On Sunday, December 1, some of our GEF Seniors Housing residents took in the beautiful sights of Zoominescence at the Edmonton Valley Zoo through a different lens – on a Trishaw bicycle.

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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 jeales@telus.net.

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.

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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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Since starting with GEF Seniors Housing in 2017, Madison Black has bounced between multiple GEF location including Central Services, Pleasantview Place, and Montgomery Place. She is working to develop positive initiatives that she hopes will address many of the challenges faced by seniors when they experience social isolation. Pleasantview Place was being used as the first pilot site for the program because of its size and its integration of both lodge units and apartments. Black’s pilot project has a very simple and direct objective.

“My goal is to reach socially isolated seniors through recreational programing, community support resources and to help build a sense of community throughout the building” says Black about the Resident Buddy program. The program will act as a welcome-committee for seniors moving into GEF Seniors Housing buildings, offering a chance for neighbours to get to know the new members of the community.

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In addition to the welcome-committee activities, the Resident Buddy program also opens up volunteering opportunities for individuals living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings. The volunteering opportunities that the seniors join can either be at a GEF Seniors Housing site, directly positively affecting their friends and neighbours, or out in the larger community. Black explains she’s developed close relationships with many of the local senior centres in Edmonton to help increase more opportunities for residents living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings to find those meaningful connections and opportunities to contribute something back.

“I want to show [the seniors] how valuable they are to the community and the building through volunteering opportunities,” says Black.

In addition to the Resident Buddy Program, Black is also developing a program that will bring in individuals to befriend seniors experiencing social isolation. The Friendly Visitor Program is still in development and will soon see connections being made between GEF Seniors Housing residents and community volunteers.

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“[The Friendly Visitor Program] offers companionship to seniors that are feeling isolated,” says Black. “It will give the seniors someone to talk to, confide in, share stories with, and it gives the seniors something to look forward weekly. I want to provide support and resources to seniors that may be facing everyday barriers.”

The programs Black continues to help develop encompass one only aspect to her work. She and the other Community Supports team members schedule regular times to visit different sites for seniors to drop-in with questions or just sit and talk. Black has also developed a calendar system that helps address the language barriers in some of the buildings.

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“Because GEF Seniors Housing has such a large spectrum of languages throughout the building, I started to offer a calendar translation services,” says Black. “This service allows seniors to request their monthly activity calendar translated into their preferred language. It is my hope that this would encourage all of our seniors to participate in daily activities.”

 

Around 30 years ago, Judy learned how to make dog figurines out of wool and wire hangers. She learned the craft from another woman who lived with her back when she called Strathcona Place home. Now living at Queen Alexandra Place lodge, she has become the teacher, showing the craft to her neighbour, Verna. The two ladies don’t make the dogs for just anyone, though. The pair makes the dogs for any of their neighbours who go to the hospital overnight and to the women fighting breast cancer and living at Compassion House.

“We just wanted these people to know that someone cares about them,” says Verna. “The dogs are a lot of fun to make and we get such nice letters from the people we give the dogs to. My grandchildren just love them too.”

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The ladies have the craft down so tight, Verna can finish one dog every two days while the more experienced Judy can finish a dog over the course of a good hockey game. The process starts with the wire hanger bent in the shape the dog will take. Judy’s  step-son bends the hangers for the ladies and drops off groups of them whenever the ladies are running low. The wool is then tied in a pom-pom style bow and tied off to hold its shape. The bows then line the wire hanger frame and are bundled together. The dogs’ ears are tied in the same pom-pom fashion, only with looser threads to mimic the bounce of floppy ears. Beaded eyes and a nose are then hot glued on to give the dog its face, and ultimately its personality.

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Before Christmas, the ladies donated 24 dogs to Compassion House. Two months later, at the beginning of March, they donated another 22. This is in addition to the dogs given to their neighbours in the lodge and to their families.

“My granddaughter is an Assistant Manager over at Julio’s Barrio and she gave a dog to one of the servers she worked with and the server loved it so much she started to cry,” says Judy. “It’s amazing how attached people get to these little dogs.”

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The ladies see the attachment to the dogs in many of the people they give them to. One gentleman from the lodge was given one before he went to the hospital, where he sadly later passed away. The man was so attached to the dog that his family put it in the casket with him. This kind of emotional attachment and positive influence is far from rare for people who receive the dogs.

“We don’t think about the cost while we’re making them,” says Verna. “All we think about is what it’s going to do for people.”

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Even the ladies grow attached to some of their dogs. The pair has started naming many of them before they’re given out. One with orange and blue ribbons that was given to Recreation Coordinator Pavi Lally was named Oscar, after Pavi’s favourite player on the Edmonton Oilers Oscar Klefbom. Another shaggy brown one that Judy has grown particularly attached to is named Rags.

