If there’s anyone from Scarborough who seems like everyone’s neighbour, it’s probably Mary Anne Chambers. Chatty, smart, and the person people turn to when you want to get things done, she’s been a Scarborough MPP, an Ontario cabinet minister, a philanthropist, a high-level volunteer, and an executive the Toronto Star once called a “Banker With Heart.” “Until then, I didn’t realize bankers didn’t have hearts,” jokes Chambers.
She arrived in Scarborough from her native Jamaica at 26, quickly went to work as an IT specialist with Scotiabank, became one of its youngest vice-presidents at 38 – not to mention one of the few management females or people of colour in those late-80s days – and eventually turned to politics, serving as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities and then as Minister of Children and Youth Services. She’s done a lot more besides, and it’s natural to ask her – what are the achievements she really values?
She settles on two. To begin with, she notes;
“Education has always been really important in my view as the bridge to opportunity, regardless of who you are or where you are.”
So she is very proud of the IMANI Academic Mentorship Program, which supports black youth in eastern Scarborough with student mentors from her alma mater, the University of Toronto Scarborough. Chambers was the founding donor for the U of T Scarborough program in 2007, kept it going for years, and more recently persuaded her old friends at Scotiabank to take on the sponsorship. Given that she is no tycoon, Chambers’ educational philanthropy is impressive – well over 35 endowed scholarships and counting.
Chambers also has a soft spot for the Youth in Policing Initiative she started in Toronto and Durham Region in 2006 as youth minister, which has spread to more than 20 police services around Ontario. The program provides summer jobs for teens in priority neighbourhoods and lets them get to know police at a human level – and vice versa.
These days Chambers continues to be active in a range of activities across Toronto and internationally, but she stresses, “Scarborough is still very near and dear to my heart.”