By Corey Rodda
The trendy neighborhood of Oak Park has eye candy for anyone to behold — antique mansions, line houses and knotted sycamore trees make up North Oak Park where Old Soul Co., Naked Coffee, Oak Park Brewery, the Oakland grown La Venadita Taqueria and the Brickhouse Art Gallery have started to attract hipsters and investors. Further south, Central and South Oak Park offer a neighborhood oasis where the stars shine bright at night and palm trees climb to soaring heights.
But, beneath all the glitz and glamour of Oak Park is an urban community in transition and Wellspring Women’s Center, tucked away behind the Broadway Triangle in an antique pink-painted firehouse, has seen it all. A black panther shoot-out once occurred at the old Firehouse which is now known to long time Oak Park residents as a community gathering spot that has offered women and children a haven from the auspices of poverty since 1987.
Each weekday morning, Wellspring serves a nutritious breakfast to about 200 women and children in an atmosphere of hospitality, dignity and love. As well, the Center offers social work services, art therapy, sewing classes, chiropractic services and dispenses diapers, sanitary pads and hygiene products.
Wellspring was founded nearly thirty years ago by Sister Catherine Connell and Sister Claire Graham who set out to create a breakfast spot that was clean, bright and beautiful where women could come to value themselves through the experience of being valued by others.
In the Center’s salad days, Sister Claire and Sister Catherine would clean guests homes after they closed Wellspring for the day. While on their house visits, they took stock of what the guests needed and started to offer them diapers, sanitary pads, hygiene products and greeting cards.
Reliant solely on private funding, the Center requests no qualifying information from its guests before they can access its services. Over the past thirty years, Wellspring has evolved to serve it’s guests’ needs.
Fresh cut flowers and tablecloths adorn every table and the center’s walls pop with art and photographs. An old fire pole near the center’s kitchen has been transformed into a sculpture crafted out of pastel flower coffee filters.
Wellspring serves as a social gathering spot — a place where isolated seniors, women with mental illness, mothers and grandmothers can listen to each others stories and be a part of each others lives. Seasonal celebrations supply guests with fond memories to earmark the passage of time. And birthday gifts and bassinets given to new mothers reveal to guests that they are loved and honored. In the children’s corner where supervised playtime is offered during breakfast hours, children are exposed to guests and volunteers who shower them in compassion even if their home-life is fraught with dysfunction.
The breakfast spot is a beacon of radical acceptance — no guests are ever banned from Wellspring and for some women, Wellspring is their only access point for food and shelter. Wellspring embraces those who are most marginalized and creates an environment where everyone no matter race, creed, class or background is blanketed in compassion, support and love. Wellspring is a model of community revitalization and proof that we heal together. Perhaps the Center’s most profound impact is giving its guests reason to wake up in the morning.
To learn more about Wellspring please visit the Center’s website and read Tales from the Heart of Wellspring: Stories Collected and Shared at Wellspring.
~Corey Rodda is a marketing consultant who is passionate about social justice. She happily resides in Oak Park, Sacramento.