Tag: community supports
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!
Since starting with GEF Seniors Housing in 2017, Madison Black has bounced between multiple GEF location including Central Services, Pleasantview Place, and Montgomery Place. She is working to develop positive initiatives that she hopes will address many of the challenges faced by seniors when they experience social isolation. Pleasantview Place was being used as the first pilot site for the program because of its size and its integration of both lodge units and apartments. Black’s pilot project has a very simple and direct objective.
“My goal is to reach socially isolated seniors through recreational programing, community support resources and to help build a sense of community throughout the building” says Black about the Resident Buddy program. The program will act as a welcome-committee for seniors moving into GEF Seniors Housing buildings, offering a chance for neighbours to get to know the new members of the community.
In addition to the welcome-committee activities, the Resident Buddy program also opens up volunteering opportunities for individuals living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings. The volunteering opportunities that the seniors join can either be at a GEF Seniors Housing site, directly positively affecting their friends and neighbours, or out in the larger community. Black explains she’s developed close relationships with many of the local senior centres in Edmonton to help increase more opportunities for residents living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings to find those meaningful connections and opportunities to contribute something back.
“I want to show [the seniors] how valuable they are to the community and the building through volunteering opportunities,” says Black.
In addition to the Resident Buddy Program, Black is also developing a program that will bring in individuals to befriend seniors experiencing social isolation. The Friendly Visitor Program is still in development and will soon see connections being made between GEF Seniors Housing residents and community volunteers.
“[The Friendly Visitor Program] offers companionship to seniors that are feeling isolated,” says Black. “It will give the seniors someone to talk to, confide in, share stories with, and it gives the seniors something to look forward weekly. I want to provide support and resources to seniors that may be facing everyday barriers.”
The programs Black continues to help develop encompass one only aspect to her work. She and the other Community Supports team members schedule regular times to visit different sites for seniors to drop-in with questions or just sit and talk. Black has also developed a calendar system that helps address the language barriers in some of the buildings.
“Because GEF Seniors Housing has such a large spectrum of languages throughout the building, I started to offer a calendar translation services,” says Black. “This service allows seniors to request their monthly activity calendar translated into their preferred language. It is my hope that this would encourage all of our seniors to participate in daily activities.”
One of the things that surprises Cheryl Ackimenko the most about the Community Supports program with GEF Seniors Housing is how often individuals call the team’s main phone line looking for assistance. She points out how every one of GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings has posters up in common areas giving information about the Community Supports program with all relevant contact information. Some individuals contact the Community Supports team even before they’re in a position of needing assistance.
“One gentleman, who recently called, moved in to his apartment a few days earlier and said he does not need any support now, but wanted to learn about services in the community should he need them in the future,” recalls Ackimenko. “He was pleasantly surprised the Community Support program was available and so accessible to him.”
Ackimenko’s previous career as an Outreach Worker, made her the perfect fit to oversee the Community Supports team while the team’s original manager, Shanika Donalds, completes her temporary leave. Ackimenko managed multiple buildings around GEF Seniors Housing for five years before moving to her position as the interim Community Supports Manager, where she oversees the team of Outreach Workers and the individual projects each is working on. The Community Supports team is made up of Nicole Smith, Madison Black and Marita Gronberg. “This team does an amazing job providing support, as they are all passionate about helping seniors increase their Quality of Life.” Though many of the referrals that come to the Community Supports team are straight from the individuals looking for help, there are still those which come from other members of the GEF Seniors Housing community.
“[The referral] may be a tenant who has a concern about their neighbor in the building and they want an outreach worker to offer information about the program to the neighbor,” explains Ackimenko. “It is great to see a sense of community being built through connections with neighbors.”
Much of the work the Community Supports does involve one-on-one consultations to identify the roots of the hardships the individuals are experiencing. Many seniors face issues around social isolation, which contain a range of debilitating mental and physical health detriments that can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. It’s during the one-on-one work that Ackimenko experiences people opening up about things.
“Recently, when assisting a woman who wanted help with decluttering her home and connecting to her community, she shared her story of how she came to GEF a few years ago,” says Ackimenko. “She was renting a house with a roommate but the relationship with the roommate deteriorated to the point where she had to move out quickly. She was very grateful that she was able to find housing within GEF Seniors Housing during this stressful time of her life. She moved in to her own apartment within GEF Seniors Housing and has felt safe every day since then. She is again happy that GEF Seniors Housing has a program to support her with her needs.”
Sharing experiences and personal stories isn’t uncommon for the Community Supports team. Part of the work of understanding what’s affecting a person’s quality of life stems from the person’s experiences. Ackimenko cherishes when people are able to open up to her and respects the amount of faith people are able to put into her and her team.
