2018-02-14 / Features


Rosemary Lopez

AIDS Center of Queens County Executive Director Rosemary Lopez, an LCSW-R (licensed clinical social worker with psychotherapy “R” privilege) by profession, has over 30 years of experience in social work working with HIV-positive, mentally ill, substance abuse and homeless populations. For the last 23 years, she has been with the AIDS Center of Queens County (ACQC) during which time she has served as the associate executive director developing programs for the Queens community, and was recently promoted to executive director. Rosemary was a resident of Queens for more than 12 years, and is a graduate of Adelphi University on Long Island, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.

ACQC’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for people and their families infected with, affected by, and at-risk for HIV/AIDS and other related conditions. To meet its mission, the agency provides comprehensive services in a non-judgmental, safe and supportive environment. Founded in 1986, ACQC is the oldest, largest, and most trusted HIV/AIDS organization in Queens. The agency directly serves 3,187 clients annually and reaches another 21,150 persons through HIV-related services.

AIDS Center of Queens County Executive Director Rosemary Lopez, an LCSW-R. AIDS Center of Queens County Executive Director Rosemary Lopez, an LCSW-R. QG: What is the hardest part about being a social worker?

RL: I think every social worker is different. On a personal note, the hardest part of being a social worker is managing your stress. Your stress level depends on the position you are in. Managing multiple programs and multi-generational staff has many challenges. First of all, budget constraints are putting a huge strain on staff, and they are being asked to do more for less. There is an increasing focus on paperwork and bureaucracy and that can only mean more time in the office and less time with service users.

QG: What is a typical day like in your office?

RL: Being a social worker, you can never follow a schedule. I have a daily “To Do” list, and usually 3 out of 10 items on the list will be completed at the end of the day. When you are a Department Director you never know what to expect, because you must always be ready to help or attend meetings in a minute’s notice. My day is filled with interruptions and I multitask every day. There is never enough time to finish everything that I need to do.

QG: How did you realize that you wanted to become a social worker?

RL: When I was in high school I was always trying to help someone and befriend people who had no friends. I was often teased as “Ms. Social Worker.” All I know is it’s so much easier to be nice than to be mean. It gives me a sense of comfort and contentment. What I know for sure is I have to do something in life that will help people in need improve their lives so they can become more productive in the community.

QG: Are there any experiences unique to NYC that a social worker may encounter?

RL: I have advocated for clients numerous times and I must say that encountering the bureaucracy and dealing with a broken system, advocating when no one listens— that’s just a few—the list does go on.

QG: There must be many sad situations among your patients.

RL: In the ‘90s, a 66-yearold woman walked into our offices and started to sob non-stop. She appeared well groomed and poised and seemed to have lost it as soon as she entered our offices. Apparently, she was newly diagnosed with HIV and was horrified that her husband gave her the virus. The client’s husband was in the Dominican Republic managing the construction of their retirement home. The woman was about to retire and join her husband there. She found out about her diagnosis when she was having the last physical in the hospital. She couldn’t believe that her husband of 42 years could have had an affair. The husband told her it was just a one-night stand and not an affair. At that moment, I realized that AIDS does not discriminate. Babies, youth, adults and the elderly can have HIV. Here is a couple about to retire and enjoy the prime of their lives and then this happens. The couple was happily married for 42 years.

QG: What was the most gratifying experience? How were you able to help someone? Tell us a success story.

RL: We advocated for a boy who was dying of AIDS and whose only wish was to see the Metallica concert and our team, in conjunction with Make a Wish Foundation, were able to take the boy to the concert in a wheelchair and with tears in his eyes he said thank you to my staff who worked really hard to get him there.

QG: What public policies would make life easier for the people you work with?

RL: The public policy of increasing the minimum wage was somewhat helpful, but it didn’t accomplish very much to improve their standard of living. The working poor of America need a boost or incentive in their salary because most of them are just getting by. This is especially true with employees who have children.

QG: What can an average person do to make the world a better place?

RL: Volunteer, donate and spread kindness.

There is a saying, “As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.”

QG: What is your advice to someone who wants to be a social worker?

RL: Tell them being a social worker is not an easy job. Not only do you have to love people, but you have to love helping them as well. It is a very rewarding profession.

QG: How did you get to be executive director of the AIDS Center of Queens?

RL: My journey was not an easy road. It took guts, courage, compassion, and late nights.

QG: Anything else you’d like our readers to know about you?

RL: I have two wonderful daughters, and a cute dog named Coconut.

This column was originated in July, 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.

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