“I almost lost Rags on the way down here,” Judy says with a laugh. “One of the ladies saw Rags while I was coming down to the dining room. I’m saving Rags for my Granddaughter. The wire frame and bead eyes aren’t the best for small children.”

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The ladies have no plans on slowing down any time soon. How the gesture of making and giving one of these dogs to someone facing a hard time positively influences a person’s quality of life is very evident to Judy and Verna. Some of the future dog projects they have in mind are also a little ambitious.

“We were given this one set of wool, and it is just massive,” Judy says, holding out her arms expressing the size of the ball of wool. “We were thinking of using it to make a mom, and dad, and a whole litter of puppies. Make a little family for others to enjoy.”

Cathy Lupien stands by the bookcases in the Pleasantview Place library. The bookcases sit next to two large windows, sunlight beaming through and illuminating the books. Between the two bookcases are a TV set and s small table with puzzles for when the residents’ grandchildren come to visit. Lupien explains that the library hadn’t always been arranged like this. In fact, how it was originally arranged made it difficult for many of her neighbours to take out books.

“The bookcases used to be in the far corner,” Lupien says, point to a darker section of the library where the piano now sits. “No one could see any of the books. I moved the bookcases because I wanted them to be by the light, so people could see the books better.”

Lupien’s volunteering doesn’t end with helping Pleasantview Place’s library. Most notably, she lends a hand with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) with everything from fundraising to programming to even spending time with visually-impaired individuals who use CNIB’s services. Though 79-year-old Lupien’s doctors have been insisting that she slow down her volunteer efforts, her natural inclination to seek out ways that she can help others both ensures that she remains active and inspires other to find their own ways to give back.

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One of Lupien’s main ways of helping charities and not-for-profits is helping with casino events and bingos. It was at a bingo event seven years ago when she met one of the manager’s working with CNIB. After a conversation about everything the organization does for people who are visually impaired, Lupien didn’t wait long to start finding ways to be directly involved. It was two days later when she officially started with CNIB.

“These people are human beings and they deserve respect,” says Lupien. “[CNIB] isn’t getting a lot of the funding they should be getting and if my helping out makes sure that these people get all the help they need, then I’m happy to do it.”

Lupien isn’t a stranger to working for the benefit of the public. She previously worked with former Edmonton Mayor William Hawrelak and former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed. Though the connection to public service is present, Lupien’s motivations for continuing to give back stem from a lot of different influences.

“I just can’t sit around all day,” she says. “There are a lot of people who need help form volunteers and I want to inspire other people to find ways they can give back too.”

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One person that Lupien inspired is her great-grand-niece, Nicole Philpot, who at an early age discovered a passion for five-pin bowling that eventually grew into being part of a Stettler based team that competed in a Canada-wide championship. Philpot’s grandfather (and Lupien’s nephew) Leo Cherwinski explains that Philpot discovered bowling at an early age, around three-years old.

“It didn’t take long for her to start showing a lot of skill with her bowling,” says Cherwinski. “By age seven, she was winning trophies. By ten years old, she was travelling all over the province competing.”

It’s hard for Lupien to hide her pride for her great-grand-niece. She knows how even something like a championship youth bowling team can do a lot for a community. She looks to her great-grand-niece as an example for other young people to follow. Her optimism for the next generation is about as hard for her to hide as her pride for her great-grand-niece.

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“I want to see more young people finding things they love and working at it to become something better,” says Lupien. “Young people are the future and we need to encourage them to do things that are going to make their lives and the lives of others better.”

Lupien points out that she needs to slow down. Between her tennis elbow, her tendonitis, and a damaged Achilles tendon, her doctors urge to find new opportunities that won’t be so physically taxing on her. Though Lupien regrets that she won’t be able to move around bookcases anymore, she’s still planning out her volunteering venture.

“I think I’m going to volunteer at the Cross Cancer Institute,” Lupien says. “But not as a greeter. I had a friend who was a greeter at a department store. He hated it, quit after two days. I know I would hate that too. I’d get bored. I need to be doing something more.”

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Ruth Belford remembers sitting at a bus stop in central Edmonton, where she’s lived almost her entire life. She explains that she looked across the street and saw two older homeless gentlemen sitting on a bench one cold winter day. It was what the two gentlemen were wearing that caught Belford’s attention.

“I looked across the street and I’m thinking, there’s two of my toques,” Belford says with a smile. “That was for me [the moment I realized] that’s where they’re supposed to go. And there they were, right across the street.”

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Belford lives at Ansgar Villa where she’s a part of a knitting group that gets together a few times a week to share knitting tips, try out new patterns, and socialize with her neighbours in the building. In fact, almost every GEF Seniors Housing building has a knitting club and each year the clubs combine everything they’ve made throughout the year and donate the items to local charities. In 2016, more than 5,000 items were donated to charities across Edmonton and 2017 is shaping up to see an even bigger donation out to the charities serving the communities who need it most.