“As a Community Outreach worker, on the first visit, it is an opportunity to get to know the person and build trust,” says Ackimenko.” You learn a lot about the person and their unique needs as they share their past experiences with you and the challenges they are facing now. Often they are experiencing loneliness and isolation at this time in their life. The second visit is always welcomed, as a relationship begins to build. Helping seniors navigate their needs to increase their quality of life and reduce their social isolation is very rewarding.”
The expression “every day is different” is often overused. In the case of Marita Gronberg, Community Supports Outreach Worker with GEF Seniors Housing, the expression takes on a whole new level of meaning. She explains that her role in the Community Supports team sees her making those one-on-one connections with people living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings and building the kinds of relationships where she’s able to identify what’s missing in a person’s life and how her area of expertise can help them.
“Some days I spend making phone calls and referrals, other days I am out visiting people in their homes within the GEF Seniors Housing community,” says Gronberg. “There are a variety of concerns residents bring forward during conversation, anywhere from the topics of experiencing abuse to the need of support for housecleaning.”
The foundation of trust Gronberg builds with the people she works one-on-one with is crucial to ensuring they receive the supports they need. She identifies social isolation as being one of the most pervasive issues that many seniors face. Research has shown that social isolation’s damaging effects extend far past simply having no one to talk to. The mental and physical health detriments seniors experience when isolated can seriously affect their quality of life and include an increased risk of cognitive decline, dementia, increased blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.
“This isolation makes it difficult for seniors to be aware of the resources available to them that can improve their quality of life and independence. Community Supports breaks through the wall of isolation, meeting people where they are at, and creating a support for someone they may not have had in a long time.”
The kinds of issues Gronberg has helped people work through include finding transportation solutions for people who can no longer drive, working on finance issues with people trying to live on a low-income, and even more serious mental health issues such as hoarding disorders and depression. She recounts a story about working with a woman living with depression and some of the challenges she helped her overcome.
“She no longer had interest in any activities, lost her appetite, found no feelings of happiness, felt she had no reason to live, and only wanted to sleep,” recalls Gronberg. “She reached out to Community Supports and was able to share everything she has been experiencing and feeling without any judgment in return. She said the biggest thing she needed was just to talk to someone, and know that she is not alone with these thoughts and feelings. Within another month of taking the medications from her doctor, she was back to feeling like her normal self. She was so happy to have had someone to listen to her during her darkest time.”
Gronberg knows how hard it can be for people to open up and ask for help. Seniors especially have this difficulty because they often don’t know what’s available to them and how easy it is to access what are often free or low-cost services and solutions to many issues they face. Gronberg’s worked hard to earn a good reputation around GEF Seniors Housing and continues working with people one-on-one to ensure they’re living with a good quality of life.
“Each time someone allows me into their home and personal space, and opens up to me about their deep and personal experiences,” says Gronberg. “It is always a high honor and privilege.”
Yiming Li found her passion in working with seniors at a very young age. She explains that while she was growing up in Dalian, China, her parents were very busy people and so she spent a lot of time with her grandparents. Developing that close relationship with both sets of her grandparents made her realize that there were some serious gaps in how China is addressing aging.
“China is an aging country with many older adults,” explains Li. “Yet, the government there isn’t focused on seniors issues.”
Li landed in Canada in 2013 to study at the University of Alberta’s Department in Human Ecology, Majoring in Family Ecology and Minoring in Aging. Now in her fourth year of studies, she’s spending her practicum working with GEF Seniors Housing’s Community Supports team on the Quality of Life survey and on surveys for people transitioning into living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings.
The surveys themselves aren’t particularly intensive and more rely on conversation and discovery as opposed to question and answers. The aims of the surveys are to identify keys points in the individuals that will help them live with a good quality of life while calling a GEF Seniors Housing building home and to find where key areas of services are lacking so the team can develop new programs based on the data from the surveys.
Through the surveys that Li has conducted so far, she has noticed a trend toward loneliness and isolation, especially in people with English as a second language or limited skills in English. Li saw this as an opportunity, especially with the large population of people living at Montgomery Place whose first language is Mandarin.
“Because of the language barrier, some of the people living at Montgomery Place had some frustrating experiences,” explains Li. “So when I first called to interview them, they were very hesitant to speak to me and didn’t want to participate in any of the survey work I was doing.”
Even speaking Mandarin over the phone didn’t break any of the barriers these people had, Li points out. So she had to rethink her approach in trying to reach a segment of GEF Seniors Housing’s population who needed connection. With calling on the phone no longer being a viable option, Li started making regular treks to Montgomery Place during the regular coffee hour in hopes of connecting with the Mandarin speaking population face to face.
