Local organization supports wellness of minority women, children


Photo courtesy of Well Experience Inc. Facebook

The Well Experience Inc. members hold an event on Nov. 17, 2021. The organization aid the well being of minority women and children through local events and counseling sessions.

By Yuzhu Liu, Staff Writer

When Juanita Rogers first met her daughter’s Girl Scout leader, Stephanie Cockrell, Rogers believed something was special about her.

Watching how Cockrell cared for the girls and advocated for them, Rogers said she loved Cockrell’s extraordinary vision that extended far beyond the scouts. Her 14-year-old daughter, Marianna, admired Cockrell so much that when she left Girl Scouts to pursue her own goals, Marianna’s passion began to go away.

However, Rogers said she knew that their paths would eventually cross again.

She reconnected with Cockrell years later and started working with The Well Experience – a nonprofit, multifaceted organization Cockrell founded to support minority women and children. Rogers would later become president.

“From there, it’s just spiraled into something beautiful – friendship, connection and now just me serving on the board,” Rogers, said. “It’s been a beautiful ride.”

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For Cockrell, The Well Experience has always been in her heart. She said it sprouted from her life experiences as a woman, a mother and her desire to provide families with services she wished she had.

She compared The Well Experience to a village where the sisterhood raises their children together. Cockrell said they helped young girls internalize self-love and self-confidence so that they wouldn’t have to struggle with insecurities their mothers are trying to fight off today.

“Seeing their smiles, watching them grow, seeing them come back and say ‘Ms. Stephanie, you taught us this, and we actually used it,’ and then just watching the young women they turn into; it blesses my heart so much,” Cockrell said. “They’re all my babies.”

Before joining, Rogers was deeply concerned about how her daughter was losing enthusiasm for art and music, especially as she was the only Black girl in community activities. Seeing her reminded Rogers of her early memories of culture shock when growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in California 30 years ago.

Rogers said that was when she realized how vital representation was.

She now sees many girls who look like her daughter and herself at The Well Experience. Rogers said Marianna can ultimately have fun without worrying about whether she fits in because of the way she looks.

Rogers remembers how her quiet, reserved Marianna announced that she wanted to go with The Well Experience’s summer trip to Chicago last year. This would be the first time Marianna would be away from Rogers. 

“Marianna has never wanted to do anything like that,” Rogers said. “She said, ‘I think I’ll be all right for a couple of days without you.’ I said, ‘Really?’ She said, ‘Yeah.'”

“It means so much just to know that she can come to a place where I know is safe, and she knows she feels safe. I can’t even begin to tell you all the things that Marianna has gained just by being connected to The Well. It has done so much to her psyche.”

Cockrell echoed Rogers’s sentiment, emphasizing that safety is not only about day care centers protecting children from dangers but also about mental health. 

If a child is experiencing a crisis, Cockrell asserted, the parents must have gone through the same thing. She introduced wrap-around services, which provide a holistic strategy to support families through their dark days, whether due to gun violence or school expulsion.

With social workers, clinical professionals, mentors and case managers, The Well Experience has built a system of full-circle care for families from counseling sessions to employability skills training. They host teen talks every Thursday night where youth can voice their thoughts. The after school program works to enhance early readiness for kids, as Cockrell said statistically, many Black and brown children have lagged in reading and math by third grade.

“We want to make sure that families have the opportunity to grow,” Cockrell said. “When you don’t see opportunity, it opens up the door to crime, to substance abuse, to so many different things. We got to find some hope somewhere.”

Quandra Clark, the director of operations, said she enjoys the financial literacy classes the most. She said she benefits from learning about finances since such topics have been absent from schools and homes.

Cockrell said COVID-19 has worsened racial and economic inequities that minority families were already dealing with. At the peak of the pandemic, she got calls from parents who did not know how to use Google Classroom for their children’s online courses. She had to sit in front of her computer and explain to them step- by-step through her phone.

Cockrell said the families she worked with either could not afford to hire tutors or spend time educating children themselves. This growing pressure on household finances and child care has resulted in higher trauma and domestic abuse.

“COVID did not create these issues of inequity,” Cockrell said. “It brought them more to light. Probably many people were like, ‘Wow, this is happening,’ and we’d be like, ‘Baby, this has been happening.’”

Cockrell said the once-unified Black community has been thwarted and destroyed. But now, The Well Experience is rebuilding and striving to bounce back.

She looked back on the summer trip where she led young girls to visit the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago. Cockrell said the girls saw the glorious chapters of the stories of Black people that have often been left out.

“I want to make sure they see that you come from greatness,” Cockrell said. “You don’t just come from slavery. We want to make sure they know this is a part of your history, but it’s not who you are.”

Similarly, Clark treasured every moment with the girls during their summer trip. Watching them raise deep questions, make commitments to their future and become sisters for each other allowed her to know the girls personally.

To Rogers, the sisterhood is like a beautiful tapestry woven from different paths the members have walked through. Revisiting her first day stepping into this welcoming family and finally feeling heard, she said that she never worked with a group of people that she loved so much.

According to Cockrell, the name of The Well Experience comes from her daughter, J’wel, a 12-year-old girl with autism.

“She’s got this heart – every penny she gets, she wants to buy something for someone else,” Cockrell said. “I kept thinking about how I really wish that people would serve.”

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