It was a very magical few days in December for hundreds of GEF Seniors Housing residents when Santa and his elves made their rounds to deliver presents as part of London Drugs’ Stocking Stuffers for Seniors 2019 Campaign.
What started out in 2015 with Operation Friendship Seniors Society and London Drugs partnering together with a goal to help 40 seniors in its first year has grown exponentially in five short years. Today, Stocking Stuffers for Seniors now helps more than 4,000 seniors in Northern Alberta and 17,000 seniors across western Canada have a brighter Christmas, and the campaign now involves all London Drugs stores. Altogether, 878 seniors in eight different GEF Seniors Housing communities received a gift this holiday season.
The approach is simple, but the impact is immeasurable. Generous strangers carefully choose a name tag from specially-marked tree displays at their London Drugs store of choice and, out of the goodness of their hearts, buy what’s written on the tag as their senior’s wish list – often adding in a few extra surprises. “I think the generosity of others in the community and the surprise of receiving a gift was really awesome,” said Montgomery Place Recreation Coordinator Christine Kemp.
On delivery day, everyone was buzzing with anticipation. “I was up early – I am so excited!” said one resident. Santa and his London Drugs elves arrived, and the faces of residents and staff lit up like Christmas trees. “It was like Christmas morning for these residents – they were glowing,” said one staff member.
It was an overwhelming sight to see the number of presents that showed up under the trees at our GEF communities. After the gifts were distributed, residents started opening their presents. As well as the chorus of oohs and ahhhs around the room, seniors said comments like “this is more than I expected”, “this is over and above anything I could have imagined”, “I got just what I wanted”, “I wish I could say thank you to all the kind people” and “I don’t usually get excited for Christmas anymore but this brought back feelings that I had as a kid.”
Some of our residents don’t have family so it was a surprise to them when they received a gift. “I wouldn’t have gotten any Christmas gifts this year, so thank you very much,” said one resident. At least one senior saved his presents to open on Christmas day, because he doesn’t have any family. These unexpected gifts, filled with love, showed the residents just how much they are cared for and each senior was grateful for what they had received.
“When you see someone’s face light up and the expression of someone who doesn’t normally get this, it’s a really special feeling and it makes my heart happy!” said another staff member.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to make this Christmas so memorable – not just for our seniors, but for all of the participating seniors who needed a little cheer this year! It will be a day they will never forget.
Zoominescence is a spectacular exhibition of artistic light installations within the Zoo grounds, and GEF partnered with Age-Friendly Edmonton to bring in our own Trishaw, a specialised three-wheel bike piloted by a trained volunteer, that gives older adults the experience of “wind in their hair” without having to drive a bike themselves.
Cycling Without Age Beaumont brought in two additional trishaws and volunteer pilots, and made sure all three trishaws were mechanically ready for winter, including installing studded tires.
One attendee, who was chauffeured to the event by our community partners at Drive Happiness, said when she arrived at the zoo that she wasn’t sure what she had signed up for. At the end of the tour, she shared that she had a marvelous time. She hadn’t been back to the Edmonton Valley Zoo since her children were young, and told the organizers she was so glad she came out.
“I’m very grateful that GEF Seniors Housing and its staff supports the Cycling Without Age Edmonton program and promoted this opportunity to enrich seniors’ lives,” said GEF Board Vice-Chair Jacquie Eales, who also took the beautiful photos featured in this article.
Are you – or do you know – a senior who would love to take a ride in a Trishaw during Zoominescence 2019? Trishaw rides are only being offered between 4-5 p.m. on December 15 and 22. Spots are very limited, and you can email Jacquie Eales to reserve your ride time at email@example.com.
For more information on Zoominescence itself, including tickets, visit the Eventbrite page. Ticket prices range from $6 – $30. Zoominescence 2019 runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening in December, from 5-9 p.m., until Sunday, December 29, 2019.
“What I love about this place is the people.”
“The warmth here … that’s the reason I came.”
“The people are my style.”
These are just some of the heartfelt comments from tenants and residents at Sakaw Terrace as they shared their thoughts during Sakaw’s first anniversary celebration on November 6, 2019.