Meeting face to face proved to be a huge success for Li. She quickly noticed how much more comfortable the people were when they met with Li in person and how happy they were to talk with her about the things that would help give them a good quality of life. Through her experience working with the people living at Montgomery Place, Li wants the rest of her practicum at GEF Seniors Housing to be focused on the Chinese populations in the building and to connect with them on a level that may be lacking for them.
“A bigger goal from all of this is to have a volunteer program where people who can speak the language come in and connect with the seniors who are experiencing isolation,” explains Li.
Once her practicum ends and she graduates from the University of Alberta, Li hopes to go back to China and implement much of what she has learned to the Chinese seniors industry. She explains that her country has a long way to go before even catching up to Canadian standards for aging and seniors programs and thinks that her education could make an impact on the Chinese systems.
“There is very little seniors housing available and what is available isn’t very professionally run,” says Li. “I hope to work with the seniors housing organizations in China and start to make some changes based on the things I learned while working with GEF Seniors Housing.”
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.”
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.”
Linda Ensley remembers when she encountered a senior who was just weeks away from living in his car. His monthly income was only around a couple of hundred dollars and he could no longer afford to pay rent, let alone pay rent while affording food and all the other aspects that make for a good quality of life. Ensley explains that once she was put into contact with this senior through the work she does with the Strathcona Place Seniors Centre, she was able to start the right kinds of conversations to help this person work out his situation.
“Through the systems we set up, we put him in contact with our year-round tax clinic and helped him find seniors benefits he didn’t know about,” explains Ensley, whose work as Strathcona Place Seniors Centre’s Executive Director has her and her team working with hundreds of seniors every day, ensuring that they have everything they need to continue living comfortably as their situations change. “After we worked out his finances, we got in touch with GEF Seniors Housing to find him an affordable place to live. Within two weeks, we had more than tripled his income and had him ready to move into the nearby Strathcona Place seniors apartment.”
The Strathcona Place Seniors Centre’s role in the lives of the seniors living in the south-central and south-western Edmonton neighbourhood has expanded exponentially since Ensley took over as Executive Director three years ago. She explains that the social work aspect to the centre needed upgrading. Thankfully, her background working with General Electric’s Information Technology (IT) department gave her some unique insights as to where the improvements could begin.
“Before, we worked on one to two cases a month,” says Ensley. “Since implementing our new technology driven processes, we handled more than 1,800 individual cases over the past six months.”
The encrypted technology component integrated into Strathcona Place’s operations consists of two different pieces of software: MeisterTask and HipChat. The MeisterTask software was originally designed to track IT work orders for private companies, but Ensley and Assistant Executive Director Francisco Yu quickly spotted how easy it could be used for securely tracking social work cases. The HipChat software helps the staff, students, and volunteer base drive internal conversations on issues that the case workers need different perspectives to create the choices seniors need. It allows the multi-disciplinary team the chance to find, creative, and innovative solutions for complex cases by pooling their resource knowledge from different disciplines.
“Using this technology has completely streamlined our approach to the social work aspect,” says Yu. “We know technology can be intimidating so we’re making sure that any work we do with the technology while talking with a senior is as seamless as possible.”
The total range of services that Strathcona Place Seniors Centres Outreach Team offer range from financial assistance to assisting newly landed senior immigrants with language barriers and even creative arts classes such as exercise, writing and painting. Staff at Strathcona Place Seniors Centre speak a total of 12 languages including a range of Asian languages, European languages, and indigenous dialects such as Kanada. The team also has access to translators for another 17 languages through extended partnerships with other multicultural organizations.
For all the good that Strathcona Place Seniors Centre is able to offer the community, Ensley knows that the building itself needs some improvements. Being built in 1971, much of the building needs upgrades and Ensley knows a simple facelift won’t be enough. Plans to tear down the current building and rebuild it are currently underway. Most interesting is the idea of connecting the seniors centre to the nearby GEF Seniors Housing Strathcona Place apartment and finding ways to be a community hub that addresses the needs of the seniors and the community.
“The value that the tenants living at the GEF Seniors Housing building near the centre receive when they participate in its programs is tremendous,” says Manak Dhillon, GEF Seniors Housing’s Strathcona Place building manager. “Finding creative and innovative ways to bridge our two organizations and help our partnership grow makes the most sense and gives the best possible benefit to the people most important to us: the seniors we serve.”
Be it athletics, textile weaving, supporting LGBTQ+ seniors, partnering with Indigenous groups, providing intergenerational programming opportunities, or working on elder abuse education, the Strathcona Place Seniors Centre continues working to add value to the lives of seniors in Edmonton. Its partnerships with other community focused organizations, such as GEF Seniors Housing, ensures that it can reach as many seniors possible and continue working to create a better quality of life for those who need it most.
“Everything we do is to help people find better outcomes,” says Ensley. “Things are always changing and we’re working to future proof everything that we do. We’re always asking ourselves what’s the next step in further addressing the needs of seniors.”