Tag: community connection
Janet was never one for napping. Shortly after moving into Canora Gardens in February, 2018, she decided to take a quick rest in the afternoon. She woke up a few hours later, realizing that this was the first long and deep nap she had taken in years.
“I told my daughter and she howled because she’s never seen me nap!” Janet says with a wide smile. “I remember waking up and thinking, ‘oh, this is what it’s like to relax.’”
Moving into Canora Gardens has changed a lot about Janet’s day-to-day life. Even in the short time she has lived in the GEF Seniors Housing building, she says she already feels more at home here than she has anywhere else in the past 20 years. Though it took some time to finally move in, Janet believes that being able to call Canora Gardens home was well worth the wait.
“I would have waited another two or three years if it meant I was living somewhere as great as this,” Janet says. “I applied even before the applications were technically open. I was approved in about four days.”
Janet saw photos from Canora Gardens before it experienced its 2012 fire and was immediately drawn to the building. She was living in another apartment building close to the city’s west-end, but wanted to be further west so she could live closer to her daughter. Janet remembers the first few interactions she had with GEF Seniors Housing staff
“You don’t get that kind of respect everywhere,” says Janet. “I felt immediately welcomed by everyone working here.”
Seeing the show suite at Canora Gardens impressed both Janet and her daughter. They were both immediately drawn to the counter space and cabinets in the kitchen. Living with celiac disease means Janet has to do a lot of her own cooking so having a spacious kitchen with full sized appliances was important.
In addition to the full kitchen, Janet and her daughter immediately noted how safe and secure Canora Gardens is. She immediately noted that all the locks in Canora Gardens are set with a fob and not with the typical key system in most older apartment buildings. She remembers back to her previous building where there were serious issues with break and enters.
“It got to the point where I was piling up chairs against my door,” explains Janet. “Now, I live with a sense of serenity. I’m actually able to sleep now because I feel so safe.”
Janet’s positive spirit is seeing her already looking to make connections within her community. She’s never been one to shy away from meeting new people and is even exploring the larger neighbourhood to help keep her busy. She’s even starting to look ahead, knowing that as she ages she won’t be able to live totally on her own. Janet laughs as she points out that she already has her next GEF Seniors Housing building picked out.
“I got to see Meadowlark Place and I told my daughter, this is where I want to live next when the time comes,” says Janet. “For now, I am completely happy here. It feels like I’ve been given a new lease on life.”
After five years of being with the on-call maintenance team, Matt Johnson knows how to spot the week’s theme, or sometimes even the day’s theme, for the on-call services at GEF Seniors Housing’s forty buildings throughout the city. He notes that after three or four similar calls, he can easily predict that many of the other calls for the week will follow a familiar pattern. He remembers one long night in particular where a few difficult calls flooded in.
“A fire line burst at Rosslyn Place and flooded down through the whole building,” remembers Johnson. “I was there for a few hours with the site managers and the fire department just trying to clean things up and get things back in good working order. I got home and about thirty minutes I got another call that Ansgar Villa had started flooding.”
GEF Seniors Housing’s on-call maintenance team sees the on-staff trades taking turns having their cell phones and pagers on hand in case of any emergency at the buildings. The 16 members of the team take weekly rotations where they’re responsible for the after-hours, holidays, and weekends when GEF Seniors Housing’s offices aren’t open. Maintenance Manager Tony Lovell started off with GEF Seniors Housing as an on-call tech around 26 years ago and remembers a very different working environment.
“There was only two of us on-call at that time, so it was basically one week on, one week off,” explains Lovell. “There were only around 20 buildings that GEF Seniors Housing managed, so it wasn’t like there were two of us looking after all forty buildings we have now. Still, it was fairly hectic and we had to learn how to prioritize projects pretty quick.”
Today, there are always two maintenance techs assigned to on-call. Lovell, along with Maintenance Administrator Doreen Kinney, start the year by assigning the on-call schedules, beginning first with prioritizing who’s looking after the Holiday Season. Johnson remembers this past holiday season being particularly hectic for the on-call staff because of the sudden cold snap that hit in December.
