CARPLS spoke to Brenda Rodríguez, Program Director at Taller de José.
How would you describe Taller de José in a couple of sentences?
Taller de José is a community resource center located in the Little Village Community, offering accompaniment to connect individuals to the health, legal, and social services needed to achieve their goals. Our staff, bilingual in English and Spanish, create a safe and welcoming atmosphere for our clients through our entirely free services.
What is the impact of Taller de José’s services on Chicago communities?
Taller de José is a compassionate presence in the community, with our services rooted in the community needs. We are constantly evaluating where we could better serve our clients and how we can grow as a bridge to other community organizations. Our relationships within the non-profit pool in Chicago allow us to interact with clients from all over and even outside the city. We provide a safe place for clients to go when they feel like they have run out of options, or they don’t know where to start. We are able to connect clients with resources they might not have known were available to them, and we can accompany our clients as they navigate difficult situations.
Why did you decide to partner with CARPLS?
We first heard of CARPLS when accompanying clients to the CARPLS-run help desks at the Daley Center, and we experienced firsthand how the services helped support the communities we served. At TDJ, we strive to provide our clients with updated and relevant services based on their most pressing needs. We took notice of our clients’ increasingly high demand for legal advice, expanding beyond the in-demand immigration need prevalent within our Latinx immigrant communities. When so often our clients never hear back from legal organizations, or are unable to find a Spanish-speaking representative, CARPLS provides an essential service that is both accessible and practical. CARPLS relieves clients from waiting on hold for hours, or leaving countless voicemails that receive no response. We consistently hear great feedback from our clients regarding their referral and experience with CARPLS.
How would you describe the partnership with CARPLS?
Our relationship with CARPLS is best described as supportive, professional, and efficient. They have offered trainings to our entire TDJ staff regarding legal topics, they have offered our clients support in a great variety of cases, and they have supported our staff in our work from the start. They maintain clear communication with us and with our clients. They are always timely in their appointments with us and with our clients.
What do you hope to do going forward in this partnership?
We hope to provide a mutually beneficial partnership by continuing to support Spanish-speaking CARPLS clients through accompaniment, just as CARPLS attorneys provide high-quality legal advice and support to our clients. Our hope is to continue to expand the number of individuals we can connect to critical legal services; civil legal aid is the most requested service by our clients, and we know that addressing legal needs can impact so many aspects of our clients’ lives.
What is a challenge your organization is working through right now?
A challenge our organization is working through now is being able to put the health and safety of our clients and staff first, while still offering our service of accompaniment to our clients. Our clients are also experiencing an increased need for financial and legal assistance, also due in large part to the global pandemic.
What are some of your accomplishments from 2021?
In 2021, we were able to serve 800 clients, which is an increase from the 775 clients we served in 2020, and we anticipate a continued increase in clients as more of our services re-open. Additionally, companion staff reached out to nearly 2,500 Little Village families as part of the Chicago Connected program to help register them for critical internet access needed for e-learning. We also accompanied clients 153 times to offsite locations like clinics, specialists, food access, and more. An especially exciting accomplishment from 2021 was that between the months of March and April 2021, TDJ made hundreds of outreach phone calls and registered over 100 Little Village residents for COVID-19 vaccine appointments. We completed this registration through an online process that was especially difficult for low-income communities with limited access to technology. A pivotal moment for us over the past year was the distribution of over $150,000 in direct financial assistance for rent and utilities to community residents, many of whom were ineligible for government assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic due to their legal status or other barriers. This win was especially significant to us because our community residents and clients, as part of mix-status households and families, felt acknowledged and cared for during unprecedented times where the norm was being sidelined and discounted by the government.
What does your mission of “a ministry of accompaniment” mean to you?
Our ministry of accompaniment means sharing in the experience of our clients—meeting them wherever they are, and empowering them to move forward. While we offer our clients practical tools and services, we are equally concerned with providing a compassionate listening presence and emotional support. There are few places where clients can bring any and every problem, but Taller de José is able to take on such a variety of cases because we prioritize simply walking with our clients, even—and especially—when the solutions seem out of reach. Our mission of accompaniment is a daily reminder of the importance of our clients’ own resourcefulness and autonomy in their decision-making. It reminds us of our place as simply partners, and not leaders, in the lives of our clients.
What plans does Taller de José have for 2022?
The plans Taller de José has for 2022 include ensuring our Latinx communities keep receiving equitable pandemic relief services. We are hoping (and expecting) to assist between 900 and 1,000 clients, and we will continue to provide off-site accompaniments. We also look forward to continuing to build and strengthen our partnerships with organizations like CARPLS, which enable us to bring critical resources to the communities we serve.