Elaine Ginter was over the moon when she was finally reunited her dog, Pepper. Pepper, a Bichon cross, was with Elaine for five years before they were separated. After living without Pepper for over a year at Porta Place, Elaine couldn’t be happier that GEF implemented a pet policy. Pepper is the very first furry resident of GEF Seniors Housing, and is fitting in quite well!

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The new pet policy, which was rolled out in January 2020, went through months and months of work to develop, to ensure that each pet that is brought into one of our communities fits perfectly into our family. There are certain criteria that a pet has to meet, but the overall goal is to enhance the quality of life of our seniors.

Pepper moved in with Elaine’s daughter while she was getting settled at Porta Place. It was hard for her, as Pepper is like the son she never had. Elaine could go over and visit Pepper, but it was never the same. After continuously asking about the pet policy, Elaine was truly on cloud nine when she was told Pepper was able to move in with her. “I felt like my life had a purpose again. It meant the world to me!”

Having Pepper back in her life full time means Elaine is getting out of the house more. She needs to take him out to do his business, and they go for walks and car rides. Pepper gives Elaine a reason to stay motivated and get active!

 

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“There were a few neighbours that were hesitant with this new policy and having a dog live in their building, but when they got to know Pepper and what a sweet dog he is, everyone was on board,” said Elaine. “When we get off the elevator, everyone says ‘Hi Pepper’ and gives him some love.”

It even took Pepper some time to adjust to his new living situation. “At my daughter’s house, he was so used to being let out the back or front door. Now we have to go in an elevator to go outside. He used to be scared of the elevator, but has now since gotten used to it. Whenever we get to our floor, he knows exactly which door to go to – which door is home!”

“I really do love it here at GEF! My neighbours, the staff – they are all so wonderful! Everyone is doing an amazing job, and I have settled in quite nicely,” said Elaine. “But it really has made my experience even better, having my Pepper here with me! I wouldn’t change it for the world!”

 

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 AlbertaTerra 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.

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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.

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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.

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Please click the image below to enjoy a short video that highlights this wonderful event!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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On February 27, 2019, Sakaw Terrace (5815 Millwoods Road South, Edmonton) held its Grand Opening. Over 160 residents, tenants, guests and staff joined us to celebrate this very momentous occasion.

“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.

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GEF Seniors Housing CEO, Raymond Swonek, speaking with Global News

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!

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The Minister of Natural Resources, Amarjeet Sohi

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.”

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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.”

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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!

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In 2000, Doreen Chapman had retired from her sales position at Sears, after 40 years of dedicated service.  She soon realized being home all the time and not talking to anyone, was not what she was looking for. She knew about GEF Seniors Housing through her sons, who had delivered newspapers to the McQueen Place Lodge when they were young. She submitted a volunteer application to GEF and then received a call from the Recreation Coordinator asking for an interview. The Recreation Coordinator thought her vast experience in retail sales would be an asset for the tuck shop they were planning on opening.

Doreen has been volunteering at the McQueen Tuck Shop now for 18 years. She has continually worked on Wednesdays and has become a staple of the lodge.  “It’s a nice service for [the residents] to have – snacks, gift things, and items for basic needs” Chapman mentioned.

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Doreen’s main role at the Tuck Shop is to display the items and sometimes go shopping. “Technically, the job of the Recreation Coordinator is to do the shopping, but when there is a new person, I will go with them to show them the ropes” Chapman explains. “Older people don’t like change, so what they like is what you buy!” Throughout the years, the tuck shop has improved. They are able to have a wider variety of items in which they can sell. However, sometimes change isn’t always the way to go.

Over the years, Doreen has found that one of the more popular items is the individually packaged Cheezies and chips. They are a hot commodity at McQueen Place. However, Doreen knows what is important to keep fully stocked. “Mouthwash, toothpaste, laundry detergent – the necessities of life. I try and make sure we don’t run out of those.”

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Other items that are kept on hand in the Tuck Shop are chocolate bars, throat lozenges, Kleenex, gift items, puzzles and games and cards. “I’ve picked up a few things over the years that have made it easier for me to display stuff, like a card spinner. When we first started, we had the cards in the box and it was a pain in the butt but we have the spinner now and we even have a small spinner that works like a charm. The [residents] love to be able to sit there on their walkers and look through the cards and pick what they want.”

Due to Doreen’s exceptional volunteer work over the years, she was nominated by the Honourable Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier of Alberta and MLA for Edmonton-Glenora for the 2018 Minister’s Seniors Service Awards (MSSA). The MSSA recognize exceptional volunteers and outstanding organizations. Across the province, dedicated Albertans volunteer their time to brighten the lives of seniors and build their communities while countless organizations work tirelessly to provide much-needed supports and services.

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“It was very exciting!” Chapman said. “I first heard about it from McQueen Place Manager, Tracy Grover. She had asked if I knew I had gotten nominated and I said NO! I then received the letter and was invited to a nice afternoon. There were a lot of people there and a lot of them were from out of town. [But] it was very much appreciated!”

“Volunteering at McQueen has been fun though. It makes me feel good every time I’m there. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m hoping to make 20 years!”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

 

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When Alanna Cyre started with GEF Seniors Housing as a Dining Room Attendant turned Supervisor five and a half years ago, she would have never guessed she would switch to a Recreation Coordinator at McQueen Place. Over a year into the position, she loves every minute of and is discovering new things every day.

“I stepped in when the Recreation Coordinator was away for a bit. I realized how much I enjoyed the difference between Dining Room Supervisor and Recreation [when it came to] getting to know the residents in a different way. Really learning what they are passionate about and then when the opportunity arose for me to take on this position, I was very excited to take a step forward and continue on what I was doing to help the residents”.

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The role of the ten Recreation Coordinators located in all of our lodges is to plan and oversee the activities and events at the lodges and apartments. They coordinate a monthly calendar of age appropriate activities, outings and special events for the residents to enjoy, such as bingo, card games, entertainment, birthday parties, exercise classes, bus outings, religious meetings, pub nights and more!

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Recreational activities geared for seniors have been proven to provide emotional, physical, and cognitive benefits. “I think [recreational programming] is really important because it helps with their Quality of Life. I’ve seen seniors at other facilities [and] they don’t have as many activities as what GEF has to offer”.

“You can see how excited and happy the residents are to be able to do these activities. If an activity gets cancelled because someone is sick or a volunteer has to cancel last minute and no one else can take over, you see their disappointment because they were really looking forward to be able to do something”, Cyre says. “At the lodge, they have a harder time, getting out as much, they aren’t as mobile. So to be able to have all those activities inside the building, so that they don’t have to go far, is great! They can walk down the hallway or go down to the basement to do these activities and still feel the comfort of their own home and not have to worry.”

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When a new resident moves in, Cyre meets with them multiple times within the first few weeks to let them know of the programs the building has in place and helps them to get to know some of the other residents. Some residents aren’t quite ready to make that jump right away and others fit right in. At the lodge, they use the buddy system for new residents to get acquainted. She will often introduce them to more active residents who can show them the ropes a bit. This makes them feel more comfortable and when it comes to meal time, because they had that previous connection and know a friendly face or two, they don’t feel so alone.

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“Working at GEF has been very eye opening to see the difference between isolated seniors and how to [combat] that isolation. Whether it’s doing one-on-ones with residents or getting them involved with group activities, we like to figure out when new residents move in, what activities they like to do and what they used to do before they moved here. If they liked to do certain activities that aren’t normally ran here, then we will try to introduce those activities so that other people can learn to play them.… It’s really helping their Quality of Life and seeing how much of a difference it makes to the seniors”.

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