Our people

At the heart of our organization is a dynamic and dedicated team of volunteer directors, each bringing a unique and valuable set of skills to the table. With backgrounds in non-profit leadership, education, law, business, IT, fundraising, marketing, and beyond, our directors are united by a common goal: to make a positive impact on the world around us.

 

But we don’t stop there. Our management team is fueled by passion and driven by a shared desire to create a better tomorrow. And when it comes to our expert instructors, they are truly the backbone of our organization. With a staggering century of combined teaching experience, our instructors are masters at creating engaging, transformative learning experiences that stay with students for a lifetime.

 

Chess Institute of Canada is an organization that is not only committed to excellence, but is also driven by a genuine passion for helping others. We can’t wait to show you what we’re capable of achieving together!

Meet Our Board

Our Board of Directors is composed of highly skilled and capable volunteers who bring a wealth of experience from various fields to CIC.

Neil St. John

Chair, Board of Directors

Marlena McCarthy

Vice Chair

Laura Zhang

Treasurer

Sean Hume

Board Member

Carmen Mager

Board Member

Mark Bluvshtein

Board Member

Shabnam Abbarin

Board Member

Michael Sutton

Board Member

Be Part of the
Magic

Join us in spreading the wonder and joy of chess throughout Canada! We believe that every individual deserves the chance to develop critical life skills through engaging and inclusive community chess lessons. By contributing to our cause, you have the power to make a meaningful difference in the lives of families in your community. So why wait? Donate today and be a part of our mission to enrich the lives of Canadians through the magic of chess!

Neil St. John

Chair, Board of Directors

Neil St. John is a highly experienced General Counsel & Corporate Secretary with professional firm, national regulator and not-for-profit experience. For over 20 years he was the General Counsel of Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP and more recently was the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Ethics & Corporate Policy. He can be contacted at neil@chessinstitute.ca

Marlena McCarthy

Board Member

Marlena McCarthy thinks of herself first as a writer, and second as a professional fundraiser. After graduating with a Journalism degree and certificate in public relations, she decided to use her skills for good, and has worked with charities for 35 years in marketing, communications, and fundraising. From 1982 -1997, she worked in communications and fundraising for various charities, including Canadian Red Cross and TVOntario. From 1997-1999, she worked as a senior consultant with Canada’s premiere fundraising agency, Stephen Thomas, handling their direct mail campaigns of their largest clients.

Through Marlena’s own business, Done Write Communications, she works as an independent fundraising consultant, strategist and writer for non-profits specializing in direct mail, cases for support, foundation appeals, mid-level donor programs, legacy giving promotion and donor communications. Since 1999, she has worked with more than 135 different charities and foundations, including the Chess Institute of Canada.

As Founding Partner and Vice President of Bequest Insurance, Marlena co-authored (with husband Jack Bergmans, CFP) the only how-to books on integrating insurance into philanthropy – Multiplying Generosity and Ripple Effect.

Her hidden superpower is singing. She sings in the Toronto a cappella choir SoundCrowd.

Laura Zhang

Board Member

A Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), Laura is a vey poised individual with an entrepreneurial spirit.  As a child in chess in Montreal, she developed an appreciation for the game at a young age – and is considering a re-start.  She notes that she was often the only female player and has expressed an interest in exploring this issue further.  

 

Laura brings with her a passion for active citizenship and community engagement, as demonstrated by her commitment to volunteerism.  As a volunteer, she has lead young adults (via CPA Ontario) and women (via Native Women’s Resource Centre Toronto), through steps to financial literacy. 

Sean Hume

Board Member

With over twenty-five years as an educator in the public school system and as many years working with youth in a variety of non-profit sectors, Sean believes fervently in providing youth with experiences and opportunities to develop themselves and their potential.  He demonstrates these values in his role as Manager, GTA Program & Outreach for Outward Bound Canada.

A firm proponent of play based learning and gamification, Sean has seen first hand how games, like chess, can lead to personal growth and life success in all ages. 

Carmen Mager

Board Member

Carmen is a leader with extensive expertise in workplace health, safety, quality and environment. She also is a human resources professional having held progressive managerial and executive responsibilities for global and Canadian organizations. Carmen has worked in multiple stakeholder environments using her facilitation, management, investigation and policy development skills. She has demonstrated proven project execution and strategic management expertise.

Carmen holds a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) designation and presently serves as the Chair of the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP) Exam Committee selected by her peers. Previously, she chaired the BCRSP Item Writing Committee for 6 years and was selected as the BCRSP Volunteer of the Year.

Mark Bluvshtein

Board Member

Mark is a professional chess player turned business leader. Mark is Canada’s youngest ever International Grandmaster, achieving the feat at age 16. Mark represented Canada at five Chess Olympiads and was named Canadian Chess Player of the Year four times.

Since leaving competitive chess, Mark worked in Investment Banking at TD and has held leadership roles at Wave Financial. Today, Mark is VP, Operations at Humi . Mark holds a Bachelor of Science from York University and an MBA from the University of Toronto Rotman School.

Mark strongly believes in Chess Institute’s vision to bring life skills, decision making, and structured thinking to all Canadians.

Shabnam Abbarin

Board Member

Shabnam is an animation/vfx industry professional, a chess player and instructor, and a cognitive science, computer science and math student. She has worked as an Animator on a variety of Canadian and American youth media content such as Dino Dan, Annedroids and Rusty Rivets, and has directed the technical production of animated movies such as ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’, ‘Over the Moon’, and ‘the Sea Beast’. She currently works as a pipeline supervisor, overseeing film and animation projects’ technical production pipeline. Her day to day involves managing a team of technical directors, tools and software project and product management, and programming in multiple computer graphics software.

Shabnam learned to play chess from her father before she started school and has been a tournament player and advocate of the game ever since. She is deeply passionate about children’s education and analogy-based learning and aspires to investigate the connection between chess, critical thinking, ethics and cognition in her future studies.

Michael Sutton

Board Member

Michael enjoyed a 39-year career as a Senior Technical Support Specialist for the City of Toronto where he led major projects, including converting City records to secure digital storage and implementing technical upgrades and digital solutions. He won four awards for his work. Michael also took on intriguing projects including PDF publishing solutions for a science fiction series, and an Elo-based online rating system for video games.

After retiring from the City, Michael now works as Chief Technology Officer for Spirit Victory and has also served as President of Xplor Canada, an industry association for Electronic Document Systems. Michael teaches graphic communication and accessibility courses at Ryerson University.

Carrie Fisher

Executive Director

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