On October 12, 2014 I'll be running the Chicago Marathon, and my motivation to make it to the finish line again this year is the fact that I'm running to benefit Taller de José, a community resource center in Little Village, Chicago. I've been accompanying clients at Taller de José since August 2011, and the mission has become very near and dear to my heart. Will you accompany me along the journey to run for those I serve?

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Happy" Birthday to Me?

As I've mentioned, in my current position at Taller, I don't get the opportunity to accompany clients very often. When I do, it is because they are long-term clients with complex, difficult, cases. When I realized that I would be going to court with one of these clients on my birthday, I was bracing myself for a tough day. This particular clients' story is a heartbreaking one that involves the Department of Child and Family Services and a history of abuse and trauma. I've written about this case before because it effects me strongly every time in I see her, as these types of emotional cases tend to do. I am so glad she has trusted me to accompany her through this process and I never dread going, but I generally wouldn't describe my time with her as "happy."

But on my way to meet the client, I realized how grateful I was to have the opportunity to accompany her today. In walking with her, I was reminded of the power and importance of accompaniment. I was reminded of all the people who have accompanied me, and I was feeling particularly grateful for their presence in my life on a day when so many people were reaching out to make my day special.

At Taller, we hope that the act of accompaniment transforms the accompanier as much as the one seeking the accompaniment. As a staff member, I have felt honored to serve as a witness to the joys and sorrows of so many men and women, and each time I accompany one of them I learn something. Today that lesson was gratitude.

And how grateful I am! From my roommate surprising me with a hot breakfast and a delicious
Enjoying my delicious birthday treat!
birthday treat to coworkers who celebrated with me at lunch. From the friend who treated me to birthday dinner, to the one who sent me a special delivery at work. From the friends who called, texted, or emailed, to the friends and family who sent cards and packages. And though not necessarily birthday-related, I am so grateful to everyone who has accompanied me throughout this marathon training with their prayers, encouragement and financial support. I am so blessed with so many companions in my life, both today and on all days.

But back to the reason I was reflecting on this accompaniment in my own life in the first place. I am so glad to report that my client's court actually went pretty well today! In more ways than one, it really was a very Happy Birthday.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

20 reasons for 20 miles

I'm preparing to run 20 miles tomorrow, the longest run of the training season! To add an extra little motivation to my running, I decided to give 20 reasons why I'm running for Taller de José:

I'm running in honor of...

  1. Julieta, an elderly client who feels isolated and alone and looks forward to the time with her Taller de José compañeras as much-needed opportunities for companionship.
  2. Our generous volunteer compañera(o)s who collectively donate almost 170 hours of their time to Taller de José each week
  3. Antonio and his colleagues who came to Taller de José because they sought to accompany one another, working collectively to improve the working conditions at their job. 
  4. Raul, who relies on the support of the compañera at Taller de José to help him navigate the complex health care system and financial assistance programs at the hospital. 
  5. Our partnering organizations who work together with Taller de José to provide legal representation,  medical services, counseling, financial assistance, and much more to individuals in need. 
  6. Ariel, who reached out to Taller de José for help finding GED classes; now that her children have graduated from high school and been accepted into college, she was inspired by their achievements and now has time to pursue her own education and career goals. 
  7. Fernando, who with the help of his compañero from Taller de José, studied for and passed his citizenship test and has now been sworn in as a new citizen of the United States. 
  8. The Congregation of St. Joseph, whose continued support enabled Taller de José to open its doors and then to grow by leaps and bounds in the past 6 years. 
  9. Daniel, who was finally able to put a troubled past behind him through the process of expunging his record, opening doors for future employment and positive contributions to his community. 
  10. Alma, who is working tirelessly to be reunited with her family and rebuild her life after experiencing severe domestic violence. 
  11. Jaime, a victim of identity theft who was afraid and confused by the notices he began receiving from collection agencies; his compañera walked with him through the process of reporting and resolving the issue, clearing his name of several thousand dollars of credit card debt. 
  12. Those who support Taller de José through their generous financial support, ensuring that we are able to continue providing our services complete free of charge. 
  13. The many friends of Taller de José who donate their time and talent to help us grow our capacity through outreach and fundraising (like the other members of Team Taller de José who are training as well!). 
  14. Susana, who sought the support of Taller de José when she was anxious about attending her doctor's appointments alone. 
  15. The staff members at Taller de José who accompany one another, supporting each other to best serve our client-companions and allow ourselves to be transformed by the experiences as well.
  16. Rogelio, an elderly neighbor who visits Taller every so often for help filling out forms or understanding the mail he receives in English. 
  17. The board members who share their expertise and insight to strengthen Taller de José as an organization and ensure that it is sustainable for as long as the need exists in the community. 
  18. Adriana, who struggles to make ends meet, but brought a warm tamale to share with her compañera, making the wait for the bus more bearable on a cold, early morning. 
  19. Our research partners from area universities who have helped us grow in our understanding of what "accompaniment" means and how it can lead to systemic change in our community. 
  20. Amanda, who was nervous about going to court, but was relieved when her compañera walked with her each step of the way as she filed for guardianship of her adult daughter with severe disabilities. 
And thank you to everyone who has accompanied me along the journey of running in honor of all these individuals (and so many more)! Here's to a safe run for everyone who will be conquering the 20 miles along with me tomorrow!