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Dubbed the Great Knitting Giveaway, the knitting clubs gather together each year for a meal and to hear presentations from the charities receiving the donations. This year’s event, taking place on October 20, will feature presentations from organizations such as Operation Friendship Seniors Society, Youth Empowerment and Support Services, the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and the Mustard Seed. Item donated range from scarves and gloves for adults and kids to toques for newborns. Previous years even included knitted dolls for newly landed refugee children and nests for animals needing rehabilitation.

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The event acts as a reminder to the seniors who spend the whole year knitting that their efforts are going towards something important and that their contributions are both needed and appreciated. Sitting with other knitting clubs from around GEF Seniors Housing and seeing thousands of unique knitted items from other groups helps spur creativity in the knitters and prompts them to try new things when they reconvene for their regular knitting clubs.

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For Belford, attending the Great Knitting Giveaway event reinvigorates her desire to keep contributing to the communities who need the things that she and her knitting club create. She describes the excitement she feels when she goes into the event space and sees the piles of toques, mittens, scarves, and blankets all going to people who need them. “It makes you want to go home and just knit!”

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Lawrence Tomkow runs his hand along the top of one of the picnic tables outside of the Virginia Park Lodge. The outdoor space is used for gatherings, outdoor meals, and behind Tomkow is a garden with a wood laced lattice. The residents and tenants living between the four Virginia Park buildings (three apartments and one lodge) use the garden to grow flowers and their own vegetables. Tomkow’s eyes move from the picnic table and land on the wood frame around the garden’s lattice.

“I think I did a pretty good job with these,” Tomkow says, nodding with pride.

Tomkow spent the summer refinishing many of the wooden outdoor features around Virignia Park, from the picnic tables and park benches to the wood finishings around the exterior of the building. For Tomkow, not only was refinishing all of wooden outdoor wooden details something to help keep him busy over the summer, it was something he noticed early on needed to be done.

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“They hadn’t been fixed up in quite a while,” Tomkow says. “So I figured, why not? I’ll fix them up. It needs to be done, so I’ll do it.”

Tomkow moved to Virginia Park in 2013 but was already used to lending a hand whenever he could. He explains that he used to live in a condo complex where he helped with the upkeep of the grounds. At 70 years old, he still doesn’t shy away from hard work. Before his retirement, he worked in transferring patients at the Royal Alexandra Hospital between wards. So, sanding down and re-staining some outdoor wood features is relatively simple work for Tomkow.

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In addition to his help with the outdoor wooden features, Tomkow also takes it upon himself to sweep up all the surrounding parking lots around Virginia Park after the winter thaw, making sure all of the sand and salt is off the concrete for his neighbours and visitors to park at.

“For a couple of hours a day, it’s not going to kill me,” Tomkow says with a laugh about all the work he does for the community he calls home. Though he doesn’t have any plans yet for what his projects will be over the winter and into next summer, he knows there’s always something he can lend a hand with around Virginia Park.

Tomkow looks back to the wood frame around the lattice, running his hand along the smooth wood finish. His laugh is distinct and contagious and he’s always willing to make himself the butt of a joke. “I had to be careful while staining the frame here,” he says with a growing grin and a chuckle. “The gardeners here would kill me if I got any stain on the plants.”

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Stephanie Mahé holds six bags of yellow and orange ribbons, smiling at the hard work from the four residents at Ottewell Manor who volunteered their time and efforts for the ribbons that are a part of international World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10. The residents at Ottewell Manor are no strangers to the struggles of mental health issues and Mahé explains that the residents are able to appreciate what these ribbons means on a more personal level.

“In four days, the resident volunteers made 520 ribbons,” Mahé says. “They really love ribbon making. It’s something that not only gets them out of their rooms, it also brings them together to work on something proactive and they can share their efforts with each other.”

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In 2016, Mahé, her sister-in-law Elizabeth Turnbull (Edmonton based opera singer and University of Alberta voice instructor), and a group of their friends assembled a collection of Canada-wide concerts for international World Suicide Prevention Day, calling their events Mysterious Barricades Concert Society. The concerts, which included an eclectic mix of opera singers, drummers, jazz performers, quintets, choirs,  and aboriginal performers, was livestreamed around the world. Quickly following the concert’s success came audiences and performers excited to for next year’s concert, something that the Mysterious Barricades Concert Society wasn’t sure was going to happen.

“Two and a half years ago, my brother died by suicide,” Mahé explains. “Mysterious Barricades was an event to try and help my sister-in-law [Turnbull] and me heal through music. With all the excitement around the event, we knew we had to keep it going.”

The event was named after Mahé’s brother’s favourite piece of music, “Les Barricades Mysterieuse” by François Couperin. Mahe explains that her brother was so moved by the composition that he actually built his own harpsichord a couple of years before his passing.

