At our Builder’s Day event on April 14th, Taller de José honored David Komaniecki as our 2023 Companion Award Recipient.
For the last 20 years, David’s work through the State of Illinois has supported Latinx community members in and around Chicago.
His compassionate dedication to client success is evident in every interaction, earning the trust of our clients and our Compañerxes — and proving him an invaluable partner to Taller de José for the last decade.
Before receiving the Companion Award at Builder’s Day, David met with Cassandra Quinn, our 2023 Builder’s Day Event Director, to learn more about his work, his values, and his personal mission.
TDJ: Let’s start with just a bit of background: the work you do, how long you’ve been doing it.
DK: Well, I’ve worked in child support for over 20 years. My job now is to create child support orders, or enforce existing child support orders, through the State’s Attorney’s Office. We interview clients over the phone and then send paperwork to the clients.
Unfortunately, there’s no Spanish option for that paperwork. So Taller has been a tremendous help in allowing Spanish-speaking clients to fill out the papers correctly.
TDJ: Oh, wow. I didn’t realize that the paperwork that your clients have to fill out is only available in English.
Is that why you were initially drawn to the work that Taller de José does? Was it that recognition that Taller de José could really offer that practical benefit for your clients?
DK: I think originally I read about Taller someplace. Maybe it was in the Tribune? When I learned about Taller de José, it seemed like a natural partnership because the neighborhoods where my clients come from are mostly Hispanic and African-American, mostly on the south and west sides. Sometimes from some of the suburbs like Maywood and Melrose Park. In all these areas, there’s a high number of people that speak Spanish, and some of them speak Spanish exclusively.
So they need help with the forms. And it was frustrating not being able to advance their cases.
For the last 5 or 6 years, we haven’t conducted interviews face-to-face. Before that, when we could do these interviews at the office, I could work around the language barrier. But now that we send the forms by mail, my clients need somebody to help. And that’s what Taller does.
When I ask Taller to assist clients with these forms, I can always count on them.
TDJ: Tell me more about that relationship between you and Taller de José. What has that been like over the years?
DK: Well, when a child support case is successful, it can mean that the standard of living for the children is improved. They get better clothes. They get to participate in extracurriculars.
Usually, about 95% of the time, our clients are mothers, so when a case is successful, the mother has more income to cover costs like childcare so she can go into the workforce.
So this is all important.
And this is a little bit personal, I used to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras. I was a generalist and compared to some of the other volunteers who have particular skills — like foresters, hospital workers, teachers — a generalist like me, didn’t accomplish as much as they did.
So I think that’s one of the reasons I felt motivated to help these clients. In a way, I’m trying to make up for this past “underperformance” with Spanish speakers.
TDJ: Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate your willingness to share something that feels so personal to you.
It sounds like even outside the work you do with Taller de José, it sounds like you’re making a big impact on the quality of life of children in Chicago and in Illinois.
As an observer, it feels like you’re achieving that accomplishment that you’ve sought. Do you feel like that’s true?
DK: Yes. I do wish I accomplished more in the Peace Corps. I did meet my wife there, and that’s certainly positive!
And another connection I have with Taller is that, you know the enormous school across from the Taller office in Little Village?
DK: My Polish grandmother went to school there. She was born just three-quarters of a mile from your office. My uncle had a barber shop nearby. They went to the Catholic church on Cermak and Whipple for special occasions, and they regularly attended Blessed Sacrament. It’s closed now, but it’s been turned into a youth center. And I used to live there, too, what we called “South Lawndale.” So I feel a great connection with the neighborhood.
TDJ: Oh, I love that. I love seeing that sort of web, all the ways that your personal journey has intersected with Taller de José.
As you continue your relationship with Taller de José, what are some opportunities or ways you see potentially continuing to create impact with us?
DK: When I sense that a client feels timid, or feels intimidated by the process, Taller encourages them to participate in their Zoom hearings, and they give them moral support, which is itself a tremendous amount of help.
Compañeras aren’t allowed to actually participate in those hearings, but just their presence provides that moral support. And they also help the client prepare for the case.
For example, let’s say a client has a child with a disability. The Compañera will help amass the documentation that the client will show the judge during the hearing, documents that show that the client should get a higher amount of child support than would normally be the rule, because the child has that disability.
When there are special circumstances like that, I can always count on Taller to assist my clients in collecting those crucial documents.
So I hope that will continue. I hope we continue to have successful cases.
TDJ: I hope so, too! And I think something you mentioned is really important — that Taller de José doesn’t just exist to support clients in these very specific, specialty ways, but it’s also meant to connect people together, to create a community, and that the simple act of accompaniment, of walking alongside someone in their own experience, can be so powerful.
DK: And Taller has even helped me with a client who wasn’t a Spanish speaker. She was from West Africa and we were having a tremendously hard time obliging her child’s father, who lived in Belgium, to pay his child support. Taller helped her with some temporary assistance while we did all these very complicated and extended legal negotiations with Belgium to try to get him to pay.
TDJ: Yes! I think there are some nuances of the work that Taller de José does, and how it functions, that can be tricky to understand… like you were saying, that like these services aren’t only for Spanish speakers — although we’re primarily in service of the Latinx community and that most of our staff is bilingual in English and Spanish. But we do help anyone who needs accompaniment in any kind of way.
Because we all need accompaniment at some point in our life. It’s just part of the human condition to need someone to support and someone to walk alongside us in complex situations when things might be scary or new.
So I think it’s good to have that compassion and understanding you show through your work.
As we wrap up, what’s something you’re excited for in 2023?
DK: Well, during COVID there was a backlog at the State’s Attorney’s office, so I’m retracing my steps now on some cases that weren’t completed to my satisfaction. And I want to send more cases to the state’s attorney, get more clients paid.
TDJ: I think that that’s wonderful. David, I feel honored that I got to spend this amount of time with you one-on-one, getting to know you and your work. So thank you for sharing your time with me today.
DK: Thank you. Working with Taller de José makes me feel a connection, like I said, with the whole West Side, the South Side. The whole city. There’s so many reasons why I enjoy working with Taller.
TDJ: We’re so glad you’re here.
During David’s Companion Award acceptance speech at Builder’s Day, he asked that we all reach out to our State Representatives to ask that they push for child support forms to be published in multiple languages.