It was a very magical few days in December for hundreds of GEF Seniors Housing residents when Santa and his elves made their rounds to deliver presents as part of London Drugs’ Stocking Stuffers for Seniors 2019 Campaign.
What started out in 2015 with Operation Friendship Seniors Society and London Drugs partnering together with a goal to help 40 seniors in its first year has grown exponentially in five short years. Today, Stocking Stuffers for Seniors now helps more than 4,000 seniors in Northern Alberta and 17,000 seniors across western Canada have a brighter Christmas, and the campaign now involves all London Drugs stores. Altogether, 878 seniors in eight different GEF Seniors Housing communities received a gift this holiday season.
The approach is simple, but the impact is immeasurable. Generous strangers carefully choose a name tag from specially-marked tree displays at their London Drugs store of choice and, out of the goodness of their hearts, buy what’s written on the tag as their senior’s wish list – often adding in a few extra surprises. “I think the generosity of others in the community and the surprise of receiving a gift was really awesome,” said Montgomery Place Recreation Coordinator Christine Kemp.
On delivery day, everyone was buzzing with anticipation. “I was up early – I am so excited!” said one resident. Santa and his London Drugs elves arrived, and the faces of residents and staff lit up like Christmas trees. “It was like Christmas morning for these residents – they were glowing,” said one staff member.
It was an overwhelming sight to see the number of presents that showed up under the trees at our GEF communities. After the gifts were distributed, residents started opening their presents. As well as the chorus of oohs and ahhhs around the room, seniors said comments like “this is more than I expected”, “this is over and above anything I could have imagined”, “I got just what I wanted”, “I wish I could say thank you to all the kind people” and “I don’t usually get excited for Christmas anymore but this brought back feelings that I had as a kid.”
Some of our residents don’t have family so it was a surprise to them when they received a gift. “I wouldn’t have gotten any Christmas gifts this year, so thank you very much,” said one resident. At least one senior saved his presents to open on Christmas day, because he doesn’t have any family. These unexpected gifts, filled with love, showed the residents just how much they are cared for and each senior was grateful for what they had received.
“When you see someone’s face light up and the expression of someone who doesn’t normally get this, it’s a really special feeling and it makes my heart happy!” said another staff member.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to make this Christmas so memorable – not just for our seniors, but for all of the participating seniors who needed a little cheer this year! It will be a day they will never forget.
Zoominescence is a spectacular exhibition of artistic light installations within the Zoo grounds, and GEF partnered with Age-Friendly Edmonton to bring in our own Trishaw, a specialised three-wheel bike piloted by a trained volunteer, that gives older adults the experience of “wind in their hair” without having to drive a bike themselves.
Cycling Without Age Beaumont brought in two additional trishaws and volunteer pilots, and made sure all three trishaws were mechanically ready for winter, including installing studded tires.
One attendee, who was chauffeured to the event by our community partners at Drive Happiness, said when she arrived at the zoo that she wasn’t sure what she had signed up for. At the end of the tour, she shared that she had a marvelous time. She hadn’t been back to the Edmonton Valley Zoo since her children were young, and told the organizers she was so glad she came out.
“I’m very grateful that GEF Seniors Housing and its staff supports the Cycling Without Age Edmonton program and promoted this opportunity to enrich seniors’ lives,” said GEF Board Vice-Chair Jacquie Eales, who also took the beautiful photos featured in this article.
Are you – or do you know – a senior who would love to take a ride in a Trishaw during Zoominescence 2019? Trishaw rides are only being offered between 4-5 p.m. on December 15 and 22. Spots are very limited, and you can email Jacquie Eales to reserve your ride time at email@example.com.
For more information on Zoominescence itself, including tickets, visit the Eventbrite page. Ticket prices range from $6 – $30. Zoominescence 2019 runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening in December, from 5-9 p.m., until Sunday, December 29, 2019.
“What I love about this place is the people.”
“The warmth here … that’s the reason I came.”
“The people are my style.”
These are just some of the heartfelt comments from tenants and residents at Sakaw Terrace as they shared their thoughts during Sakaw’s first anniversary celebration on November 6, 2019.
More than 100 tenants, residents and GEF staff marked their first year together with individual cupcakes tea and coffee, and reminiscing on the past year, with plenty of laughter and a few tears from those who spoke.
Site manager Manak Dhillon remembered holding interviews with prospective tenants and staff members in a trailer in the parking lot. He also remembered the last-minute flurry of permit approvals, making sure everything was in place before people moved in. Not everything went as smoothly as he had hoped, but “we got it all done – just in time.”
