By Stephanie Grant
Shortly after celebrating her landmark 50 years of life, Robin Evans was diagnosed with Stage 4, aggressive, breast cancer that had metastasized throughout her body. Her husband Sidney was her advocate, questioning every recommendation that the oncologist suggested for her care. According to Robin, the doctor seemingly did not appreciate the scrutiny and told him, “You might as well take her home to die…” Naturally this news was devastating for Evans, a woman who relishes life. It was the words that her husband spoke to her that changed her perspective forever. He said, “You are not going to die. Do you want to know what the good news is? We ain’t never got to see that (—–) no more.”
And so her journey of survival and healing and empowerment began anew.
“It was at that point I decided that, ‘You know what? Your time is limited…’ and I’m going to do the best I can, do everything I can do to help everybody I can help, and be thankful for the blessing of another day.”
Already on the job with the Philadelphia Health Department for 20 years at that point, Evans credits the support of her union, AFSCME District Council 47, with providing the means for her to continue her life’s work in shaping policies that bolster the health and well-being of citizens with mental health behavioral challenges, with a focus on children and families. Evans has been a member of DC 47 her entire tenure as a city worker, which began when she got her first city job with the 24-Hour Suicide Prevention Hotline program. A natural comedienne and a stark realist, she was soon promoted to Mental Health Delegate for her success in saving lives. The tradition of being in labor unions began with her father who worked for the water department. Evans credits her association with DC 47 for the security and ability to do what she does. Her impact on the City of Philadelphia’s Health Department is highly noteworthy. Additionally, the work that Evans has done within the national cancer research community is just as important and seminal.
“DC 47 provides me with security in my position, and even when I got ill, it allowed me to come back and do the things that I needed to do. … I was able to keep a job through the breast cancer treatment process. I came back with a force,” Evans said. This force has resulted in a life led with a clear intention, that’s had a broad influence and wide ranging impact on the world around her.
Her 31 years of work with the health department has come to an end. But retirement is definitely not the end – but a beginning of a new era of being a liaison, a voice, and an advocate for people.
She is a sought after facilitator, negotiator, liaison and advocate. Robin has been a critical developer of many programs and models. This includes the creation of a unique training program for the Philadelphia Family Court, designed to manage the disposition of cases for children and adolescents at mental health hearings, by providing them with a true voice and presence. Evans led the first multi-disciplinary team within the Philadelphia Department of Human Services that aided in the development and implementation of mental health programs to support at-risk children and adolescents; while serving as a member of the West Philadelphia Community Collaborative, helping to reduce the stigma in the community about behavior health issues.
In 1993, Evans developed a program for elementary school children with behavioral health challenges and became the first Director of the South Philadelphia Family Partnership. That work led to a program that was created to support grandparents who now find themselves as the primary caregivers for minor children. The ROC and Grand Central programs provide invaluable support and resources to this critical population filling the most important voids in our social fabric. This work was also part of a five-year, federally funded demonstration project.
Extending her voice outside the box led to Evans being intricately involved in the administering of several key programs, multi-agency initiatives including World Asthma Day, World No Tobacco Day, Earth Day, Healthy Caregivers, Healthy Summer Camp Program, Health Girl Scouts Program with the Department of Health & Human Services, Health School Program, and the Men’s Health Collaborative for Youth. Ms. Evans is also a founding member of the Philadelphia County Medical Society (PCMS) Block Captain Health Care Advisory Council, which was created to provide leadership, health information, and resources to block captains in the City of Philadelphia.