by Alecx Hernandez
This year I did not expect to be in Chicago because I did not believe there was need for me here. I was ready to branch out and participate in a year of service in California, but due to Covid-19 pandemic and the fires, California was not the safest option. Since those plans fell apart, Dominican Volunteers USA (DVUSA) was scrambling to find me a last-minute placement elsewhere, but we hit many dead ends. I had lost hope and was starting to believe I wouldn’t be able to do a year of service, that is until Taller de Jose (TDJ) reached out and said they needed one more volunteer. I quickly let DVUSA know that I was interested and set-up an interview.
When I began the interview, I had little to no anticipation that this would be my placement, as I had previously interviewed with another organization who let me know the position was filled as soon as my interview ended. Regardless, I allowed myself to fully engage in the interview and pushed through my social anxiety. I remember being extremely anxious and worried after my interview but within a few days, and on my birthday, I received the news that TDJ had accepted me to fill their last volunteer opportunity. I was extremely excited but also extremely confused. I had no idea what I had signed up to and I was surprised that I would be staying in Chicago for another year, after all. God was not done calling me to this city despite my efforts to leave because he knew there was a need I needed to answer. As I began DVUSA orientation and TDJ orientation, it became more obvious to me that this was indeed my placement.
With Taller de Jose, I am a compañerx at The Quinn Center in Maywood. Maywood is a community that suffers due to being a food desert and having deficient transportation resources. The community is fairly mixed between Black and Latinx people who lack the resources to live dignified lives due to having hard commutes to work and to Chicago, and due to not having fresh produce as often since there are no nearby chain produce markets. My position of compañerx allows me to be a bridge for these people. I help “[connect] people to resources and resources to people” (TDJ moto). I will even do physical accompaniments to courts, doctors/hospitals, and other resource organizations. Through my position I can empower others to feel confident in seeking the assistance they need and deserve.
I’ve been a compañerx for a month now and things are beginning to pick up. Between the city opening, large lay-offs, low employment, and financial need growing, TDJ and Quinn Center have become essential to their communities. We do a Food Distribution event every Tuesday at the Quinn Center. I’ve learned that all the food we give is donated and I’ve also noticed that the Quinn Center staff works restlessly. They are people who truly care about this community and I am honored to be working with them.
Food Distributions have been my favorite part of my work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s chaotic and tiring but absolutely rewarding. When I’m helping with the set-up and I become aware of what needs to be done or restocked, I feel myself come alive. Three weeks ago, when we were distributing food, we noticed that bananas had not been packed in the produce bags. At first, the runners (volunteers who take food to the cars) where instructed to find a good bunch and include it in the bag, but I realized this was hindering their speed and ability. I quickly went to where the banana boxes where and began to pick out the good vs. bad ones and I put them in the produce bags.
When the bananas were halfway done, a volunteer came up to me and said, “Thank you, what you’re doing is really helping.” In that moment, I was reminded that I am indeed a Dominican. Without noticing, I had responded to a need. No one had told me to do it and other people had noticed that this was hindering the runners but only I had responded. A simple act of caritas had a huge impact and that’s what being a Dominican and a compañerx is about.
Through my work as a compañerx I have also noticed how the smallest act of caritas, such as listening to some ones concerns on the phone, gives them peace of mind and allows them to move forward. I recently accompanied someone to the Daley Center, and I was terrified. I had never been inside the Daley Center and I had not yet gone on a physical accompaniment. I felt unprepared but when my client arrived to the Center, something inside me shifted and I became his aid. We found the elevator we needed, found the office, and when we got to the office, instead of being awkward like I assumed I would be, I gave my client the space he needed to answer the clerk’s questions while I helped him find his paperwork. The small act of looking through his pile of forms communicated that I was assisting him and prompted no further questions on who I was or why I was there like my co-workers and I were expecting. I even had a full plan in case I was given a hard time, but it was not necessary. At the end, I was surprised at how easy this work had been despite all my worries. I slipped into my role because I was needed.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I did not expect to be needed in Chicago. I thought there were no jobs, no communities, no opportunities for me here but I was unbelievably wrong. I allowed myself to respond to a need in my community and it has been fundamental towards accomplishing my goal. In the future I want to move to the Mexican-American Border and accompany migrants in a similar way to what I am doing now. I want to walk with them in full caritas spirit and empower them to have dignified lives. I want to return them the veritas of their value and importance despite the people who call them “drug dealers, criminals and rapists” (45th President). I am Alecx Hernandez and I am a proud compañerx.