We’re so thrilled to have entrepreneur, social advocate, community connector, youth-mentor, and spirited mother of two, Sarah Chan, as our featured Bella for the month of September. A portion of all online & in-store sales this month will be donated to her chosen charity, Women United (a division of United Way)
Sarah is as passionate about Edmonton and the people who live here, as she is about music, giving back, being a role model for youth and a champion of women, children, and family.
When she isn’t teaching piano to a full slate of students, she’s mentoring youth as a Big Sister, she’s raising money for various charitable organizations that support people through poverty and homelessness, shes raising two children, and supporting her husband, Don Iveson, in his duties as the Mayor of Edmonton.
We were thrilled to sit down with Sarah to help you learn a bit more about what drives her to do so much for many.
So much has been written about you in Edmonton. What do YOU want people in Edmonton to know about you?
One of the things that seems to surprise people is learning that I have always, and continue to run my business teaching piano. It’s a legitimate source of income that has significant implications for our family! Plus, I love being my own boss.
People also don’t realize that my social advocacy and various work in the community takes up substantial amounts of time. This is all in addition to whatever appearances and events and representation I may be doing as an extension of Mayor Iveson’s work.
Oftentimes I think there is a perception that my life must be glamorous. It’s true that I experience a whole spectrum of events and opportunities but, it takes lots of organization, competence, and passion to make sure it all works in a coordinated way. As a business owner, mom, and sort-of public person - Rarely anything happens by accident. I am a woman with a plan! I also have a Master’s degree in Cultural Studies.
You work with numerous charitable organizations, you teach piano, you attend numerous events in the evenings, and you parent and run a household. What do you do for you to maintain your energy and drive?
I am very lucky that I sleep well. If my sleep is off, it really messes with my system and I operate at a reduced capacity. Even though I am always on the move, it’s important for me to do things like eat my peanut butter sandwiches and get outdoors. Essentially, if I don’t fuel the machine with food, rest, and fresh air (and Pilates once a week), the machine starts to break down. Once that happens, everything else and everybody else suffers.
The drive is easy - We all have a responsibility to serve our community, to work towards something bigger than just us and our own families. If our community isn’t thriving, neither are we. It’s easy to show up 100% for things and people that are important to me.
Every minute of your day could easily be taken up with outside obligations but you do make space for just you and your family - how do you do it and why is it so important to you?
Everything starts with family! As a child of immigrant parents, we were taught about all the traditional and respectful reasons we place our families as our highest priority. There are a lot of preoccupations with duty and service but, the overall message is, “We’re in this together and if you can’t take care of that which is closest to you, where is your foundation for other success? What replenishes you and brings you joy?”
These days life is complicated and through my community work, I see lots of people with fragmented families or challenged families. In fact, I know ALL families have their challenges. Mine is no exception. There are also lots of non-traditional families out there (including what I refer to as urban families or what I see people referring to as their tribe). Family might look different from person to person but, the part where you love each other and are there for each other, and keep trying, no matter how messed up we might be - that’s the good stuff!
You work a lot mentoring youth. But what have you learned from them and what do you think youth can teach us adults?
It’s funny because adults are all still sort of children… with different outfits and more experiences. I love how young people are generally open with their feelings, and much more honest about what they're experiencing. Sometimes, through growing up, people train themselves to suppress their feelings and develop habits to cope. I love that being around young people all the time reminds me to just keep it real - say what you mean and mean what you say. Plus, keep an open mind and look at the world through fresh, hopeful eyes.
Through your charitable work, you work side by side with numerous women. What role do you see women currently playing in changing Edmonton for the better?
I affectionately refer to many of my friends, made through work, as my work-wives. The collaboration and support we give to one another is evidence of a partnership that yields amazing results for our city’s socially vulnerable (most of my community work is centred around poverty elimination).
Generally speaking, I love how women from all walks of life, are creating community in Edmonton. Be that mom stuff; business stuff; creative stuff; social service and charitable stuff; or having fun stuff. We really know how to bring people together! Including men, of course.
You've chosen a few certain charitable areas to focus your attention. How did you choose and why?
Basically, if it’s centred around education, empowering women & girls, and youth in leadership - I am all over it. It’s all an extension of who I have become through teaching.
What is it you've always loved about fashion? What's your style?
An interest in fashion is something I think I inherited from my mom! She’s a very stylish lady and isn’t afraid to try things that are off the beaten path. She knows what SHE likes, and goes for it. For me, fashion is fun and creative. It’s a way for your outsides to reflect your insides. I would describe my style as unexpected and bold.
You've got a spunky, funky personality. You listen to a wide range of music from ACDC to hip hop, you've got an eclectic fashion sense, you bike around Edmonton in everything from Doc Martins to high heeled pumps....
You're maybe not what everyone would picture as a "First Lady" of Edmonton. Do you use that "surprise" to teach a lesson on what leadership looks like? And who can be a leader?
One of the things I love most about meeting people is surprising them! As a small, female, Chinese-Canadian, it’s true that I am not what most people assume a “First Lady” to look like. And, when I open my big mouth to say what I think all the time, that is doubly surprising. The neat opportunity here, especially when I’m working with youth, is demonstrating that leaders come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Each of us have something unique to bring to the table. It’s all about identifying that inner super power and learning how to use it effectively.
One of the areas you've focused your attention on is Women United. Tell us what Women United is and why you're involved?
Women United is a group that fundraises to specifically dedicate wrap-around supports for Edmonton’s most socially vulnerable female students. We’re a group that is embedded in the larger United Way, and are able to tap into the programs and services that have been established through United Way’s many partnerships with the city, school board, and charities that provide essential coordinated services in our schools with vulnerable populations. The idea is that you can support a girl for a year, for $3.35 a day. Our aim is to support that girl from grade 8 through to high school completion. Without completing high school, these girls are limited in terms of their future autonomy, success, and choices.
I strongly believe that early intervention is key to poverty elimination. An extra focus on supporting our young women through to high school completion means activating amazing talent within our community!
How do people get involved in Women United and help?
Contact us at Women United and, come on a school tour or a day of caring to see how the partnered service providers work within the school to create this amazing web of support for our students! https://www.myunitedway.ca/womenunited/
Additionally, you can also come to Evening with Sarah on September 10 at EPCOR tower, where we will be enjoying a lovely time with me performing on the Oscar Peterson Bosendorfer, and talking more about Women United. https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/an-evening-with-sarah-chan-tickets-47317310349
I’m so excited to partner with Bella Maas Boutique in the month of September, as they are generously donating a portion of all sales to Women United. And, Lipstick Empire MediSpa is donating 10% of their makeup sales for the year and 25% of any facial service for the month of September as well!
Ultimately, these programs require funding to continue to operate. A commitment of $3.42 a day will support a girl and her family for a year. That’s less expensive than a Starbucks. And, with an incredible return on this social investment. I hope you become a member!