“I wasn’t assigned to on-call but I checked in and found a few places where I could lend a hand,” says Johnson. “The whole crew is really good for working together on both helping out when a lot of calls come in and even for the initial scheduling.”
Lovell points out that once the schedule is complete, he and Kinney post it up in the maintenance department at Central Services. It doesn’t take long for the team to get together and start moving around days, ensuring that they continue to have a good work-life balance.
“The schedule looks different pretty-well every day,” Lovell says with a laugh. “The crew is really good about working together on the scheduling, switching out dates for whatever might come up.”
The techs assigned to on-call work on any issue that might come up, even though they may have a specified trade. Johnson and Lovell are both plumbers by trade but have experience working on everything from the key system to electrical tasks and heating issues.
“I’ve always been really handy and I like having my fingers in a lot of different practices, so working on things outside of my trade is nothing new for me,” says Johnson. “Working on all kinds of different building issues still teaches me a lot. Everyone on the on-call team is prepared for pretty much anything.”
The way the actual call system works hasn’t changed much since Lovell first joined the team. When an emergency occurs, the tenant at the building calls GEF Seniors Housing’s answering service provider requesting assistance. The answering service provider system then sends a message to the GEF Seniors Housing staff tech’s pager (yes, pager) with contact information to the person who made the assistance call. Lovell points out that using pagers isn’t a result of not updating the technology within GEF Seniors Housing. It’s actually because of a lack of a more reliable option.
“A lot of our techs live outside of the city and a lot of the times they work in basement mechanical rooms, and all of this affects cell phone signals,” Lovell explains. “Pager signals are still quite a bit stronger than cell phone signals. This is why they’re still used by doctors. Surgeons and techs are the last professions still using pagers.”
For Johnson, working his week as the designated on-call always has its array of challenges. He stays motivated by remembering the people he serves and what his role is in making sure they’re living with a good quality of life.
“The people I work with are always very grateful when you get their heat working in the winter time,” says Johnson. “I’d be lying if I said that the decent extra bit on my paycheque isn’t a good reward for being on call. But I really do enjoy the people part of the job. I get to improve some part of a person’s life. And that’s what I do every time I go into a building. I look for ways to improve things and make things better for the people.”
Applications for Sakaw Terrace are officially open. This comes on the heels of a great deal of anticipation from both the community at large and from GEF Seniors Housing. CEO Raymond Swonek explains that he’s been eager for the applications to open to the public and begin the process for seniors to be able to call Sakaw Terrace home.
“Between the phone calls we receive here at the offices every day, the engagement we see on social media, and the excitement we’ve seen at the events promoting Sakaw Terrace, we know opening these applications couldn’t have come soon enough,” says Swonek. “The Mill Woods community has wanted a building like Sakaw Terrace for a long time and we’re going to deliver on a building for seniors that’s unlike anything else in the neighbourhood.”
GEF Seniors Housing staff will collect application forms over the next three months, compiling a list of all the qualified applicants. On May 8, 2018, a lottery draw will be held at the Mill Woods Seniors Association (second floor, 2610 Hewes Way, Edmonton) to determine who will be first to be interviewed. For previous building openings, GEF Seniors Housing has used the lottery system for applicants as a means of making sure the entire process is fair to everyone involved.
“The building has 158 suites and we’re expecting many more applications than that over the next three months,” says Swonek. “With such a huge demand for the building, we want to ensure that everyone who applies has an equal chance of being able to move in once the building opens.”
After the applicants are chosen from the lottery, they’ll be scheduled for an in-person interview followed by a letter either accepting or declining the application.
GEF Seniors Housing will be handling all applications for Sakaw Terrace’s early 2019 opening for both the lodge and the apartment programs. Applications and the brochure explaining Sakaw Terrace’s housing programs will be available at all GEF Seniors lodge sites and at the Mill Woods Seniors Association, where members of the GEF Seniors Housing team will be available on a few select dates in February over the noon hour to answer questions and accept applications.
For Sakaw Terrace, it’s more important than ever to have the knowledgeable GEF Seniors Housing staff available to go over the new housing programs available.
