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Wellsprings of Wisdom

Wellsprings of Wisdom: 

Wellsprings of Wisdom: 

Community Leaders Conference


Over five years, there were 950 participants at the five Wellsprings of Wisdom conferences, with many women returning year after year. Each year had a slightly different focus and theme. Dozens of women from the South Bend area helped shape and plan Wellsprings, and hundreds presented with the intention of spotlighting the expertise and talents of women in our area. The focus was consistently on the interplay of culture and leadership, with opportunities to engage through the lenses of politics, the arts, and wellness. 

Wellsprings  was created to make a supportive space to encourage every woman’s leadership and the premise was that every woman is inherently a leader, therefore it was open to all women in the community. Because leadership is enacted in all communities and neighborhoods, and because CWIL understands diversity as a strength and resource, the intention was to bring women from diverse backgrounds. . Participants span many race and ethnic groups, ages, income levels, educational attainments, cultural groups, and faiths. Every year, more than 40% of the women who participated were racially, ethnically and religiously diverse, creating a unique setting that became an important part of the learning and experience.


The diversity of the participants in the Wellsprings conference was always one of the greatest elements of the total experience. Many women comment on the value they receive from being able to learn and develop relationships with women from throughout our community.   A Saint Mary's College faculty member described CWIL’s impact on her intercultural skills. “Professional development opportunities, such as Wellsprings, have helped me become more effective in teaching diversity-related topics and as a College citizen.” A 2004 participant wrote:

 I came away with new awareness and ideas, which I was able to integrate into my own personal life as well as my professional career. I walked away with even more awareness when it comes to diversity and how to help people work harmoniously with people of different backgrounds. The things we learn at this conference can make all the difference as it spreads throughout our community.


We heard many inspiring stories of how Wellsprings has changed someone’s life, opened new doors, begun new relationships, or inspired new projects. One woman told us that her family decided to stay in South Bend after coming to Wellsprings and never misses a year. Another woman shared how it helped her gain self-confidence and return to school. Another woman has gotten her agency to bring in the different presenters she has met at Wellsprings.


The 2005 keynote speaker, Frances Moore Lappé, considered one of the country’s leading activists and thinkers stated that, “The Wellsprings of Wisdom conference was a unique and moving experience. I have been speaking publicly for 34 years and never before have I experienced the power of a multi-class, multi-racial, multi-age gathering of women, all called to be authentic and supportive of each other. The organizers created a charged yet safe environment so that participants could take risks and open all their senses to learning. I only wish there were more such opportunities for our divided culture. What a healing and empowering opportunity for all! Certainly for me.”


Many expressed their feeling of personal empowerment, as this women from 2005 wrote: I have power to lead by example. Not let injustices go while I stand quietly by. I will use my power to engage in change not sit on my hands because of fear and self-doubt.Mary Boykins, a retired African American business woman, who came to her second Wellsprings, wrote:


Before I came to Wellsprings… I had never been interlocked with so many women of different cultures… I have learned so much from each of them, and it has been an experience I’ll never forget. Being a part of something so wonderful has been something I will take with me wherever I go. And to tell everyone I know that I have conversed with many women around the world, and from them I have learned honor, humility, grace, and hopefully they have learned something from me.


Many students participated, often as staff. One student wrote: My past two summers at Wellsprings conference have helped me to learn more than I ever thought possible about my community, the people in my community, and myself… I have been able to connect with members in the community on personal and professional levels… I have learned that I can be a true leader on this campus, and in turn, when I set out into the real would after graduating this May. Since the attacks of Sept. 11th, I have made an effort to be more culturally aware, but this conference helped me flesh out ways for me to be empowered because of my background. (2004)

 A Look at Past Wellsprings



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