Nomination of Farah Jimenez to SRC draws praise

"You need a range of offerings in order to provide the best options for our children," Farah Jimenez says.
"You need a range of offerings in order to provide the best options for our children," Farah Jimenez says. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 20, 2014

A day after Gov. Corbett nominated Farah Jimenez to the School Reform Commission, plaudits for the University of Pennsylvania-educated advocate for vulnerable families poured in Friday.

"Smart, hardworking, and truly caring," said Mayor Nutter. Her "concern for children and our city will be a benefit for all of us."

Jimenez, 45, a 1990 graduate of Penn, and six years later of its law school, leads People's Emergency Center, a West Philadelphia nonprofit that provides services and shelter for homeless women and their children.

In a city where 1,000 children under 16 go to bed each night in shelters, Jimenez is "a wonderful choice" for the SRC because she understands the overlap between at-risk families and education, said Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project HOME, another institution that deals with poverty and homelessness.

Born in North Jersey shortly after her parents emigrated from Cuba in 1967, Jimenez was educated in public schools. She came to Philadelphia for college, graduated in 1990, then spent two years in Washington working for Aspen Systems providing services to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

What she really wanted to do, she said Friday in an interview, was work for a congressional committee. So she called several and asked about qualifications. Go to law school, they said, which brought her back to Penn.

At a law school job fair, she met David Hyman, a lawyer now specializing in government relations. They married in 1998.

Today they share a house in Chestnut Hill, and a 14-year-old Havanese named "Mima."

And like celebrity politicos James Carville and Mary Matalin, Jimenez and Hyman are a political odd couple.

"It's even more different than the two of them," she says. "I'm obviously black and he's white. I'm Christian; he's Jewish. I'm a Republican; he's a Democrat. I'm a child of the '90s; he's a child of the '70s."

Her passion outside of work is competitive ice-skating, which she took up nine years ago after a 20-year commitment to physical fitness through ballet and modern dance. She practices at the Wissahickon Skating Club four or five times a week.

On a shelf in Jimenez's office are the souvenirs and awards attesting to her Republican credentials. There's a photograph of her and former Gov. Tom Ridge greeting George W. Bush when he campaigned for the presidency. There's a certificate commemorating her appointment by Bush to an advisory board of the U.S. Treasury. There's a gold record, rock-and-roll style, from the Republican Club of Germantown.

The younger of two daughters born to a mother who was a doctor and a father who was a civil engineer, Jimenez said that if she is confirmed by the state Senate she will emphasize the need for educational alternatives.

"Not everything that we offer is going to fit the needs of a particular student," she said. "I am not 'pro public school.' I am not 'pro school choice.' I am pro all of it. You need a range of offerings in order to provide the best options for our children."

Before taking the reins of the People's Emergency Center in 2010, Jimenez worked for 13 years as head of Mount Airy USA, a nonprofit real estate development corporation that supports home ownership initiatives and renewed a rundown commercial corridor in Mount Airy.

While her work at People's Emergency Center is transformative too, it has added dimensions.

"The primary reason that families are here," she said, "is because many of them have had interrupted education. Sixty percent of our mothers do not have a GED or a high school diploma. Many of the children who accompany them have had their educations interrupted because of the constant moving while homeless, and the limited capacity of the schools in the neighborhoods where they ultimately end up."

While the announcement of her nomination triggered supportive calls and e-mails, she said, she is prepared for some skepticism because she is not a parent.

"Everybody has skin in the game when it comes to educating children," she said. "I don't have children, but I have hundreds of children I have committed to working for here at People's Emergency Center. By making a commitment to serve on the School Reform Commission every child is my child."

215-854-2541 @MichaelMatza1

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