After failing to complete and submit the required documents for the renewal of a federal grant for HIV prevention work by the deadline, and with funds all but depleted, the Greater Chicago Committee (GCC), 4549 W. Washington Blvd., has had to make immediate and significant changes, including staff reduction and funneling its clients to other agencies.
And while GCC's Chief Executive Officer, Vaughn E. Taylor, takes full responsibility for his agency's loss of $233,890 in annual CDC (Centers for Disease Control) funding, he says he has so far been able to recoup approximately $121,000. The State of Illinois, MOCHA and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago have awarded the monies.
'Grant writing is a science but not an exact science,' Taylor said. 'In my efforts to be a perfectionist as I prepared the grant for the CDC, it took me a longer period of time to gather the data we needed. There really is no excuse, but that's what happened.'
According to Taylor, a completed set of data was finished on the eve of the Feb. 6 deadline, but it was too late for Federal Express to deliver the package. Then a colleague who agreed to hand carry the proposal on his already scheduled trip to Atlanta (the headquarters for the CDC), found his travel plans delayed because of weather in the Atlanta area.
'After this disappointment, I knew we would have to reduce our costs immediately if we hoped to keep our doors open,' he said. 'We cut everything except our rent—I took a 28 percent salary reduction. I offered my staff the option of volunteering for six weeks with the expectation that I could bring them back on board after that at their old salaries, but only two members of my staff agreed to stay on.'
Taylor adds that after realizing what the agency faced, he and his staff began to refer the majority of their 112 clients to other agencies. GCC currently provides services for 13 clients.
A Change in Name and Direction
Under its former structure and in line with now-deceased founder and Executive Director Derrick Hicks' vision, GCC specialized in outreach to gay and transsexual men on the West Side. But Taylor has changed the name of the organization to the Jelani Unified Men's Project and has a new plan for the kinds of services it will offer.
'Given the CDC's new direction and emphasis—a medical model of 'test and diagnose' in its prevention strategy—and with a de-emphasis on the behaviors that can lead to HIV infection, it became clear to me that our organization had to make some radical changes,' he said.
'First our name has been changed to The Jelani [mighty in Swahili] Unified Men's Project to indicate that we're about something different. We're also moving forward to actually complete Derrick's vision of a men's health clinic on the West Side. And to do that we've had to seek new board members who bring expertise in change management, the medical field and law. We also have a commitment to identify members of the scientific community who are currently involved in AIDS research.'
Taylor adds that while the structure for this men's health clinic is already in place, he now has to focus on recruiting clients back to The Jelani Project and beefing up the staff.
'The majority of our former clients were referred to other agencies and getting served according to their needs, but we know there are other out there who need assistance,' he said.
Taylor adds that diversifying the funding stream is a key step to prolonging the life of The Jelani Project.
'The federal government has made it clear that it is reducing grant amounts for organizations that focus solely on HIV prevention,' he said. 'But even in the general public, people want more options for access to and engagement in healthcare.'
'It isn't easy to replace a quarter of a million dollars, but we're well on the way,' he said. 'In fact, I'm very optimistic about receiving additional monies from the state in the amount of $60,000.
'Some of my detractors have even accused me of lacking the qualifications for my post. I can only say I have been working in the HIV field since 1988. I've spoken at almost every national conference related to HIV and continue to be sought after as a consultant.'
Taylor adds that he wants to complete the work started by Derrick Hicks because it's important for those who live with HIV/AIDS on the West Side.
'I'm here because I want to be.'