Tag: edmonton community
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.
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.”
It’s been just over two years since Ottewell Terrace opened its door in the east end Edmonton neighbourhood. The building added a whole new set of options for seniors living in the area, adding GEF Seniors Housing’s affordable apartments program that sees rent set at 10 to 15 per cent below market value in the area, and set a new standard for how GEF Seniors Housing approached new capital building projects.
“We were already established in the neighbourhood with Ottewell Place lodge and St. Nicholas apartments,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “So we knew we wouldn’t encounter any apprehension with affordable housing being built in the area. Rather, what we encountered was a lot of excitement and anticipation for this new building and that drove some really interesting conversations with the community.”
GEF Seniors Housing held community consultation meetings before any ground was broken on the project. This helped to ensure the neighbourhood was on board with the project and that they were kept in the loop throughout the entire process. It was during the community consultation meetings that the idea of integrating a daycare centre into the building came to light.
“I was already aware of all the research that had gone into the benefits of intergenerational programming both for seniors and for children,” Swonek says. “The idea of having easy access to this kind of programming was very appealing for both us and for Primrose Place Family Centre. Since moving in, it’s been a highly successful partnership and brought a lot of value not just to the seniors and the children but to the community as a whole.”
It didn’t take long for the 54 suites in Ottewell Terrace to fill up with seniors excited to call the building their new home. For many of the people who moved into Ottewell Terrace, staying in their community was a big deciding factor for where they were going to live. As neighbourhoods in Edmonton age, so do the people who live in them and Swonek explains that when staying in their own homes is no longer safe or suitable for a good quality of life, affordable housing options need to be readily available in the community.
“A big philosophy we live by is aging in community,” says Swonek. “We’re seeing this kind of demand for affordable seniors housing in a lot of neighbourhoods across Edmonton, especially in older communities like Ottewell. People want to stay in their neighbourhoods, stay close to their friends and family, and keep seeing their same doctors and dentists who know them so well. This easily explains why Ottewell Terrace has become one of our most popular buildings for new applicants.”
With the success of Ottewell Terrace, Swonek is looking forward to implementing everything GEF learned from the whole process to new capital projects such as Sakaw Terrace and the new development in Elmwood. One of the biggest reminders he had from the Ottewell Terrace project is how much value affordable housing adds to a community.
“You offer people an affordable place to call home and it immediately changes their lives,” says Swonek. “I think every neighbourhood in Edmonton could benefit from having some affordable housing options. Research time and time again shows that mixed communities are healthier and happier places to live. Ottewell Terrace is just one example of how an affordable housing project can add so much value to a community.”
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.”
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!”
Doug Kitlar stands on the main floor of the Sakaw Terrace construction site, looking out to the Bobcat skid flattening the wet soil where the first asphalt for the building’s main parking lot will be laid. He explains that this first layer may not last through the end of the construction but is being installed to help with the rest of the construction project by covering up the mud.
“The soil’s been so wet all summer, it’s been hard to move anything,” Kitlar explains. “The asphalt is going to be damaged by the end of the project as we keep moving materials and equipment across it, but it’s going to make our lives a lot easier as we move forward on the project. It will of course have the finished layer laid toward the end of the project.”
Kitlar’s role as GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Facility Management has seen him work on his fair share of new building projects. Sakaw Terrace has seen Kitlar and the rest of the teams with GEF Seniors Housing and Chandos (Sakaw Terrace’s general construction contractor) branch out into trying new approaches while completing the building project. It’s been close to one year since shovels first broke ground on Sakaw Terrace and the project is moving fast.
All four above ground floors and the underground parking garage have all had concrete poured for the flooring to the north wings and central core, making it possible to walk through every floor of the building (with the right safety gear, of course). The structural steel frame is nearing completion, giving the building its familiar shape. The remaining concrete will be poured over the next month.
With progress moving so smoothly on Sakaw Terrace, Kitlar already has his mind on developing show suites. He explains that the main floor will display one lodge room and one apartment room that will first be used for weather and pressure testing, to ensure that no matter the weather outside the inside of the building and the suites will stay dry. Once the suites meet all the demands for weather and pressure testing, they will be an established standard for the finishes in all suites in the building and ultimately become the show suites for prospective tenants.
“In about a month or so, we’ll start putting together the show suites to be pressure tested,” says Kitlar. “If things keep moving as they are now, we should be able to show our future residents and tenants the show suites by spring 2018.”
The next steps for the construction crew that will take the project into the New Year include paving the west side parking lot, finishing the ramp down to the underground parkade, securing the last of the structural steel walls, and installing the last of the roofing.
Standing on Sakaw Terrace’s roof, there is a great view of the city’s south side and of downtown Edmonton’s skyline. The roof is sturdy and secure and the ventilation system vents are already being installed. Kitlar smiles as he looks out to the Edmonton skyline and reminisces about his affinity for going on buildings’ roofs.
“When I first started with GEF Seniors Housing, I went out on to every building’s roof to get to know everything with all the buildings,” Kitlar explains. “I took a photo from each rooftop and displayed them to the managers and had them guess where each photo was taken. With this unique view, no one will have problems guessing any photo taken from here.”
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.”
For the past six years, GEF Seniors Housing has taken part in the K-Days Parade festivities. In 2015, GEF Seniors Housing won the best not-for-profit float award. The float saw mascots Harold and Mildred standing next to a small house and waving to the crowds. In 2016, Harold and Mildred went to prom with a float that celebrated the class of 1959 (the year GEF Seniors Housing was established). This year, the K-Days Parade marches through downtown Edmonton starting at 10:00 a.m. on July 21, 2017, and Harold and Mildred are packing up the car and taking a road trip across Canada to celebrate the country’s 150th Anniversary.
“Any chance we get to connect with the communities we operate in, we want to take advantage of it,” says GEF Seniors Housing Public Relations Manager Christopher Schieman. “The K-Days Parade allows thousands of Edmontonians and other Albertans from surrounding areas to see who we are and want to connect with us.”
GEF Seniors Housing staff volunteer to put on the mascot costumes and dress up to the parade float’s theme. Schieman remembers the 2016 parade and trying to find leisure suits and retro-style prom dresses for the more than dozen volunteers who walked alongside the float.
“The Communications team spent a day digging through the racks at Value Village looking for dresses and suits,” Schieman says with a laugh. “We donated everything right back after the parade to make sure that the community members who shop at that Value Village are able to find more long term use for the clothing.”
This year, the staff volunteers in the parade will be dressing up in Canadian pride summer clothing to walk alongside the float being built to look like a car surrounded by different Canadian monuments. Schieman points out that each year, the audience members most excited to see the float always surprises him.
“The kids watching the parade love Harold and Mildred,” says Schieman. “They wave really big and yell, ‘It’s Grandma and Grandpa!’ It’s a nice reminder how important grandparents are to families and how what we do at GEF Seniors Housing helps so many people.”
Schieman always volunteers to ride shotgun in the truck pulling the float so he can snap a few pictures of the audience for social media as they drive by. He explains it’s one of his favourite events to work on over the summer and not just for the big smiles on the faces of everyone watching the parade.
“It doesn’t hurt to be out of the office on a beautiful summer morning,” jokes Schieman. “This is a great way to spread the message about the need for affordable housing for seniors. Everybody’s outside, feeling good, and ready to celebrate. We love being part of festivities like the K-Days Parade and being an important part of the Edmonton community.”