More than 100 tenants, residents and GEF staff marked their first year together with individual cupcakes tea and coffee, and reminiscing on the past year, with plenty of laughter and a few tears from those who spoke.
Site manager Manak Dhillon remembered holding interviews with prospective tenants and staff members in a trailer in the parking lot. He also remembered the last-minute flurry of permit approvals, making sure everything was in place before people moved in. Not everything went as smoothly as he had hoped, but “we got it all done – just in time.”
Assistant Manager Teslene Walters shared that she has been in every single suite more than five times. She remembered walking through the suites with just the framing done and then again – a few more times – when all the walls were up to make sure everything was perfect for each tenant and resident to move into their new home. She could tell you anything you would want to know about each room.
Sakaw Terrace opened its doors on November 1, 2018 and the first residents moved in right away. Over the next few months, the apartments and lodge rooms filled up. Currently Sakaw Terrace is home to 175 seniors and is a vibrant community.
The official Grand Opening was held on February 27, 2019 and more than 160 tenants, residents, staff and guests joined in the festivities. You can read more about the Grand Opening in a previous blog story.
As we mark our 60th anniversary as GEF Seniors Housing, we also celebrate the 12th Annual Great Knitting Giveaway. Held on Friday, October 25 at the Santa Maria Goretti Centre, the event was a huge success and our biggest yet! When the event started in 2007, we had 35 residents and tenants participating. Today, there are just over 130 knitters contributing to this amazing event and over 8,000 items knitted, crocheted, donated and loved.
This event has grown exponentially thanks to the enormous generosity and kindness of Edmonton residents, who have banded together to donate more than 100 bags of yarn just this year. That amount translates into thousands of skeins of yarn for our tenants and residents to knit their beautiful creations. Without the generosity of all our GEF seniors, this event wouldn’t be possible. We cannot thank them enough for their countless hours of working on these amazing handmade items, each of them filled with so much love.
The charities we choose to receive the knitted items also play a huge part in this event, and some of them have been with us since the very beginning. This year, we chose eight charities: Crystal Kids Youth Centre; Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society; Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers; Operation Friendship Seniors Society; SNUG; Ronald McDonald House Charities Alberta; Terra Centre and The Mustard Seed. The items knitted for these charities will provide warmth and comfort to their clients during the cold winter months, and a hug whenever they feel a little sad or lonely. These items will remind them that they are cared for and loved, no matter their situation.
The knitted items and request for items are constantly changing, based on the needs of the community. In 2011, with an especially cold winter, there was an increased need for “comfort bags,” which include warm winter wear like socks, toques and mitts that were given to people experiencing homelessness. One year, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton asked for knitted nests which became homes for small animals. In 2016, the Alberta Wildfire Donation Centre needed many more donations for families displaced due to the Fort McMurray wildfire. GEF seniors also crocheted Izzy dolls for the military, so soldiers could have them in their pockets to hand out to the children they met in the war-torn countries where they were serving.
No matter the charities or the circumstances, our knitters are dedicated to making a difference. They will work continuously to put love and warmth back into the Edmonton community, and their generosity will touch thousands of lives of people they have never met.
Please click the image below to enjoy a short video that highlights this wonderful event!
The 11th annual Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser was held in the Blatchford Hangar at Fort Edmonton Park on May 30th. It was a tremendous event and the most successful Breakfast we’ve had thus far.
With a record-breaking number of attendees, we hit a record breaking amount of donations! After countless hours of tallying up the donations, we raised over $118,000! Because of our guests and sponsors generosity, we are going to be able to house and improve the quality of life of so many seniors!
The new Minister of Seniors and Housing, Josephine Pon was in attendance and shared some wonderful remarks on the importance of seniors housing! We also heard from GEF Board Chair, Karen Lynch, Diamond Level Sponsors; CBI Home Health, Chandos Construction and Telus, GEF’s Vice Board Chair, Jacquie Eales, as well as GEF’s CEO Raymond Swonek. Shanika Donalds, Community Support Manager, spoke about the Community Support Program GEF has put in place where outreach workers work one-on-one with seniors experiencing difficulties in their day-to-day lives and help them find solutions. In 2018, GEF’s four-person team assisted more than 430 seniors.
