In 2002, Joel Pulis started The Well Community at Cliff Temple Baptist Church in North Oak Cliff, building on his dream to help the neighborhood’s underserved people struggling with mental illnesses. It was then that Becky Wilson, a middle-aged woman who deals with bipolar disorder, was walking past Cliff Temple and ran into Joel and assured her she would enjoy The Well. And she does.
The Well became the place for Becky to come with all of her challenges to be loved and accepted for who she is. It is still where she finds friendship and encouragement when battling bipolar disorder is overwhelming. It is a place for her to deepen her relationship with God.
“I’ve enjoyed coming here,” she says, while seated on the porch outside The Well’s Community Life Center on a recent Monday morning. “They’re good people. They really care about us.”
What began as a small endeavor to aid the marginalized among us has now grown into what members of The Well—those who, like Wilson, deal with severe mental illnesses—call family.
The Well centers around two regular programs: the Community Life Center, held every Monday through Wednesday, and Thursday Night Life, a weekly worship service. In addition, the staff host biannual spiritual retreats—unique among mental health providers—and other yearly activities.
Community Life Center
At the Community Life Center, members gather in the morning for fellowship and group activities.
Some sit and talk among each other on the concrete porch outside. Others sit at folding tables chatting amicably. The Well staff help members connect with local support services such as food stamps, housing and SSI. They talk about how medications are working. In the computer room, members take advantage of free internet service and write emails to loved ones, catch up on baseball scores or apply for jobs.
At noon, The Well staff and volunteers serve a hot, nourishing meal. These gatherings also serve as times for informal fellowship, providing opportunities for friendships to bloom and grow.
It’s often challenging for those with a mental illness to find a community that accepts and loves them just as they are. Some of the behaviors prompted by their illnesses—irritability, restlessness, pressured speech—can be uncomfortable for those with little awareness of or exposure to mental illnesses. At times, these seemingly unusual behaviors cultivate judgment and fear from onlookers. As a result, many Well members feel uncomfortable in traditional church settings and are ostracized by their neighbors. Sadly, in many cases, even their own families are not able to be a support to them.
As one member put it, “On the street, you’re an eyesore. Here, they embrace you with the defects.” And so The Well becomes a place of belonging, a space of acceptance where people can come and be as they are.
Thursday Night Life
At Thursday Night Life, volunteers from across the metroplex come to The Well to join in a worship service and then serve a meal they have provided and prepared.
It’s not only an opportunity for Well Members to worship and enjoy dinner. It’s also a chance to push back against the stigma surrounding mental illness by facilitating positive interactions between members and volunteers. Through organic fellowship, volunteers learn, as one put it, “that [Well members] are just people with backgrounds common to mine.”
Indeed, every volunteer who serves during Thursday Night Life speaks positively about the impact of The Well on his or her life. “If you get involved with it, you just fall in love with them,” says one volunteer who serves regularly with a group from her church, Kessler Park United Methodist Church.
A Family of Friends
Through these activities and experiences, Becky Wilson and other members of The Well form firm bonds of friendship. “We become family with each other,” observes Alice Zaccarello, Executive Director. “When someone is feeling down, others try to lift their spirits. When someone is confused, their friends listen and try to help them sort things out. We celebrate birthdays, we acknowledge losses, just like families do together,” she explains.
Well Member Tammie Green tells what this family means to her: “It’s the first place I’ve found like this … This right here is the true love of God.”
Want to donate or serve?
Volunteering at The Well is a small commitment that has a great impact on the lives of those who deal with mental illness in Oak Cliff. We are always looking for new volunteers to help serve meals at the Community Life Center or at Thursday Night Life. Think you might be interested? Don’t hesitate to call or email! We would love to answer your questions and find the best place for you to use your unique gifts.