Edits: So we actually ended up running more like 20.25 due to a slight snafu in directions on the course of the 20 miler (and it went great!) So reason 20.25 that I'm running for Team Taller de José is that I really enjoy it, especially when I get to run with good friend and teammate!
At the starting line and excited to start the 20 mile run! 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Coloring Compañera

When it comes to seeing clients at Taller de José, my current role is more of a supporting one. I do occasionally still meet with and accompany a few client-companions, but I primarily serve as a resource for our staff—the compañeros and compañeras who work directly with clients. Right now, we are in the midst of training several new compañeros, so that role has been a little more active. Generally, as new staff members are seeing their first clients, I do my best to space out those appointments so that I have time to sit in on some of them, offering feedback and suggestions if needed. But as I mentioned in my last post, often the schedule at Taller de José doesn't work out as planned. Last week was one of those times.

On a late afternoon, several clients arrived well past their scheduled appointment times, so two appointments that I was supposed to observe ended up occurring simultaneously. In addition, one of our experienced staff members also had a few questions regarding resources for the client she was meeting with. Initially, I spent a few minutes observing each appointment, getting a feel for what the client needed and seeing that the staff members felt confident in responding to the clients' questions. One client had recently been attacked by a dog and incurred large medical bills as a result. She had received notices from the police and animal control regarding her rights in response to the attack, but she was illiterate and spoke only Spanish. She was feeling alone and unsure about where to start. Both of the other two clients with simultaneous appointments were seeking affordable housing for their families.

Initially, the appointments were going well. But soon it became clear that the 3-year-old child of one of those clients was having a hard time sitting still, making it difficult for both the client and compañero to focus and talk to one another. So in between walking between the appointments to check in, I grabbed a few crayons and a coloring book. Often, this will occupy an antsy child, but this particular boy quickly made it known that he was not interested in coloring unless it was going to be a group activity. Yeah, right, buddy, I thought, I'm already trying to be in 3 places at once, sitting down to color with you is the last place I need to be right now. 

But then, in a stroke of inspiration, I realized that perhaps that was exactly where I needed to be. Rather than having me hovering over their shoulders, what the staff members needed from me in that moment was to be able to focus on listening to their clients. So I took the boy out into the hallway where I became his coloring companion. For the first time in 15 minutes he was quiet. And in that quiet, as I sat in the hallway, I began to hear snippits of conversations from all three appointments. I heard the compassion in the voices of the staff members. I also heard some uncertainty as they encountered new situations, but then I heard them grow in confidence throughout the appointments, occasionally coming to me for support or reassurance. On the other end of the conversation, I heard some fear and uncertainty in the voices of the clients, but I also heard their hope; I heard them bravely tell their stories to strangers, reaching out to find the support they needed. I heard the relief in their voices when their compañero or compañera let them know that they weren't alone in overcoming their obstacles.

