Sunday, August 10, 2014

Guest Blog: The Give-a-versary and The DWC

The first ever Guest Blog comes from our very own co-captain, Mr. Leon LeDoux.

But first, here's a little context: Way back when ITLT first started (okay, only about six months ago), I wasn't exactly sure what to call this ...little operation. I was trying to explain the idea for this blog to Leon, rambling on and on about all my project ideas, when I said, "you know, because, it's the little things that count." Because it is. He replied, "You're a little thing." Absolutely right, I thought. Because I am. So that was it. It's the little things.

And now, from him:

The Give-a-versary

When I was reading my Little Thing’s online shopping post in early June I got a sneak peak into what she was getting me for our anniversary, which took a little pressure off of figuring out what to get her. While writing about her online shopping habit (I’ll be the second to admit she has a problem), she purchased a “Give Bag” from Sevenly for me which contained three shirts from their previous campaigns, of each $7 goes directly to a specific charity. The proceeds from one shirt helped provide a life-saving surgery to one child in Guinea, another provided comforting toys and games to children battling cancer, and the last helped an orphaned baby with a birth defect receive surgery and find their permanent family.

The inside of each product details who and how your contribution helped.
The first photo is from our IG -- follow us @itsthelittlethingsdotme

This inspired me to think of how I can do good as well. Art, food, culture, and all the things we believe in and love, exist because of the community that holds it. I am well aware that with the technology boom, community is both bigger and smaller than ever before. We are passionate about our community. While Joan was able to expand her community outward connecting with the online retailers she mentions, I figured that I might as well take to our local community to see how to help in our own backyard. Thus, the Give-a-versary was born.

When I think about things that Joan is passionate about, one of the things that stands out is women’s issues, especially with the tide of women’s issues being lifted into national conversation. From the early Court Kits before ITLT (which we will see more of soon), to her #BringBackOurGirls post, to the daily thought that goes into how to help women at shelters like Haven Hills, I have seen this passion in her. In researching what I could do to address these issues for our anniversary, I stumbled on Made by DWC.

Being from Los Angeles, I have frequented the areas in and around Skid Row but never did I notice the artful storefront on Los Angeles St. between 3rd and 4th. Adjoined to the original location of the Downtown Women’s Center is the resale boutique which has everything a girl could want (I imagine) and 100% of the proceeds go directly to the shelter. The Downtown’s Women’s Center has a simple goal: break the cycle that is unemployment and homelessness by empowering these women to develop skills and gain vocational opportunities that will empower them to end these cycles. This shop was filled with clothes that were very much Joan’s style, but I don’t dare tread the waters of buying someone clothes as gifts. I know how much she loves to open gifts, so I went with a grab-bag approach. The first thing I noticed is that half the store is resale items, but the other half is labeled "MADE by DWC." The women at the Center have an opportunity to use their new skills (like sewing, for example) to create specialty items sold at the shop. So, I grabbed a bunch of the MADE by DWC items: a small hand-sewn bag, wonderful smelling soap, a belt with a bow (she loves bows), mini colored pencils, even a hand sewn little pig ornament! (If you have followed any of our travels with Arpiggo, then you understand!)


Of course, she was very touched at the idea of the Give-a-versary and with the gifts themselves being so cute, she loved it! Everyone at the shop was wonderful and helpful, and were very excited to hear about ITLT and the the type of work we like to do. Joan set up a meeting almost immediately to see firsthand what our team can do to help.

The Downtown Women's Center

Joan scheduled an appointment for us to visit the main facility in Downtown LA, just a few blocks from the resale boutique and the original Center in the heart of Skid Row. It was striking to walk into the Center and see such a warm interior; the word "safe" came to mind immediately. Family style seating (dinner tables and cushioned chairs) and a cafeteria where women in the Center work. There were women eating together, talking together, and there was a strong feeling of community. Security is not guaranteed outside those walls, yet there was no feeling of anxiety or fear or anything else we might've expected. We spoke with two women who gave us a thirty minute walking tour of the facility to share what their day center is all about.

We didn't photograph any except a few art installations, per the consent of our hosts. 
This corner of the women's residence lobby was decorated with the products of a photography class several years ago. The women were given cameras to photograph what they saw and then learned how to silk-screen the images on pillows.

The cafeteria served over 200 women a day-- 3 hot meals a day, 7 days a week. They provide clean and private bathrooms, showers, a health center, laundry facilities, and day beds where the women can rest. They can feel comfortable to make phone calls, secure a mailing address, a sometimes even get a fresh change of clothes. Something that Joan clung to was the idea that the space was designed "intentionally." A warm, safe, and secure environment: things that allow someone to progress forward and not struggle to survive. Simply said, these women that suffer from extreme poverty, mental or physical conditions, chronic abuse, and even age related issues have a place to go that affords them options.

A painting of Jill Halverson (right), founder of the DWC, 
and a homeless woman who became a friend and inspiration for the Center.

Going upstairs we saw all the other options, the MADE room, where three women were working on products that would later be sold, a computer lab, a job center, and even a sun deck where in all the hustle and bustle in Downtown LA, you can take a long, calm breath.We didn't go any further upstairs because the next 10 floors are permanent housing and that means strict visitor rules. They have an incredible success rate. 95% of the women that reside with DWC continue to stay permanently housed even after they move on from the Center, meaning that they really are ending the cycle of homelessness for these women. We walked out of there with our eyes opened to what someone like the founder, Jill Halverson, with a vision and compassion could create. I also walked out with an amazing Chocolate Chip Cookie that they make onsite at their cafe. It was a great visit! Visit the website with their story, information, AND ways you can help at http://www.dwcweb.org/.


Photos of the Made by DWC Resale Boutique

In Conclusion

We also celebrated Joan’s birthday about a week after this! For those who at the very least have a mall trip in them, LUSH, the handmade cosmetics and soap store has a charitable program called Charity Pot. They sell a small and large body lotion whose cost is donated 100% (minus the taxes) to small grassroots organizations that deal mostly with environmental conservations, human rights and animal welfare. Up to this point, they have raised almost $5,000,000 since 2007 and it’s a great way to give back when shopping for gifts for a special lady. Also, because next to those Charity Pots are about 500 of those LUSH Bath Bombs which, while there is no donation to charity, there will be many, many thank yous.

All in all, this may have been one of the most rewarding gift giving seasons I’ve ever had. We found a simple way to give and give back at the same time. The win/win of it all is that we received things that couples would get each other: shirts I wear often, "Uplifting" Sweet Orange soap that’s in the dish, and a cute little Pig ornament to greet us. We felt more bonded to our community, to each other, and to the little things that we can do.