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YMCA donor & Board member strives to open opportunities for all

03 May 2022 - by Nicole Meredith
The YMCA of Greater Toronto is a charity, and it’s thanks to our incredible donors and volunteers that we can connect people with essential services, chances to better their lives, and a sense of community and belonging. Why I Give is a series designed to shine a spotlight on these remarkable change makers, sharing what inspires them to give back and what supporting our charity means to them.

Today, we’re shining a light on Irene Markus, YMCA donor and member of our Board of Directors.

Inspiration to give

Irene says her motivation to give to and volunteer with the Y is personal.

“I’m first generation Canadian: I was born here, but my parents immigrated to Canada,” she says. “In many ways it was a typical story: they didn’t have any family here, didn’t speak the language, and didn’t have much money. But back then, they were able to create a great life for my sister and me: They could buy a house, and have us live in a safe neighbourhood, and give us access to all the opportunities that I think made us productive members of society today.

“When I look at the GTA today, it’s grown so much more. I just think to myself: ‘If my parents immigrated today, would I have had access to the same opportunities that they were able to provide for me all those years ago?’ I’m not sure. And for me, that’s the real impetus — the foundational reason why I support the Y.”

Why the Y

Those personal experiences have drawn Irene to our newcomer programs, but she says she also appreciates the Y’s holistic approach to health and well-being. “Before I got to know the Y, I thought of it like so many others do; as ‘gym and swim,’” Irene recalls. “As I started to learn more, I was amazed by the breadth and depth of the programming. Whether it’s for newcomers, youth, seniors…there’s really something for everyone at the Y.”

Given this diversity of programs and participants, Irene says, “What I love about the Y is that it’s really about bringing the community together. It’s a place for everybody; it’s inclusive. Because we’re in such a massive city and as the GTA grows, I think people are becoming more and more disconnected from one another and from supports they need. With that backdrop, I love that the Y, through its various centres, is bringing people together.”

Making a real impact in local communities

Irene emphasizes that one of the most rewarding parts of supporting the Y is the tangible impact you can make right here at home. “When I first became involved with the Y, I had a chance to visit a number of centres,” she says. “What I thought was amazing was how each Y is customized to a particular community, or even a particular group of folks within a community. I found that really fascinating — that the same charity has such a broad reach — and that when you go into these centres, you see the impact.”

For Irene, that impact is particularly visible in our emergency shelter and drop-in centre for youth experiencing homelessness. “When I went to The Wagner Green YMCA,” she says, “you can see the impact of every dollar and every moment of volunteer time. That really resonated with me because you can see the Y is literally changing lives right here in our local communities. It’s pretty grassroots, which I think is so impactful. No contribution of money or time is too small.”

Vision for change

When asked what it means to her to “build back better,” Irene says: “There’s a divide, with the pandemic hitting some harder than others; there are a lot of people who don’t see a path forward. Personally, I feel like it’s my responsibility to work on closing that gap and ensuring folks do have opportunities to work towards something better for themselves.

“When I think about youth, for example, I worry about their future. In my volunteer work with the Y, we’ve been very focused on reopening as safely as possible, and getting youth back into the programs they need.

“So many of us, in different ways, are fortunate enough to be able to help and make a difference on this front, whether through a contribution of time or money. I’m eager to keep working with our other donors and volunteers to make up for lost time and ensure people don’t get left behind permanently. That’s what I hope for.”

To hear from other YMCA supporters and learn what inspires them to give to our charity, visit

Irene Markus joined CIBC in 2010 and has held a number of roles; currently she is Managing Director and Head, Private Capital, Corporate Banking, at CIBC Capital Markets based in Toronto, Ontario. Irene has over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry and has worked in Toronto, New York, Barbados, and Germany. 

Irene has been involved with the YMCA of Greater Toronto since 2019, initially as a member of the Strong Start, Great Future Capital Campaign Cabinet and more recently as Co-Chair of the newly formed Leadership Gift Committee.

Irene holds an MBA from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, a Law Degree from the University of Western Ontario, and she is a member of the Ontario Bar Association.


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