Labors of Love
Heather Manitowich gives new meaning to the term ‘work-life balance,’ putting her project management skills to work raising money for cancer research
HEATHER MANITOWICH IS AS AN INTEGRATION PROJECT manager at Suncor, focusing on the Fort Hills oil sands project, an open-pit mine now under construction north of Fort McMurray. The project is expected to yield 180,000 barrels of bitumen per day and it’s Manitowich’s job to make sure all the materials that supply Fort Hills arrive on time and in the right place.
Needless to say, with production expected to start as early as next year, she’s been busy. “The goal of our team is to ensure that all of our assets arrive on time to meet Fort Hills production,” Manitowich says. “So my job is always changing; trying to anticipate the needs of the project and the group.” But the varying nature of the job doesn’t slow her down. Rather, she embraces the challenges and obstacles with a cool head and solid organization. “I love how it’s always looking at different issues, trying to keep the big issues in mind. You need to really focus on the needs of the project and keep your head up and say, ‘What’s best for Fort Hills? What’s best for Suncor?’ I get exposed to all different areas of the business.”
But Manitowich’s leadership role doesn’t end when she leaves the office. For the past year, she has used her passion for project management to organize a massive fundraiser for cancer research in honor of her mother, Moira Hoogveld, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. The night before she passed away, Manitowich’s young son told her, “The sky painters paint the rainbows for the sick people like Grandma.” Inspired by those words, Manitowich and her sisters decided to raise money for cancer research through a project they called the Sky Painters. The sisters interviewed 56 people whose lives have been impacted by cancer and created paintings based on their experiences. On June 8, a gala was held to auction off the paintings with all money raised going to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada to fund cancer research, advocacy and education—over $100,000 was raised.
Though Manitowich left the artwork to her sisters who are professional artists, she became the key organizer behind the project. “With her experience as a project manager, she brought all the little pieces together that we, as artists, probably wouldn’t have thought of,” says Michelle Hoogveld, one of Manitowich’s sisters. “There’s been better communication with the different vendors and people sponsoring us, as well as the event planning. Everything [from] A-to-Z, she’s taken care of.” Manitowich was even able to secure a donation from Suncor through a volunteer grant.
Like her contributions to Fort Hills, Manitowich’s skills as a project manager are invaluable to making the Sky Painters such a success. “It’s a lot of coordinating and collaboration,” she says. “There are a lot of things about this project that are similar to things I do at work.” While the motivation behind the project was to honor her mother and share the stories of those impacted by cancer, Manitowich also points out that she’s been able learn new skills from the experience. “It’s allowed me to develop as a leader as I work with different people.”