Celebrating 10 Years of Love and Care at Tzu Chi’s Wilmington Community Clinic

Tzu Chi Medical Foundation  |  January 22, 2021
Locals patiently line up outside the Tzu Chi Community Clinic in Wilmington for a monthly food distribution event. Photo/Emerald Hsu

Written by Jennifer Chien and Sandia Chang
Translated by Diana Chang  
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

On Fridays, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the nation, Antonia Rodriguez and Gloria Bautista left home in the morning and traveled to the Tzu Chi Health Center in Wilmington. Huiping Wang, a Tzu Chi volunteer, smiled brightly as she greeted them. Everyone was glad for an opportunity to see one another and prepare lunch together. 

Huiping shared that because Antonia and Gloria have dedicated their time and efforts to helping at the center on Fridays, they started calling these special Friday meetings “Latino Friday.” Everyone starts the day by cooking lunch together, Chinese food and Mexican food placed side-by-side on the table.

In The Hispanic Community

Everybody’s important, it doesn’t matter what your background is. Antonia and Gloria don’t have much, but [as volunteers] they still enjoy doing it and they’re happy to do it.

When it comes to recruiting volunteers in the community, Huiping explained that “Some volunteers are patients who came to see a doctor, some volunteers are family members who received aid from Tzu Chi, and some volunteers originally came with the intention to find out more about Tzu Chi.” In 2010, when Tzu Chi first opened an outpatient clinic in a predominantly Spanish-speaking immigrant community, local community leaders took the opportunity to observe the brand new clinic for themselves, and evaluate how the health center might benefit their community.

An alley in the Wilmington community where homeless individuals live. Photo/Jennifer Chien

The geographical location of Wilmington is adjacent to the Port of Los Angeles. In addition to a dedicated tanker port and a large oil refinery in the area, the surrounding factories also create many job opportunities. However, many middle-class and wealthy families were unwilling to live nearby, and presently, the community primarily consists of Hispanic families and low-income or undocumented individuals.

The Hispanic families who live in Wilmington are predominantly Catholic, and when Tzu Chi first entered the Wilmington community, volunteers were mindful about introducing the subject of their difference in religion. As the locals began to get a feel for the new addition to the community, they saw that Tzu Chi’s approach to each patient was caring and attentive, and residents gradually came to fully trust Tzu Chi’s medical mission regardless of religion or ethnicity. Some residents who encountered Tzu Chi were so touched by the support that they selflessly joined on as a volunteer at the center, happy to lend their aid. Local volunteers also include Spanish interpreters who assist residents when visiting a doctor.

A Community Full Of Love And Care

Local volunteers from the Wilmington community assist with food distribution for the residents. Photo/Fuchuan Chen

Huiping believes that the Wilmington Community Clinic is more than just a clinic, providing low-cost Chinese medicine and dental services to the public, as well as offering yoga classes and healthcare workshops. The spacious and comfortable community clinic allows residents to relax and feel at ease. Tzu Chi has additionally held medical outreach events every month at the clinic since 2011, providing dental services, Chinese medicine, ophthalmology, and more, free of charge. The food distribution led by volunteers from the Tzu Chi Torrance Office was held on the second Saturday of each month for more than 20 years to help underserved families achieve a nutritious and balanced diet.

These services have forged wonderful friendships within the community, and residents who come to the clinic are pleased that the service center not only helps keep them and their neighbors healthy, but has inspired a cycle of love within the community. Residents who came for services at the center are happy to bring home a bamboo bank to help pay their care forward. The Wilmington Community Clinic has been open in the area for ten years now, and has earned a place in the hearts of locals thanks to its reputation for service that’s both reliable and compassionate. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, although the Wilmington Community Clinic was temporarily closed, the clinic’s love for the community endures.

10th-Anniversary Celebrations

On November 7th, 2020, local volunteers prepare for the center’s 10th-anniversary celebration. Photo/Fuchuan Chen
Volunteers provide hand sanitizer refills during the 10th-anniversary celebration. Photo/Emerald Hsu

Huiping and local volunteers planned a series of celebration activities. The first event was the  “Walk in the Park & ​​Celebration” on November 7th, 2020. The second event provided free flu shots on November 10th, the third event was a grocery giveaway, and the fourth event was a blood drive in collaboration with the UCLA Blood & Platelet Center. Then, volunteers held a hand sanitizer refill event that lasted one whole month.

