Written by SHANE FLUG
Friday, 30 October 2009 15:10
An honour given to the president of a local charity can teach the lesson that anyone is capable of accomplishing big things.
CTV anchor Barb Higgins laughs during ceremonies for Avenue Magazine's Top 40 Under 40 Class of 2009.
Photo: Shane Flug/Calgary Journal
All For Humanity co-founder and president Rhonda DeJong, 39, was one of 40 Calgarians who were recognized for their professional and community endeavours at the invitation-only celebration of Avenue Magazine's Top 40 Under 40 Class of 2009. It its 11th year, the event took place Oct. 29 at the Gasoline Alley Museum in Heritage Park.
“I'm excited, I'm really happy for the recognition,” she said, “I am kind of modest. It's hard to be recognized, but I'm really glad for the exposure.”
DeJong’s Avenue magazine profile reports that she has a rare bone condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, making her bones easy to break. She stands a little more than half the size of the average person and walks using crutches. Her profile says she is a person who never thought of her condition as a challenge.
Rhonda DeJong, middle, poses with family, friends and co-workers who celebrated her achievement of her selection for Avenue Magazine's Top 40 Under 40 Class of 2009. From left to right: Darin DeJong, Patrick Moskws, Marjorie Hale, Rhonda DeJong, Marcia DeJong, Lori Gardner, Christine Rutledge.
Photo: Shane Flug/Calgary Journal
All For Humanity, according to DeJong, is a charity with a “hands-on, grassroots” approach that was founded last year. They help orphaned children throughout Africa and Columbia.
Stage announcer and CFCN news anchor Barb Higgins introduced DeJong to about 350 attendees as a woman “inspired to start a charity dedicated to improving the lives of orphans. Since she started the charity in 2008, it's raised over $40,000.”
When it was DeJong's turn to walk onto the stage, she was met with the loudest applause in the room, despite Higgins' request to the audience to refrain from cheering until all finalists were on the stage.
DeJong always wanted to work with children, but nothing really resonated with her, she said, until she looked for something completely different that she had never done before.
In February 2007, she went to Africa in search of a completely new experience: “Almost the second I got off the plane, I knew that this was kind (of) where I was meant to be.... and that was where the idea of wanting to help children and feeling that I have a place there (in Africa) was born.”
She and four other like-minded Calgarians then got together to form All For Humanity. All of them were looking for something for themselves “to feel good about,” she said.
In addition to helping orphaned children in developing nations, DeJong is also the owner of the Murmur boutique in Marda Loop, which she opened six months ago. According to the store’s website, luxury products offered include art, stationary and housewares.
Käthe Lemon, editor for Avenue Magazine, has been with the magazine for three and a half years. She, and other Avenue staff, assist a panel of six judges in the month-long decision-making process. The judges include former Top 40s and businesspeople.
What makes the 11th year of the Top 40 Under 40 different from the rest is that it is the first to be published in Avenue, rather than the now-defunct business magazine Calgary Inc. Both publications are owned by RedPoint Media Group Inc.
This has meant a shift in who was considered for being profiled for the magazine.
“What shifted in a way is that we're looking more at a wider breadth of people,” Lemon said. “It's never just been business, but it was more oriented towards business, because it's been previously in a business magazine. This year it's (about) leaders in the city. Movers and shakers. I think it speaks to what a mature city (Calgary) is.”
Other finalists include Dan Balaban, 35, president and CEO of Greengate Power Corp., Lara Cooke, 36, Neurologist and assistant dean in the Faculty of Development at the University of Calgary; Stephanie Garrett, 29, executive director at University of Calgary’s new Women’s Resource Centre; Karl Schwonik, 24, a legally blind musician and Chris Turner, 36, writer who majored in journalism at Ryerson University in the late '90s.
Brad Walker, Avenue Magazine spokesperson, also received the title in 2004 for his work in public relations for local arts and entertainment.
“It's not so much about one job you necessarily have. It's all encompassing in terms of what you do professionally," He said. "It's also what you do on a personal level: volunteering your time (and) getting involved with your community.”
You can read the profiles of this year's Top 40 Under 40 finalists, including Rhonda DeJong's, in the November issue of Avenue Magazine on newsstands Oct. 30.