With GEF being in its 60th anniversary year, our sponsors have invested in making the city a better place to live, grow and age with more than $60,000 raised in Breakfast sponsorships alone. Thank you to all our Diamond Level Sponsors; CBI Home Health, Chandos Construction, Historical Painting, and Telus, and our Platinum Level Sponsors; Emcee Construction and Management, HHS Contracting, Kemway Builders, Nakamun Group, O’Canada Contractors, Priority Mechanical, RPK Architects, ServiceMaster Restore and Shearwall Triforce, for all your support!
Thank you to everyone who attended our Breakfast this year and who helped contribute to make it a huge success! We hope to see you all again next year!
“The official opening of Sakaw Terrace is a very proud time for GEF Seniors Housing as it allows seniors living in the Mill Woods community an affordable, secure and friendly place to call home,” explained Raymond Swonek, CEO of GEF Seniors Housing.
MLA for Edmonton-McClung Lorne Dach MC’d the event and we heard wonderful speeches from the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Natural Resources; the Honourable Christina Gray, Minister of Labour; GEF Board Chair Karen Lynch and ASCHA’s Executive Director Irene Martin- Lindsay!
The day was full of big smiles and happy hearts. Residents and tenants who have already moved in were so excited to show off their new home. After the speeches were done, a ribbon cutting to announce the official opening commenced. Cake and refreshments were followed by tours of the building. Guests who went on the tours were impressed by the 70 lodge rooms and 88 apartments, two outdoor courtyards, a communal greenhouse, a theatre room, a salon, a bistro, underground and above ground parking and much more!
Seven years from concept to occupation, on November 1, 2018, GEF opened the doors to welcome the first Sakaw Terrace residents. This carefully planned project adopted an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) collaborative partnership approach to construction. “What this means is that everyone has some skin in the game. The IPD contract has ten parties signed on plus GEF Seniors Housing. All ten of the IPD parties have put their profits on the line for the duration of the construction, which keeps everyone invested in finding those efficiencies and keeping everything on schedule” explains Doug Kitlar, Director of Facility Management. By using this method, the project was able to be completed ahead of schedule and under budget!
The building is currently 90% full and hoping to be at 100% in the next few months. Residents and tenants are feeling at home living at Sakaw Terrace. “I just love the new building. The meals are wonderful and the sugar cookies are just delightful” said a lodge resident. An apartment tenant mentioned “it is my first time in community living and I am more than over the moon. The building, the staff, there is nothing not to like.” One other apartment resident said “I like my apartment. Everything is lovely. It’s beautiful. I like my privacy, but I never feel alone here.”
Carol Patton remembers the first time she won an art contest back when she was a little girl. It was at her father’s work during a holiday party. She had been painting since she was three years old, under the guidance of her highly creative mother, and she remembers the lesson her mother gave her to help complete the painting.
“I wanted to paint people singing Christmas carols, but I didn’t know how to paint people singing,” Patton reminisces. “I asked my mother and she told me to paint their mouths round and that’s how you make it look like they’re singing.”
The influence of her artistic family has followed Patton through her whole life. Even today, closing in at 69 years old, she continues to paint as a means for her own artistic expression. She explains that though much of her drive has waned with age, the sheer enjoyment of painting is what still occasionally inspires her to pick up a brush.
Before moving in to Montgomery Place in the Summer of 2015, Patton lived in parts of the United States’ east coast such as Delaware, Maryland, and Washington D.C. Her entire family had creative outlets including her brother who was a photographer and sister who was a visual artist as well. A charcoal drawing of Patton when she was younger made by her sister still hangs in her apartment (though Patton claims the portrait looks nothing like her).
After one year of art school, Patton decided that painting for eight hours a day wasn’t quite for her. She continued her studies in sociology and then into psychology at the University of Maryland. She met, and eventually married, a Canadian, which is what prompted her to move to Edmonton in 1972. For a time, the couple lived off the grid in the Ozarks and Patton’s memories and photographs from that time inspired a painting that still hangs in her bedroom.
“We had a small cabin near a set of cliffs and I have a set of photos overlooking the area that I used to help me with my painting,” Patton remembers. “The painting has this orange streak across it and people have asked me what that is. Really, it’s just a mistake I made and I couldn’t fix. I’ve learned to really love my mistakes, though. They’re simply part of the painting.”
