Terri Tork, Wellspring’s Volunteer Coordinator, is adept at welcoming newcomers to the Center with a Midwestern flair. She lived in Lawrence, Kansas for 23 years.
She has a knack for making volunteers feel appreciated and honored — thanking them often for all that they do for Wellspring.
Terri’s favorite food is Mexican.
With short curly hair, she is often clad in jeans, colorful socks and chic, ergonomic footwear.
She dresses for the active nature of her job. She frequently carts boxes of diapers, pads and baby wipes up and down Wellspring’s steps.
Responsible for coordinating the Center’s over 100 active volunteers, recruiting new volunteers and arranging for groups to volunteer at the Center, Terri brings prospective volunteers on tours of the Center to familiarize them with Wellspring’s work. She spends the bulk of her mornings in Wellspring’s dining room – supervising the volunteers and mingling with the guests.
Terri moved to Sacramento in 1996 when her husband, Bill, took a job as the Director of the California Sierra Club, which is based in Sacramento.
After she retired from her position as an administrative secretary at Conservation Strategy Group, an environmental consulting firm, her friend suggested that she volunteer at Wellspring to fill up some of her free time.
Terri volunteered at Wellspring for three years. She savored the opportunity to help.
“It just felt great to be helping people,” Terri said. “It also just made me more grateful for all of the goodness that I have in my life. I am totally aware that it is good fortune that allowed me to have so many wonderful things in my life. I stopped whining, moaning and groaning about how sad everything was in my life. I saw that there were many people who had things that they were dealing with that were much more difficult than the things that I was dealing with and yet, many of them still managed to be happy and have a good outlook on life. That was a very powerful lesson for me.”
Terri has worked at a bra factory in Santa Cruz, as a psychiatric aid in a Kansas State Mental Hospital and as a window clerk, dispatcher and sorter for the United States Postal Service.
“Working at the state hospital, I realized how close I was to the patients there,” Terri said. “I’ve never felt like it’s us and them. I’ve always felt like it’s just us.”
While working for the U.S. Postal Service, Terri valued working in positions that were traditionally occupied by men. She worked as the first female dispatcher piling, sorting mail and dispatching trucks to Kansas City.
“The hardest part about that job was coming in at 3 am in the morning,” she said. “The winters were so cold, windy and blustery. Our dock – where we unloaded the trucks was facing north so you’d be out there freezing your ass off as you were unloading these big containers.”
Terri was active in the Postal Service’s Union and served as a Union Officer.
“I really enjoyed being sort of blue collar and a part of the working class,” she said. “That was what I knew growing up so it was comfortable.”
Terri’s childhood was checkered with familial dysfunction. The experience taught her how important the kindness of strangers is for nurturing love and fostering survival.
“If Wellspring weren’t here, I don’t know what would happen to a lot of our guests because I know that the Center is so important to them,” she said. “I don’t think that they’d be able to keep up the continuity with their friends if they didn’t have this place to go to and to bring their children here who can have relationships with other adults and children from the time that they are babies until they are adults. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard staff say, ‘I’ve known this person since they were three years old.’ There is something so meaningful and important about having a relationship that long with people who are loving and stable. I often think back to people who were important to me growing up. My family was crazy and sometimes it was a teacher or a counselor who got me through a rough patch. Just having someone who acknowledges you and who cares about you is a really big deal and that is something that we offer here.”
What does your relationship with the guests mean to you?
“It means the world,” she said. “I love the women at Wellspring. Early on, I would get really choked up just by being here because they were so resilient. They had this ability to make things happen with their lives even while they had so many things going against them. I just have so much respect for the women who come to Wellspring.”
“On one of my first days here Francine [a guest at Wellspring] was in the back and gave me a little stuffed crocodile,” she said. “I still have it beside my computer. It just meant a lot to me. The guests are so appreciative and even if they don’t have anything, they will give you something.”
“On day one, I fell in love with Wellspring,” Terri said. “I think in the very beginning, I was mostly in love with all of the staff because they were such amazing people. I wanted to be around them because they were so positive, loving, warm, nurturing and supportive. I just loved that energy so I wanted to be around it.”