Tag: social work
The expression “every day is different” is often overused. In the case of Marita Gronberg, Community Supports Outreach Worker with GEF Seniors Housing, the expression takes on a whole new level of meaning. She explains that her role in the Community Supports team sees her making those one-on-one connections with people living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings and building the kinds of relationships where she’s able to identify what’s missing in a person’s life and how her area of expertise can help them.
“Some days I spend making phone calls and referrals, other days I am out visiting people in their homes within the GEF Seniors Housing community,” says Gronberg. “There are a variety of concerns residents bring forward during conversation, anywhere from the topics of experiencing abuse to the need of support for housecleaning.”
The foundation of trust Gronberg builds with the people she works one-on-one with is crucial to ensuring they receive the supports they need. She identifies social isolation as being one of the most pervasive issues that many seniors face. Research has shown that social isolation’s damaging effects extend far past simply having no one to talk to. The mental and physical health detriments seniors experience when isolated can seriously affect their quality of life and include an increased risk of cognitive decline, dementia, increased blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.
“This isolation makes it difficult for seniors to be aware of the resources available to them that can improve their quality of life and independence. Community Supports breaks through the wall of isolation, meeting people where they are at, and creating a support for someone they may not have had in a long time.”
The kinds of issues Gronberg has helped people work through include finding transportation solutions for people who can no longer drive, working on finance issues with people trying to live on a low-income, and even more serious mental health issues such as hoarding disorders and depression. She recounts a story about working with a woman living with depression and some of the challenges she helped her overcome.
“She no longer had interest in any activities, lost her appetite, found no feelings of happiness, felt she had no reason to live, and only wanted to sleep,” recalls Gronberg. “She reached out to Community Supports and was able to share everything she has been experiencing and feeling without any judgment in return. She said the biggest thing she needed was just to talk to someone, and know that she is not alone with these thoughts and feelings. Within another month of taking the medications from her doctor, she was back to feeling like her normal self. She was so happy to have had someone to listen to her during her darkest time.”
Gronberg knows how hard it can be for people to open up and ask for help. Seniors especially have this difficulty because they often don’t know what’s available to them and how easy it is to access what are often free or low-cost services and solutions to many issues they face. Gronberg’s worked hard to earn a good reputation around GEF Seniors Housing and continues working with people one-on-one to ensure they’re living with a good quality of life.
“Each time someone allows me into their home and personal space, and opens up to me about their deep and personal experiences,” says Gronberg. “It is always a high honor and privilege.”
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.”
This is a story that was published in the August 2017 edition of Edmonton Prime Times. The editor was Maurice Tougas.
In the summer of 2015, GEF Seniors Housing opened Ottewell Terrace, welcoming more than 50 seniors to their new homes and over 70 children. On the main level of Ottewell Terrace, Primrose Place Family Centre, one of Edmonton’s oldest not-for-profit daycare centres, found its new permanent home. A staple in the East Edmonton community, Primrose Place Family Centre approached GEF Seniors Housing with the idea of building a day care in Ottewell Terrace.
Next door to Ottewell Terrace are two other GEF Seniors Housing buildings: Ottewell Manor and Ottewell Place. Where Ottewell Terrace is a completely independent living apartment, Ottewell Manor and Ottewell Place both offer lodge accommodations, which means a full recreation program for the residents. GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek points out that it didn’t take long to make the connection between the lodge’s recreation programs and the operations at the daycare centre.
“In no time, the residents at Ottewell Place and Ottewell Manor were interacting with the children,” says Swonek. “The residents love reading to the children, taking part in arts and crafts, and just spending time with them.”
Intergenerational recreation is a trend that is picking up. More seniors associations and youth organizations are teaming up with the intent of providing meaningful connections for the populations they serve. The science and research behind intergenerational recreation programs brings up many interesting benefits.
The benefits for the children involved with intergenerational recreation include improved academic skills, better social skills, decreases in negative behaviours, and increases in social stability. Children see an increase in self-esteem, problem solving skills, and an appreciation for seniors and aging when involved with these kinds of programs.
Where the benefits for the children revolve around their development, the benefits for seniors focus on their continued health. A 2004 study in the Journal of Urban Health shows that seniors burn 20 per cent more calories per week, experienced fewer falls, were less dependent on canes and other walking aides, and had better cognitive skills. Another study from 2003 in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dimentias showed that older adults with dementia or other cognitive impairments saw significant improvements in their overall mental health during interactions with children.
The social and health benefits of intergenerational programs do not surprise Shelley Sabo, Community Animator with Sage Seniors Association. Her work on Sage’s Age-ing to Sage-ing program brought together seniors and youth in Edmonton’s Beverly neighbourhood. Activities included gardening with the Little Green Thumbs program, knitting and crocheting, organizing a back-logged school library, relaxation exercises, and helping out at school events.
