By Joan Stopka, Compañera volunteer
Pandemic: a disease prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world. I don’t recall using the word much during my life. I probably used the word plague more often as in reference to the bubonic plague. I never even knew that in history there had been something called the “Spanish flu”. Needless to say, my awareness of the word “pandemic” has become second nature to me and everybody else.
We had just celebrated Taller de José’s annual fundraiser, Builder’s Day, in February of 2020. Within a few weeks, my volunteering would be drastically curtailed. I no longer saw my friends in the office. Our engagement with one another was relegated to texts, emails, phone calls and a new phenomenon for me called Zoom. My interaction with clients was only via the phone. I was still able to try to put them in contact with the resources they needed but our physical accompaniment came to a screeching halt. The place where I felt I could be of the most value was with the USCIS (United States Customs and Immigration Services) helping the clients who were eligible for residency or citizenship. I would call the clients to do an intake over the phone. I would give them some background on how their session would run since I had done many of them in person previously. I even, at times, would go over the possible civics questions they would be asked for practice. Then at the appointed date and time for their interviews, I would be called by the customs official and be placed on speaker phone. Between the client, the official, and myself, we navigated the process. I never met the clients face to face, but our joy was palatable over the phone when we were told they had passed.
I have since returned to Taller de José. Slowly, I have accustomed myself to once again being a part of this wonderful family of co-workers. A lot of our work is still done over the phone. The clients are coming back, and many new ones have found their way to our door. We hopefully have survived the worst the pandemic has thrown in our path. As long as we are needed, Taller will be here to love and to serve.