Voreece, a survivor of domestic violence, an avid crocheter and a home-cook, has been coming to Wellspring since the drop-in breakfast center for women and children opened its doors in Oak Park in 1987.
“It’s love you know when you down, you come here and you get to laugh,” she said of Wellspring. “If I’m down because I was down this morning, I come here. I laugh. I feel happy now because I see people.”
Voreece radiates creativity, her eyelids and lips painted with red glitter makeup. She’s often wearing a cap with a 49ers pin encrusted with rhinestones.
When she first visited Wellspring, she was a mother to seven. Now, at 63 years old, she is a grandmother to 22 and a great-grandmother to five.
Voreece’s favorite memories at Wellspring involve the people who she has met through the center.
“You meet a lot of people,” she said. “All of the sisters, I just love them because they would listen to me. Like I said, I had a lot of problems and they would help me out a lot.”
She also enjoyed confiding in Terri Tork, Wellspring’s former volunteer coordinator.
“Terri would listen to me talk too,” Voreece said. “She was here when my son died. That’s the hardest part of life. I need to talk sometimes. It relieves a lot of pressure when you have a lot on your mind and you can talk it off.”
At Wellspring, Voreece also listens to other women’s struggles and helps to preserve the peace in the breakfast room. If a fight is brewing, she tells others to take their disagreements outside.
Two years ago, Voreece’s oldest son, Sam, died in a fatal car accident. He was 38 years old.
The day he crashed, she visited the site of the accident and took a piece of his car. She put it on her porch in a shrine that she fashioned for him – with a mirror, his picture, angels and candles.
“The hardest part is that I never got to say goodbye to him,” she said. “I never got to see him in a casket.”
She still makes videos on her phone with pictures of Sam set against a background of clouds. He’s in heaven, music pulsating, as pictures of her six other children zoom across the screen of her phone.
“I would sit up and make videos and that’s what would get me through my emotion,” she said. “I had to do this. And then I have a website for people to put their loved ones on.”
When she first learned of Sam’s death, Voreece knew that she had to come to Wellspring to say goodbye to Sister Judy Illig the nonprofit’s longtime executive director, who was moving on to Wheaton, Ill., to serve as the U.S. provincial leader for her order, the Institute of the Blessed Mary.
“I had to come say goodbye to Sister Judy and I was taking my time to tell her goodbye, so the phone rang and I had that phone call — and I still had to come in and tell her goodbye. Sister Judy had met my son.”
Sam, who used to belong to a gang, was shot fourteen times in Oak Park in 2005. He lived out his remaining years partially paralyzed, using a wheelchair and getting around in a van equipped to accommodate his disability.
“If you would have met my son, he would have had you laughing. He was always smiling. He was also a smooth talker,” said Voreece, who noted that while recuperating in the hospital, Sam met his wife, a nurse.
Now, Voreece believes Sam is a guardian angel looking over her.
“He is so handsome — I talk to him a lot,” she said. “He was the cutest baby.”
On a recent day in Wellspring’s dining room, Voreece’s friends talk to her about her crochet projects – selecting designs from a pattern book they would like her to make for them. She points out a poncho that she’s thinking of making.
Voreece started crocheting when she was just 13.
“I love to crochet,” she said. “I crochet like a machine. It blocks everybody out. It’s a mind thing. It’s a relaxed thing and it motivates you. When you finish, you think, ‘Wow I made that?’”
When she was just 7, Voreece said that her mother went to prison for a robbery she didn’t commit. Voreece went to live with her cousin.
“I didn’t get love there until my mom came back home,” she said. “My cousin was an abusive woman. She beat us all up all the time. I couldn’t wait until my mom came home. That was the roughest part of my life as a kid. I learned that there was no Christmas. My mom really got us thinking that there was a Santa Claus.”
When interviewed, Voreece was about to celebrate her birthday. She said her perfect day would be filled with cooking – ribs, chicken, cornbread, baked beans, butter cake with chocolate frosting and German chocolate cake.
At this milestone of life, Voreece considers herself fortunate to be alive, enjoying family – and her extended family at Wellspring.
“I’m 63 years old and I didn’t think I would make it this far,” she said. “I think God was like a wing over me all my life. … as an eight year old kid I used walk around. I used to come to this building [the historic firehouse that Wellspring is housed in] and mess with the firemen.”