CHAPTER 2

Wilmington Medical Clinics

Written by Audrey Cheng, Jennifer Chien, Lina Lin, and Pheel Wang

The exterior of the Tzu Chi Community Clinic in Wilmington. Photo/Emerald Hsu

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In Southern California, near the Port of Los Angeles, there is a community named Wilmington. In addition to the port for oil tankers and oil refinery locations, the area is also commonly known for its factories. While there are many job opportunities here, there is also a great deal of air pollution. Many middle-class and more affluent families avoid living in the area, as they want to be far from these refineries and factories. However, the more affordable housing and proximity to one’s place of employment have drawn lower-income families and undocumented people into the area.

Medication Prescribed for the Soul

In 2010, the Medical Foundation opened its third clinic, the Tzu Chi Community Clinic in Wilmington, providing low-cost, high-quality acupuncture and dental services to older adults. Most of the residents are Catholic, and the entry of a Buddhist organization into the neighborhood was a highly sensitive development for some locals. At first, residents took on a wait-and-see philosophy, and approached the Tzu Chi volunteers cautiously. But gradually, they came to know more about Tzu Chi’s medical expertise and its service spirit, which takes no account of religion, ethnicity, or background, and were moved. Some locals even volunteered as Spanish translators at the clinic, assisting non-English-speaking residents with medical appointments and food pickups. Antonia Rodriguez is one such volunteer.

廖珠娥(右一)、羅小滿(右二)、曾慈慧(右三)、王惠平(右四)討論相關事宜
The Tzu Chi Community Clinic in Wilmington is inaugurated on November 7, 2010. Pictured are Zhue’e Liao (right), Luo Xiaoman (second right), the current CEO of Tzu Chi USA, Debra Boudreaux (second left), and Huiping Wang (left), discussing the preparation work. Photo/Meisyue Lin

“I walk by here all the time. When I looked at the exterior, I thought, ‘This place must charge a lot of money, and I don’t have a lot of money,’” Rodriguez remembers. Having lived in Wilmington for nearly 30 years, she has gray hair, but her eyes shine with enthusiasm, and her smile makes all those around her feel youthful. “One day, I thought, ‘Why not go and ask what services they offer?’” Rodriguez said, and so she did.

The first time I walked in here and saw this group of people who were of a different race than me — I’m Hispanic, and they are Chinese — I couldn’t imagine at the moment that they would be helping me so much. Thank the Lord for leading this group of people to my neighborhood.

She didn’t walk into the clinic as hopeful as she is now, but rather with an expression of skepticism. “I was shocked when I first saw her. It was scary!” another volunteer exclaimed, smiling as she remembered her first encounter with Rodriguez, whose presence she described as intimidating.  

“Bad things happened in my life in the past, my house. Well, it’s a long story. Anyway, I was irritable,” said Rodriguez, who then explained that her health suffered under the strain. “She told me that she was referred by a friend and wanted to have acupuncture treatment,” Huiping Wang, a Tzu Chi staff member who was the receptionist at the front desk, recalled, so she explained that the center also offered meditation classes and health-enhancing exercise classes such as yoga, all of which are free of charge.

慈濟威明頓社區門診中心提供各式課程
The Tzu Chi Community Clinic in Wilmington, California, offers a variety of programs to help patients achieve both mental and physical health. Photo/Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation

“The meditation classes here are an additional free service for acupuncture patients. Many of the patients, like Antonia Rodriguez, walked into the center with deep frowns and anxiety. That’s why they need more than physical therapies; they also need spiritual aids,” Wang shared. Carefree and pure-hearted Huiping Wang is regarded as the center’s “treasure,” patients sensing her warmth as soon as they stepped through the door. It was as if she had known them for a long time and was welcoming them home. “Through these free courses, we can learn to calm our hearts, to master our thoughts, and to turn our minds around,” Wang revealed. 

The meditation sessions became medication for Antonia’s soul. “I asked my sons if they like me as I was or as I am now, and they say as you are now without even thinking,” she said with a laugh. “My husband looks so much more relaxed when he is around me because I’m not as strung out as I used to be.”

“After the sessions, it’s amazing, look at this person!” another volunteer exclaimed, putting their arms around Antonia’s shoulders and laughing together. “This beautiful lady has such a beautiful face, such a happy face! There are no more worries in her, right?” Antonia Rodriguez feigned a pensive expression for dramatic effect and responded brightly, “No more worries.”

Antonia and many of the patients had a similar experience. They liked it so much that they came to the center every Friday to volunteer and serve the community together. As they know the neighborhood and can communicate smoothly with the local residents, gradually the neighborhood has accepted Tzu Chi.

Since 2011, Tzu Chi has been organizing free clinic sessions in Wilmington twice a year, providing dental, Traditional Chinese Medicine, vision care, and hearing tests for uninsured patients, as well as distributing fruits and vegetables every month to help low-income families achieve a balanced diet. These services have deepened the community’s trust and slowly set a virtuous cycle in motion. People who visited the clinic and received food were happy to take Tzu Chi bamboo banks, contributing their love and thanks through small contributions that add up over time. 

“This is a starting point for transformation in the community. Our patients become stronger and healthier, and locals, through the meditation and mindfulness programs we offer, get to learn more about themselves and become more positive, which opens up a different kind of life,” Huiping Wang concluded. 

Presently, services at the Tzu Chi Community Clinic in Wilmington, now a Tzu Chi Health Center, do not include dental care and focus on TCM and preventive medicine. Therefore, it currently does not offer biannual free clinic event sessions.

安東妮亞和王惠平
Antonia Rodriguez and Huiping Wang become friends and serve the community together at the Wilmington Tzu Chi Community Clinic. Photo/US Tzu Chi 360 Video Screenshot

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