Rising from homelessness to hope with MADE by DWC
The purpose-driven social enterprise from LA's Downtown Women's Center empowers women experiencing homelessness through job training and employment opportunities. Joe Altepeter, Chief Social Enterprise Officer, and Madelon Wallace, Merchandise & Sales Manager, give the lowdown on what makes the program work—and how the ongoing pandemic has brought out the best in people.
For women experiencing homelessness, a single opportunity can make all the difference in the world. That's exactly what LA's Downtown Women's Center provides through MADE by DWC. This purpose-driven social enterprise was created to empower women to break the cycle of chronic homelessness through employment while respecting their dignity and abilities.
It's a multifaceted approach, according to Joe Altepeter, the Center's Chief Social Enterprise Officer, with roots that extend back to its founding in 1978.
"Over the years, we've recognized the need for job training to support women in re-entering the workforce and in creating personal economic stability to sustain their transition out of homelessness," Altepeter explains. "MADE by DWC now includes three businesses: our Home & Gift Collection, Resale Boutique, and a Cafe & Gift Boutique."
According to Altepeter, the program supports up to 35 women a year through a job training program and 10 women through jobs within MADE by DWC. These job programs enable women to earn an income while gaining skills in production, inventory, retail, and customer service. Graduates receive assistance in finding long-term jobs that can lead to sustainable careers.
The numbers speak to its success: 72% of participants complete the program and over 64% place into competitive jobs. But those figures don't tell the whole story.
"Beyond the numbers, we see the tenacity of each woman and their personal commitment to growth. It can become a life-changing experience for them and their communities," the Center's Merchandise & Sales Manager, Madelon Wallace says. "Our ultimate goal is for every woman in Los Angeles to be housed and on a path to personal economic stability."
In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, MADE by DWC closed the Café and Resale Boutique and quickly pivoted to online sales for both the Home & Gift Collection and Resale products. Like our businesses, the job training program also had to think creatively about how to support its staff while transitioning to online sales.
"We understood the importance of our job training program to keep women on track to meet their goals, and also as a respite for women who are under-housed and in need of safe spaces throughout the day," he continues. "So, we implemented health and safety protocols and continued to provide the space for job training."
The challenges came with an upside in the form of an incredibly supportive community, for which Altepeter feels immense gratitude. The move to e-commerce actually saw an increase in customer interactions and sales.
"We are reminded how our community steps up to address the challenges women living in homelessness are required to overcome every day," he says.
All purchases fund MADE by DWC's career training and mentorship programs. Unsurprisingly for a business in the creative hotbed of LA, there are plenty of stylish, handcrafted items to choose from.
The Home & Gift collection features everything you need for self-care, from candles and soaps to bath salts and stationery. There's even a timely "quarantine & chill kit" with a NapValley candle and limited-edition designer T-shirt, perfect for showing your support while looking great.
As Altepeter explains, it's a labor of love for everyone involved.
"Our unique home and gift collection is created with love and inspiration by the women of MADE by DWC," he says. "In addition, are supported by an amazing community of volunteers, partners, and customers who engage and create change throughout Los Angeles."
Its success, even through the pandemic, underscores both the value and resilience of small businesses in a city like LA.
"Small businesses are priceless because they create opportunities to nurture our communities as much as our economy and help individuals engage in connected growth at a large scale," Altepeter says.