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St. Louis Character: Katie Manga unites policy, personal experience at Gateway to Hope

The nonprofit provides financial assistance, treatment management and support to breast cancer patients
Credit: SLBJ
St. Louis Character Katie Manga of Gateway of Hope.

ST. LOUIS — The COVID-19 pandemic delivered, as Katie Manga describes it, a “double whammy” to Gateway to Hope.

The nonprofit provides financial assistance, treatment management and support to breast cancer patients. A lack of fundraising events has thwarted donations and, more alarmingly, Manga said, the number of mammograms nationally has declined 95%. Gateway to Hope, which reported $1.1 million in revenue and $148,557 in expenses for fiscal 2018, is expecting a rise in need over the next six to 24 months due to COVID-19’s economic and health challenges.

“It’s like these dual crises where we’ve had to figure out how to better serve our community and pivot our services,” said Manga. “It’s been ... it’s been quite a year.”

Manga has spent nearly her entire career in the service of others, an ethos forged while growing up in a family of pastors and educators in Orlando. She started her career in politics, working for the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Senate, before transitioning to corporate America. She led Boeing's government and community affairs work in Florida and was transferred to St. Louis, where she was chief of staff to the senior vice president for government affairs. In her last job at Boeing, she was director of global corporate citizenship, in which she oversaw national philanthropic efforts.

That role prepped her for life in the nonprofit sector. Before joining Gateway to Hope in 2018, Manga was at Wyman Center, a St. Louis-based organization dedicated to helping underserved and at-risk youth.

Why make the leap to nonprofits? Like anything, it’s never one particular thing. I was pregnant at the time with my first and I was reflecting on how much I want to have our roots here in St. Louis. My husband isn’t from St. Louis either. But our family was growing and we loved it here. Around the same time, Michael Brown was killed. I reflected on the values that were always discussed at our dinner table. Social justice is something that I have always been and will always be passionate about. I took a step back and asked, what work will fill me up the most and how can I be as present as I want to be for my kids? So the transition to the nonprofit world was a good fit for me. We’ve made St. Louis our home, and I wanted my work to be reflective of that.

What’s the biggest difference between working for corporate America and nonprofits? Resources to get things done quickly and efficiently. I think this is the case whether you work for a small or large nonprofit. We operate on such a tight margin that we just don’t always have the breathing room to do the planning that we need to do. We’re always in a “let’s be scrappy and figure out how to do this” mode. The biggest difference, on the flip side of that, is we can make decisions and move quickly. There’s not a lot of bureaucratic red tape. 

What was your experience with breast cancer before heading up Gateway to Hope? My grandmother is a breast cancer survivor. She’s 96 years old. She had cancer 30 years ago. She’s somebody whom I deeply admire, and if my life turns out to be anything like hers I will consider it to be a huge success. I have this mix of experience of a very personal connection to the disease, understanding how it impacts an individual, and also a deep understanding of how public policy and health access impact entire populations. This job is tying those things together. 

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