Farah Jimenez fell in love with the nonprofit world as a student at Penn. Two decades later, that passion is still strong.
Now 47 and recently tapped to lead scholarship-awarding organization Philadelphia Education Fund as president and CEO, Jimenez recalls her first nonprofit experience at student-led University City Hospitality Coalition providing free meals to low-income individuals.
“We would access food through food cupboards, but we’d cook meals with our community of diners and eat together family style,” Jimenez said. “It allowed people who are often overlooked to be seen as capable, present and part of a larger community. I loved, loved, loved the model.”
Jimenez has led two major nonprofits since the mid-1990s, spending 13 years at Mt. Airy USA and four at People’s Emergency Center (PEC), the latter ending in 2014. At PEC, Jimenez implemented the Visiting Scholars program — the same program that hosted late youth homelessness researcher Staci Perlman.
“The Visiting Scholars program let us embed scholars like Staci Perlman in PEC and provide them with access to data, our population and our providers in a way that helped enrich research that could inform opinion leaders,” Jimenez said.
That information would influence how funding was allocated to accommodate the needs of the communities. It made funding much more responsive, Jimenez said. The Education Fund is already ahead of the game, she said, but there are still areas that she’ll be looking to improve — namely, fundraising efforts and understanding between the fund, its teachers and their students.
“This is an organization that in many ways has been a silent but incredibly impactful leader in the education space in Philadelphia, but it hasn’t really received the depth of attention in terms of that work,” she said.
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Jimenez has also been serving on the School Reform Commission since early 2014. Her appointment to the fund is the first time in her life, she said, that the “two parallel tracks” she’s lived on for 20 years — a nonprofit profession and a civic engagement in her volunteer time — are converging.
The School District of Philadelphia has determined the two positions will not be a conflict of interest, and Jimenez views them as complementary.
“There’s a lot of work the Ed Fund has been doing over the last 30 years that have been in furtherance of the teacher quality and student engagement work that the district has been committed to,” she said. “In many ways, [the fund] has served as a resource partner to the district, particularly during those years — which have been far too long — when there have been insufficient resources.”
Jimenez looks forward to building the partnership between the school district and the fund. As for why she continues to work in the nonprofit sector?
“There’s no better way to feel a tremendous sense of fulfillment when you’re working toward improving the lives of individuals in communities,” she said. “I’ve always found it incredibly satisfying to work in a mission-oriented environment. I’ve been doing that my entire life.”-30-
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