Embracing imperfections is a major part of Patton’s life. Even her favourite painting that she made, a portrait of the Gaelic warrior Goddess Macha, Patton mentions that often all she can see are the small mistakes. She says that the flaws are simply part of the painting and are what helps make it her favourite that she created.
“I remember finishing it and just being very appreciative of it,” Patton says.
Patton is one artist of around 40 creative individuals sharing her work at GEF Seniors Housing’s 2018 Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser. Postcard versions of her paintings are printed on postcards can shared at each of the settings, demonstrating the kinds of people who call a GEF Seniors Housing building home and what it means to live somewhere that can help foster creativity and help build a good quality of life.
A little over a year ago, GEF Seniors Housing broke ground on Sakaw Terrace, the newest affordable seniors housing project for the organization and the first for the Mill Woods neighbourhood. The event was celebrated with appearances from Edmonton Ward 12 City Councillor Mohinder Banga, Provincial Minister of Labour Christina Grey, Provincial Minister of Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson, and with a message from the office of Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi.
For GEF Seniors Housing Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar, the progress made on Sakaw Terrace over the past year has even surpassed his expectations. He explains that with the designers at RPK Architects and the contractors at Chandos all being invested in the project along with GEF Seniors Housing, the team is working collaboratively to find more efficiencies and creative ways to reduce unnecessary spending without compromising the overall building.
“Sakaw Terrace is being built on what’s called an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD),” says Kitlar. “What this basically means is that everyone has some skin in the game. The IPD contract has ten parties signed on plus GEF Seniors Housing. All ten of the IPD parties have put their profits on the line for the duration of the construction, which keeps everyone invested in finding those efficiencies and keeping everything on schedule. If the project comes in under budget, the IPD parties share in those profits. If the project comes in over budget, all parties share in those extra costs out of their profits.”
With an opening date pending in late 2018, keeping Sakaw Terrace on schedule has been of significant importance to Kitlar. He explains that the project did see some setbacks in its first year, including issues with the soil conditions at the building’s location.
“The soil at the Sakaw Terrace site is very moist mostly due to the fact we had a lot of rain over the summer” says Kitlar. “We had to dig deeper than anticipated in a few areas to find solid ground to build on, but the IPD process has brought everyone together to find solutions that don’t compromise the building. Despite the challenges we’ve had, Sakaw Terrace has seen plenty of steady progress.”
The structural steel is completed and concrete flooring has all been poured, giving Sakaw Terrace its shape and structure. The driveway down to the underground parking lot has been poured and the asphalt that will eventually act as the above ground parking has been laid and is currently being used for construction vehicles to carry in supplies.
Throughout the entire progress of the Sakaw Terrace project so far, Kitlar works to keep in mind who the building is for and why it’s so important to the community. The number of seniors living in the Mill Woods community sits around 20,000 and many are in need of affordable housing options that simply don’t exist right now in the neighbourhood.
“Sakaw Terrace will have 158 units, obviously not enough to address the entire need in the Mill Woods community, but enough to get the ball rolling and start some big conversations about this need that really isn’t exclusive to Edmonton’s south,” says Kitlar. “I’ve yet to go through an Edmonton neighbourhood that wouldn’t benefit with some affordable housing options, be it for seniors or families. The need is so obviously there and hopefully Sakaw Terrace can demonstrate a really good solution to keep addressing this need.”
On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, members of the GEF Seniors Housing Board of Directors and Senior Management team are setting up displays of the current conceptual drawings for the new building project on Edmonton’s west end in the Elmwood neighbourhood. Starting at 7:00 p.m. at the Elmwood Community Hall (16415 83 Ave.), the community consultation meeting will ask three very important questions to people currently living in the neighbourhood and surrounding areas: What should this new addition to your community be named? What do you like about the building drawings? What would you change with what you see in the building drawings?
“One of the most important processes we always go through with any new building project is to have at least three community consultations,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “This will be the second meeting we hold with the Elmwood community and surrounding areas, who have shown a lot of support for this new building project.”