Taking into consideration that November is traditionally the start of the rainy season, volunteers discussed a  ‘Plan B’ that would involve cleaning at the center in the event a walk in the community park wasn’t possible on the 7th. 

On the day of the event, the warm winter sun had broken through the clouds, and volunteers readied to go to the neighborhood park according to plan. Suddenly, however, it began to pour before everyone had even left home. Deciding to move forward with ‘Plan B,’ they divided their tasks and worked together, organizing the center and cleaning the glass and floor. Any dust that had accumulated was wiped clean, and the center was once again spotless. It is the sincere hope of volunteers that we will soon see an end to the pandemic and services will resume as normal.

Looking Forward To The Future

The 10th-anniversary celebrations for Wilmington Community Clinic commence on November 7th. Huiping Wang (left) begins with an introduction and William Lavely (right), a local volunteer, serves as the host for the event. Photo/Fuchuan Chen
A tasty cake celebrates 10 years at the center. Photo/Ringo Shu

William Lavely, a newly certified volunteer, was the host for the event. To ensure the safety of the volunteers during the pandemic, seats were carefully arranged with social distancing in mind, and a limited number of guests were invited. 

Volunteers began the celebration with sincere offerings of candles, flowers, fruits, and bamboo banks. A blessing video was pre-recorded to start the celebration at the event. In the video, volunteers shared their volunteer experiences at Tzu Chi. A timeline review of the Wilmington Clinic was prepared to show how the center was built from the ground up, from the volunteers’ efforts, to planning, to construction, and the official grand opening. 

“I had the honor of participating in the groundbreaking ceremony of the clinic ten years ago,” said volunteer Louis Liou, emotion clear in his voice. “I recall that in order to hold a smooth ceremony, myself and a volunteer, Hsinchieh Lin, guarded the construction site the night before. Seeing this clinic grow into a community health center. I’m truly grateful! And I hope that more people in the community will come here to learn about Tzu Chi, join Tzu Chi, and work together for the benefit of the community in the future.” 

Tzu Chi volunteers Louis Liou and Mary Chen baked a special cake to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Wilmington Clinic, even adding the tenth-anniversary logo from the flyer onto the cake. Volunteers also prepared nutritious and delicious veggie burgers, and Shuwen Lai, a senior volunteer, brought refreshing drinks, making it a truly festive celebration together.

A Home For Everyone

The clinic holds a free flu shot event as part of the anniversary celebrations. Photo/Huiping Wang

Love has no borders, and at Tzu Chi’s clinic, Tzu Chi volunteers devote themselves to the Wilmington community regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status, making it a safe and reliable place to seek aid and exchange experiences in the multi-ethnic community.

The residents from the Wilmington community barely knew the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. However, Tzu Chi volunteers have loved and cared for the community for a long time, and finally gained the trust from the residents, and they, too, joined Tzu Chi as volunteers.

A volunteer named Antonia first came into contact with Tzu Chi five years ago. She visited Tzu Chi’s Community Clinic in Wilmington for an acupuncture treatment and also participated in a series of meditation exercises. After becoming familiar with Tzu Chi’s missions, she joined the team as a volunteer. She’s now one of the core volunteers responsible for food distribution events, and hopes to help those in the community who are struggling to make ends meet. 

“When I came here for the first time, I came for the meditation classes,” recalled Antonia. “I felt exhausted physically and mentally because of the difficult times I had. But participating in Tzu Chi’s activities made me really happy. And I’m really grateful for Tzu Chi volunteers who treated me so kindly, like family.”

A volunteer named Gloria is paying the care forward, and shared that “The U.S. economy impacted me when the company I was working for let me go. At that time, I asked myself, ‘what should I do?’ Later, when I participated in the food distribution and met Tzu Chi volunteers, I realized that this is what I want to do.”