Last year’s concert saw 12 cities throughout Canada take part and stream free concerts as part of the awareness campaign to end the stigma around mental illness. This year’s concert will see 15 cities holding concerts, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, across to Victoria, British Columbia, with performers from notable performers such as Ontario based baritone Russell Braun and University of Victoria tenor Benjamin Butterfield. In all, the livestream will go on for 21 hours with performances starting at 2:00 a.m. Mountain Time, and all performance videos will be available on the Mysterious Barricades website for a week after World Suicide Prevention Day.

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“The performers are all friends from the music community and they along with all the livestreaming technicians are volunteering their time for World Suicide Prevention Day,” says Mahé. “People kept reaching out, wanting to be a part of this event and the entire operation remains all volunteer based.”

The idea for Mahé to involve the residents at Ottewell Manor (where she works as an office supervisor) stemmed from two sources: the first being that the residents used to make ribbons for breast cancer awareness and were very disappointed when that volunteer program ended for them, and the second being the close connection between Mysterious Barricades and the mental health focus driving Ottewell Manor.

“There are people living here who were physical therapists, some have Master’s degrees,” says Mahé. “These are bright and intelligent people who have so much to give still and, just like my brother, mental illness took so much away from them.”

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Mahé looks ahead to the future and sees what benefits international World Suicide Prevention Day and events like Mysterious Barricades can bring. Five years from now, she hopes to see a 24-hour staffed safe house open that can be available to people who struggle with mental illness on an emergency basis.

“A place like this will help show people struggling that they are not alone,” says Mahé. “People often spend evenings sitting in hospital hallways because they need help but hospitals are at capacity. Ottewell Manor has been lucky to have such a great relationship with Alberta Health Services, but not everyone is so lucky. By having these discussions and sharing these stories we can address mental illness more and work to end the stigma.”

Kay Robertson stands off to the side of the common sitting area at Beverly Place lodge. Three tables of men and women leaning over their bingo boards are laid out in front of her. They listen carefully as she calls out the numbers and letters, never stuttering or muttering as she draws each new ball.

Calling bingo is Roberson’s favourite volunteer activity and makes up a good chunk of her very active lifestyle. At age 93, she hasn’t slowed down her volunteer efforts and was recognized by local Edmonton MP Kerry Diotte with a 2017 Volunteer Award for her hard work and dedication over many years of volunteering.

Robertson started volunteering around 44 years ago when she and her husband first moved to the Evergreen area. She volunteered with the Evergreen Community Association right up to when she moved to Porta Place Apartments in 2007. In addition to her work with the Evergreen Community Association, she volunteered with the Lauderdale community, where her son still lives. It was her work specifically with the Lauderdale community that earned her the accolade from MP Kerry Diotte. She explains that being given the award was unexpected.

“My son told me we were going for a dinner with the Lauderdale community,” Robertson recalls. “All of the sudden, they’re calling my name and giving me an award. Once the shock wore off, I got to be very happy about it.”

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This wasn’t Robertson’s first recognition for her volunteerism. In 2010, the Edmonton City Council awarded Robertson with a plaque in recognition of her contributions to the Evergreen Community Association, signed by at the time Edmonton City Mayor Stephen Mandel. As great as the awards and recognitions are, what drives Robertson to keep volunteering is knowing how much other people appreciate the time and energy she gives.

“With the bingo games, for example, that’s all a lot of the players have to look forward to,” Robertson explains. “I grew up in a big family, there were ten of us girls and three boys, so I like people and I like doing things for people. I don’t expect anything back for it.”

The deep connections Robertson’s made with many of the other residents and tenants between the Beverly Place lodge and Porta Place Apartments has helped her understand many of her neighbours and community members better and has helped keep her motivated to continue volunteering. She points out that many of the stories she hears about hardships and turmoil makes her appreciate the good life that she’s had and to give back whatever she’s able to.

Though she isn’t able to volunteer with the Evergreen community or the Lauderdale community anymore (last year, she finally decided to stop driving and sold her car), she hasn’t necessarily reduced the amount she volunteers. She’s just found more around her home to do for her neighbours. Even on top of all the volunteer work she does, Robertson still finds as much time as she can to get outside.

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“I’m calling bingo again on Saturday and afterward my son is picking me up and I’ll be golfing with him, my granddaughter and her husband,” Robertson lists. “We’ll get a cart and play 18 holes around the Rundle Park Golf Course. I even still have my golf clubs.”

Robertson’s energetic and active lifestyle shows what aging with a good quality of life can do for a person. When people live somewhere that allows for those opportunities to arise, they’ll give back to the community that they’re a part of. For someone like Robertson, giving back is a natural drive that helps keep her going every day.

“I have to be doing something,” Robertson says with a laugh. “I can’t sit around and stare at four walls all day. As long as I’m able, I’ll keep volunteering.”