By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — At just 15, Katie Manuel seems to know exactly who she is, and exactly where her life is heading.
A sophomore at Shenendehowa High School, Manuel has got a firm grasp on what her passions are. She took it one step further by becoming an advocate for causes that were important to her early on in her life, including raising awareness of food allergies.
“It’s something I hold very close to my heart,” she said.
Manuel took the first step toward her platforms when she became involved with the Miss America organization.
She started her journey as a “princess” in the Miss America program, and watched as the older teenage members entered into the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition and selected a cause to rally for.
Manuel delved into the food allergy awareness fight because of somebody close to her: her older sister.
Whenever her family went to restaurants, Manuel explained, they were consumed with nervousness due to the off chance that Katie’s sister might have been exposed to something that she was allergic to.
“When she took a first bite, we were all holding our breath,” Manuel said.
Soon after, she decided to make raising awareness for food allergy awareness her official platform, and got started on her program, called “Prevent the Pen,” a website which focuses not only on bringing attention to the issue, but provides food allergy information for those who need it. That includes navigating through school with food allergies.
She has also met with leaders of national food chains, including Panera Bread, to discuss what steps can be taken to make sure customers with food allergies are always safe. She was even in a public service announcement for the Food Allergy and Research Corp.
Manuel said that people her age don’t necessarily understand the consequences of food allergies. Food allergies don’t simply cause sneezing or itchy skin, she explained. Often, they lead to life-threatening situations.
Through the three years that she has been working on food allergies, she has seen knowledge slowly increase. Recently, as Manuel read to young children at a public library, she was able to connect with a young boy who has a peanut allergy.
“I just want to keep reaching out to more areas,” she said. “We have to take steps for more people to be aware. I just want to keep going.”
Manuel also spends a significant amount of time fundraising for, and volunteering at, the Bernard and Millie Duker Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center.
This summer, Manuel will be meeting with hospital representatives to work on implementing a code on hospital wristbands that indicates when a patient has a food allergy, keeping the kitchens constantly on alert.
She is currently raising money for the hospital through Children’s Miracle Network, and has accumulated over $500 for the organization in the past.
Manuel doesn’t have much down-time. She volunteers where she can, whenever she can, whether it’s building porches for homes or working at her church.
A Broadway fan, she loves the show “Wicked” and wants to see “Hamilton.” A stage veteran herself, Manuel was recently in her school’s version of “Footloose,” and her longtime dream is to someday be on Broadway too.
Even though she is always busy there are times during which she becomes stressed, though not often, she says. Focusing on the causes she is working toward allows her to manage stress, particularly young people with food allergies.
“These kids don’t have stress for a day. This is their entire lives,” she said. “My little stress is fine.”
She added that, because she loves all of her activities, she doesn’t ever really feel like she’s working.
“No matter what, you’re going to get through it,” she said. “When you love it, it’s not bad stress.”
People can visit this link to support Katie’s fundraising efforts.