Steveanna Wynn grew up in rural Virginia, where, she said, the poverty is hidden, tucked up in the foothills and along the back roads, not front and center on busy streets as it is in Philadelphia. Wynn, executive director of Share Food Program Inc., the Philadelphia food distribution nonprofit, got her start serving the rural poor, some of whom, it turned out, were her neighbors and classmates in Narrows, Virginia. In our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer, I asked her to compare Philadelphia with rural Virginia. "There's definitely the good, the bad and the ugly," she said.
Question: Start with the good.
Answer: The good is there are just an amazing thousands and thousands of people in this city that do amazing, good work and want the city to be wonderful and awesome. Without them, the city would be a very sad place. I get to interact with a fabulous group of folks, agency people -- people that are amazing. There are food-cupboard and faith-based people who are amazing. There are homeless men and women who are amazing. There are special needs children that are amazing. I just get to interact every day with amazing people from every single walk of life in this city,
A: I never knew until I came here 25 years ago that people sued people on a regular basis for, most of the time, no reason. I had never been robbed. I had never been burglarized. I had never had anything stolen from me until I came here. I was robbed at Share and burglarized in my home.
Q: What happened?
A: Someone came with guns -- three people, three guns.
Q: Did they catch those people?
A: Yes, and the interesting part of that goes back to the good. When all of this was going on, I could not tell my family in Virginia that we were broken into on a regular basis. I could not tell them that there were people in here with guns, robbing everyone in the building, I could not tell them someone had stolen the tires off my car. I couldn't tell them that someone had broken into my home and taken everything. My father would have put me in a convent and locked me up somewhere. All these things were happening that I couldn't share with folks in Virginia because they would have thought I was a nut case.
So this pastor comes in one day -- I had been here six months and all this happens in the six months that I had been here -- and the pastor says, `So are you going to leave?' I said, ` I don't know. I'm just not really used to this. This is really foreign to me.' And he goes, `Steveanna, you have to understand something.When you are doing the right thing, the devil gets busy. If you leave, he wins.'
I thought, `OK. So I won't be going anywhere.' So when stuff happens now, I go, `OK, we must doing something right and the devil's really busy.'
Q: That pastor said the right thing at the right time.
A: That is so cool. OK, I get that.
So what happened, folks from Share found me a different place to live and packed me up and moved me to my next place. I was living in Germantown. Volunteers went to my house and packed up my house and another group found an apartment for me to move into. Someone else found a truck. They loaded the truck and took me to my new home and unpacked me. What's not to like about that?
Q: I guess it was handy that the burglars cleaned out a lot first.
A: There wasn't a lot to move. In every situation where it could be bad, something good and awesome has come from it, so the bad didn't stick, I guess.
Q: What about the ugly?
A: The ugly is that there are so many folks in this city -- and I know it's true in every city, except I don't live in every city, I live in this city -- the ugly for me is that there are so many folks who just need a little of encouragement or just a little bit of help and they'd be able to stand on their own two feet.