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From left to right: Rob DiLeonardi, Rachel Baird, new Senior Program Officer and Director of Community Engagement, Alma Rodriguez, Claudia Baier, and Ann Swenson.
After 21 years at VNA Foundation, Claudia Baier, VNA’s Senior Program Officer and Director of Community Engagement, retired at the end of December 2023. In January, VNA staff, Board Members, former interns, and longtime friends and partners of Claudia’s gathered to celebrate her many accomplishments over the years and wish her well in her next chapter.
Between her first day in 2002 and last day in 2023, Claudia participated in 82 VNA Foundation Board Meetings, worked with and supported approximately 300 VNA grantee partners, supervised 19 interns, co-founded the Public Health Funders Network within the American Public Health Association, and served as a mentor to multiple women through Chicago Women in Philanthropy.
She also helped launch 12 Special Initiative grants—proactive grants for innovative purposes, directed to a subject area of particularly high need. Special Initiative grants represent the foundation’s highest level of philosophical and financial commitment and Claudia worked hard to help them succeed. Two recent Special Initiatives made possible by Claudia’s dedication and passion include:
During Claudia’s Retirement Celebration, remarks were offered by VNA Executive Director Rob DiLeonardi, longtime Board Member Brigid Kenney, and Peer Funder Nan Silva, Program Director at Community Memorial Foundation. Although it is impossible to put into words how much Claudia contributed during her impressive tenure, the speakers were able to paint a picture about the type of person, colleague, friend, and staff member Claudia has been over the years.
Rob DiLeonardi shared, “Think of all the changes—often tumultuous changes—that have occurred over the last 20 plus years, especially in the under-resourced communities served by VNA Foundation which are often left behind in good times, and disproportionately impacted in bad times. That Claudia was able to not only adapt to all that change, but truly excel in helping VNA address it, must be acknowledged.” He also noted that over the years Claudia transitioned from staff member to a “trusted thought partner” to whom he could turn to help puzzle out difficult situations.
Brigid Kenney said, “[Claudia] you’ve taught me so much about Chicago’s healthcare and grantee/grantor relationships. More importantly, you’ve helped me become a more compassionate and better human being and Board Member for VNA and I can’t thank you enough for that. From myself, and the entire VNA Board, we’d like to thank you for all you’ve done for VNA, helping to make it the strong, forward-thinking, and leading organization it is today.”
Nan Silva, MPH, was unable to attend due to last-minute circumstances, but her beautiful written remarks were read by Claudia’s successor at VNA, Alma Rodriguez, MUPP. In those remarks, Nan noted, “It’s frankly hard to imagine Chicagoland health philanthropy without Claudia’s presence. But here’s where her brilliance shines through once again: over the decades she brought in and nurtured a long line of young interns… Claudia enthusiastically fed the public health workforce pipeline. These young people learned from the best and will continue to imbue the workforce with her passion and commitment.”
Finally, Claudia expressed her gratitude for her family, colleagues, partners, and friends, and gave a few words of wisdom, sharing, “From this community I have found inspiration, collaboration, co-conspirators, and friendship. Looking ahead, I know you will all continue to do the work that needs to be done to take on the causes that need your help, and to support each other. And I know you will continue to push those envelopes when you can and as much as you can.”
Many thanks Claudia, and best wishes for a fulfilling, enjoyable, and well-deserved retirement.