Pope Francis’ Visit and Residual Goodness

Posted By Adrienne Kowalski on November 02, 2015

I came into this business in the early 90’s when Philadelphia was on the edge of total disaster. Our city, like most other rust-belt centers, had a lot of problems and not a single one was an easy solve. No matter, I remember feeling optimistic about our future. After all, I was once the little girl whose favorite Golden Book was “I Like to Live in the City.” But I wasn’t just naïve in my enthusiasm for Philadelphia’s potential. The city was slowly evolving into something new and different and better.

Central to the change was the fiscal turnaround engineered by then Mayor Ed Rendell. He was our tough love. He also heralded an era of improvements across every facet of the city. A new convention center opened. Stephen Starr broke from the music business to concentrate on restaurants. Big brands began anchoring once lonely and mostly sporadic stretches of retail. Manayunk became the first in a series of hot neighborhoods. And before the landscape of locally headquartered companies and the very nature of corporate giving changed, where there was need, there were companies stepping up to help.

During Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia, I couldn’t help but be reminded of those days of corporations stepping up, no matter what. There was an excitement in the city about what was to come and perhaps what we could be and how we would be seen on the world stage.

Put aside for a moment the real challenges the mega-event created for city residents and businesses. Our agency was able to work remotely. But thousands of small businesses, especially restaurants, were hampered by restricted deliveries, lack of track pick-up and most importantly, a lack of customers. Plenty of folks had to camp out at their places of work to make it through. Then there’s the complexity of the process that probably kept away thousands from participating in all things Pope Francis—I know a bunch that were overwhelmed by the very idea of getting to and from the city.

For those of us who dared venture, the city showed her best side for that little while. In all, it was about the people and the organizations that call Philadelphia home that made our city shine. The city felt more connected and alive. I saw more smiling faces as my children gleefully skipped down the centers of car-free streets. Strangers readily reached to help us with my disabled son’s stroller and made room for him to get a first-row look at the Pope. SEPTA trains surprisingly ran on schedule thanks to a team of friendly employees who no doubt worked ‘round the clock. And then there was Wawa, right there with us as we walked some 6.5 miles to and from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Their employees dotted every intersection handing out water bottles to carry us through the long day. That water wasn’t just a nice-to-have, it was essential and would have been more so if the temperature was a few degrees higher. Whether through sponsorship or Corporate Social Responsibility or just kindness, Wawa doing the right thing—one of their core values—was a home run.

Just this weekend, we stopped at a suburban Wawa for coffee and gas. My husband seemed to take especially long inside the store. He at last emerged with the store manager. The two were having a very animated conversation. Turns out the store computer system went haywire. The folks behind the counter were taking Shorti orders the old-fashioned way—with pen and paper. The manager was making sure we actually filled our tank like the pump said we did. All was ok. Remarkably, the manager relayed he had not heard a single complaint. Their customers were all very understanding. How could it be?

Wawa’s Papal water donation wasn’t a first or a one and done but the most recent highlight of decades of community involvement. Wawa hoagie day, countless 5Ks, National Coffee Day… all of these things amount to a heap of good will or good karma. Take your pick but either way it’s what keeps customers loving their Wawa.

I hope that the city, like Wawa, is able to bottle up all of the good vibrations and what we did right and truly learn from what we could have done better to continue to grow a more vibrant Philadelphia. Still I am the girl who loved “I Like to Live in the City” and believes the best is yet to come.

Adrienne Kowalski is a Senior Strategist.