Albany Park activist Maria Elena Sifuentes dies from COVID-19 before 2nd shot

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A community on Chicago's North Side is mourning a leader and fighter who lost her battle with COVID-19.

Maria Elena Sifuentes was a champion for education equity and affordable housing in Chicago. She contracted the virus and died last week, before she could get her second shot.

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Family and friends gathered to say goodbye to a woman whose life work was making her native Albany Park a better place. Sifuentes, a 57-year-old mother of five, was between vaccine doses when she contracted the virus.

"Finally things are getting back to normal and it's the last thing anybody expected to happen," said Diane Limas, a close friend of Sifuentes.

After a year of Zoom calls, Limas and Sifuentes had made plans to get pizza and drinks as soon as Sifuentes was fully vaccinated. Both served on the board of Communities United, Sifuentes as president, and Limas as vice president.

"She was a very strong Latina presence when she came into the room," Limas recalled.

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Sifuentes was a relentless advocate for health care and education, helping get new schools built in Albany Park. Affordable housing was also a passion. She recently fought hard to get affordable units for a proposed development on Lawrence Avenue.

Besides housing, education and health care, friends said Sifuentes was most proud of her work for Communities United Survivor's Alliance, where Sifuentes would share her own personal story of sexual abuse.

"Thank God for her courage, I know it has helped me so much," said Roxanne Smith, a close friend she knew through Communities United. "She is gone but not forgotten."

"She was so brave and strong a lot of young people, Black and brown, were following her," Limas said.

Sifuentes' friends are hopeful her passion for important causes will live on through the next generation.
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