Elena says that she will come to Wellspring till she breathes her last breath. She reflects that it is a community united by uncompromising and unconditional acceptance.

She found Wellspring by chance when she was despondent and depressed.


“I think god took me here,” she said. “I wasn’t even familiar with the area and I was coming from very far and I was just driving around and I saw these women outside. Sister Judy was standing in the door and she said, ‘Welcome, Welcome, We’ve been waiting for you.’ And I was like, ‘Me?’ And I got shuffled into where they were serving food and I haven’t left since so I love it. We need more — more of this.”

She has been coming to Wellspring for 13 years. “I’ll probably spend my last day here because this is where I get loved, support and strength,” she said. “I never want to leave this place.”

“We come here and we can eat here, we can cry here and we can laugh here,” Elena said.

“I get joy every time I walk through those doors,” she mused. “I see Sister Judy. I see Genelle. I see the staff. I see the volunteers. I see how kind and sweet they are. They don’t discriminate against us. They don’t care what color we are or if we are down in the dumps or high. They treat us with love and kindness. It’s a spiritual high.”

And what do you think about it is so spiritual?

“I think it is so spiritual because we are accepted unconditionally,” she said. “Sister Judy accepts us unconditionally. She looks at all of us with love and I have never ever in her eyes seen any kind of embarrassment or racism. Love. Love — always love.”

Is that your grandson over there?

“That is my great grandson,” she said. “My kids and my grandchildren came here. I take him every morning and then I bring him to school. This is a wonderful spiritual place and the kids that go here end up doing very very well. They end up going to school, they end up graduating and if you want to go to college and if you want get your GED, the staff encourages you to. They help you with books. They go to bat for you. I got my A.A. coming here.”


The Children’s Corner at Wellspring

What did you get your A.A. in?

“I got it in gerontology and I got my GED.”

What made you want to pursue a degree in gerontology?

“I have a migrant background and most of the people in my family died of alcoholism — they died of hunger and they died of ignorance,” Elena said. “They died of not knowing how to eat properly – not knowing how to take care of themselves and I felt very sorry for my grandmother and my uncles who got old and died. They really didn’t receive the medical and social services that they should have received. I consider myself to be a humanitarian. That’s all I want to be.”

And what does being a humanitarian mean to you?

“It means love unconditionally,” she said. “Helping and doing what you can and always trying to have a smile on your face. And trying to help and never getting tired of helping the poor or anybody who says, “Elena can you help me.” If you see somebody that is hungry, do your best or what you can to give them a sandwich or a burrito or a taco or something. Don’t shun them. Don’t stare at them — show them that you care. If we had more of that, there wouldn’t be so much hatred in this world. It’s all about love.”

Do you live in Oak Park?

“No, I live outside of Oak Park, but I come into Oak Park everyday,” she said. “I love Oak Park. It’s a wonderful community. I know people tend to look down on it. The people here are loving, kind and sweet. Just because they are not middle class or rich — it doesn’t mean that they don’t treat you good here.”

And where is your family from and where are you from?

“California by Visalia, Calif,” she said. ” I was born in Hollister, Calif. My mother was born in Calif., my Grandmother was born in California and my kids were born in California. We’ve always been in California. I also have a part of me is Pueblo Indian from New Mexico.”

How has your background as a migrant worker, a Pueblo Indian and a Californian influenced you?

“I mean it’s all together,” Elena said. “I started out as a migrant child three years old with my grandmother and my mother picking cotton and I worked up into working in Hollister and picking prunes, walnuts and pepper and living in one room shacks and sometimes living in our car. My mother couldn’t give birth in the hospital in Hollister because we were migrants and didn’t have a permanent address. I saw and I learned and I suffered and I decided that when I got big, I was going to try and do something about it. And I did — I worked very, very hard in the farm-worker movement. I gave up a lot of my years to help and work because I’ve lived the life. I’ve lived the horror. In those days there were no schools or migrant camps — there were no Food Stamps. There was nothing – nobody to help. Nothing like it is now, but we worked very, very hard to get what we have right now.”

What farm worker movement did you work in?

“I was part of the United Farm Workers,” she said. “The AFLCIO in Delano.”

And what was it like to be a part of that movement?

“Well that’s a whole different story. I’d rather not get into that right now. The only thing I can say is that I received a lot of my education there.”

pittsburgh cares
A button from the United Farm Worker movement courtesy of the Farmworker Movement Documentation Project.
Elena and her family in Pittburgh where they organized the grape boycott. Image courtesy of 3200 Stories.
Elena and her family in Pittburgh where they organized the grape boycott. Image courtesy of 3200 Stories.

“When you come here, you don’t come with no airs,” she said. “You come in humility. You don’t come here acting better or prettier or smarter. The day I walked in these doors, I tell you, I wanted to throw myself in the river — I was so depressed and desperate and from that day on, I am a different woman. I’m a different woman. I am enjoyed. I am the real me now.

The view from Elena’s traditional seat. She said that she always gravitates to this part of Wellspring by the old firehouse garage door. The area is where the Art of Being therapy session is held and she reflected that some of the energy from those sessions — the sorrow, healing, and happiness — still lingers.


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