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DJ, Beauty Night at Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre

February 7, 2012

A few weeks ago, I made contact with the ultra-committed and enthusiastic Caroline MacGillivray, National Executive Director and founder of  Beauty Night Society, an incredible organization that offers women a place of refuge from the hardships of daily life in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), the rough, drug-ridden, crime-laced and poverty-stricken edge of Vancouver. One Tuesday night recently, I went down to see what they do. The door to the building is locked, its entrance monitored by DJ who proudly describes herself as Caroline’s ‘right hand’. More about DJ in a moment.

Beauty Night occurs two evenings a week in space lent to the organization by the DTES Women’s Centre. It is a large room with a desk near the door where DJ and her friend Bea sit. Near the door is the area where volunteers give foot massages and monitor for signs of diabetes. Scattered throughout the rest of the room are several large, round tables where the clients of Beauty Night earlier ate a meal and where they now sit and chat with one another, or where the many volunteers apply make-up, paint nails, give back massages and help with crafts. Off to one side is the kitchen. At the far end of the room there is an open space for yoga practice or dancing. This particular Tuesday, the clients don’t show any interest in dancing. A steady, low hum of conversation is sprinkled with laughter.

The first thing that really catches my attention when I enter is the small, square memory table. It is covered with a colourful table-cloth and flanked by two table runners. On its surface, candles, beads, a tiny doll, ornaments, flowers in vases, and hand-written poems and messages are the small totems of the personal memories of and love for friends, mothers, sisters, and daughters lost to violence, sickness and age. It is a poignant and powerful reminder of the fragility of life in the DTES.

DJ shares her post at the door with Bea, who she affectionately calls her ‘sweet Mom’, each grateful for the support the other has given in tough times. DJ was initially a bit shy, and apologized that she wasn’t quite herself because a friend of hers had recently died. She would be going to his memorial later that same evening.

Originally a client, DJ has been helping out at Beauty Night since 2007. She welcomes clients and volunteers at the door, shows them around and introduces them to others in the room. She helps out where needed, including at the end of the night when she flies around making sure the room is tidy, tables clean and floor swept. DJ also escorts volunteers unfamiliar with the DTES to their bus stop and will wait with them until their bus arrives to ensure they are safe.

DJ has also been a volunteer at PIVOT Legal Society for the last 12 years and just came back from a three-day trip to the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa in connection with a challenge to the laws that criminalize sex workers. An interesting blog post about this trip and DJ’s journey can be found here. Another of her volunteer missions is working on the calendars sponsored by Hope in Shadows, a nonprofit organization that helps empower, educate, and provide training to low-income people in the DTES. The calendars contain honest and evocative pictures of the DTES and its residents, the photos taken by those same residents. DJ is very proud of her work on calendar, which she says does wonders for people in the DTES. She especially loves that kids also take photographs and that photos from three of them are in the current calendar. “It gives kids something positive to do,” she says.

I asked this generous and motivated lady what she likes about Beauty Night. She said she likes that the women who come in sad and depressed leave with a smile, feeling a lot better about themselves. DJ was in the last group to leave, her final job to ensure that Caroline caught a cab safely home. What did I take away from my evening at Beauty Night? That women in the DTES have a lot to contribute and, given a chance, they will.

Next Beauty Night post – more stories

Above photo of Patricia and DJ courtesy of Vancouver photographer Ken Villeneuve who takes beautiful photographs for Beauty Night.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2012 8:38 am

    Hello,I just recently found out about beauty nights and I think it is such a fabulous thing you are doing. My family and I are in the beauty industry and we would really like to get invoved and volunteer, My heart is so for the women to know that they are loved and beautiful ! This would definatly be something we would like to help get started around here where we’re from in the langley surrey area !!

    Autumn :-)

    • February 8, 2012 5:17 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Autumn. Beauty Night is a fabulous organization and always looking for volunteers if you can help out. It is looking at possibly expanding to Surrey as well so that might interest you. If you would like to contact them, just click on the link from the blog post. Patricia

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