Sarah Chan

Top 40 Under 40 2015

Photography Curtis Trent

Age: 34

Job Title: Piano Teacher, Co-chair of United Way’s Campaign Cabinet and First Lady of Edmonton

Why She’s Top 40: She uses her influence, passion and energy to support various charitable causes throughout Edmonton, ensuring that the future of the city is brighter for those less fortunate. 

If you could change one thing about Edmonton, what would it be? “I would like for the United Way to not have to exist. I would like literacy rates to go up; I would like to see child care addressed and public transportation completed. I would like to see hunger and homelessness eradicated, and I’m OK with that taking a really long time. I’m a pragmatist.”

When Sarah Chan introduces herself at an Edmonton school, she’ll open with why she’s there, and close with: “And I’m the mayor’s wife.” 

“Nooooo,” the children often reply.

“Yeeeess,” says Chan, playing along. 

“Nooooo, it’s not true,” they’ll reply. 

“Yes, it’s sooooo true.”

It’s a jolly back-and-forth that Chan – there as project lead on the United Way’s youth initiative to end homelessness – can transition into a discussion.

“I ask, ‘What do you expect the mayor’s wife to look like?'” The answers differ, but can range from “You’re so small” to “But, you’re not white.”

“One kid in Grade 6 said that he thought the mayor’s wife would always be wearing a tuxedo,” laughs Chan, “which is awesome.”

But the point is, leadership doesn’t always look like what you think it’s going to look like. It’s not just some really busy dynamic person bossing people around; collaboration and teamwork is a big deal.”

It’s solid advice coming from Edmonton’s First Lady, who, in her 20s, was part of a team that propelled her husband, Don Iveson, to public office. But the message she hopes to convey is that, to end poverty, the creativity, hopefulness and energy of the next generation will be needed.

The speaking tours are just one of the many ways Chan makes a difference. She serves as an honorary patron for Youth Empowerment & Support Services (YESS), a co-chair for The Works Gala, a director on the board of Apricity – a local group dedicated to “refreshing the spirit of philanthropy” – and an ambassador for the Edmonton Literacy Coalition. The notably high-energy city darling is also a longtime piano instructor and has been a Big Sister for two years. It’s her love for mentorship that puts her near-full-time volunteering into perspective.

Chan’s speaking tour is to culminate in a student- and teacher-led symposium in 2017. So, her goal for Edmonton’s students could come sooner rather than later. “When the United Way asked me to volunteer, I thought, ‘Who is speaking to people 18 and under?'” says Chan. “The answer was nobody, and I thought that was completely ridiculous. If we want to get this done, it won’t be possible without their assistance.”

Editor’s Note:

Although Mayor Don Iveson served as a judge for this year’s Top 40 Under 40 list, he excused himself from scoring Sarah Chan’s entry due to a rather obvious conflict of interest. Avenue averaged the scores of the remaining judges in order to come up with Chan’s score.

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