Monday, February 16, 2015

A Day Inside | Downtown Women's Center, Skid Row

It was early December. At 4am, I woke up, got ready, and drove about an hour downtown to San Pedro St. in the Skid Row community of Los Angeles, just a few blocks from Little Tokyo, to the Downtown Women's Center. I was tasked with a dream project to create imagery capturing the spirit of the center ahead of the launch of their brand new logo and website that went live last week. Although I'd visited before to meet with staff and photograph a MADE soap-making workshop, this was my first time witnessing what happens inside the Day Center after it opens its doors at 6am. 

As women began gathering outside, Ms. Faye and a few staff members laid out big piles of donated clothes and various toiletries on top of the tables, and set up a Christmas tree that arrived early that morning.

As the sun began to rise, the DWC cooking crew made up of participants began preparing grits, toast, toppings, fruit, coffee, and tea to serve for breakfast, as well as baking scones and other pastries to sell at the MADE cafe right next door.

Ms. Faye made an announcement about warm showers and the many services available to participants at the Day Center. Afterwards, I walked next door to capture a few shots inside the MADE Cafe, where you can find handmade gifts made by DWC participants, while you enjoy a chai latte with almond milk among other delicious items on their menu.

I headed back into the Day Center, where I documented a longtime participant meeting with her case manager.

Afterwards, I went back through the Day Center to one of the product development workshops, where DWC women were creating handmade repurposed journals out of old vintage books and yarn.

Later that morning, Stephanie led a yoga class and after a sitting meditation, we returned to the Day Center, where the cooking crew prepped kale and fruit salad, and chicken and veggies to add to the alfredo sauce topped spaghetti for lunch.

After lunch, women played Connect Four in the main room, and Magdalena and several participants created these bags out of reclaimed men's shirts during another product development workshop.

These two friends caught up in a common area, while others read together in the learning center and visited the health clinic.

Throughout the day, Pauline managed parking, women organized clothing donations, and Ms. Faye and staff helped folks in the Day Center

A highlight of our day included a tour inside the apartments of DWC residents, Bertha and Francine, who live in two of the 119 on-site apartments that make up DWC's permanent supportive housing program. Each had her own unique personal style.

After Bertha's, we headed to another floor, where DWC Peer Leader, Francine invited us into her apartment.

We wrapped our shoot at sunset, after getting a few shots with staff. In their office kitchen, I found these post-it reminders they had shared. As they geared up for launch, I returned on another day to shoot executive headshots and the team started sharing a few of the images with powerful quotes by Melinda Gates, President Obama, and W.E.B. Du Bois.

There is so much spirit in the center, and it was a pleasure being inside. To learn more about the Downtown Women's Center, you can visit in person, go online to the new website, grab a bite at the MADE cafe next door, read the women's stories on the blog, browse the Etsy shop, read reviews on Yelp, or see what they're up to on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. For those of you who want to drop off donations like clothes or shoes, go here.

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