As I listened to these bits and pieces, I realized how honored I was to be able to witness the strength and courage of both the clients and the compañeras as they journeyed together. I was grateful to have the opportunity to play my supporting role in the hallway with my crayons and coloring book. Playing the supporting role has also made me grateful for all the support I have received over the years. I have been so blessed to be part of a staff that supports and accompanies one another, mentoring and welcoming new staff members. I have been so thankful for everyone who has supported our work at Taller de José through their volunteer time, their financial gifts, and their prayers. And as marathon day looms close, I am reminded of all the support I've received leading up to my past races, and especially on race day— I have been blessed with some amazing fans the past 2 years! I've said in the past how much I appreciate the spectators on the sidelines, and my experience on the sidelines—or rather, in the hallway— this past week gave me a whole new appreciation for what it takes to play that supporting role.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Change of Plans

This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Le Puy, a small town in France where the Congregation of St. Joseph formed their first religious communities in 1650. Taller de José was founded by and continues to be sponsored by the Congregation, so the trip was an opportunity to connect with the long tradition that build the strong foundation upon which Taller is built. I learned far more than I can write in one post (at least, one that anyone would be willing to read), but one major "aha" moment I had while there was when I learned that the first sisters recognized that in order to best serve their community they had to have flexible schedules. Instead of adhering to strict patterns of prayer like many cloistered monasteries, the sisters recognized a need to be flexible and fluid, open to the neighbors in need knocking at any time of day.

Ah- ha.

If you know me well (okay, maybe even just a little) you know how much I love schedules (and sticking to them) and putting things on the calendar way in advance. If you ever witness me going with the flow or being flexible, it's probably because my calendar says: "2-5pm: Go with the flow."

But that flexibility is exactly what we need at Taller de José. We often lament that we can't even get everyone at a staff meeting because no matter when we schedule it, at least one client requests an accompaniment to court or a doctor's appointment that can't be rescheduled. And that's what we're here for, right? We are here to serve the dear neighbor whenever they come knocking, even— and especially—when they aren't on my calendar. These days, most of the clients I work with directly are walk-ins, hoping to be seen and heard even though they don't have an appointment. This flexibility is often tough for me, but visiting Le Puy helped me connect with the roots of the tradition in which Taller was founded; it helped me to take a deep breath and remember that serving our clients requires openness to changes in plans.

The famous Lennon quote says, "life is what happens when you're making other plans." How true. It was actually a change of plans that allowed me to stay at Taller de José (after my volunteer year) in the first place. Had I been accepted into the grad school program I was planning on attending, I wouldn't be at Taller today. And how grateful I am in retrospect for that change of plans!

And this training season, I'm learning that my training schedule has to be open to changes in plans too; among other things, European travel took precedence over completing a 14-mile run I had scheduled. It seems a little repetitive to be running the marathon again this year, but I'm continually drawn to it because I learn so much each time around. And the lessons I learn generally are about way more than just running. . I'm grateful that so far this year has been no different.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Winning the Lottery (Again)

In summer 2013, I introduced my marathon training and fundraising by sharing: "After a fiasco of a registration process, I was lucky enough to "win" an entry to the 2013 Chicago Marathon; I just hope the next time I win a "lottery" it means that I've won money, not that I have to pay a large sum of money (and in order to run 26.2 miles, to boot!)." 

So now that I've "won" the Chicago Marathon lottery again in 2014, I'm not sure whether that makes me unlucky-- the only lotteries I've one require paying money to run absurd amounts of miles-- or lucky -- strangely enough, I actually enjoy running those miles enough to want to pay it!

