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Dramatic shift in AFC's work, thanks to decades of change

One of the most remarkable things about Lori Kaufman, and there are many, is the strength of her commitment. A Board member of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) since 1989, Kaufman has dedicated 25 years of her life to the fight against HIV/AIDS — and she’s seen it all.

As AFC begins its 30th year of action in 2015, few people are as well equipped to reflect on AFC’s history as effectively and passionately as Lori.

In 1988, next to her best friend’s hospital bed as he was dying of AIDS-related complications, Lori made a promise to him: to continue “fighting the fight” against HIV/AIDS in Chicago. As a Board member of AFC for 25 years, she has continued that work. In 2010, the Lori Kaufman Volunteer Award was established to recognize Lori’s work and those who have had an extraordinary impact through their volunteerism with AFC

Leaving behind her work as an art dealer, Lori helped to guide the growth of AFC, then a small organization, from a staff of nine with a $4.5 million budget into a staff of more than 100 and a $24 million budget. Although Lori is too modest to credit herself and the Board with AFC’s development, her role is undeniable. “This has been an unbelievable experience. I never looked back, she said. The individuals involved with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago have been my extended family.”

The nature of the epidemic has changed dramatically since AFC’s founding and Lori’s initial involvement. Many remember the fear and death associated with what some referred to as “gay cancer.” For years, Americans struggled to understand the virus; many simply knew that it killed. “In 1989, when I started on the Board, AFC was helping people learn to cope and die, but now we help them to live,” recalled Lori.

For Lori, the promise she made, and the death of her friend of AIDS-related illness in 1988, ignited her passion to fight against HIV and leave behind her art dealer career. She recalls, “It was at that time that I realized I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life, rather than in their living room.”

Lori’s passion inspires others to work even harder for a world with accessible care for those with HIV and a world without HIV stigma, so that we might honor those who were lost too soon to the epidemic. To build on powerful prevention and treatment opportunities in the present, like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and antiretroviral drugs, we must keep the passion of the past — and the will to fight for awareness and access to all of those resources.

For many Chicagoans, when they think of AFC, one name comes to mind: Lori Kaufman. She has been steadfast. AFC would not be what it is today without her promise.

Categorized under Inside Story.