Assistant Manager Teslene Walters shared that she has been in every single suite more than five times. She remembered walking through the suites with just the framing done and then again – a few more times – when all the walls were up to make sure everything was perfect for each tenant and resident to move into their new home. She could tell you anything you would want to know about each room.
Sakaw Terrace opened its doors on November 1, 2018 and the first residents moved in right away. Over the next few months, the apartments and lodge rooms filled up. Currently Sakaw Terrace is home to 175 seniors and is a vibrant community.
The official Grand Opening was held on February 27, 2019 and more than 160 tenants, residents, staff and guests joined in the festivities. You can read more about the Grand Opening in a previous blog story.
As we mark our 60th anniversary as GEF Seniors Housing, we also celebrate the 12th Annual Great Knitting Giveaway. Held on Friday, October 25 at the Santa Maria Goretti Centre, the event was a huge success and our biggest yet! When the event started in 2007, we had 35 residents and tenants participating. Today, there are just over 130 knitters contributing to this amazing event and over 8,000 items knitted, crocheted, donated and loved.
This event has grown exponentially thanks to the enormous generosity and kindness of Edmonton residents, who have banded together to donate more than 100 bags of yarn just this year. That amount translates into thousands of skeins of yarn for our tenants and residents to knit their beautiful creations. Without the generosity of all our GEF seniors, this event wouldn’t be possible. We cannot thank them enough for their countless hours of working on these amazing handmade items, each of them filled with so much love.
The charities we choose to receive the knitted items also play a huge part in this event, and some of them have been with us since the very beginning. This year, we chose eight charities: Crystal Kids Youth Centre; Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society; Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers; Operation Friendship Seniors Society; SNUG; Ronald McDonald House Charities Alberta; Terra Centre and The Mustard Seed. The items knitted for these charities will provide warmth and comfort to their clients during the cold winter months, and a hug whenever they feel a little sad or lonely. These items will remind them that they are cared for and loved, no matter their situation.
The knitted items and request for items are constantly changing, based on the needs of the community. In 2011, with an especially cold winter, there was an increased need for “comfort bags,” which include warm winter wear like socks, toques and mitts that were given to people experiencing homelessness. One year, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton asked for knitted nests which became homes for small animals. In 2016, the Alberta Wildfire Donation Centre needed many more donations for families displaced due to the Fort McMurray wildfire. GEF seniors also crocheted Izzy dolls for the military, so soldiers could have them in their pockets to hand out to the children they met in the war-torn countries where they were serving.
No matter the charities or the circumstances, our knitters are dedicated to making a difference. They will work continuously to put love and warmth back into the Edmonton community, and their generosity will touch thousands of lives of people they have never met.
Please click the image below to enjoy a short video that highlights this wonderful event!
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!
“The official opening of Sakaw Terrace is a very proud time for GEF Seniors Housing as it allows seniors living in the Mill Woods community an affordable, secure and friendly place to call home,” explained Raymond Swonek, CEO of GEF Seniors Housing.
MLA for Edmonton-McClung Lorne Dach MC’d the event and we heard wonderful speeches from the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Natural Resources; the Honourable Christina Gray, Minister of Labour; GEF Board Chair Karen Lynch and ASCHA’s Executive Director Irene Martin- Lindsay!
The day was full of big smiles and happy hearts. Residents and tenants who have already moved in were so excited to show off their new home. After the speeches were done, a ribbon cutting to announce the official opening commenced. Cake and refreshments were followed by tours of the building. Guests who went on the tours were impressed by the 70 lodge rooms and 88 apartments, two outdoor courtyards, a communal greenhouse, a theatre room, a salon, a bistro, underground and above ground parking and much more!
Seven years from concept to occupation, on November 1, 2018, GEF opened the doors to welcome the first Sakaw Terrace residents. This carefully planned project adopted an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) collaborative partnership approach to construction. “What this means is that everyone has some skin in the game. The IPD contract has ten parties signed on plus GEF Seniors Housing. All ten of the IPD parties have put their profits on the line for the duration of the construction, which keeps everyone invested in finding those efficiencies and keeping everything on schedule” explains Doug Kitlar, Director of Facility Management. By using this method, the project was able to be completed ahead of schedule and under budget!
The building is currently 90% full and hoping to be at 100% in the next few months. Residents and tenants are feeling at home living at Sakaw Terrace. “I just love the new building. The meals are wonderful and the sugar cookies are just delightful” said a lodge resident. An apartment tenant mentioned “it is my first time in community living and I am more than over the moon. The building, the staff, there is nothing not to like.” One other apartment resident said “I like my apartment. Everything is lovely. It’s beautiful. I like my privacy, but I never feel alone here.”
