Prior to volunteering at Taller de José in August, 2010, I had taught Spanish, Italian and Etymology for 38 years at the high school level. I was so blessed during my life to have a career that I enjoyed so much. It was hard to leave but I just knew it was the right decision. I had decided that in retirement, I wanted to spend time with the Hispanic community because of my love for the language, culture and people. I was aware, after a few months, that I had made the right choice. My admiration for the people grew as they gently, with confidence, shared their stories with me with the hope that I might ease any doubts or pain or suffering that they were experiencing at the time. I fell in love with the staff as I watched them selflessly, listen, search for answers and accompany our clients.
Last summer I went to lunch at a former colleague’s house to reunite with one of our German teachers who was now living and teaching in Germany. There were other teachers there and one of them was a friend who was teaching Spanish. I had heard she was pregnant and I knew the school was looking for someone to cover her maternity leave. When she saw me, she expressed her desire for me to come and take her classes. I told her I would think about it but I really did not want to leave Taller for 12 weeks. Did I still have it? Was I still capable of putting up with Freshmen and Sophomores for such an extended period of time? Could I leave Little Village and the staff? Why was I even considering this? My retired friends thought I was a bit crazy.
I did do it. I often say that Taller serves as a bridge between the people and the services available to them. We sit, we listen and we walk with them wherever they have to go. I was still a bridge for those 12 weeks but it was between the young people I was in daily contact with and the community I try to serve. I not only taught them the language and the importance of being bilingual, I introduced them to a whole new world not that far away from where they live. I shared stories of my clients, their daily struggles and their hopes for the future. I was someone they saw as their Spanish teacher but also someone who had contact with real Spanish speaking people…as awkward as that sounds. I know what I said had an impact on some of them because when I saw their parents at conferences or in the community, they told me that their child had shared something I had said about Taller. I spoke to the Spanish Club and they donated the proceeds from their time in the concession stands at basketball games to our organization.
I missed Taller and my clients very much but I do feel that my time spent back in high school was where I was supposed to be. “Bloom where you are planted.” Maybe, just maybe I sprinkled a few seeds about shared humanity in those young, fertile minds and they will think about lives of service in their futures.