Melonie Dziwenka is a wild woman.
You wouldn’t expect it at first glance of the diminutive lady behind the desk at Morinville’s Community Cultural Centre, but Dziwenka is something of an adrenaline junkie, prone to getting covered head to toe in mud while extreme ATVing or zooming down every zipline she can find – preferably upside down.
And yes, that’s gotten her kicked off a few ziplines in her time.
“Apparently there’s a safety issue?” she says, laughing.
Dziwenka is Morinville’s community programs co-ordinator and the person responsible for planning most of the town’s recreational programs and community events (such as the recent winter walk challenge).
Her efforts to promote community fitness have earned the town two provincial ChooseWell Awards.
She’s an upbeat, bubbly person who lifts the mood of whatever room she’s in, says friend and co-worker Tyler Edworthy.
“She has a very strong adventurous side,” he continues, as well as an edge to her.
“If she’s ever backed into a corner, she’ll definitely fight for what she thinks is right.”
Former town councillor Joe Gosselin, who worked closely with Dziwenka to bring outdoor exercise equipment to the town’s trails, describes her as someone who is perpetually cheerful and totally dedicated to her job.
“She always has this bounce in her step,” he says. “She walks like she’s on a mission to get somewhere.”
Dziwenka is probably the best friend a person could have, says longtime friend Amy Dribnenky. (She’s also a bit of a shopaholic when it comes to shoes, she adds.)
“You always know you’re important to her because she just makes you feel that way,” she says. “The community of Morinville is so lucky to have her.”
Child at heart
Dribnenky describes Dziwenka as a child at heart.
Take, for example, the time she and Dziwenka were decorating cupcakes with a youth group.
When Dribnenky came back after leaving the room for a bit, she found that there were sprinkles and sparkles everywhere – Dziwenka and the girls had decided to have a giant food fight.
“All she said when she saw my face was, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll clean it up.'”
Dziwenka’s free-spirited attitude likely originates with her roots on the family farm in Thorhild County.
“It was one of the best times of my life,” Dziwenka says.
The oldest of three girls, she would spend her days hunting for frogs or grouse and feeding cows by hand while her sisters did the all the domestic indoors stuff.
“I love the outdoors in general,” she notes, whether it’s fishing, camping, hunting or riding all-terrain vehicles.
She credits this love of nature to her parents, who grew much of their own food and avoided using synthetic chemicals on their land.
“It instilled into me that it needs to be there for tomorrow, and it needs to be respected, which is how you treat people as well,” she says.
When she was in high school, Dziwenka originally planned to become a farmer. It was a career councillor who suggested she get into child development, having seen her skills and enthusiasm as student council president.
After getting her diploma in early childhood development from Grant MacEwan Community College, Dziwenka spent much of the late 1980s and early 1990s working with at-risk youth in the St. Albert and Edmonton areas.
After moving to Morinville in 1992 to raise her family, Dziwenka took a job as a youth worker with Sturgeon County. There she developed several drug and alcohol awareness programs with the local youth council, including the groundbreaking Chicks in Charge conference on body image, bullying and sexual assault.
Dziwenka joined the Town of Morinville around 2006.
The town didn’t offer any community programs back then, Edworthy says.
“She pretty much built the programming component we have now from the ground up.”
Morinville now offers about 100 different community courses, which has been a massive boost to the town’s community involvement, he says.
“A healthy community starts with the individuals,” Dziwenka says.
Part of that is physical fitness, which is why the town offers many exercise programs, but it also includes mental and emotional health, she says.
Lately she’s aimed to address nature deficit disorder with more free-play activities for kids and to strengthen the family unit with family-based cooking and exercise classes. Expect an Amazing Race-style challenge for families later this year, she hints.
All of this is part of building a healthier community, she says.
“When you’re active together as a family, you’re healthier and you participate more.”
Dziwenka says she loves working with youth and has no intention of ever stopping – or slowing down, for that matter.
“I hope I will be 80 and still going down the Jasper ski hill and trying to pass the young kids.”