The term “Downtown East Side” or “DTES” comes with a strong stigma in Vancouver: a stigma encompassing the additional stereotypes surrounding homelessness, mental health issues, and addiction. Often, these stigmas and stereotypes isolate the people who live in the Downtown East Side, negatively impacting their sense of dignity and belonging.
Vancouver’s Beauty Night Society seeks to improve the lives of Downtown East Side women by creating a safe space of belonging and dignity through the simple act of human interaction and touch through volunteer-driven “beauty nights”.
Caroline MacGillivray, founder and Executive Director of Beauty Night, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her organization and how to get involved as a volunteer:
What was the inspiration for founding Beauty Night? What is the most important thing that Beauty Night gives to its clients?
CM: Through my experience volunteering at WISH Drop in Centre, I was inspired to start Beauty Night. I was doing research for a short film I was starring in and started volunteering to do research. I found out the average age of entry into street life in Canada was 13 years old. This was echoed in personal stories I heard from women I met. One night when I was volunteering one of the ladies came in after having a bad day. She had a shower and afterwards sorted through the donations. When she found a curling iron, she wanted to curl her hair. She was unable to so I offered to help. Afterwards, she gave me a huge hug which got me thinking, if I can do this what happens when we bring people together who are able to offer these services to the ladies?
Poverty, violence, mental ill health, disease, and addiction can be isolating. The most important thing Beauty Night gives its participants is a community where they belong. When people feel like they are accepted, they begin to have hope. When someone has hope they start to see opportunities that are there: in many cases, connecting to our community partners who offer housing, healthcare and much more. The makeover is a great way to offer healthy touch in a safe space.
Who are your regular clients?
CM: 1/3 seniors, 1/3 moms & children, 1/3 street youth & survival sex workers. We are seeing an increase in seniors accessing our programming.
What kind of university student might be interested in becoming involved in Beauty Night?
CM: Anyone who values community and connection. I think the students who value inclusion seem to work well with our ladies. We have been lucky to have many volunteers from SFU's YWIB chapter who support our cause. We have many health care students, arts students, criminology students, women studies and many more. We will train volunteers for nails, foot care, and relaxation massage.
We welcome male volunteers as well as female volunteers. Some volunteers volunteer with their significant other, classmate, or family member.
What are the personal passions/drives that usually bring volunteers to Beauty Night?
CM: Volunteers volunteer for our cause for a variety of reasons. Many of our volunteers volunteer because of word of mouth. They have heard about our cause through a friend who volunteers. Others have read about us through articles or have found us on social media and like what we offer. We have many volunteers that offer a variety of services including acupuncture, homeopathy, foot care, relaxation massage, skin care, nails, make up application, SMART (self management and recovery therapy) and much more.
What is the most important thing for front-line volunteers to know about the work you do before they begin? If someone wishes to be involved without being on the front line, how else might they contribute to your work?
CM: All of our front line volunteers must complete our volunteer orientation. We hold them on the 1st Tuesday of the month at 5pm at VPL Firehall Branch 1455 West 10th Avenue. Orientation is 2.5 hours.
If someone wants to be involved without being on front lines, they can help in many ways.
Help us spread the word on Twitter
Class projects - sometimes offering to do research projects or articles can be mutually beneficial
Hold a fundraiser for our cause
Look for volunteer opportunities that may come up by following us on Twitter (@BeautyNight) or on our Facebook page
Become a monthly donor
Do you have any specific upcoming projects related to the holiday season?
CM: Our biggest one is our 12 days of Xmas campaign. In the past few months we've had hundreds of volunteers help sew, decorate and collect donations to fill 1500 Xmas stockings. During the 12 days of Xmas we will be dressing up as elves and handing them out to women in shelters throughout the lower mainland.
The second is an eco fashion show that we are doing at the Hive Vancouver on December 15th. Hosted by Royal Air Farce's Jessica Holmes, the event should be a wonderful way to celebrate our 12 year anniversary: 12 years, 26 000 makeovers, thanks to 500+ volunteers.
Beyond the Blog
For more information about volunteering for the Beauty Night Society, or to register as a volunteer, please visit Beauty Night’s Volunteer Information page.