Despite her presence on high-wattage runways and at photo shoots in exotic locales, Selita Ebanks rarely thinks of herself as a supermodel. “When I’m working on a Victoria’s Secret set, I’m always in awe, standing in the middle of this amazing group of women and thinking, Oh, my goodness, because it’s pretty humbling to be surrounded by Marisa Miller and Karolina Kurkova and Heidi Klum,” she says. “I never get used to it, and I take nothing for granted. I’m far from a rookie, but I’m lucky to have a family that keeps me grounded.”

Indeed, the native New Yorker is the only girl in a family of seven brothers, with a love of football and a tomboy youth that would seem a far cry from the pages of a lingerie catalog. But Ebanks is a member of that exclusive pantheon of models who have scored the industry’s ultimate contract: as a Victoria’s Secret Angel. “Probably until the day I have a child, it will be the most special moment of my life,” the 27-year-old Ebanks says of the phone call that launched her career into the stratosphere. “I had no idea of the magnitude of what I was entering. Growing up and getting started in the business, I’d been called everything from Sabrina to Selena to Lita, but after Victoria’s Secret came along, everyone knew my name. It was pretty mind-blowing.”

This month, Ebanks finds herself on another high-profile stage—Donald Trump’s wood-paneled boardroom, that is, as a contestant on this season’s installment of Celebrity Apprentice, debuting March 14 at 9 PM on NBC. “Getting that call was actually a little similar to getting the Victoria’s Secret call, because I asked my agent if it was a joke,” she says. “My first reaction was, ‘You know you’re talking to Selita, right?’ And then I said, ‘Are you insane?’ And my third reaction: ‘Hmm, this could be interesting.’”

After reviewing DVDs from previous seasons and weighing the pros and cons of making the leap to a reality television show, Ebanks knew there was a reason that outshined all. “For me it was the ability to bring an awareness to my charity, Shine On Sierra Leone,” she explains. In 2008, Ebanks was invited by Elle to tour Sierra Leone, a trip that changed her life, she says. “I had no idea what I was getting into, didn’t know what I was going to see, and it turned out to be the most amazing, liberating experience of my life.” Soon after Ebanks founded the Women’s Coalition for Empowerment and Opportunity, while on that trip she found herself drawn to a pair of filmmakers, Tiffany Persons and Rebecca Chaiklin, who created Shine On Sierra Leone as a way to both spotlight and assist children in the West African nation with everything from proper drinking water to new school buildings. “So far I’ve built a portion of a school, given them books and school supplies, and now we’re building a sports facility,” Ebanks reports. “For me, there was no turning back. If I can expose Celebrity Apprentice viewers to this cause, then anything that happens on the show was completely worth it.”

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