Beninga first came to Wellspring 15 years ago when she felt very “broken.”
“I was heartbroken and financially broke,” she said.
“I was kind of lost for a while,” she added.
At the time, she was in search of work.
Benigna met a guest at Wellspring who told her that Sacramento High School was searching for people to work in its Cafeteria.
Along with three other guests at Wellspring, Benigna was hired to work in the cafeteria. They would meet at Wellspring before work and bond over breakfast.
“It was so fun because we used to go to work and all of us were happy and smiling,” she said. “My friend used to take us in her car.”
What is your favorite thing to do at Wellspring?
“To sit down, relax, drink my tea and eat my toast,” she said. “You see other people who seem like they need a lot of help so you talk to them.”
“It means a lot to me,” she added. “Even though, we have pressure outside, we have this to keep us going through the rest of the day.”
“We speak about many things – children, family, social work,” she said. “Sometimes, we speak about politics. We speak about how things are going for the young people and how life is now and what it was like before when we were little girls.”
“I enjoy every minute of Wellspring,” Benigna said. “When they close, we feel very sad because it means that we have to stay home.”
Now, in charge of the salad bar, Benigna is the only one of her friends who still works at Sacramento High School.
“I really like it,” she said. “It keeps me going. It keeps me busy. It’s not easy. It’s like a routine. You wake up in the morning and get ready to do your job.”
“I prepare, serve, clean and put all of the stuff together, organize things and date it,” she said. “I keep it clean and smile at the children. Sometimes I say hi to them or happy Friday.”
Benigna lives in Meadowview and takes the bus to Wellspring and work each day.
“I like walking and feeling the air,” she said, describing her walk to the bus stop and her experience of mass transit. “I like to see the people. You see a lot of things. Some people are laughing and some people are mad and you just wonder what kind of life they have.”
Benigna moved to California from Mexico to live with her grandparents in 1970.
“It [America] was totally different, but I knew that it was a better life for me,” she said.
When she first arrived, she worked in the tomato fields. She would go to work very early in the morning and work until 7 pm at night.
“It was very hard because you know it is hot and then it is cold, but I was very happy when I got here because I stayed with my grandparents who I loved,” Benigna said.
She said that her grandparents inspired her to be a better woman and friend.
Now, she is a grandmother to six grandchildren and lives with her son and his two children. She has worked as a babysitter, in a cannery and as a caregiver.
Benigna has also tackled the hardest job of them all — mothering.
“Nobody teaches you how to be a mother,” she said. “You take it as it comes. It is like 24 hour work and even when they are adults, they still need you.”
Benigna said that her most rewarding job was providing care to people who were aging.
One woman who she worked for had a swimming pool at her apartment complex.
Benigna was able to get the woman and her neighbors to embrace their fear of water.
“It was a very, very happy place because I taught a lot of the ladies to swim,” she said. “Some of the ladies didn’t know how to swim.”
“Elderly people really need to be encouraged,” Benigna said. “They live so alone.”
The manager of the apartment complex told Benigna that ever since she started working for the woman, everything changed at the complex –- its residents became happier and more active.
Benigna also took care of a man named Francisco who was 100 years old and lived by Sacramento City College. Her caregiving shift was between 4:00 am till noon. She would stay part of the night at her friend’s house in Oak Park and then cross McClatchy Park and walk to his home in the dead of night. Weary of her safety, the security guards at McGeorge School of law would follow her to ensure that she got to Francisco’s house safely.
Was it hard for you to care for people as they were dying?
“It’s difficult because you give some of your love to them and you see how much they need you,” Benigna said. “They start crying and I know that the last days of Francisco, he would cry out for his mother all the time. He would go, ‘mom, mom, where are you?’ He used to call his brother who passed away. It was a sad experience and a good experience because I learned how to take care of people. It’s not easy. I had to change their diapers, bathe them and make their bed. They can be so heavy because their bodies don’t move themselves. I had to shave Francisco and groom him and put all of his creams on his body.”
Benigna accompanied his family to scatter his ashes in Santa Cruz where he used to live.
“We went to the boardwalk that day,” Benigna said. “It was like a celebration.”