June 17, 2024

Entrepreneurial Parents Helped Through Support to Small Business

By on June 20, 2019 0 1075 Views

Since the 2016 Horse River Wildfire, the Wood Buffalo Economic Development team has been working with the Canadian Red Cross to offer support and guidance to local entrepreneurs. Alethea Austin, Carla White, and Staci Millard are just some of our region’s entrepreneurial parents who have benefited from the support. Here are their stories.

Alethea Austin
Achieve Wellness Spa

Alethea is the mother of two young girls, and the co-owner of Achieve Wellness Spa. The 2016 wildfire set into motion a series of events that put a strain on her business. Closed for three months to deal with the fire clean, Achieve was poised to re-open, but was faced with a flood when the water was turned on. Insurance did not cover everything, and so Althea relied on the program to help get them through.

“The Support to Small Business program was very easy to apply to,” says Alethea. “Everyone involved was very eager to help in any way they could.”

Because of the financial help, she was able to cover the expenses that insurance did not, and she was better able to focus on her own family, her team, and re-opening her business for guests.With the new challenges that arose, she appreciated the help in dealing with the issues that were unique to the fire and flooding.

Alethea also accessed the economic developments Business Coaching Program, funded by the Red Cross, to help guide her business. “They provide me with invaluable experience in the areas of marketing, financial, and strategic planning, to scale for my business,” she says.

Alethea and her family are extremely grateful for the support she received from Economic Development and the Red Cross. “I appreciate that the help is still ongoing,” says Alethea. “It’s unfortunate that not everyone who is eligible has taken advantage of the program and services available”.

“To be successful it takes a team, and it takes working on your business,” she says, “not ‘in’ your business.”


Carla White
Reignite Your Spirit

Carla is an author, comedian, inspirational speaker, and mother of three teenagers. When she first applied to the Support to Small Business Program in 2016 she was looking for help with the business expenses incurred by the fire, but has subsequently benefited from the additional courses provided by Economic Development through Red Cross funding.

She has utilized the Business Coaching Program which provided her with 12 hours of one-on-one coaching, and feels her coach provided clarity and some very practical solutions to the challenges facing her business.

“These lessons have taught me to focus on strategic planning,” says Carla. “They have guided me into following a business model that is more in line with my expertise and talents.”

As such, she has used this new knowledge and confidence to launch new products and services.

Carla has also attended some of the group seminars and learning opportunities that Economic Development has hosted. These courses include a range of topics such as accounting for small business, facebook for business, AI and the speed of technology change, digital marketing strategy and much more.

“The 2016 Wildfire was a catalyst for me with respect to my life and my business,” Carla says. “The epic event offered me the opportunity to learn valuable lessons about my own resilience, emotional well-being, and my life priorities.”

Her work now focuses on empowering professionals who are fatigued, frustrated and fed up to overcome fears and doubts, and to experience deep happiness no matter what is happening around them.  Lessons well learned by the life-changing event of the fire, and the guidance she has received through the professionals involved in the business coaching program and group learning events.


Staci Millard
Millard Chartered
Professional Accountant

Staci is the owner of S. Millard Chartered Professional Accountant, and a mother of two girls. Staci’s involvement with the Support to Small Business Programs is unique in that she was both a recipient of the program as well as someone who offered her skills to support other local companies struggling after the fire.

As an accountant, a lot of small businesses approached her needing help and guidance immediately after the fire, and unfortunately many didn’t have the financial resources to pay for her services. Accessing the financial support from the Red Cross gave her the opportunity to offset her costs and her firm was able to provide pro bono advice and guidance to businesses with their accounting needs. This included helping clients by filling out applications for recovery funding, and also coming up with plans on how to piece together lost information.

“Our services were appreciated,” she explains, “because the individuals were under a lot of stress in their own life situations. It was difficult for many to cope with their business problems as well.”

Staci is very community-focused. She works closely with many local companies at various stages of business and she has also worked closely with Economic Development as a volunteer in one of their programs Ask an Expert, and by providing seminars on Accounting for Small Business.

Staci was also a participant in the Business Coaching Program. She explained working work the coach allowed her an outside perspective on the efficiency of her operations. “While its easy to get caught up in the weeds when you are working in the business every day, having that outside perspective has allowed us to operate more effectively and grow to help a larger base of small business owners.” She said the best part of the Business Coaching Program is the individualized service that you receive one-on-one with a coach who is there to help you with your specific needs.


For more information on how to access Support to Small Business Programs, visit choosewoodbuffalo.ca/support-to-small-business.


Support to Small Business Programs

Following the 2016 Horse River Wildfire, the Wood Buffalo Economic Development team identified certain challenges that the business community continued to face. They put forward a proposal to the Canadian Red Cross that would see three key programs funded, resulting in continued intermediate business recovery support being provided.

Keyano College Voucher Program

The Keyano College Voucher Program provides eligible businesses direct financial support to register in any existing program offered by Keyano College. The goal of this program is to help expand business knowledge through educational opportunities.


  • Eligible businesses qualify for a voucher valued to a maximum of $500. One voucher per business.
  • Register directly with a Keyano College program coordinator who can provide guidance on course options.
  • Courses include: Accounting, MS Office, Leadership, Human Resources, Project Management, Communications, etc.


  • Available to recipients of the Canadian Red Cross’ Support to Small Business Program Phase 2 & 3.
  • Any employee of the eligible business may use the voucher (contractors do not qualify).
  • An employee of the eligible business will need to produce proof of employment or verification from the employer.

Contact: Keyano Administrator – Chantel Andrews
Email: coned@keyano.ca • Phone: 780.792.5746

Business Coaching Program

The Business Coaching Program directly connects a business owner and/or managers with one-on-one business coaching and advice with a Certified Management Consultant (CMC). The goal of this program is to help local business owners and/or management define issues, set priorities, and establish an action plan that can be immediately implemented.


  • Includes a maximum of 12 hours of support from a CMC.
  • Business owners and their management team will be matched with a CMC that has the appropriate background and expertise to assist.
  • Develop a tangible action plan with next steps based on the advice of the CMC.
  • All appointments are done over the phone or via Skype.


  • Available to recipients of the Canadian Red Cross’ Support to Small Business Program Phase 2 & 3.
  • Participant must be at least a 50% owner in the business, but can designate a staff member to attend on their behalf.
  • If the business has already participated in the Back to Business Coaching Program, they will not be eligible to go through the Business Coaching Program.

Group Learning Events

Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation offers a variety of FREE seminars, panel discussions and networking events for business owners, social profits, professionals and the general public. Registration is required for all events; for a list of what’s coming up visit choosewoodbuffalo.ca


  • FREE learning events, workshops, and seminars for businesses to attend.


  • Increase business acumen and foster long-term human capital development within the region’s businesses.
  • Provide a group-learning environment which encourages networking and improved communication and sharing within the business community.
  • Be responsive and able to offer a quick response to current challenges.


Learn more at:

F: @WBEcDev
T: @WBEcDev
W: choosewoodbuffalo.ca
E: info@wbedc.ca
T: 1-855-WB-ECDEV (1-855-923-2338)

About the author

YMM Parent Team is a collaboration of authors and contributors from in and around Fort McMurray.