“Sakaw Terrace will be the first GEF Seniors Housing building to offer market level apartments and lodges to seniors at any income level,” explains Swonek. “We’re still offering affordable options as well to qualified seniors. Having both market level and affordable options is important because we want Sakaw Terrace to be available to as many seniors as possible.”
The building team led by Chandos Construction continues to make huge strides on the Sakaw Terrace project. With the construction team working so closely with GEF Seniors Housing, the scheduling and the budgeting for the building can be kept in close check, ensuring Sakaw Terrace is completed on time and on budget. Swonek is exhilarated with the progress made on Sakaw Terrace in such a short time and is proud of how well GEF Seniors Housing has worked with the construction team.
“The Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) model used for Sakaw Terrace pushed everyone, from the architects to the sub-contractors, to work as efficiently as possible without sacrificing any quality,” says Swonek. “All 900 people who have worked on Sakaw Terrace have done an amazing job on this building so far and I know Sakaw Terrace will set a new standard not just for GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings, but for seniors housing buildings all over Alberta.”
At the end of each year, I always take some time to reflect for myself. I picture where we started the year, see how far we have come over the past 12 months, and think about everything we have achieved. To say the least, 2017 has been a year of a lot of changes and growth for GEF Seniors Housing as a whole.
We have a lot to be proud of from the work done over 2017. GEF Seniors Housing is continually evolving, growing, and finding better and more creative ways to provide seniors with housing options that are friendly, affordable, and secure. Here are a few highlights from this past year.
It’s been just over a year now since Sakaw Terrace broke ground and the construction process has been going remarkably smooth. Sakaw Terrace is well on its way to being completed and opening its doors in early 2019. Most of the concrete has been poured, the structural steel has been erected, and suites are beginning to be framed.
Canora Gardens is opening its door in 2018 and we’re accepting applications for seniors to move in and call this west-end building home. We stripped the suites right down to the studs, upgraded all the mechanical and fire protection systems, and re-designed the building to better accommodate senior living.
We held our second Elmwood community consultation meeting and despite the cold wind and snowfall, we still had 90 people fill the Elmwood Community Hall and share their thoughts on the initial architectural drawings provided by Jonathan Rockliff of RPK Architects. The ideas expressed at this meeting are being brought to the planning committees for the Elmwood building project and being included in many of the conversations that will eventually result in this new seniors housing building in Edmonton’s west-end.
Our fundraising efforts saw some significant contributions over 2017. This past April, the Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser saw more than 300 members of the community and donate more than $80,000 towards Sakaw Terrace. GEF Seniors Housing is still collecting donations to go towards new capital building projects in the City of Edmonton so that no senior ever has to worry about where they will call home.
The team of volunteers we have with GEF Seniors Housing is second to none and works incredibly hard to continually improve the lives of seniors who call our buildings home. In 2017, more than 1,300 individuals gave GEF Seniors Housing close to 60,000 hours of volunteer time. Thank you to all of our volunteers for the time and effort you give to improve the quality of life for so many people.
In November, we learned that GEF Seniors Housing was once again named one of the Best Small and Medium Employers in Canada (BSME). Our receiving this distinguished honour is a direct result of a staff survey hosted by Aon Hewitt and Canadian Business magazine. We were placed in the Platinum category, the highest designation an organization can receive. It’s always exhilarating to see our name among so many other amazing organizations and knowing that the people who work with GEF Seniors Housing make such a concerted effort to keep this place somewhere amazing to work.
Thank you to everyone who makes up the GEF Seniors Housing community for another amazing year. The staff who work with us, the seniors who call our buildings home, the like-minded organizations who we partner with, and the neighbourhoods who welcome us and know the value of affordable housing all played part in what made 2017 another amazing year.
The teams at Aon Hewitt and Canadian Business magazine have once again named GEF Seniors Housing one of the Best Small and Medium Employers in Canada (BSME). The staff at GEF Seniors Housing all took a survey expressing their opinions on what it’s like to work with the organization, what they enjoy most, and what they would change about it. For Director of Human Resources Tracy MacLeod, seeing so many of the GEF Seniors Housing staff engaged with giving feedback about where they work is very important.
