We sat down with our new President and CEO, Cynthia Figueroa and asked her a few questions. Here’s what she had to say with nearly one month on-the-job at JEVS Human Services.
You have had a distinguished career in the human services sector. What led you to this work?
It is in my DNA. So much of my identity comes from my family’s story, which is one of social justice, equity, opportunity and giving back.
My parents grew up very poor, especially my mother, who was born and raised in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She didn’t see limitations in her circumstances. My mother and I learned to speak English at the same time, only I was 5 and she was almost 40. I realize now that she made very specific decisions to change her life’s path. At its core, that is what human services work should be about – helping people to find their path, regardless of circumstances.
As difficult as my parents’ lives were, there was a strong sense of responsibility to help others. Our home was open to others who were in transition, and there was always an extra plate for someone who needed it. The collection basket at our church was my earliest sense of philanthropy. Some Sundays my father would put in a dollar, some Sundays it would be five dollars. We were taught that it was always possible to give, despite our own challenges.
And now you’re at JEVS Human Services. What excites you about the opportunity to lead here?
Since its founding, our mission has been about access and maximizing opportunities. The vision of the board of directors and the staff to embrace a leader like me speaks to the true legacy of JEVS. There are so many beautiful, shared experiences of struggle and triumph between Jews [those of whom JEVS was founded to serve] and [we] Latinos. I feel that connection to the organization’s founding values and mission – and with those I’m working with at JEVS.
Beyond the mission, JEVS is poised to grow in so many ways because of the quality of its work and the talent and commitment of our staff and volunteers. My own experiences, working directly with women and children, align so well with the programs and services here. It is thrilling to be leading an organization like this, especially at time when our region needs us more than ever.
Speaking of the needs in the region, JEVS Human Services will no doubt be key as we rebound and recover from the COVID crisis. How do you see JEVS’ role?
The pandemic certainly impacted the non-profit human services sector. Demand went up, clients had emergency needs, and we all had challenges delivering on our mission. Through all of it, JEVS responded with creativity and commitment to those we serve.
So, what’s next? I see a lot of opportunity ahead. What work looks like, how we prepare and match jobseekers to opportunities, and our relationships with employers have all evolved in the past two years. In addition to helping people find and keep work, we are a large employer, so we’re adjusting too. Talking about the future of the workforce involves all of our programs and services, including those programs we haven’t traditionally thought of as “jobs” programs, like our programs for young adults who are disconnected from school and our mental health services. With our range of offerings, plus our own experience as a major employer, we are well-positioned to address the hiring needs of employers and skills gaps that keep people getting hired in the first place.
With a few weeks in your new role, what have you recognized as a key strength at JEVS?
It is the extraordinary staff and volunteers on our board of directors, including many past chairs. All are committed to our mission and all work very hard to make sure that we continue to meet our mission.
We hear you are a big Philadelphia sports fan (we’ve seen the tweets). How are you feeling about the 76ers with James Harden in the line up?
I’m not the walking sports encyclopedia that my son is – he can quote player stats – but I’m super excited about the trade! Harden is bringing some new excitement to a town that loves its sports teams. He’s a superstar and fitting in seamlessly with other leaders on the team. If his first few games with the 76ers are any indication, it is going to be fun to watch. I must add that Doc Rivers is a great coach on the court and leader off the court on issues like racial equity.