dent,’” she said. “Our slogan is: ‘Bounce back with honor’. We are trying to help people bounce back.

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