Meet some of AFC’s behind-the-scenes, COVID-era essential workers

September 17, 2020

By Bailey Williams

When the new coronavirus (COVID-19) sent most AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) staff home to work remotely, many members of our finance and contracts team continued to come to the office. A lot of the work this team does cannot be done remotely. Though this work often happens behind the scenes, it is essential to the many services AFC provides to help people living with HIV and other chronic conditions thrive.

When AFC receives funding from our private, public and government donors to provide care, housing and other services to people living with HIV and people experiencing homelessness, the funding comes with rules and requirements. Our finance team, composed of 12 hardworking staff, handle this work, which involves processing paperwork for funding that’s reimbursed, printing and sending out thousands of checks to landlords for housing clients, scanning those payments, creating required reports, and so much more.

Amid COVID, AFC sought and received an additional $3.5 million from multiple funders to help people living with HIV stay safe and housed and meet other COVID-related needs. Many on the finance team logged extra hours to fulfill the new funding requirements while balancing pre-existing work, family and safety. Though this period has been challenging, the team remains dedicated to the work because of its importance in supporting better health outcomes for people living with HIV.

“One of the reasons we’ve been able to keep going is because we do realize how much it helps people,” said AFC’s Chief Financial Officer Laurie Wettstead. “It’s a lot, but right now, the community needs it. We really need to do this work.”

Even with an increased workload, Laurie said the team has had several successes during the pandemic, including securing a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan for $1.6 million that helped AFC retain nearly 120 staff, pay rent for AFC’s office space and cover other important costs. The team has also learned new virtual meeting tools like Microsoft Teams and continues to send out thousands of monthly rent checks that keep clients safely housed.

Talia Clay, AFC’s accounting associate, has been the person responsible for ensuring about 1,200 housing clients’ monthly rent checks are printed and sent to landlords on time. Her job was already hectic before the pandemic and got even busier during the crisis, as she took on additional work related to the new COVID-related funding. She tackled this work while juggling new parenting responsibilities, including supporting her child with e-learning. In an extremely busy time, she’s found a sense of self-accomplishment keeping up with her work and responsibilities.

“During this time, it’s just rewarding knowing I can get it all done,” Talia said.

Although some staff’s workload increased, it could only increase by so much. Laurie said one challenge that’s emerged during this time is the balance between seeking additional funding to further support the community and the team’s capacity to carry out the requirements and logistics funders require.

Think about it like this: imagine you are a child who wants a dog. You can see vividly the joy a dog could bring you. But your parents see the annual costs of food, veterinary care, potential emergencies and dog walkers. All of this would have to be balanced with pre-existing household expenses and responsibilities.

AFC’s finance team handles the requirements of existing and new funding that benefit the community through care support, housing services and more. Because the team has become experts on fulfilling those funding requirements, they know when they have capacity to take on additional funding, just like a parent would know whether the family could afford a dog. Laurie has had to use that knowledge to not overburden staff.

Still, not everyone on the finance team has encountered an increased workload during COVID. Fonstella Ross, AFC’s manager of donor services, processes online and offline donations tied to events including AIDS Run & Walk Chicago. She ensures the money people raise for AFC is processed and reaches the community. Despite changes to some annual events, donors continue to donate and fundraise, she said. As a result, her workload hasn’t changed that much.

“Our donors still have faith in AFC,” Fonstella said. “They still want to participate in these events even if they have to do something virtual.”

As the pandemic continues, the finance and contracts team will continue to work diligently behind the scenes to meet funder requirements, process donations and get clients’ rent checks out. Some of that work will continue in-person at the office, and sometimes it will happen at home. Regardless, the work is essential to AFC and our ability to provide necessary programs and support for people living with HIV and people experiencing homelessness.

Categorized under AFC news, Chicago and Inside Story.

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