Ministry walks with clients who need assistance

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, March 20, 2016

The meaning of “accompaniment” came home to Lisa Hyatt on day she took her very first trip out of the Taller de José office with a client.

The client was looking for help with a child custody case. She had walked into the office, then on 22nd Street near Our Lady of Tepeyac Church, shortly after it opened in 2008.

Hyatt, an Amate House volunteer at the time and new to the city, tried to find an organization that would help, but every legal aid organization she called had already been contacted by the woman’s former partner and thus had a conflict of interest in the case.

“So I told her, I’m not a lawyer, but if you want, I’ll come with you to the hearing,” said Hyatt, now associate director of Taller de José.

Hyatt didn’t know what she was doing; she had to look up directions to get to the Maywood courthouse and wasn’t aware that the woman she was accompanying should check in with the court clerk. She just sat with her on the courtroom bench and listened as the woman learned she would not get custody of her children.

“Afterward, even though the outcome wasn’t what she wanted, she thanked me for being there with her and supporting her,” Hyatt said. “She had been to all the earlier hearings alone, and she said she felt stupid being alone. And if my being there made her feel less alone, less afraid, more supported, then I had accompanied her.”

Taller de José, a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph, has been run by Sister Kathy Brazda since it opened. It has a twofold mission: connecting services to people and people to services, and also to accompany them on the journey.

It’s a hybrid of social-service agency and pastoral ministry, and its staff — which includes interns and volunteers to go along with five staff members — say that they will do whatever they can to accompany the people who come talk to them, even if they can do nothing but listen to their stories.

“Accompaniments” might include everything from help replacing lost identity documents to going to doctor appointments to helping parents access special education services for their children.

In some ways, it’s gotten easier, Brazda said. As the ministry has grown, it has developed training materials and programs to help new acompañeras or acompañeros to know where to look for resources that might help a particular client, and how to get help from governmental agencies.

Printed, official-looking identity badges seem to settle questions from officials about who they are when they show up for appointments with clients, and local police and court clerks are often familiar with them and their role.

If the acompañeras find themselves in an unfamiliar situation, they can still provide moral support and confidence, and ask the questions that their clients might not be able to voice, Brazda said.

It now works with more than 140 agencies and organizations, including Esperanza Health Clinic, Sarah’s Inn and Catholic Charities, both getting referrals from them as well as bringing people to them. Nearly all of those groups are looking for specific kinds of clients; that is, they want the people whom it is their mission to help.

Taller de José works with anyone who asks, no matter their ethnic or racial background, religion, income level or address, said Anna Mayer, Taller de José’s program manager, noting that they have had clients from 113 different ZIP codes, and all of their services are free.

“Sometimes people ask if they qualify,” she said. “We tell them, ‘Are you human? Then you qualify.”

Sometimes accompanying people means going to a social-service agency, or a medical office, or a government building.

“There are lots of reasons people can’t walk in these places by themselves,” Brazda said. “It might be language barriers, it might be fear, it might be lack of documents.

There are some clients who don’t know where to go; they might have lived in Chicago for 15 years and never gone downtown or even seen Lake Michigan, Mayer said. Others are very savvy about getting around, but not confident about dealing with bureaucracies.

“A lot of the time, they’re discouraged,” Mayer said.

What clients find, besides suggestions for where to go and company for the journey, is a safe place, where they can let their guard down. While the services are available to all, many clients are Latinos and are reassured by the religious environment. The offices are located in a renovated convent next to Assumption Church, and it is a clearly a ministry as well as a service organization.

“If people feel safe and comfortable, they’ll open up,” Brazda said.

Taller de José leaders said they learned, somewhere around their third year when the staff started to grow, that accompaniment wasn’t just something they had to do for their clients. The staff and volunteers also must make the effort to accompany one another, taking time to eat lunch together or celebrate one another’s personal milestones.

At times, Mayer said, the clients also accompany the acompañeros.

She worked with a woman who was referred from Esperanza Health Clinic to see a specialist at Stroger Hospital. She helped her make the appointment, and then went with the woman and her husband to not just one appointment, but a series of them. In her case, the news was good; the neurologist was able to diagnose and treat the woman’s condition. But the appointments meant spending hours in the waiting room.

“You often have to wait (at Stroger),” she said. “And when it was lunchtime the first time, she and her husband pulled out sandwiches they had made. And they had made one for me. They knew we were in this together.”


  • accompaniment
  • taller de jose
  • assumption

Related Articles