Where I Belong: Bess Byers

Longtime Made by DWC volunteer Bess Byers recently left LA to embark on a new business venture in her native Washington state. But before she hit the road, we chatted with her about the volunteer experience at the Downtown Women’s Center.
How did you get started volunteering at DWC?
I was new to LA, and my friend invited me the grand opening of the MADE café [in 2011]. When she sent me the invite, I had no idea it was in Skid Row. I thought I could blog about it and meet people.
When I got to the opening, everything about MADE coincided with my beliefs – the commitment to empowering a community and giving back. I could see all the hard work, love, and commitment from the staff, volunteers, and the women. I thought, “I have to get involved. This is exactly where I belong!”
What has your volunteering work been?
I’ve loved helping any way I can. I’ve taken photos of the handMADE products, helped to get the word out through my blog, and worked behind the counter at the café – really wherever I am needed.
It feels so good, and some people are surprised that I do this for fun! But I’ve been able to utilize my talents here to benefit the community. 
Is there a memory that stands out from your 4 years here?
A few years ago, I interviewed [DWC resident] Magdalena for a video. She told me about coming to DWC and needing to make money to buy a tent. She eventually got permanent housing at the Center.
One day I saw her in the Day Center reading something, and I asked her what it was. She said, “I’m studying for the GED.” I nearly cried. I could see she was using the resources [DWC] had given her. I could see how when women are empowered, we all have the power to better ourselves and our lives.
What is your advice for someone interested in volunteering at DWC?
Attend the orientation and training! There are so many ways you can get involved – cooking clubs, fitness classes, crafting. Really think about what is it that you like to do, and where you can use your strengths and talents to benefit the Center.
What lessons are you taking from your volunteering experience with you? 
DWC changed my life. The Center will always be something I look back on. There is no place like it, and the energy that radiates out of the building. The fact that two women started it all is amazing. You hear that one person can’t make a difference, but one person is all it takes! With homelessness, change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and passion to really change things.
Volunteering made me so appreciative of the life I have been given. I learned to be kind, to be tolerant of others, and to listen to people’s stories. There really is no way to describe how good it feels to give back to society.
Interested in joining our volunteer team? Check out our current volunteer opportunities, and find out how you can play a role in ending women's homelessness!


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