The conceptual drawings were done by Jonathan Rockliff of RPK Architects, the architectural firm behind previous GEF Seniors Housing buildings such as Sakaw Terrace and Ottewell Terrace. Swonek explains that showing the drawings will help spur conversations from the community members attending the meeting, which will then in turn help give some direction to GEF Seniors Housing as to how the building will add value to the community.
“Some of the most interesting concepts we’ve integrated into our buildings have come from the conversations we’ve had with community members,” says Swonek. “Ottewell Terrace including Primrose Place Family Centre daycare into the building was a direct result of conversations we had with the Ottewell community. The ingenuity that came from the community members was invaluable to us and helped create one of the first seniors housing buildings with a permanent daycare centre in Alberta. It also spurred intergenerational programming that has been highly beneficial to both the seniors living in the building and the children at the daycare centre. We know that this level of collaboration will bring about creative innovations for Elmwood.”
Once this second community consultation is complete, a third meeting will be scheduled to display the final details around the future building plus give some details for the construction work plan. Though Swonek is always looking ahead to the next steps in any project, he remains enthusiastic over the next community meeting with the Elmwood area and is excited to see what ideas the people from the neighbourhoods bring.
“Last time we held a community consultation for Elmwood, we were expecting maybe 30 people to attend and more than 100 came and was part of one of the liveliest community conversations I ever got to be a part of,” says Swonek. “We know the need on the west end is great and it’s only growing. We’re taking all the lessons learned from previous projects like Ottewell Terrace and Sakaw Terrace and applying them to the Elmwood project, ensuring that the building we construct in the area is a welcome addition to the community.”
November is Housing Month, a reminder of how important an issue housing is for everyone and how many challenges a lot of people face when trying to find somewhere affordable and accessible to call home. Young adults, families, and seniors are all affected by the rising housing costs in Edmonton. Government at all levels have realized that housing is a growing issue for many people and are committing new funds and programs to help address these issues. Despite the growing efforts, many people still struggle with simple necessities that so many take for granted.
“If you spend more than 30 per cent of your gross monthly income on housing, you’re considered below the poverty line,” say GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. GEF Seniors Housing is just one organization participating in Housing Month efforts and activities to promote the need for more affordable housing in Edmonton.
“For many Edmontonians, spending only 30 per cent of their income on housing seems like an impossible dream. We serve low-income seniors and offer them affordable housing options. We know the need in Edmonton is great, so we take part in Housing Month to help make sure no one ever has to worry about where they will call home.”
Housing Month started in Toronto with National Housing Day back in 1998. The City of Toronto called out to other municipalities to join them in recognizing the need for affordable housing options in their cities. The City of Edmonton decided to expand on the idea of National Housing Day into a whole month of events, promotions, and publications to educate and inform what affordable and social housing is, how affordable and social housing programs benefit neighbourhoods, and how individuals and communities can help housing organizations serve the people who need the help most.
GEF Seniors Housing is working with the City of Edmonton and other housing organizations such as Homeward Trust, Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative, and Capital Region Housing Corporation on a campaign to spur discussions around affordable housing in Edmonton, how to bring more affordable housing to different Edmonton communities, and what steps should be taken to help see more affordable housing projects break ground. Housing Month’s campaign also includes the National Housing Day Luncheon, hosted by Homeward Trust, on Wednesday, November 22, 2017, at the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel.
“The partnerships we have with the other housing organizations for Housing Month is part of what makes this campaign so strong,” says Swonek. “Every one of these groups does amazing work in this city and is committed to seeing more affordable housing options available to Edmontonians who are in need. I’m so proud to be part of a city and a community that takes housing so seriously.”
Housing Month seeks to highlight current affordable housing projects being built around Edmonton, showcase current affordable housing buildings already established in the city, and to exhibit much of the progress made from the support of all levels of governments. Though Housing Month is driven by the City of Edmonton, the Provincial Government and the Federal Government both have worked on major housing strategies that have benefited Edmonton greatly and even started releasing funds already so that housing organizations can begin work on creating new homes.
“I’m optimistic about the future of housing when I see how much all these different organizations and different governmental bodies are all collaborating with this common goal,” says Swonek. “Housing Month displays so much of the progress we’ve made over the years. I’m excited for more communities to become invested in affordable housing and Housing Month is the perfect way to make those connections and build that support.”