When Marlene started working for GEF Seniors Housing at Kiwanis Place, the starting wage was $3.50 an hour. That was on November 1, 1977. Over 40 years later, Marlene still worked at Kiwanis Place and was an integral part of the team there.
Marlene was a soft spoken woman and everyone she encountered felt special when they were with her. She was private, yet bold in her ideas about how to improve life for both residents and staff at GEF. She was persistent in her pursuit of getting the black and white dress code changed and realized her desire when GEF adopted a coloured clothing dress code in February 2017. Finally she could dress daily in her favourite colour of pink and flowered clothing, bringing warmth and a family atmosphere to Kiwanis.
Marlene is known for her appreciation of the food GEF provided to staff during staff recognition events. Coworkers would tease Marlene as she enjoyed her second and third trip through the buffet line. On other days, Marlene always ate healthy and moderately to ensure she kept herself well and fit to complete the work that was so important to her.
Marlene was an avid shopper who regularly spent her free time checking for bargains focusing on anything pink and shoes, lots of shoes! “At Kiwanis, we were always anxious to see her new outfits after her annual bus trip to New York to visit family” said Peggy Caine, Manager at Kiwanis Place. Being the woman that she was, she always wore dresses or skirts to work and also had her hair pulled back neatly; no matter how many times her coworkers begged her to let her hair hang loose.
Marlene was born in Trinidad and moved to Montreal when she was a young adult. She and another long term GEF coworker then moved to Edmonton. She eventually was able to sponsor both her mom and sister, Mary, to come to Canada.
In 2010, Marlene was diagnosed with cancer. Despite the diagnosis, Marlene fought a great battle. Even through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Marlene missed very little work. She knew the importance of her work and wanted to be there for her coworkers and the seniors GEF serves. It was only when she had to be in the hospital that Marlene would miss work and it was unwillingly. No matter how much coaxing from her co-workers, Marlene would not hear of retirement. She enjoyed her duties, the residents and her coworkers too much to not keep working. When one thinks of a dream employee, Marlene fits the bill in terms of reliability and dependability.
On June 12th, 2018 Marlene lost her battle with cancer but it was a battle well fought. She will be remembered for her courage, perseverance and mostly for her quiet strength. Marlene was an inspiration.
For those of us at GEF that were touched by Marlene’s presence, we will miss her greatly. To her family, please know what a difference your mom, sister, grandmother, aunt and friend made to our lives. With heart felt gratitude, we offer this tribute to Marlene for having had the pleasure of knowing and working with her.
Jenna Toogood and Saleen Shivji walk down one of the back halls at Kiwanis Place towards the work room where they, along with the rest of their group from their Nursing 202 class, meet to discuss the day’s activities and hold different clinical services for the seniors living in the building. Today, the nursing students are hosting a blood pressure clinic. A long line stretches out from the room and down the hall of seniors looking to take advantage of the services the students are offering to help the young nurses gain some real world experience.
“I was not expecting this many people to be waiting to have their blood pressure checked,” Shivji says with a laugh.
Both Shivji and Toogood are their second year of nursing studies at the University of Alberta. They explain that their first year of studies was heavily focused on classroom lectures and that the second year is their first chance to go out into the community and put what they’ve been learning into practice. As Toogood explains, she and Shivji both had some preconceived notions as to what their experiences were going to be working in a seniors apartment and lodge.
“I really didn’t understand the difference between nursing homes and independent seniors living,” says Toogood. “I was really surprised to see how healthy and active everyone at Kiwanis Place is and my experiences here have really changed my assumptions as to what seniors and aging are like.”
Toogood and Shivji are part of just one group of seven nursing students spending their semester at Kiwanis Place. All nine GEF Seniors housing lodges are hosting nursing students for the semester, totalling more than 100 nursing students receiving their first practical health care experiences working with seniors. The students work with the seniors directly on different real world project like documenting health history and wellness clinic such as hand massages. For Toogood and Shivji, the regular daily activity they wound up enjoying most surprised them.
“I think there is this big generation gap between me and the seniors who are living here, so I love just talking with them and hearing all of their stories,” says Shivji.
“When you’re in a classroom all day, you don’t interact much with people and that therapeutic communication is so important when working as a nurse. It’s building a good relationship and a lot of trust that can do so much for a person’s health and wellbeing,” says Toogood.
The group of Nursing 202 students working at the Virginia Park lodge echo Shivji and Toogood’s sentiment on the importance of communicating with the patients. In fact, the previous week’s clinical work for the students was focused entirely on connecting with a resident and beginning the process of building trust.
“Having that good communication and connection with the resident helps the healing process,” says Carlina Allegretto, one of the students in the Virginia Park group. “It’s treating the emotional side of healing, which can have a powerful effect.”
Brook Sherwin, another student from the Virginia Park group, explains how the connections from the previous week has helped them in their more practical clinical work, which has included hand hygiene and documenting health history.
“It’s one thing to just go through a list when you’re working on someone’s health history, it’s another to actually have a connection where that trust it built and they’re willing to disclose this medical information,” says Sherwin. “Here, we’re working in a natural setting and we’re not just going through a list. The seniors we’re working with can go at their own pace.”
“Learning to communicate with older adults and having those positive connections has been helpful and is going to be important when we work as nurses,” adds Danielle Zelt, another nursing student with the Virginia Park group. “This whole experience has been about taking what we learn in textbooks and applying it to real life.”
Though Toogood and Shivji aren’t sure just yet which way their nursing careers are going to take them, both see the value in the practices that help seniors live with a better quality of life and are seeing their interests grow in seniors health. They both credit this growing interest to their work at Kiwanis Place.
“I have a new love for doing puzzles,” Shivji says with a laugh. “Working directly with people like this is a lot more fun than sitting through a lecture”