Karen Lynch was just eight years old when she “repurposed” some money she had taken from a UNICEF donation box. When her parents found out what she had done, they determined the consequence to her actions would be to volunteer at a local charity. Her parents arranged for her to volunteer at GEF’s Meadowlark Lodge and play the piano for the residents. It is still unknown today if the real punishment was for Karen or the residents. This was the first time Karen was introduced to GEF Seniors Housing, and she has kept that memory with her ever since. Many years later Karen is still a part of the GEF Family. She has been a member of our Board of Directors since 2014 and the Board Chair since 2017.
Karen is a respected civic leader, with over 40 years of diverse experience. Her reputation for making things happen and getting things done is well known in Edmonton. Karen’s passion is creating and nurturing networks of people involved in building community leadership, which makes her a perfect fit for GEF. She has served on the boards of the Edmonton Public Library, Volunteer Canada and Alberta Ballet, and as the elected President of the Alberta Library Trustees Association. Her extensive experience in politics and her wealth of knowledge has proven to be an asset to our organization.
Being a Board Chair is no easy feat and chairing meetings is the least of what she does. “An important aspect of being the Chair is creating and shaping the agenda and conversations for meetings [to ensure the organization is always following the right path and the] board members can speak up and bring the value to the table to be able to shape what GEF does.”
“Part of my job is to help recruit new board members along with the rest of the Board. We look at our matrix to see who is retiring or leaving and then we try to encourage people to approach the City or approach us, to see if they would be suitable for the Board and if they have talents or knowledge they can share and contribute.”
When reflecting back on the past five years, Karen doesn’t think the organization or the Board has changed very much. “This is an exceptionally well led organization. What I think has changed, is the environment around us. We’ve had two complete changes in the government, both federally and provincially. We’ve had many new council members, so in that respect, the connections with the external community has changed. I think that we are starting to do a better job of reaching out to other community partners we may not have known about in the past.”
Karen has been a dynamic leader and visionary for the Board of Directors of GEF Seniors Housing. She has a vision for where we need to be as an organization and the talents and passion to help us strategically get there. Her desire throughout her time on our board has been to make GEF the best organization it can be and she will not stop driving the enhancements until we get there!
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.
My career with GEF Seniors Housing began in November 2003 as a sous chef at one of the lodges. At the time I had no idea about GEF Seniors Housing, its vision, mission and values. I just needed a steady job and some work life balance. You see as a Chef working in the hospitality industry, work life balance was a distant dream at most times. Over the years working with GEF Seniors Housing, I have been fortunate enough to grow in my career with various positions.
My current role as a site Manager involves many dynamics. From assessing seniors for housing, working with a fantastic group of caring and dedicated staff, helping seniors to enhance their Quality of Life while they live in our buildings, dealing with the complexities and challenges of aging and seniors housing, every day at work is different and exciting.
GEF Seniors Housing relies on several partners which are part of the everyday job; some of these partners include home care, public health, family members, various Government and City licensing bodies and authorities, contractors, service providers, hospitals…..the list goes on. Each of these organizations has their own mandate and it can be challenging at times to see the common goal in enhancing the Quality of Life for our seniors and provide affordable housing.
How do we do it? The challenges that GEF, our seniors and myself face are many. However the one equation that never changes is the unwavering dedication, love, caring and compassion of my staff towards our seniors: it overcomes all hurdles and obstacles.
You might ask how, why? The answer is simple! Our staff feel that our residents are family and treat them as such. The culture at GEF is that of relationships, trust and caring, and not many things can go wrong when you have such a work environment. Our working days are filled with all kinds of entertainment, fun and surprises. We are always dressed to impress and we take our work very seriously. We can be strict when we have to be, but remember that spills happen every day!
I was very excited when the construction of Sakaw Terrace, a 158 unit self sustaining building with a mixed market housing model, was approved and I was chosen to manage it. This building will be unique in Alberta, where it will allow people of different income levels to live together and the money generated by the 30% of market lodge and apartment units will not require GEF to borrow any money from the Government or City to operate the building once the mortgage is paid off. In fact, it will create a surplus, which will help GEF build more affordable housing units. That is the future GEF is offering seniors. The progress of Sakaw Terrace is going well and we are ahead of schedule. We will be welcoming residents in Winter 2018 and everyone in the community, at GEF and myself are very excited!