People

Jan. 3, 2018 12:55 pm

Philly’s newest anti-poverty hire is also a former roller derby pro

Cassie Haynes, the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity's new deputy director of innovation, plans to focus on policy over programs.

Cassie Haynes.

(Courtesy photo)

The city office that heads up anti-poverty initiative Shared Prosperity plucked its new deputy director of innovation from an unlikely place: a position as executive director of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

Though the transition seems strange at first glance — from the global governing body of roller derby to tackling poverty reduction in America’s poorest big city — it’s not a total departure for Cassie Haynes, a lawyer who previously worked for the City of Philadelphia as a program coordinator and health educator in the Department of Public Health.

The city’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO), which lives in the Health and Human Services Cabinet under former CEO Executive Director Eva Gladstein and also oversees Samantha Porter’s work in the West Philadelphia Promise Zone, aims to reduce poverty via five strategies: workforce development, benefits access, early learning, housing security and economic security.

Haynes’ role, which she said was once a chief of staff position, is about “evaluating the strategy of Shared Prosperity moving forward” with CEO ED Mitch Little and engaging community-based organizations and likeminded government agencies, such as the Streets Department’s Philly Future Track job training program, Benefits Data Trust’s BenePhilly Mobile Office and financial service providers FINANTA and Clarifi.

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(One cheerful snippet from the most recent annual Shared Prosperity report, released in December: Clarifi’s Financial Empowerment Centers have helped low-income Philadelphians save almost $1.5 million in the past three years.)

Haynes’ education background is in law and public health: The Michigan native earned a JD from Northeastern University and an MPH from Tufts University before her first stint in city government in 2012. But her professional work has been mainly in strategy, communications and systems implementation in the sports world — and she’s a former fitness entrepreneur who started her Trap Door Athletics in Philly, also in 2012.

Now, why city government again?

“I made the decision to go back in the other direction with those experiences around strategies,” she said about her move back to Philly from the West Coast. “For me personally, I felt like I was missing a deeper connection to my work.”

In her new role, Haynes wants CEO to focus more on policies rather than programs. The ultimate mission of the office is to eradicate poverty, yes — “but it’s a really daunting proposition,” she said. “It’s difficult to lay out a path to such an overarching goal.” Policy changes could break that goal into more achievable milestones based on the office’s five focus areas.

What that looks like in practice is unclear, though. To get started in figuring it out, Haynes is looking to similar anti-poverty work of other cities, such as New York City, for ideas.

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