I'm going with lucky. And I'll tell you why I'm feeling so grateful to be so lucky to be running the Chicago Marathon for Team Taller de José for the 3rd time in a row. 

1. I just really enjoy running! Yes, there are days when I I'm sore and tired and don't want to go to
See, I just really
enjoy running!
bed by 9pm so that I can get up before the sunrise the next day to run 3+ hours. But most often, I enjoy logging the miles, whether it be on Chicago's beautiful lakefront path (another thing I'm grateful for) or through the hills of the Tuscan countryside (more on that in another blog post!). I enjoy finding my pace, falling into a rhythm. I love filling the miles with conversations with my running buddy, with time to let my mind wander and think creatively, or with space to just let my mind be quiet-- a rarity in the busyness of life. 

2. Getting in via the lottery system gives me the opportunity to run on behalf of Taller de José, the non-profit where I have been working for the past three years. If you haven't hear me share about Taller de José yet, it is a unique community resource center located in Chicago's predominantly Latino community called Little Village. I say "unique" because we don't know of many other places that offer the service of accompaniment, in which we walk with individuals and families emotionally, spiritually, and physically to assist them in addressing any obstacles or difficulties they may be facing. Every day, I am in awe of the strength of the men and women who walk through our door, asking us to walk with them, and in awe of our staff (whom we call "compñeras") who respond to that call to accompany them. 
I'm so grateful for all the support and all the friends
who've joined Team Taller  for a full or half marathon.

3. Training for a marathon as part of a team enables me to be a part of a community of runners (into which I've recruited anyone I know with even a mild interest in running, and  this year my running buddy has joined the team too!). The ways in which we accompany one another as we work towards our common goal remind me of the importance of accompaniment. Accompaniment isn't just for the staff and clients at Taller de José; we all need a companion or two on our own journeys!

If you are curious to hear more about our current work at Taller, I invite you check back (or subscribe to get updates) over the next two months as I write about the mission, my experience of working there, and the connections I see between Taller de José and my marathon training. If you can't wait that long, you can visit Taller de José's website here or visit some of my posts from previous years (if you haven't been lucky enough to read them yet ;)). As always, thank you in advance for your prayers, encouragement, and support of Taller de José, and for humoring my efforts to make my life and work interesting to read about!

Monday, October 21, 2013

¡Muchísimas Gracias!

A full week after the marathon, I happy to say that I'm fully recovered and walking quite normally again! But even though the pain and soreness has faded, the overwhelming feelings of gratitude I've felt during the training, race, and recovery definitely haven't faded. Let me tell you, I am one lucky girl.

Team Taller de José with Taller's executive director, Sr. Kathy
Thanks to my wonderful supporters, I've raised a total of $2,146.20 in support of the ministry of Taller de José!! I was pretty nervous and worried about asking for donations a second year in a row, not because I doubted others' generosity but because I didn't want to be that person who's asking for money every time you see her. But my convictions about the work I'm a part of at Taller de José overrode my aversion to fundraising, and I am so grateful that the response was one of overwhelming support and generosity. (And I suppose that doesn't necessarily rule out me being that girl, but it's wonderful to know that so many people are willing to support our ministry even if they aren't thrilled about being asked for money!).

And thanks to my amazing family and friends, I had people I knew cheering me on at 11 different spots on
Having my running buddy as my "compañera"
 for the last 5 miles made a huge difference!
the course. That's incredible!! People have mentioned that in the photos* I look happier than any normal person should look in the middle of a 26 mile run, and I think that's a testament to the fact that seeing the people you love supporting and cheering you on can override all sorts of aches and pains and exhaustion. Trust me, those smiles always meant "I'm so excited to see you, thanks for being here," and never meant "whoo hoo! I have 20 more miles to go!" :) A special thank you goes out to my family and roommates who set a public transportation record by making it to SEVEN different spots on the course! And there were so many people who couldn't be there in person but were there in spirit through their prayers, notes of inspiration, and text messages on race day and the days leading up to it.

