“The pandemic has brought into light how important connectivity is for all of us. That is what Wellspring is here for.”
Kelsey Long’s heart has always been in Oak Park.
A 2011 graduate of C.K. McClatchy High School, Long is a lifelong Oak Park resident, only leaving the home turf to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work from Portland (Ore.) State University, then joining AmeriCorps with Portland Youth Builders.
Now, she is forging a career as a social worker just blocks from her lifelong family home – as the women’s wellness coordinator for Wellspring Women’s Center.
“Being from Oak Park means something to me, as well as many of (Wellspring’s) guests,” she says. “I sure love being from this place.”
Coincidentally, her home and the venerable old Fourth Avenue firehouse that shelters Wellspring were built the same year, in 1908.
Long leapt at the chance to join the Wellspring family last April, after working as a development associate for Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, practically across the street from Wellspring.
As the women’s wellness coordinator for Wellspring, Long works hand-in-hand with Executive Director Genelle Smith, as well as the nonprofit’s team of social work interns.
The job is all-encompassing.
She shares the joy and pride of new mothers and grieves with family members in their times of turmoil, need and sorrow. She works tirelessly as a caseworker to ensure that guests have access to health care, public assistance and – if possible — affordable housing.
Long, who enthusiastically dispenses hygiene and other necessities to the guests, from bus passes to diapers, tampons, soap and shampoo, cringes at the notion that these safety-net supplies are but Band-Aid remedies to serious problems.
“Often,” she says, “that’s the most important thing I do,” and it’s a task deeply rooted in Wellspring’s mission of hospitality with dignity and love.
It’s also a constant reminder of the “deep-deep gratitude for the things I have in my life,” she says.
Long’s first-year anniversary with Wellspring will follow on the heels of March as Social Work Month – the annual observation that social workers play a crucial role in society’s goal of social justice and equality.
She considers it “such an honor to be working in the legacy” of the two Sisters of Social Service, Claire Graham and Catherine Connell, who opened Wellspring as a storefront doughnuts-and-coffee respite on Broadway more than 30 years ago, then, through perseverance, pluck and prayer, made the nonprofit a haven of hope for generations of women and children of this historic, multicultural neighborhood.
This year’s Social Work Month packs special meaning, arriving after more than a year of debilitating pandemic that saw nonprofit services wither while testing the mettle of others, including Wellspring, which continues to work tirelessly to maintain services.
“The pandemic,” Long says, “has brought into light how important connectivity is for all of us. That is what Wellspring is here for.”
Many guests who cannot afford computers or access the internet are often the last in line for health-care services, including COVID testing. Others are penalized for missing Zoom court appearances.
Long is ever mindful of her profession’s vow of “unconditional positive regard” for those needing help, fostering their “innate goodness and personal self-esteem.”
Key to Wellspring’s success is its nutritional breakfast-lunch program, under the supervision of new Hospitality Manager Dana Cash.
Wellspring’s “best-kept secret,” she muses, is the farm-to-fork meals that are “locally sourced and veggie heavy” – thanks in a large part to the generosity of donations from farmers market stand holders and neighborhood merchants such as Faria Bakery and Real Pie Company.
Though career and home share a much-familiar neighborhood, Long sees a larger picture.
“I’m very cozy in my life,” she admits. “I think that’s how we’re meant to live.”
But, at Wellspring, she says, “Every day feels so filled with meaning. My heart and perspective on the world have grown exponentially.”