Written by Penny Liu
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Maggie Morgan
On Feb. 7, 2022, volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Regional Offices visited Wellsprings Village, a transitional residence program for women in Houston, Texas. The team’s first time in the community was eye opening, as they listened to the stories of families living there. Residents are women and children who are housing insecure or victims of domestic violence, leaving them in urgent need of interpersonal care. Deeply impacted by the struggles of those who shared, Tzu Chi volunteers got to work arranging an outdoor visit event slated for April.
Shared Roots: Women-Founded Organizations Grow Like Weeds
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has been a long-time supporter of Wellsprings Village and its mission. Many of Tzu Chi’s philosophies, and even its roots, are profoundly entwined with those of Wellsprings Village. Both organizations peacefully fight for the rights of those who cannot help themselves, using the power of love and compassion as their weapons. The stories of each charity are intricately interconnected, creating an unbreakable bond between them.
Tzu Chi’s founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, established the humanitarian aid organization in 1966 in the impoverished, rural county of Hualien in Taiwan. The Buddhist nun was compelled to somehow alleviate the suffering of those around her, so she made a concerted effort to get started in any way possible. Dharma Master Cheng Yen began her journey with the help of five female disciples and thirty housewives. To fund their initiative, the warrior women made baby shoes to sell, putting all proceeds they could aside.
Wellsprings Village, Inc. was founded 22 years later, in 1988, by two Dominican Sisters, Sr. Rita Owens, O.P. and Sr. Justin Farinella, O.P. The sisters had surveyed local resources that were available for women who were temporarily unhoused or domestic violence survivors; they were shocked at the lack of long term care services in the area. Rita and Justin decided to create their own solution to this devastating problem: the two women founded a transitional program to assist women in need. What became the Wellsprings Village has strived to help women get back on their feet by teaching them how to solidify a self-sustaining future.
When hearing the backstories of how these women-centric charities began, it is hard not to reflect on how timely the tales really are. As we reach the middle of Women’s History Month, we are constantly reminded of the strides females have taken to stand up for what’s right and advance in the direction of greatness. Countless narratives highlight incredible feats, immense honors, and moments that make women everywhere proud. However, let us never forget the women that need lifting up, the ones who need another shot at living a life worthwhile.
The Fire Within: Empowering Women to Rise From the Ashes
Monique Douglas, Wellsprings Village Manager, communicated that families living in the center were in desperate need of warmth as they came with next to nothing. Tzu Chi USA volunteers Jennifer An, Susie Yen, Penny Liu and Wendy Tsai met with Monique on Feb. 7 to deliver boxes of Tzu Chi eco-blankets, disinfecting wipes, detergent, soap, and various personal and cleaning products.
Monique warmly welcomed Tzu Chi volunteers who have become close friends of the program. During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has had to find work-arounds in order to stay compliant with health and safety protocols. Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Regional Office decided to make monthly contributions to Wellsprings Village by sending personal protective equipment (PPE) and household supplies to residents.
Women staying at Wellsprings Village were even more vulnerable to the lack of face-to-face interaction that everyone experienced during lockdown. “During the pandemic, Tzu Chi’s assistance to the center has become particularly important. In the past, Tzu Chi volunteers would take care of the women who were placed here every month, and help relieve their trauma through offering Jing-Si Aphorism courses. Tzu Chi would also donate daily necessities to alleviate the material needs of the center,” Monique expressed. After she had recounted the stressors of the last year, the program manager earnestly asked the volunteers when they’d be able to return again.
As the coronavirus’ presence in the United States shows signs of subsiding, Tzu Chi has planned an outdoor visit to the center in April. “Affected by the pandemic, volunteers cannot directly interact with the sheltered women. In the past, the volunteers used Jing-Si Aphorism courses as a channel to listen to their troubles and thoughts, communicate with them to give them warmth, and encourage them to stand up again and start a new life.”
Volunteer Penny Liu said: “We hope that the pandemic will end soon. One of the plans for April is to return to the center for classes as we gathered from past experiences that they enjoy Jing-Si Aphorism courses very much.”
Women Receive Warmth to Shield the Winter
There are currently 24 people living in Wellsprings Village occupying six residencies; while volunteers were visiting the women residing in three houses, two women were getting ready to move in. Penny Liu explained: “Since it coincided with the Lunar New Year, volunteers specially prepared New Year’s red envelopes, greeted the residents cordially, sent them blessings, and wished them a happy New Year.”
After donating supplies, the center’s staff showed volunteers welcome packages they made for women who were just settling in. Hoping to instill a sense of warmth and comfort in an unfamiliar situation, the packages included: Tzu Chi eco-blankets, a change of clothes, and personal hygiene items, all packed inside a large reusable bag. When they move out, the bag and blankets will be resonated by the women to serve the next residents who step into their shoes.
“We originally thought that when the sheltered women moved out, they would take the blankets with them. But later we learned that the center was extremely short of supplies.” Penny Liu pointed out, “For example when the weather was colder, they had to substitute blankets with larger towels. On colder nights, they needed 4 or 5 towels to keep warm. That’s why Monique called Tzu Chi, hoping that Tzu Chi would donate more blankets.”
The economic recession and rising inflation that has resulted from the pandemic has further stressed the financial burden of Wellsprings Village. Tzu Chi volunteers continue to gather bits and pieces wherever possible, delivering love in whatever form is required. Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Regional office looks forward to coming out of Women’s History Month and entering April, a time of new beginnings; for Wellspring Village, it will be a return to the roots of their friendship with the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. The April outside event will bring back a celebrated tradition of sharing hope: Jing-Si Aphorism courses for women in need.