Rowena Manansala

Top 40 Under 40 2011

Photography 3Ten/Aaron Pedersen

Age: 32

Job Title: Program Manager, Chimo Youth Retreat Centre

Why She’s Top 40: In addition to helping countless at-risk youth engage in responsible lifestyles, she also promotes Edmonton’s cultural identity through fashion initiatives.

Key To Success: “Be humble, be kind, and make sure there’s self-reflection every day, at least once a day.”

Rowena Manansala’s introduction to Children and Youth Services began at age 15, when her mother began to accept foster children. For the next seven years, Manansala saw more than a dozen foster kids come through her home. When the family stopped taking in children in 2003, the adjustment to “normal” life seemed out of place.

“It took us a good three years to get used to not having anyone else in the house. The phone’s not ringing in the middle of the night, no one’s trying to burn the house down, money’s not missing,” says Manansala, who got her first job in Youth Services at 18.

“When I first got into this field, my mom, oddly enough, was against it because she knows how emotionally draining it can be. Spiritually, as well. You see a lot of horrific stuff. I’ve gone to 14 funerals in my career – all kids.”

With her comparative 14 years in the field, that’s a harsh reminder of the daily hardships care workers face. However, she says, the kids are never as scary in person as they seem on paper.

But, Manasala has another soft spot, this one for shoes.

When her fashion blog, A Pleasury of…A-Lines and B-Lines, caught the attention of Western Canada Fashion Week, Manasala took on a contract as its account executive.

Integrating her work with kids into the new role was easy, and irresistible, she says. Last spring she started a sponsorship drive for businesses to buy charitable fashion-week seats for youth.

For all the tough stuff that gets thrown her way, Manansala fiercely advocates for every single kid that comes through the Chimo Youth Retreat Centre, where she’s worked as a program manager since 2007, helping to reintegrate troubled youth into the community. Typically, she has to fight for additional funding from government agencies or extended time in the program for about 80 per cent of her clients.

“I’m pretty tenacious – I don’t want to say aggressive – but I’ll exhaust whatever means and resources if I feel that’s what a situation needs. With this, there’s no shut-off. These are people’s lives.”

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