When Veronica Sanchez joined the Chicago Commons team in March 2020 after moving on from her human resources job in the for-profit sector, she did not anticipate she would need to pivot to working remotely only a few days into her new role as a result of the COVID-19 statewide stay-at-home order.

“I had to shift from having an office and being on the field to operating remotely. Shifting successfully and remaining engaged with our clients are some of the things I’m most proud of,” said Veronica, an Employment Coach and Workforce Development Coordinator at Chicago Commons.

Chicago Commons is 126-year-old social service organization with the mission of empowering individuals, families, and communities, primarily Humboldt Park, Pilsen, Back of the Yards, and Bronzeville, to overcome systemic barriers so future generations can thrive. As an Employment Coach, Veronica offers support to over 800 families across four of Chicago Commons’ early education centers. She also coordinates Pathways for Parents, a program built to create and maintain educational and employment opportunities in early childhood development within the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Despite the uncertainty around the pandemic, Veronica quickly connected with her new colleagues, learned how to be a team player under virtual settings, and helped many of the Pathways for Parents students navigate a virtual classroom for the first time.

Our Pathways for Parents students transitioned from a traditional classroom setting into a virtual setting halfway through a semester. We had 10 out of 13 students finish our second module. We’re currently working on having them transition into Truman College for their third module and that, to me, is a big achievement,” said Veronica. “The next part of the program is highly likely to run remotely, so securing that all students have the technology they need to succeed is key for me.

Veronica Sanchez

“As an agency, we’re really proud of our staff for how they adapted and the resiliency they’ve shown. Veronica is a great example of that,” said Julio Paz, Chief Development Officer. “She came in and, without even having to ask, showed strong initiative and creativity moving into a virtual space. “In addition to calling all Pathways for Parents students to check on their progress in the program and any other needs they might have, she also connected three families who were experiencing food and housing insecurity to the emergency resources they needed. Very often, Commons becomes the place families go to for trusted information, advice, and for things beyond just the program.”

Chicago Commons established a COVID-19 response fund to help families dealing with adversity as a result of the pandemic. In addition to providing assistance for basic needs like food and rent, part of the fund was also used to purchase personal protective equipment for Chicago Commons employees who were still working and meeting people in the community.

“We have early education centers open right now with children because people have to go to work. Essential workers are out there and early childhood education is critically important. We’re trying to offer it as safely as possible and for many of our employees, the response was “Hey, let’s just get it done.” To give up our time and not count the cost was really special.”