“Any feedback, good or not so good, is always valuable,” says MacLeod. “The good keeps us motivated and pushing forward, and the not so good lets us know where we can do better. No one is perfect and the more we hear about where we can do better, the more we can do for the staff who work with us.”
GEF Seniors Housing’s efforts for its staff are clearly reflected in the survey’s results. The Foundation was placed in the Platinum category, the highest designation any organization can receive when being named on the BSME list. Other groups on the list include Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada Inc., Grantek Systems Integration Ltd., and the Berkeley Retirement Residences.
“There are some amazing organizations named on this list,” says MacLeod. “It’s an honour to see GEF Seniors Housing’s name printed right alongside them. It helps validate all the hard work we do to ensure that the people who work here, like working here and keep coming to work feeling positive.”
This is the ninth year that GEF Seniors Housing has been named on this list. Each year, GEF Seniors Housing is able to take the survey results and analyze them to see where to the focus the year’s efforts on improvements. Survey results have been improving from year to year and the people who make up the team at GEF Seniors Housing all take having a positive working environment very seriously.
For the staff at GEF Seniors Housing, being named BSME means more than just being on a list. The sense of pride throughout the organization when this designation is announced is tangible Everyone, from the front line staff right up to the CEO, is very clearly proud of this annual accomplishment.
“It’s a reminder of how invested we all are in making sure we’re improving the lives of the seniors who call our buildings home,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “This is an incredible achievement for all of GEF Seniors Housing!”
After nearly five years of renovations, Canora Gardens (10160 151 Street, Edmonton) will be opening its doors in early 2018. The $13 million renovation project saw GEF Seniors Housing collaborate with The Workun Garrick Partnership Architecture and Interior Design as the designer and Emcee Construction as the general contractors. The team opened Canora Gardens up, tearing everything down right to the studs and rebuilt from the main foundation. The building itself now features 98 suites that have been redesigned to be better suited for seniors living.
“Once Canora Gardens is done, it will be like a whole new building,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “I’ve been really proud of the team who not only have been rebuilding Canora Gardens but modernizing it as well.”
The renovation project began as a reaction to a fire that spread through much of the building’s second floor. Upon inspection of the damage, Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar could see how much smoke damage there was throughout the entire building.
“We opened up a couple of walls and we could clearly see the extent of the smoke damage,” says Kitlar. “It was a tragic situation for the whole building and the people living in it. The building was going to need a lot of work for the renovations but I knew with the right kind of renovation plan, we could turn this into an opportunity for something extremely positive.”
Throughout the Canora Gardens rebuild site, signs of bringing the building out of its original 1977 construction date and into 2017’s higher standards to residential buildings is evident all over. The building will feature better lighting, new interior finishes, improved common area spaces, a sprinkler system, and new energy efficient mechanical systems. For Kitlar, he’s proud of the mechanical and structural upgrades to the building, but there’s one facet that he’s especially excited about.
“We redesigned each of the suites so they function better for seniors,” says Kitlar. “We moved a few walls, flipped some floor plans, and were able to make the suites more conducive to the unique facets of seniors living without losing any suites. I am especially proud that we were able to keep the seniors who will live in the building so front of mind during this whole process.”
Applications are open now for Canora Gardens and the rooms are filling fast for the early 2018 opening. For Swonek, the excitement in the new tenants already approved to move in and from the community as a whole needing more affordable seniors housing options shows that Canora Gardens is a building to be proud of and filling a big need on Edmonton’s west-end.
“I visited the build site often during construction because I’m a very visual person and I like to see the process being made,” says Swonek. “Canora Gardens is going to set a standard for seniors building renovation projects happening all across Edmonton.”
Ruth Belford remembers sitting at a bus stop in central Edmonton, where she’s lived almost her entire life. She explains that she looked across the street and saw two older homeless gentlemen sitting on a bench one cold winter day. It was what the two gentlemen were wearing that caught Belford’s attention.
“I looked across the street and I’m thinking, there’s two of my toques,” Belford says with a smile. “That was for me [the moment I realized] that’s where they’re supposed to go. And there they were, right across the street.”
