Forty Under Forty: Dawn Saffayeh

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Dawn Saffayeh

Executive Director

HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services


LIFTING PEOPLE OUT OF POVERTY

Fast fact: Saffayeh grew up in Massachusetts 


Years of volunteering in preschool centers and homeless shelters in Bridgeport helped prepare Dawn Saffayeh to lead HeartShare St. Vincent’s and its wide-ranging services. Years with New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services helped prepare her to get the nonprofit through a financial crisis. HSVS has 400 staff members and serves more than 7,000 people each year with foster care, youth development, supportive housing and more. Saffayeh said she “couldn’t really imagine having a career that didn’t focus on helping people who were struggling.”

 

NYN: DESCRIBE AN ACCOMPLISHMENT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF.

DS: Working for the city. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work in the prior (mayoral) administration and partner with lots of different people in the nonprofit and government sector to design various reinvestment initiatives to be able to invest in different kinds of child welfare and juvenile justice programming that really improved outcomes for kids and families across the city.

 

NYN: WHAT CHANGE WOULD MOST HELP THE INDIVIDUALS YOUR ORGANIZATION SERVES?

DS: I sometimes think that the system is really backwards. There’s so much money that government puts into providing services to the people whom we serve in poor communities. Spending money on staff, case planners, staff at city agencies who oversee the families and children. I think having more funding available to directly address poverty for children and families and get families out of poverty and into better jobs and better education would really improve the lives of the families we serve. And at the same time, improve all of the outcomes around wellbeing that the current funding is supposed to do.

 

NYN: WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU’D LIKE TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE YOU RETIRE?

DS: I guess contribute to what I just spoke about. Finding very specific ways to lift large numbers of people out of poverty in New York City.

 

NYN: WHAT DO YOU WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT YOUR JOB?

DS: It’s a struggle every day to be able to focus on the things that we actually want to focus on. As a leader of a nonprofit, first and foremost we need to make sure that the finances are in order. I spend a tremendous amount of my time reviewing all of our spending and our budgets and our revenue and our forecasting because that is what I feel like I need to do to be responsible to my staff and the people we serve. There’s so much red tape and there’s so many things that just don’t make sense in terms of getting reimbursement – that’s a big struggle, and it takes away from really being able to dive in on the praxis issues, and being able to spend as much time as I want to spend with clients in communities. I wish I could spend more time with people whom we serve, with elected officials, but it’s a struggle trying to stay afloat financially. 

 

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