“Seniors have so many gifts to share with the community and it is only a gift if it is given,” says Sabo. “This project created an opportunity for many seniors to share their gifts with their community and develop some caring relationships that benefitted both the seniors and the youth.”
Age-ing to Sage-ing focused its efforts in the Beverly neighbourhood because there are a high number of seniors and children who would greatly benefit from their company. Sage’s report on Age-ing to Sage-ing points out that some of Edmonton’s diverse neighbourhoods tend to have pressing social needs among seniors and youth including poverty, multicultural and intergenerational conflict, and declining community spaces. With a focus on recognizing that seniors have many talents, skills, and gifts they can share, Sage wanted seniors to realize that they still had so much to contribute to their communities, which was a new concept to many of the seniors who participated.
“The Beverly neighbourhood has so many strengths and it is important to keep their seniors in the community,” says Sabo. “One of the seniors involved with Age-ing to Sage-ing actually contacted Schoolboard Trustee Ray Martin and started a community conversation about turning the old Rundle School into a new intergenerational community centre. At the two community conversations hosted by the Edmonton Public School Board, more than 130 people turned out at each event to share their ideas.”
The seniors in the Beverly neighbourhood also saw some connection from the Abbottsfield Youth Project with the Love Grows Here program, which paired elementary school children with seniors living at Porta Place apartments and the Beverly Place lodge on an art project. The art piece was created over five sessions between the students and the seniors and saw a gala-style unveiling for the community on December 1, 2016.
Sabo sees the intergenerational programs all over Edmonton as much more than something to help keep seniors busy. At the core of every one of the programs has been the community connection that drives people to give something more.
“I remember one senior who was suffering from depression and she decided to take part in Age-ing to Sage-ing,” says Sabo. “For her, there was nothing better than going three blocks to her neighbourhood school where she had an opportunity to give something back.”
Linda Ensley remembers when she encountered a senior who was just weeks away from living in his car. His monthly income was only around a couple of hundred dollars and he could no longer afford to pay rent, let alone pay rent while affording food and all the other aspects that make for a good quality of life. Ensley explains that once she was put into contact with this senior through the work she does with the Strathcona Place Seniors Centre, she was able to start the right kinds of conversations to help this person work out his situation.
“Through the systems we set up, we put him in contact with our year-round tax clinic and helped him find seniors benefits he didn’t know about,” explains Ensley, whose work as Strathcona Place Seniors Centre’s Executive Director has her and her team working with hundreds of seniors every day, ensuring that they have everything they need to continue living comfortably as their situations change. “After we worked out his finances, we got in touch with GEF Seniors Housing to find him an affordable place to live. Within two weeks, we had more than tripled his income and had him ready to move into the nearby Strathcona Place seniors apartment.”
The Strathcona Place Seniors Centre’s role in the lives of the seniors living in the south-central and south-western Edmonton neighbourhood has expanded exponentially since Ensley took over as Executive Director three years ago. She explains that the social work aspect to the centre needed upgrading. Thankfully, her background working with General Electric’s Information Technology (IT) department gave her some unique insights as to where the improvements could begin.
“Before, we worked on one to two cases a month,” says Ensley. “Since implementing our new technology driven processes, we handled more than 1,800 individual cases over the past six months.”
The encrypted technology component integrated into Strathcona Place’s operations consists of two different pieces of software: MeisterTask and HipChat. The MeisterTask software was originally designed to track IT work orders for private companies, but Ensley and Assistant Executive Director Francisco Yu quickly spotted how easy it could be used for securely tracking social work cases. The HipChat software helps the staff, students, and volunteer base drive internal conversations on issues that the case workers need different perspectives to create the choices seniors need. It allows the multi-disciplinary team the chance to find, creative, and innovative solutions for complex cases by pooling their resource knowledge from different disciplines.
“Using this technology has completely streamlined our approach to the social work aspect,” says Yu. “We know technology can be intimidating so we’re making sure that any work we do with the technology while talking with a senior is as seamless as possible.”
The total range of services that Strathcona Place Seniors Centres Outreach Team offer range from financial assistance to assisting newly landed senior immigrants with language barriers and even creative arts classes such as exercise, writing and painting. Staff at Strathcona Place Seniors Centre speak a total of 12 languages including a range of Asian languages, European languages, and indigenous dialects such as Kanada. The team also has access to translators for another 17 languages through extended partnerships with other multicultural organizations.
For all the good that Strathcona Place Seniors Centre is able to offer the community, Ensley knows that the building itself needs some improvements. Being built in 1971, much of the building needs upgrades and Ensley knows a simple facelift won’t be enough. Plans to tear down the current building and rebuild it are currently underway. Most interesting is the idea of connecting the seniors centre to the nearby GEF Seniors Housing Strathcona Place apartment and finding ways to be a community hub that addresses the needs of the seniors and the community.