Belford lives at Ansgar Villa where she’s a part of a knitting group that gets together a few times a week to share knitting tips, try out new patterns, and socialize with her neighbours in the building. In fact, almost every GEF Seniors Housing building has a knitting club and each year the clubs combine everything they’ve made throughout the year and donate the items to local charities. In 2016, more than 5,000 items were donated to charities across Edmonton and 2017 is shaping up to see an even bigger donation out to the charities serving the communities who need it most.
Dubbed the Great Knitting Giveaway, the knitting clubs gather together each year for a meal and to hear presentations from the charities receiving the donations. This year’s event, taking place on October 20, will feature presentations from organizations such as Operation Friendship Seniors Society, Youth Empowerment and Support Services, the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and the Mustard Seed. Item donated range from scarves and gloves for adults and kids to toques for newborns. Previous years even included knitted dolls for newly landed refugee children and nests for animals needing rehabilitation.
The event acts as a reminder to the seniors who spend the whole year knitting that their efforts are going towards something important and that their contributions are both needed and appreciated. Sitting with other knitting clubs from around GEF Seniors Housing and seeing thousands of unique knitted items from other groups helps spur creativity in the knitters and prompts them to try new things when they reconvene for their regular knitting clubs.
For Belford, attending the Great Knitting Giveaway event reinvigorates her desire to keep contributing to the communities who need the things that she and her knitting club create. She describes the excitement she feels when she goes into the event space and sees the piles of toques, mittens, scarves, and blankets all going to people who need them. “It makes you want to go home and just knit!”
Lawrence Tomkow runs his hand along the top of one of the picnic tables outside of the Virginia Park Lodge. The outdoor space is used for gatherings, outdoor meals, and behind Tomkow is a garden with a wood laced lattice. The residents and tenants living between the four Virginia Park buildings (three apartments and one lodge) use the garden to grow flowers and their own vegetables. Tomkow’s eyes move from the picnic table and land on the wood frame around the garden’s lattice.
“I think I did a pretty good job with these,” Tomkow says, nodding with pride.
Tomkow spent the summer refinishing many of the wooden outdoor features around Virignia Park, from the picnic tables and park benches to the wood finishings around the exterior of the building. For Tomkow, not only was refinishing all of wooden outdoor wooden details something to help keep him busy over the summer, it was something he noticed early on needed to be done.
“They hadn’t been fixed up in quite a while,” Tomkow says. “So I figured, why not? I’ll fix them up. It needs to be done, so I’ll do it.”
Tomkow moved to Virginia Park in 2013 but was already used to lending a hand whenever he could. He explains that he used to live in a condo complex where he helped with the upkeep of the grounds. At 70 years old, he still doesn’t shy away from hard work. Before his retirement, he worked in transferring patients at the Royal Alexandra Hospital between wards. So, sanding down and re-staining some outdoor wood features is relatively simple work for Tomkow.
In addition to his help with the outdoor wooden features, Tomkow also takes it upon himself to sweep up all the surrounding parking lots around Virginia Park after the winter thaw, making sure all of the sand and salt is off the concrete for his neighbours and visitors to park at.
“For a couple of hours a day, it’s not going to kill me,” Tomkow says with a laugh about all the work he does for the community he calls home. Though he doesn’t have any plans yet for what his projects will be over the winter and into next summer, he knows there’s always something he can lend a hand with around Virginia Park.
Tomkow looks back to the wood frame around the lattice, running his hand along the smooth wood finish. His laugh is distinct and contagious and he’s always willing to make himself the butt of a joke. “I had to be careful while staining the frame here,” he says with a growing grin and a chuckle. “The gardeners here would kill me if I got any stain on the plants.”
Kay Robertson stands off to the side of the common sitting area at Beverly Place lodge. Three tables of men and women leaning over their bingo boards are laid out in front of her. They listen carefully as she calls out the numbers and letters, never stuttering or muttering as she draws each new ball.
Calling bingo is Roberson’s favourite volunteer activity and makes up a good chunk of her very active lifestyle. At age 93, she hasn’t slowed down her volunteer efforts and was recognized by local Edmonton MP Kerry Diotte with a 2017 Volunteer Award for her hard work and dedication over many years of volunteering.
