Cynthia Figueroa: A dedicated advocate for equity and access
Cynthia Figueroa is one of the 2022 AL DÍA Women of Merit honorees, in the nonprofit category.
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If there is one thing that can be traced to Cynthia Figueroa’s unbridaled dedication to advocacy work, it’s her personal multicultural Latino heritage.
Figueroa was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico to a Honduran mother and Cuban-American father who met in Puerto Rico, both as members of the Peace Corps.
“So, the issue of social justice has been a critical part of my personal and professional career pathways and it's an important part of my identity,” said Figueroa in an interview with AL DÍA.
Living within modest means, her father worked in construction before transitioning into teaching. Like so many others, Figueroa’s parents made the journey to the U.S. — Miami, Florida — when she was five, for more opportunities and a chance at a better life.
Figueroa detailed that moving to the mainland presented an indelible experience for her personally.
“I probably wouldn’t have been raised bilingual, I don’t know if I would have gone to college, I don’t know what the trajectory would have been,” she reflected. “But certainly, that opportunity changed the pathway for my sisters and I.”
The story of her mother moving to the U.S. at the age of 40, having to learn to speak English, and the sacrifices she made for her children stuck with Figueroa, and led her on the path she has taken in her career.
Making Equity and Access Available to All
Since moving to Philadelphia about 25 years ago, Figueroa has been actively involved in a number of prominent organizations.
From roles as director and CEO of Congreso to more recently, Deputy Mayor at the Office of Children and Families, Figueroa’s approach has been the same.
In her own words, “It’s making sure that equity and access is available to all people,” she said.
When she thinks about the opportunities she, her sisters and parents have had in this country, she wants to afford those opportunities to others, as well.
“I see that eroding in our society, particularly for low-income and middle income families,” added Figueroa.
It is for that reason that she strives to be such an advocate and change agent for underserved, marginalized and vulnerable groups in each role she takes on.
“I have always worked really hard to stand on the side of right,” she said. “Sometimes standing on the side of right can be very lonely, it can be very painful. But at the same time, it can be incredibly fulfilling.”
The Latest Journey at JEVS
In February 2022, Figueroa officially became the new CEO of JEVS Human Resources.
She noted the organization’s range of services, history and values as what attracted her most to the position.
“The origins of JEVS, while definitely cemented in the Jewish faith — Jews fleeing the war [World War II] — it was about immigrants assimilating into a new society and helping them make sure that they had the tools,” said Figueroa. “That’s my story in a different way.”
“Those origins and the commitment, in terms of accepting and receiving all, supporting and service, bringing individuals to their full potential, I was very attracted to that,” she added.
In this new role, Figueroa hopes to simply continue to grow the vision of the organization.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for growth for the organization,” she noted, particularly for the workforce.
“In the wake of The Great Resignation, I think JEVS is poised, and we have the tools to support that… we work with young [people] and adults, returning citizens, and we also do a significant amount of work with individuals with intellectual disabilities.”
JEVS is a critical lifeline for so many communities throughout the region, and Figueroa is excited to lead the organization as it continues to expand the areas that are needed most and help more achieve their personal and vocational potential.