A Change in Perspective

A blood drive in collaboration with UCLA is held in celebration of the Wilmington Community Clinic’s 10th anniversary. Photo/Huiping Wang

Wang Huiping shared that one of the first Spanish-speaking volunteers who joined the Wilmington Clinic was Connie Calderon. She had just retired, and when she discovered that the clinic was lacking Spanish-speaking volunteers, she signed up to help. Almost every day, from morning to night, she accompanied Huiping at the clinic to assist in translation, and later, she became a certified Tzu Chi volunteer. Approximately three years ago, however, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and couldn’t come to volunteer at the center. Tzu Chi volunteers visit her at home and accompany her when she needs their love and care.

Upon seeing the ways that Tzu Chi volunteers help others without asking for anything in return, Gloria was so moved that she said, “When you know or see [Tzu Chi volunteers] helping those in need in Mexico or other countries, the thought of helping others was awakened within me.”

The experience gained from being a volunteer has changed her perspective on life. Antonia expressed that she had a rather tough personality and became angry easily. She often had arguments with others because of this, but after volunteering at Tzu Chi, she realized that she’d become more patient.

Gloria, too, shared that “Volunteering at Tzu Chi has changed me a lot. I used to be so stubborn and I would tell a lot of lies, but when I started to come here [as a volunteer], they influenced me and made me an honest person.”

The Joy That Money Can't Buy

María Olimpia attends a food distribution. Photo/Dan Ferrara

For locals, the Wilmington Community Clinic is not only a place to see a doctor, but also a place of love. On the day of the food distributions, volunteers arrive early to prepare and neatly set up the food stations. They also pot cute, succulent plants for the residents to take home, and encourage locals to try to conserve water as a small way to help mother earth through gentle, environmentally friendly actions.

María Olimpia is a resident who’s attended grocery giveaways for the past eight years. She appreciates Tzu Chi’s continuous support through the provision of fresh fruits and vegetables, which has helped relieve some of her financial burdens.

The smiling faces from individuals receiving the essential supplies became a source of motivation, encouraging volunteers to keep devoting their time and efforts to help those smiles return more often. For Tzu Chi volunteers, seeing that their help has lifted a weight from someone’s shoulders grants a satisfaction that money cannot buy. Volunteer Gloria shared that Tzu Chi teaches volunteers to always serve recipients with the utmost respect and genuine kindness, making those in need feel comfortable with seeking aid from them, like they’re part of a big family. She doesn’t get paid for volunteering, but returns each time to bring joy into the lives of others.

Life-Changing Growth Together

Residents from the Wilmington community often bring bamboo banks back when participating in Tzu Chi activities. Photo/Emerald Hsu

“On this special day, I recall the times with Maria Villalobos, Antonia Rodriguez, Connie Consuelo, and other volunteers, as well as a few recipients who often came to the food distribution,” expressed Gloria emotionally during the 10th-anniversary celebrations. “Volunteer Joemei Tung and I often visit the residents in need and learn more about them, including when they are sick or suffering from some issues. Some residents have now passed away. But in the past, when they came to the food distribution every month, they would definitely bring their adopted bamboo banks back because they said ‘It feels like home here.’”

Many residents say ‘we all like to come here’ because Tzu Chi not only gives food but also love. This is why I’m willing to become a certified Tzu Chi volunteer. I want to thank Huiping and all the volunteers’ selfless devotion. And we must also be grateful for Master Cheng Yen’s teachings, which has turned our lives around.

Huiping is grateful to the volunteers for their participation and dedication. She shared that working with the volunteers feels like growing up together and becoming part of a big, supportive family.

The Wilmington community clinic is working closely with Tzu Chi’s Alhambra Medical Center, El Monte Community Clinic, and Tzu Chi Medical Association (TIMA), to forge a network that provides compassionate, professional medical services to low-and-middle-class communities. With our four main missions of charity, medical, education, and culture and communication, we jointly undertake the responsibility of saving lives, guarding health, and upholding these missions with love.

A healthy mental attitude is vital to good health, which in turn leads to a happy and fulfilling life.

You can help support Tzu Chi’s medical mission going forward.