For the past nine years, GEF Seniors Housing hosts a breakfast fundraiser to help support new capital building projects in Edmonton. Though the Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser is held annually and has been hosted by CTV’s Daryl McIntyre, every event has a different flavour that’s kept GEF Seniors Housing’s business partners and community connections returning each year. As GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek explains, you can never predict who will attend any of these events.
“Last year, we saw tremendous support from the Province of Alberta with five MLAs attending the event, including Minister of Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson and MLA for Edmonton – Centre David Shepherd who both spoke as part of the event,” says Swonek. “This year, we had the honour of hosting Mayor Don Iveson, who has continued to be a partner in our mission to provide affordable housing options to Edmonton’s senior population.”
Also in attendance at this year’s breakfast was Ward 1 City Councillor Andrew Knack, MP for Edmonton – West Kelly McCauley, MLA for Edmonton – Decore Chris Nielsen, former City Councillor and Chariman of the University of Alberta Board of Governors Michael Phair, and staff members from the Minister of Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson’s office. For Swonek, seeing public dignitaries from so many different levels of government attend the breakfast fundraiser shows that the issues of providing affordable housing to seniors is a very important topic.
“We’re seeing more elected officials than ever being engaged with social programs like ours and recognizing that there will be more than one million seniors in Alberta alone in the next fifteen years,” says Swonek. “We’re seeing engagement from all levels of government and a recognition that we need to act now to ensure that no senior ever has to worry about where they’re going to call home.”
In all, GEF Seniors Housing raised over $80,000 at the event. The funds raised go directly to support Sakaw Terrace, GEF Seniors Housing’s newest capital building project in the Mill Woods area of Edmonton. Swonek points out that the breakfast fundraiser came up a little short of the $100,000 goal to raise the last $450,000 needed for the project, but he remains optimistic for what Sakaw Terrace holds and what the future support for affordable seniors housing will look like.
“Construction for Sakaw Terrace started back in November of 2016, and one way or another that building will be finished,” says Swonek. “We have other fundraising opportunities coming up before the building’s winter 2018 opening date. I know we have partners fully invested in this project, wanting to see it come to life as much as we do, and we’re more determined than ever to see Sakaw Terrace become a vital part of the Mill Woods community.”
Towards the end of 2016, GEF Seniors Housing was once again named one of the Best Small and Medium Employers in Canada (BSME) by Aon Hewitt and Canadian Business magazine. This is the eighth out of nine years that GEF Seniors Housing has been given this designation, but this time around feels especially important.
GEF Seniors Housing was placed in the Platinum category, the highest ranking a business can be named. The staff with GEF Seniors Housing was also ranked at an 88 per cent engagement score, which is not only higher than the average across North America (which is at 62 per cent) but also higher than the average among other Platinum level organizations (which is 80 per cent).
For GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Human Resources Tracy MacLeod, this score is a significant point of pride. The role the Human Resources Department plays within GEF Seniors Housing is not only to find the best people to fill all the employment positions but to retain those employees and ensure that they are happy with where they work.
“On the one hand, the more business side of things, when you have people who are happy, they will do a better job,” says MacLeod. “On the other hand, and the more important hand to me, when our staff are this happy with where they work, they serve our clients, the seniors, much better. The fact that so many of our staff work in people’s homes is always front of mind. So, when our staff are happy with where they work, the people who live in our buildings have a better quality of life.”
When GEF Seniors Housing’s CEO Raymond Swonek saw the incredibly high engagement score, he knew celebrations were in order. Throughout the winter and into early spring, members of GEF’s senior management team are travelling to the lodge sites, gathering up all the staff who work at the lodges and the adjacent apartments, and serving a hot catered lunch from St. John’s Institute catering followed by a cake for dessert from local bakery Whimsical Cake Studios.
“It’s the staff here that makes GEF Seniors Housing an amazing organization to work with,” says Swonek. “It’s important for me to recognize our staff and demonstrate to them why the BSME designation is so important and why our engagement score is something to be incredibly proud of.”
This story was originally printed in the Edmonton Journal’s Today’s Senior section in partnerhsip with Post Media and the Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council on October 31, 2016, and in the winter 2016 edition of the Community Connections newsletter. A special big thank you to Loreen Wales from Revive Wellness and Imran Sumra from Our Parent’s Home for their help with this story.
When Chef Ana Maria Muhammad started her career with GEF Seniors Housing, she knew the kitchen at the lodge had a big responsibility.
“I quickly realized that this isn’t a restaurant, this is these seniors’ homes,” Muhammad says. She goes on to explain that she visually notices a huge difference in the people living in the lodge when the food is good. Since taking over the kitchen at Ottewell Place lodge, she’s opened up the lines to communication not just with the other staff but with the residents as well.
The idea of food playing directly into quality of life isn’t a novel concept. But the stigma around bad food in seniors’ homes is prevalent. So more chefs working in seniors environments are paying extra close attention to the food they serve and making sure they aren’t putting together menus in solitude.
Registered nutritionist and CEO of Revive Wellness Loreen Wales is excited to see this as a growing trend in seniors housing. She previously worked in a number of hospitals and explains that the food she saw being served to very sick people wasn’t going to do much for their health.
“People have a desire for that sense of empowerment and no one wants to feel like they’re being force-fed something,” Wales says. “Food is exciting! So much of our lives revolve around eating and the food we serve to people shouldn’t just be different components slopped together with no thought to taste.”
Wales explains that seniors are at a greater risk of malnutrition which can lead to a drop in immune-response and sarcopenia, a rapid loss of muscle mass in the body. She points out that seniors who eat better tend to live longer and don’t experience as many typical aging issues as quickly.
Chef Imran Sumra, Hospitality Manager at Our Parent’s Home in downtown Edmonton, prides his kitchen on fresh ingredients and quality meals for his menus. He holds both a Red Seal designation and a Diploma in Food and Nutrition Management and uses his wide knowledge base in his kitchen to create meals that follows closely the nutritional needs of seniors while still appealing to the residents’ palettes.
“A lot of seniors start to lose their appetites because of things like medications,” says Sumra. “So there has to be flavour and there has to be meals that they want to eat otherwise they simply won’t have that great quality of life we want them to have.”
Sumra’s focus on fresh ingredients plays both into how nutrients from herbs and vegetables are better absorbed into the body when they’re fresh but also the difference in quality. Our Parent’s Home’s kitchen boasts entrees from prime rib and steak to curries and lamb. For Sumra, he knows following budgets are important, but he will focus on quality over cost any day.
For Muhammed, opening up the lines of communication to the residents has meant she’s been able to expand the menu into working with some of the residents’ own home recipes while still working within the prescribed guidelines from the Canada Food Guide. GEF Seniors Housing works closely with Revive Wellness to review the menus and ensure that all the important points of nutrition are being met, while still making food that the residents are going to enjoy.
“I love that I get to keep learning about all these different foods,” Muhammed says. “The residents’ feedback helps make sure that everyone in the kitchen is always improving and getting better at what they do to make our residents happy.”
Muhammad’s passion for food easily translated into her work with seniors. “I just think about how much I love my parents,” she says. “And I look at the residents like they’re my parents too. What I serve from my kitchen, I would serve to my own parents.”