So I can't express enough how grateful I am to everyone who has accompanied me throughout this journey. I believe so strongly in the ministry of accompaniment because I know what a difference it has made to have so many wonderful companions in my own life. I finished the race in 4:52:40, which I was absolutely thrilled about -- it was over 30 minutes faster than last year's time-- but I didn't and couldn't have done it alone.

¡Muchísimas Gracias!

* If you haven't seen all the  photos yet, this here are some more photos my family took and some from the official marathon photographers

Thursday, October 10, 2013

More than "Just Spectators"

This is it, folks— only 2 more training miles stand between me and the starting line at 8am Sunday morning! I am so overwhelmed by the support I've received throughout the process; your prayers, donations, words of encouragement, and presence have made it possible to complete the almost 500 training miles leading up to this point. I And I'm thrilled to report that I've received a total of $1,926.20 in donations so far!! I'm still hoping to raise another $73.80 for a total of $2,000 so if you were considering a donation it's not too late! (see the donation information on the right hand column of this blog).

Sometimes the best signs are the ones that make you
 laugh, even if they aren't exactly "encouraging" :)
I recently read a brief article in Runner's World about the role of spectators at a marathon, and the truth of it nearly made me tear up. I've shortened it a little here, but I thought it was worth sharing. For those of you who will be here in person, know that it means the world to me, and for those of you that will be there in spirit, know that I'll be thinking of you when I see the thousands of spectators cheering on me and my fellow runners. Thank you so much to all the "spectators" in my life!

An excerpt from "Standing Ovation" by Mark Remy:
In fact, the word spectator–from the Latin spectare, "to observe"–seems inadequate. It suggests passivity, and crowds who turn out for marathons are anything but passive. Marathon spectators shout. They clap. They play bagpipes and kettle drums. They rattle cowbells and scream your name, if they know it. If they don't, they latch onto any identifier–"Go, Team in Training!" "Go, Sparkly Skirt!" "Go, Runner's World!"They hold handmade signs that make you laugh. ("You Should Have Taken a Dump When You Had the Chance.")
I've been buoyed by people cheering by name for the guy next to me, and by "Go Mommy" and "Go Daddy" signs held up by someone else's kids. I call this "secondhand inspiration."
It's a cultural universal: Every year, untold millions of spectators materialize to urge runners on at marathons around the world.... I don't know when or where, exactly, turning out to watch other people run became a "thing."... But I'm glad it is. I can't imagine ever running 26.2 miles without the crowds. And yet it's easy to take them a little bit for granted.
...maybe it's because our own private "support crews" are so good at what they do. During months of training, they put up with our aches and pains; they watch us vanish for hours at a time to do our workouts and long runs; they listen to us blather on about mileage and nutrition and ice baths. They indulge us.
On race weekend, of course, they're the ones who kick into high gear just as we're downshifting to prepare for race day. They travel along with us, carrying our stuff and eating when, and where, we want. They soothe our nerves. They study course maps to plot out where they'll have the best chances of seeing us. They wonder whether, logistically, they can catch us at mile three and again at mile 11, and still make it to the finish in time, if they hustle. They stand, often in poor weather and often for an hour or more, staring at a sea of grimacing runners as they wait for their grimacing runner to appear. 
And when we do, they go nuts.
They do all of this for us.
Not only that, but they do it with humility. How many times have you heard a runner's spouse or partner at a race say that he or she is "just here to watch"?  
The tragedy in Boston spawned several social-media memes. One was the notion that, in the face of this horror, "We are all runners." It's a fine sentiment, but I'd tweak it just slightly. On April 15, in the space of 13 awful seconds, we all became spectators. (Even those of us who are, in fact, runners.) As events unfolded, we sat and watched. But we rallied, quickly and loudly. We came together to voice support, to assure the victims–and each other–that we're strong and we'll get through this. 
If that doesn't say "spectator," I don't know what does.