Former Congreso CEO appointed as DHS Commissioner
Community leader Cynthia Figueroa will leave her post as CEO of Congreso de Latinos Unidos for a position in city government.
As of Wednesday morning, she was chosen by Mayor Jim Kenney as the new Commissioner of the Department of Human Services (DHS).
Figueroa couldn’t contain her excitement for the new role as she took the podium in the Mayor’s Reception Room. She let out an enthusiastic “woo hoo” while the crowd applauded.
“I’m thrilled to be in an administration that’s dedicated to children and families,” Figueroa said. “I know [this position] is a huge challenge but I don’t care, I’m excited.”
Figueroa, 43, said she will put the children first “over the politics of the work” when she begins her new role with the public safety agency this fall.
Kenney expressed his support for Figueroa’s top priority. DHS is “no less important than the fire department” in that the safety and maintenance of families in neighborhoods is important, he said.
“Part of this issue is not just DHS-- it's us,” he said. "We have to improve the quality of our neighborhoods [. . .] We've fallen down as a nation in so many different areas of supplying resources necessary to be successful."
The need to work together with other agencies and nonprofits will be a crucial factor in the progression of communities, and Figueroa is an excellent person to build that bridge, said City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez.
“Cynthia has the right amount of passion, pizzazz, and heart to help manage people to get on the same boat; and we need that in this particular time,” she said.
The national search for a new administrator was extensive as the child welfare agency looked to find someone that could help them recover from past issues. This past May, DHS had its license downgraded for failure to follow state child welfare laws.
Figueroa’s experience working with children and families ensured Kenney’s decision in choosing her as the new head of DHS.
“She has the experience, expertise and passion to help the agency overcome challenges and ensure that our children are not only safe, but achieving the best possible outcomes,” he said in an official statement.
Figueroa was the executive director of Women Against Abuse, the largest domestic violence agency in Pennsylvania. During her six-year tenure there, she doubled the number of shelter beds for domestic violence victims in Philadelphia.
In a congratulatory letter to Figueroa, The Latina CEOs -- a coalition of Philadelphia nonprofits and distinguished female leaders-- praised Mayor Kenney for his selection.
“Figueroa’s selection for this position is very important for the children and families and a positive step for the city of Philadelphia. Cynthia brings years of on the ground knowledge and experience of working in the community where most of our most needy children live. We think she possesses the leadership acumen and cultural competence to take DHS to its next level,” the letter read.
As a Latina who’s represented the Latino community through her work at Congreso, Figueroa is not worried about the pressure she might get from her community.
“I need to make sure that I’m representing and delivering, but it’s all of Philadelphia that’s being represented now, and not just one community,” Figueroa said.
Congreso will conduct a national search to find a replacement for Figueroa’s CEO position. In the meantime, CFO Dominique Benardo will fill in the position.
The multi-service agency-- which focuses on the Latino community-- has become a training ground for future DHS commissioners; this is the second time a former worker from the nonprofit organization has taken the role.
Alba Martinez, who served as DHS Commissioner from 2000 to 2005, was executive director of Congreso before her appointment.
Figueroa will assume her new position September 6. Her predecessor Jessica Shapiro will continue to serve DHS as chief of staff to the commissioner.