Meet cups key investor | Nancy Mannix

Chair and Patron, Palix Foundation

Introducing Nancy Mannix 


Nancy Mannix is the Chair and Patron of the Palix Foundation. Her influence in the charitable sector is focused on creating alignment between science, policy and practice in brain development, and its implications for child development, mental health, and addiction. Her work at the Palix Foundation, and in partnership with the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI) and CUPS, is ultimately about generating changes for individuals and their families at an organizational and systems level. 

Early Days


In 1992, Joyce, Nancy’s mother, invited Nancy to join her at a community kitchen where she volunteered in downtown Calgary. Located in an old converted strip club, Joyce was teaching cooking skills to young mothers. 


Intrigued by the children who tagged along to the classes, Nancy became curious about the complexity of issues that badgered the fragile families who came through the doors of CUPS. She recalls a young child arriving in a stroller, listless and unable to walk. Overburdened by poverty and mental health challenges, the mother did not have the capacity to encourage the child’s motor skills. Nancy was looking at the effects of intergenerational trauma first-hand.


In the early ‘80s, when CUPS first took root, it was “a well-intentioned church group that was offering supports”, says Nancy. “The early focus was on basic supports, but the people kept coming, and the families seemed caught in a never-ending cycle of poverty, trauma, addictions and struggling mental health.” 


What Nancy did not know while she observed the child in the stroller was that she was about to witness and experience 25-years of CUPS growing into a world-class example of a front line service delivery model for marginalized clients. Nancy and the Palix Foundation have been an integral part of the incredible journey to get CUPS to where it is today. 

Making A Change


In 2004, the Palix Foundation, with Nancy at its helm, set its sights on an ambitious goal: to improve outcomes in health and wellbeing for children and families across Alberta. 


From 2010 to 2014, the Palix Foundation funded and hosted eight AFWI Symposia. In that five-year process, 400 representatives gathered in Alberta from across sectors and disciplines; policymakers, caregivers, educators, psychologists, medical and judicial practitioners, and neuroscientists for a series of expert lectures, workshops, and activities. The likes of Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman from the University of Chicago and pediatrician Jack Shonkoff, Professor of Child Health and Development at Harvard, came to Red Deer to help create the foundation of the AFWI.


Nancy was blown away by the generosity, commitment, and calibre of individuals who chose to break out of their intellectual silos and collaborate across disciplines to benefit intergenerationally traumatized and marginalized individuals and families.


“The events broadened the participants’ scientific knowledge while strengthening their networks and facilitating cross-sector collaboration. The ripple effects of ideas and relationships that began at the Symposia were groundbreaking,” says Nancy


As part of the implementation strategy, the Palix Foundation partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create the Change in Mind Initiative.  CUPS was one of five Alberta and ten US organizations that participated in Change in Mind. “CUPS was fertile ground for the new thinking that emerged. It recognized the value of grasping the intellect of science and applying it practically. CUPS had the ideal combination of space, dedicated frontline staff, and highly motivated leadership,” says Nancy. “It was in a perfect position to act, and it did!”

"A visionary with a commitment to change for the better through a deeper understanding of how brains grow and develop over time, Nancy Mannix helped CUPS see how practice, research and policy intertwines to build a foundation for resilience and make a powerful impact in the community. Without her leadership, support and long-term commitment, we would not be where we are today at CUPS."

- Carlene Donnelly

Leadership, A Driving Factor in Change


CUPS reputation grew within the community, and the families kept coming. Executive Director Carlene Donnelly, who insisted that CUPS provide a more sophisticated and complex set of services than previously, started asking tough questions.


 “The old charitable model of service was outdated. Carlene insisted that CUPS needed to have a better understanding of how to do better. Science was what they needed to get that understanding,” recalls Nancy.

A Network of Core Competencies


“Carlene has the skills to create relationships with partners. We came together and integrated our abilities.  Now, a network of aligned organizations support the families. We work together,” says Nancy.


Organizations like the Palix Foundation and CUPS have consistently worked together since 2004 to influence policymakers. Today, Child Services Alberta aligns with The Brain Story. Organizations have to be brain story certified to qualify for funding. Together, leaders like Carlene and Nancy proved the legitimacy and credibility of brain science at the ground level. “The funding needs to work differently today so that we get impactful outcomes,” says Nancy.


The learning process includes understanding what data to collect and how to share it in a meaningful way. CUPS created a learning platform that allows it to adapt as it learns. Working in a dynamic, innovative environment takes courage, confidence, and committed leadership. “Change is part of the growing process,” says Nancy.  She notes that it is imperative to constantly refine what data to collect and understand that measuring outcomes is part of a dynamic process. “Isn’t it incredible,” she exclaims, “that CUPS has the ability as a frontline organization to do something this sophisticated? CUPS created the programs, influenced policy and systems for the better by creating and using programs informed by data and science.”


“20 years ago, CUPS  was a charity providing some basic supports. CUPS has become a world leader through science, with an expansive but disciplined vision, and a tremendous amount of will and desire in frontline services. CUPS has shown us that we need to spend our money differently and work together. This is how we take people from surviving to thriving.” 


What is gratifying for Nancy is the interchange of the brilliant minds that came together and translated a very complex brain story into plain language. It has been a worthwhile investment.