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A Change of Heart: A Volunteer's Story

At the Downtown Women's Center, we have over 5,000 volunteers who help end homelessness with us every year, and we know that each volunteer has a unique story making them part of our community. The following post was written by long-time DWC volunteer Iris Lee, who agreed to share what being part of the DWC family means to her.

Three years ago, I was looking for a place to donate some clothes after a spring-cleaning and a quick search on the web led me to the Downtown Women’s Center. I grabbed my bags and headed over in my car.

I had spent plenty of time in Downtown Los Angeles and was looking to move into the area, but I had so far avoided Skid Row, having heard negative rumors about the area. But once I stepped into the lobby of the Downtown Women’s Center, it was as if the air around me had changed. The Day Center was bright, spacious, and clean.

Day Center

Above: Walking into the Day Center, you might see anything from a meal being prepared in DWC's open kitchen, to a front desk manager assisting women with bus tokens, case management sign-ups, and more!

I saw tables filled with women sitting, talking, and playing games with each other. At some tables, it seemed like they were just resting their feet on a hot summer day. The Center was a cool oasis, an escape from the concrete jungle outside. For someone who had often skirted Skid Row, this scene put me at ease.

DWC Day Center

Above: DWC's Day Center is a safe haven, a community where women are supported with dignity and respect.

What I saw were women who reminded me of my late grandmother. She was a single mother who raised five children on her own since her early twenties. She laughed a lot, and surrounded herself with friends; just like the women I saw before me. But I couldn’t help but think that if my grandmother wasn’t fortunate enough to have children who provided for her in the later years, she could have easily ended up homeless.

After I came back home, I immediately went to DWC’s website and started searching for opportunities to get involved. I realized that my perception of Skid Row had been flawed, and I wanted to learn more. After attending the Volunteer Orientation and Training, I started volunteering as a Residence Host at the Los Angeles St. Residence.

Almost three years later, I still look forward to coming in every week.

Iris at LA St Residence

Above: Iris L. volunteers at the DWC Los Angeles St. Residence as a Residence Host.

Looking back, I think my mistake was to think I had nothing in common with those who were experiencing unfortunate circumstances. Being removed from the scene, it's easy to feel like there’s no one like you in Skid Row. But every Monday as I learn little tidbits about each woman who comes around the Residence, I realize that some remind me of my grandmother, some of my mother, and some of me.

Our volunteers are crucial to our work to break cycles of homelessness while fostering a community of dignity and respect. Learn more about how to become a volunteer at DWC or fill out a volunteer application online!

Day Center photos by: Erica Kawamoto Hsu

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