Photo by Pop Culture Passionistas
On this episode of The Passionistas Project Podcast, we speak with Tess Cacciatore, CEO of Global Women's Empowerment Network, an organization dedicated to advocacy and activism for human rights. Tess is an award-winning producer, director, writer and editor creating content that focuses on social impact. She covers important topics like human trafficking, early child marriage, domestic violence and clean water initiatives.
Below is an excerpt from our interview in which Tess talks about one of her latest projects — distributing lanterns to the unhoused. To donate to this project visit https://gwen.global/gwen-lights-up-skidrow/
Tess Cacciatore: This is a lantern that is manufactured by Empowered they are out of Brooklyn. I went to a play one night, Robert Galinsky, I went to see his play. It was a one man play about being homeless and he was selling these after the show to give the money to the women's shelter downtown. And I do a lot of work with homeless because of my own experience in being homeless.
Skid row is the epicenter of the homelessness in Los Angeles and a light bulb pun intended went off. And I went "GWEN lights up skid row" would that be cool and I liked the title. I shared it with my board and shared with some friends. I contacted the manufacturer and I said, "Hey I want to do this. GWEN Lights up Skid Row. I called Justin Baldoni's people. He's been on my radio show before. He's a dear, dear, dear person and he has this thing called Carnival of Love every year. And that's where he blocks off all these streets around the Union Rescue Mission which I do a lot of work with as well. And January 26 he does the carnival of love where he has all these booths in there that gives out medical services, haircuts, clothes, toys, whatever you can imagine.
And I went last year as a volunteer so I called them up and I said I want to have a booth. I'm going to give out these solar powered lanterns and while we're there inside this barricaded place, I want to get into the streets. So I went with a couple of our volunteers and a couple of board members. Christopher Mack who works down there in the skid row area. He came with me and we went up to the tents which is a very dangerous area and very dangerous thing to do. But we did it with love and respect and I had someone who was local that knew the temperature of the community down there and just asked them, "Would you like a solar powered lantern?" And everyone received it with a lot of love.
You have a three level kind of light switch on there and then there's a blinking light. You can hang it on the inside a tent you know a lot of times you see these at sporting goods stores because people buy them for camping. But when Empowered saw the results that we had in skid row they loved the idea because they do a lot of community work. They do in natural disasters and disaster relief. They'll send some lanterns out for people for hurricanes or tornadoes or earthquakes but they never thought about the homeless side of it all. So we're in conversation right now and I targeted 10 cities around the country that are highest homeless outside living in tents in the streets.
And we are building the campaign right now. We're raising funds to be able to bring this to these other cities and to give a gift of light. And people that want to donate 10 dollars you can give a light and sponsor light that goes to one of these people because there's so many people live on the streets. And it ties into the mission of what we want to do with GWEN with our workshops which is really dealing with the inner turmoil the inner story. I'm going to keep coming back to that #RevealTheHeal story because if you talk to these people that live on the streets in the towns they have a huge story to tell. And there's a lot of instances that is mental health. And that's another thing that I think in the States we really need to tackle. You know that's a whole other conversation but I feel like just by giving a gift of light we're able to, give some safety, you know, gives some comfort.
Because inside their tent, I mentioned, I mean, if you just think about it you're down in an area where there's crime right outside your tent. You can't use the bathroom you can't go out and do anything because you can be raped or you can be killed, you could be robbed. You could have anything happen to you and it's a very dangerous hierarchal situation. There's a whole system that goes on down there that I'm just starting to get to the depths of that we are writing about that in our original scripted story but this one might program. It's so powerful to me because it's such a simple thing and people are like, "Wow how did you think about that?"
It was just a download from God that was started by Robert's play and Empowered has been really incredible with us. And they're giving us huge discounts and they're donating some lights. And so I'm really excited to be able to share more about that. But New York will be the next city we go to. We're going to do other parts of Los Angeles but New York just superseded Los Angeles as the number one homeless city in the States. And it's crazy what's going on. You know there's so many touchy topics when you deal with homelessness. You know people don't want to have homeless shelters in their communities because they think their property value might decrease and that's not true.
There's so many beautiful rehabilitation centers that are popping up everywhere in Los Angeles and we're doing a lot of work with Union Rescue Mission in Hope Gardens which is a transitional homeless center for women and children. We'll be doing our first workshop this spring. And that's really about diving into these women's lives and figuring out how they can you know they're almost on the way out there. Almost right there. And we just want to share the light and encourage them to start a business or whatever they want to do. So it all ties into this when lights up campaign.
To hear the rest of Tess' incredible journey, tune in to her episode of The Passionistas Project.
And learn more about the Global Women's Empowerment Network here.
And come back in two weeks to hear our interview with author Pam Skjolsvik.