A passion for building community: Sean St. John’s Story

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Sean St. John played hockey, lacrosse and rugby from a young age. He loved working with his teammates towards a common goal, and learned a lot about success, failure, and the benefits of hard work.

Those skills and lessons helped him succeed on the field, and gave him an advantage as he began his career in finance. He credits many of his professional successes as the Executive Vice President, Managing Director, Head of Fixed Income and Co-Head of Risk Management Solutions at National Bank Financial to what sports taught him about communication, trust, dedication, determination and rigour.

Sean is a descendant of Irish, French, and Mohawk First Nations heritage, and his belief in the transformative power of play and sport led him to want to create opportunities for Indigenous youth to experience that power in their own lives. That’s what drew him to Right To Play and the Promoting Life-Skills in Aboriginal Youth (PLAY) program. The program partners with approximately 75 Indigenous communities across the country to train young Indigenous leaders who engage local youth with proven play-based learning activities. These activities are designed to promote educational outcomes, health practices, and life-skills development for children. He joined Right To Play’s Canadian Advisory Board in 2015. His leadership involvement with Right To Play's annual Heroes Gala is a key reason that event has become the top fundraising event in Toronto and one of the top four in Canada, with all funds raised going to support Right To Play’s vital programs in 15 countries around the world, including Canada. He has also been an enthusiastic promoter of Right To Play’s new virtual events in 2020 that include Play It Forward, RTP in Conversation and the Virtual Quiz.

“Some kids are born into an environment that’s challenging, and they need support. I want to make sure youth in First Nations communities are getting access to opportunities, experiences, and ideas that can help create a positive path for them for the rest of their lives,” says Sean.

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Youth compete in a race at a PLAY symposium in British Columbia

When work meets PLAY

Sean’s first opportunity to see the PLAY program in action was in Brantford in 2016, at one of Right To Play’s two annual symposiums where Indigenous youth from across southern Ontario gather to learn and play together. He remembers the excitement and enthusiasm that filled the air as youth and Community Mentors participated in games, shared their stories over lunch, connected with peers from dozens of other communities, and learned leadership and life skills they could carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“It’s a tangible feeling when you’re there - the passion everyone has for what they’re doing. You can see what it does for the kids to be connected and learning from the different activities. Everyone is there to help each other grow.”

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Pictured from left to right at the 2018 Heroes Gala where National Bank was the presenting sponsor: Crystal Clark-McGregor, 2018 Youth Hero Awardee; Caroline Ouellette, 2018 Athlete Hero Awardee; Louis Vachon, National Bank President and CEO; Sean St. John, EVP and Managing Director National Bank Financial; Kevin Frey, Right To Play CEO; and Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, former federal Minister of International Development.

Sean says that his love for the PLAY program has become well known across his personal and professional circles, because he can’t stop talking about it. He’s proud to have played an instrumental role in working with his colleagues at National Bank to secure a $300,000 donation from the bank to the PLAY program in 2019, a significant contribution that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Louis Vachon, President and CEO, and Thi Be Nguyen, the head of philanthropy. Sean is excited to continue bringing his work and PLAY together.

“I’m so proud that we’re helping the most vulnerable kids in Indigenous communities by teaching them skills that will help them achieve whatever they want in life.”

Most recently, National Bank was the lead sponsor of “Right To Play in Conversation,” an interactive digital series that’s been bringing leaders in the sport, financial, and nonprofit worlds to talk about tackling important topics like mental health, allyship, financial literacy, and reconciliation. In a year that has been challenging for so many during the COVID-19 pandemic, these sessions are creating spaces for important conversations and vital connection.

“I’m so proud that we’re helping the most vulnerable kids in Indigenous communities by teaching them skills that will help them achieve whatever they want in life.”
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Sean St. John (left), and Thi Be Nguyen (right), of National Bank, with five of the 90 children and youth who participated in the Right To Play Youth Leadership Symposium in Haliburton, ON in 2019. (CNW Group/National Bank of Canada)

“The most transformative moments of my life have taken place because of community,” says Sean. “Whether I’m sharing experiences with others or hearing their stories, I’m learning from their points of view which helps me grow. That’s what community makes possible.”

Sean’s commitment to helping Indigenous youth build community and access opportunities that foster growth is helping to give a new generation of young people the tools and skills they need to find meaning, success, and connection. We thank him for his support and contributions.

Learn more about how Right To Play empowers children through play