Robertson started volunteering around 44 years ago when she and her husband first moved to the Evergreen area. She volunteered with the Evergreen Community Association right up to when she moved to Porta Place Apartments in 2007. In addition to her work with the Evergreen Community Association, she volunteered with the Lauderdale community, where her son still lives. It was her work specifically with the Lauderdale community that earned her the accolade from MP Kerry Diotte. She explains that being given the award was unexpected.
“My son told me we were going for a dinner with the Lauderdale community,” Robertson recalls. “All of the sudden, they’re calling my name and giving me an award. Once the shock wore off, I got to be very happy about it.”
This wasn’t Robertson’s first recognition for her volunteerism. In 2010, the Edmonton City Council awarded Robertson with a plaque in recognition of her contributions to the Evergreen Community Association, signed by at the time Edmonton City Mayor Stephen Mandel. As great as the awards and recognitions are, what drives Robertson to keep volunteering is knowing how much other people appreciate the time and energy she gives.
“With the bingo games, for example, that’s all a lot of the players have to look forward to,” Robertson explains. “I grew up in a big family, there were ten of us girls and three boys, so I like people and I like doing things for people. I don’t expect anything back for it.”
The deep connections Robertson’s made with many of the other residents and tenants between the Beverly Place lodge and Porta Place Apartments has helped her understand many of her neighbours and community members better and has helped keep her motivated to continue volunteering. She points out that many of the stories she hears about hardships and turmoil makes her appreciate the good life that she’s had and to give back whatever she’s able to.
Though she isn’t able to volunteer with the Evergreen community or the Lauderdale community anymore (last year, she finally decided to stop driving and sold her car), she hasn’t necessarily reduced the amount she volunteers. She’s just found more around her home to do for her neighbours. Even on top of all the volunteer work she does, Robertson still finds as much time as she can to get outside.
“I’m calling bingo again on Saturday and afterward my son is picking me up and I’ll be golfing with him, my granddaughter and her husband,” Robertson lists. “We’ll get a cart and play 18 holes around the Rundle Park Golf Course. I even still have my golf clubs.”
Robertson’s energetic and active lifestyle shows what aging with a good quality of life can do for a person. When people live somewhere that allows for those opportunities to arise, they’ll give back to the community that they’re a part of. For someone like Robertson, giving back is a natural drive that helps keep her going every day.
“I have to be doing something,” Robertson says with a laugh. “I can’t sit around and stare at four walls all day. As long as I’m able, I’ll keep volunteering.”
A new bench was placed outside of Cathedral Close on June 29, 2017, and while this isn’t normally something to pay special attention to, this bench represents something more than simply somewhere to stop for a quick rest. As part of the City of Edmonton’s Hello, How Are You? campaign to address urban isolation and mental health, the Buddy Benches were developed by the City Lab as an open invitation to make a connection.
Edmonton Transportation Service (ETS) donated 20 brand new benches to be used as Buddy Benches all over Edmonton as a means to try and address social isolation. The idea is that people can stop and sit on the bench as a signal that they’re looking for someone to talk to. Anyone else can then join the person on the bench, ask how they are, and start a conversation. Most Buddy Benches are painted bright colours with the hashtag #SayHelloYeg to signal that this bench is meant for connections.
“When the bench was being installed, a lot of the tenants were asking what it was about and after I explained the Buddy Bench program they really loved the idea,” says Colleen Simpson, Assistant Manager with Cathedral Close. “We have a couple of our own benches and a gazebo on our property, but the Buddy Bench is allowing more connection with the community, which is important for a lot of people.”
Areas being targeted for Buddy Benches include high density neighbourhoods with lots of pedestrian traffic and close to seniors residential buildings. Seniors are increasingly a population at risk for social isolation and more organizations are taking steps to try and address the isolation issues and help prevent any of the adverse health effects that follow social isolation.
“In the short time the Buddy Bench has been in front of Cathedral Close, I’ve already seen a few seniors sit on it, and these are seniors I don’t recognize,” says Simpson. “People from the community are already trying to make more connections and I’m really excited to see some of the interactions happen.”