Maye first came to Wellspring when she was nine years old and on summer vacation. It was 1987.
“Sister Catherine had a dog and she would bring her dog to Wellspring,” she said. “I would say that most of the neighborhood kids were really enamored with that dog.”
Now, Maye is an international humanitarian worker with a focus in natural disaster relief and recovery. She has lost count of the countries that she has visited and worked in.
“The countries where I have spent significant periods of time include Thailand, Laos, East Timor, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Sudan,” she said.
Maye was interviewed for Tales from the Heart of Wellspring while she was on a break between assignments and indulging in some rest and relaxation in Hawaii.
“Wellspring was a very special place for me growing up in Oak Park,” Maye said. “It was a place with a lot of warmth and kind volunteers who were willing to play with the neighborhood kids.”
Maye is a first-generation immigrant. She and her family moved to Oak Park from Thailand where they were living in refugee camps.
As a child growing up in Oak Park, Maye straddled two distinct cultural worlds – her family’s Mien ancestry and her new American identity.
“I really felt as a teenager that it was difficult for my parents to understand what it was like growing up in Oak Park – not only were we in an economically depressed area where gang violence and drug use were rampant, but it was also challenging in the sense that I was enrolled at schools that weren’t the best public schools available,” she said. “I faced a lot of peer pressure to join the neighborhood gangs or get involved in activities that were not conducive to supporting my education.”
“The friendships that I formed at Wellspring Women’s Center were really helpful in terms of having someone to talk to,” Maye said. “I found a lot of comfort in my relationship with Sister Catherine and Sister Claire because they were always available to talk to me. The various volunteers who I met were very helpful because I was able to communicate and express whatever I was dealing with in a way that I couldn’t do with my parents.”
Maye always knew that her path towards economic mobility lay in her education.
“My father always focused on education when I was young,” she said. “Coming from a low income neighborhood, doing well in school was our only ticket out of poverty and our only ticket to find success in life.”
Sister Catherine used money from Wellspring Women’s Center to pay for Maye to attend Lorretto High School, a college preparatory school for girls operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.
“Going to Loretto allowed me to focus on my education in a safe environment,” Maye said.
Maye received her bachelor’s degree from University of California, Santa Barbara, and her master’s degree from Columbia University. Between college and graduate school, she took ten years off to work in Washington D.C, to work abroad and to care for her younger sister who has special needs.
From an early age, Maye knew that she wanted to do international aid work.
“It has always been a pretty steady journey and I’ve always known that this is what I wanted to do and that this is what I needed to do,” she said. “My goals were always in the back of my mind, but I also strive to maintain a sense of adaptability and flexibility with whatever life throws my way. That adaptability has been really important with my work. In disaster management, you have to be flexible and adaptable and fluid in your ability to pack up your bags and go somewhere in two to three days notice. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t make long-term plans. I’m doing well even if I am planning a month out — you learn to live in the moment and to focus on embracing what you have in front of you.”
“Sister Catherine has been a really strong role model for me,” she said. “She is a very strong independent woman who has always gone after what she believes in and that is something that has stayed with me over the years. I really looked up to her when I was growing up. She was one of the most active leaders that I knew in my time – working for Wellspring and acting as an advocate for the most vulnerable in the city of Sacramento.”
The first time that Maye distributed food to people in crisis from a natural disaster brought her back to her experience as a refugee in Thailand.
“We were distributing food to hundreds of people who were affected by the earthquake in Haiti,” she said. “It brought me back to a time when my parents and I were standing in line to receive relief supplies from organizations like the one that I represented and that was a very poignant moment for me,” she said.
Maye most recently worked in Southeast Asia as the Regional Disaster Management Specialist for a major international aid organization.
She spends about 60% of her time traveling to different countries to support them with their preparedness planning, trainings and response to natural disasters.
“You learn to adjust to life on the road – living out of your suitcase and standing in line at the airport while getting your work done,” she said. “Your work doesn’t stop just because you are traveling.”
This blog post was written by Corey Rodda. Corey is a former Vista Volunteer of Wellspring and has continued to volunteer for Wellspring in many wonderful ways.