Sylvia Blain grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and currently lives in North Little Rock. A graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Sylvia has led the charge in the fight against hunger as the executive director of Potluck Food Rescue since 2017.
As an executive director, what is your vision for your nonprofit organization and our community?
I am working to build on what has been accomplished by my predecessors and expand our mission to include an environmental focus. Hunger relief continues to be our priority, but we divert millions of pounds of food waste from our landfills each year. That’s important. Our impact on hunger and greenhouse gas emissions is remarkable.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
It wasn’t an event, it was a realization. The day I became aware that all of my previous experience and skills can be used together in a new and innovative way was a game changer for me. I am a product of the “gig” economy. I have done many things, often simultaneously. Learning to put all of that experience into one bag and create focus was a paradigm shift for me.
Tell us the most meaningful piece of career or life advice you have received.
I haven’t had a mentor per se. That would have been helpful! An older man I worked with just out of high school once told me to learn to trust my instinct, honor my ethics, and be willing to change your mind when presented with new information. He is long gone now, but that advice guides me to this day. Thank you, Mr. Patrick!
The past year has been tough for small businesses, but also spurred creativity and innovation. What are some examples in the food industry that have stood out to you this past year?
Our partners in the hospitality industry were hit hard. Watching them navigate COVID-19 by adopting new technology, shifting processes, and prioritizing people over profits has been inspiring. Recreating a business model on a dime is no small task. We are a resilient and determined industry.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life and career?
My family, but specifically my father. He is a man of good character with a strong work ethic and an unshakable self worth. He places the needs of his family above all else. He can make something out of nothing. I like to think I learned a thing or two from him along the way.
What experiences most shaped your path as a leader?
Until recently this question would be hard for me to answer, but the pandemic has shown me that as a leader, the example I set matters to those in my charge. Leading a hunger relief organization through COVID-19 has shown me that you have to be willing to make hard decisions and stand by them. The lives and well being of others might depend on it.