“The value that the tenants living at the GEF Seniors Housing building near the centre receive when they participate in its programs is tremendous,” says Manak Dhillon, GEF Seniors Housing’s Strathcona Place building manager. “Finding creative and innovative ways to bridge our two organizations and help our partnership grow makes the most sense and gives the best possible benefit to the people most important to us: the seniors we serve.”
Be it athletics, textile weaving, supporting LGBTQ+ seniors, partnering with Indigenous groups, providing intergenerational programming opportunities, or working on elder abuse education, the Strathcona Place Seniors Centre continues working to add value to the lives of seniors in Edmonton. Its partnerships with other community focused organizations, such as GEF Seniors Housing, ensures that it can reach as many seniors possible and continue working to create a better quality of life for those who need it most.
“Everything we do is to help people find better outcomes,” says Ensley. “Things are always changing and we’re working to future proof everything that we do. We’re always asking ourselves what’s the next step in further addressing the needs of seniors.”
This is a story that was originally published in the February 2017 edition of Edmonton Prime Times.
Shanika Donalds knows better than most the harsh impacts that social isolation can have on seniors. Her role with GEF Seniors Housing as Community Supports Manager was created to help address the issue of social isolation in the seniors living in GEF Seniors Housing homes. For her, there is no such thing as a typical day. From one-on-one consultations to large-scale presentations during building resident meetings, Donalds and the rest of the Community Supports team work to find the underlying causes in the individual cases of social isolation and how to best work through those issues.
“One of our main operations as Community Supports is to help address seniors isolation in connection with quality of life, which in short is assessing if a person’s environment fulfills their needs,” says Donalds. “When an individual loses a partner or friends, the number of meaningful interactions declines, and this can include interactions with essential services like doctors and dentists. What we want to do is help those who are feeling isolated make those connections they need and raise their quality of life.”
Donalds and GEF Seniors Housing are just one group that make up the Pan Edmonton Group Addressing Social Isolation in Seniors (PEGASIS), a collective of seven seniors serving agencies operating in Edmonton. The group is coordinated by the Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council (ESCC), which facilitates collaboration among seniors-serving organizations across Edmonton to address seniors’ sector issues in the city. Other organizations involved with PEGASIS include the Edmonton Southside Primary Care Network, Sage Seniors Association, the Westend Seniors Activity Centre, the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, and Drive Happiness.
Tim Henderson is the Community Connector and Project Manager for the PEGASIS project with the ESCC and his role is to connect all the seniors serving agencies and see where collaboration works best to help meet the needs of isolated seniors. He explains that this kind of collaboration is a lot of work and takes a lot of commitment and he’s here to help facilitate that collaboration through, “trying to bridge the challenges of government funding and accountability, different organizational cultures, external stakeholders, opportunities, and demands, and help to create a supportive environment for all seniors.”
Reducing social isolation on its surface seems like a straight-forward goal, Henderson points out. But once you start breaking down everything that encompasses social isolation, the solutions become much more complicated.
“Research has shown how destructive social isolation can be, and with the social and economic emphasis on individual success with which we live, the risks of, and ballooning costs related to, isolation are enormous as our demographics change and our population ages,” says Henderson. “Aging is something that we are all doing, and ensuring that we get to age well is a collective endeavour. I can’t think of anything more satisfying than working with a group of people to create a population shift in thinking and living.”
Part of the collaborative effort in PEGASIS is ensuring that all the seniors serving agencies in Edmonton know about each other and how their services can help each other and, ultimately, help the seniors who are in need. For example, if a community coordinator with Sage Seniors Association is working with an individual and discovers they can’t get around to see their friends or make it to medical appointments and its affecting their quality of life, that community coordinator with Sage can connect with Drive Happiness to make sure the senior has access to transportation.
“The challenge is honouring the individual agencies and projects while facilitating their learning and capacity to work together in new ways, rather than simply sharing information about what they are doing,” says Henderson.
Henderson also has a clear view as to what success looks like for PEGASIS. “There are two parts to success for PEGASIS,” he explains. “The first will be the real collaboration of the seven partners working together to map out and create a meaningful and workable plan to reduce social isolation now and in the future. The second part will be the expansion of the group collaboration so that we truly are the pan-Edmonton group addressing social isolation of seniors.”
Donalds explains that her team, with their specific mandate to serve seniors living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings, has its collection of challenges. Residents and tenants living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings pride themselves in living independently, so for many asking for help feels like submitting their independence.
“It’s actually the opposite where we’re working to ensure that the residents can keep living independently and have access to all the essential services they need while still having those meaningful connections,” says Donalds.
But for every bit of pushback that Donalds may see from the people she works with, she just as often sees seniors immediately acknowledging they need help and embracing what the Community Supports team has to offer.
“One of my proudest achievements is when I get a call from a senior who saw a poster or a brochure and they took the initiative to seek out help,” says Donalds. “Then, it spreads by word of mouth where seniors tell each other they should call us and that it’s a good thing and we really help.”