Tag: yeg seniors housing
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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!
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.
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.
“[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.
“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.”
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.”
For his 65th birthday, Harry Johanson boarded a flight to Toronto. But that was far from his final destination. After stops in Chile and Argentina, he found himself on a Russian research ship, heading further southward. Fourteen days later, he set foot on Antarctica. He explains that he was lucky to land safely because the route the ship took was one of the most dangerous routes any ship could take on planet Earth.
“We took the Drake Passage through to Antarctica and had to race a storm that was coming up behind us,” Johanson says. “The next year, that same ship got trapped in the Antarctic ice and needed to be rescued by a Chinese cargo ship.”
Johanson is a self-taught photographer who first took up the hobby in the 1990s while working as a long-haul truck driver. He remembers being hired by the Canadian Fish and Wildlife service to travel into what is now Nunavut and met a wildlife photographer while he was up there. He was immediately fascinated by the craft and decided to take it up for himself. What transpired over the years is a passion for travel and capturing images of wildlife that has seen Johanson explore all seven continents. His trip to Antarctica saw him snap shots of penguins, seals, and many different species of birds.
“I don’t edit any of my photographs,” Johanson boasts, proudly displaying photographs of Red Pandas in China and sea turtles off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. “I want to show my authentic photographs.”
His most recent trip was down to Yuma, Arizona, where he spotted humming birds. He set his camera to take shots at 1/4000th of a second and caught the bird in flight, making it appear as if floating in mid-air with its wings completely still. This is far from his most impressive photographs. His trips out to Kenya put him in close proximity with lions and water buffalo. On a trip to Tanzania, he visited Olduvai Gorge where the world’s oldest human fossils were discovered. And his trip to the Galapagos Islands gave him first-hand experience as to what Charles Darwin saw as he wrote On the Origin of Species. The photograph Johanson is most proud of, though, is one he captured while in India.
“I spotted a Jackal and I followed him along, snapping photos,” Johanson reminisces. “From a tall grass, a Bengal Tiger popped up its head. I followed it to a creek and captured some photos of it walking across the rock bed.”
Snapping photos of rare animals is Johanson’s biggest passion. With little more than only 2,500 Bengal Tigers left in the world, being able to see one in real life in the wild is a highlight to Johanson’s photography tenure. His adventures have also seen him snap photos of White Lions (though it was in a zoo in Germany), Kiwi birds, and a road runner (where he got close enough that the road runner’s head feathers stood on edge as a warning to Johanson not to get any closer). He tries to keep a safe distance from the wildlife he shoots but has suffered his fair share of injuries from his subjects. Once while shooting a goshawk, the bird it struck him in the face, leaving a severe cut near his eye. Johanson has also suffered injury from a great horned owl and a snowy owl.
Despite all he’s seen and experienced, Johanson’s drive to continue is far from waning down. He explains that he has yet to see Canada’s Maritime Provinces and wants to return to the Arctic Circle to capture photos of muskox and caribou. Knowing there is always something new to see and something new to learn, Johanson will continue travelling as far and wide as he can, taking in as much of this world as he possible can.
“Travel is the best learning tool a person can have,” says Johanson. “Everywhere I go, I meet the people and I learn so much about them. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that, as people, we are really all the same. We may have different cultures and customs, but we are all human beings who all come from the same place. There’s really no end to what you can learn.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
After five years of being with the on-call maintenance team, Matt Johnson knows how to spot the week’s theme, or sometimes even the day’s theme, for the on-call services at GEF Seniors Housing’s forty buildings throughout the city. He notes that after three or four similar calls, he can easily predict that many of the other calls for the week will follow a familiar pattern. He remembers one long night in particular where a few difficult calls flooded in.
“A fire line burst at Rosslyn Place and flooded down through the whole building,” remembers Johnson. “I was there for a few hours with the site managers and the fire department just trying to clean things up and get things back in good working order. I got home and about thirty minutes I got another call that Ansgar Villa had started flooding.”
GEF Seniors Housing’s on-call maintenance team sees the on-staff trades taking turns having their cell phones and pagers on hand in case of any emergency at the buildings. The 16 members of the team take weekly rotations where they’re responsible for the after-hours, holidays, and weekends when GEF Seniors Housing’s offices aren’t open. Maintenance Manager Tony Lovell started off with GEF Seniors Housing as an on-call tech around 26 years ago and remembers a very different working environment.
“There was only two of us on-call at that time, so it was basically one week on, one week off,” explains Lovell. “There were only around 20 buildings that GEF Seniors Housing managed, so it wasn’t like there were two of us looking after all forty buildings we have now. Still, it was fairly hectic and we had to learn how to prioritize projects pretty quick.”
Today, there are always two maintenance techs assigned to on-call. Lovell, along with Maintenance Administrator Doreen Kinney, start the year by assigning the on-call schedules, beginning first with prioritizing who’s looking after the Holiday Season. Johnson remembers this past holiday season being particularly hectic for the on-call staff because of the sudden cold snap that hit in December.
“I wasn’t assigned to on-call but I checked in and found a few places where I could lend a hand,” says Johnson. “The whole crew is really good for working together on both helping out when a lot of calls come in and even for the initial scheduling.”
Lovell points out that once the schedule is complete, he and Kinney post it up in the maintenance department at Central Services. It doesn’t take long for the team to get together and start moving around days, ensuring that they continue to have a good work-life balance.
“The schedule looks different pretty-well every day,” Lovell says with a laugh. “The crew is really good about working together on the scheduling, switching out dates for whatever might come up.”
The techs assigned to on-call work on any issue that might come up, even though they may have a specified trade. Johnson and Lovell are both plumbers by trade but have experience working on everything from the key system to electrical tasks and heating issues.
“I’ve always been really handy and I like having my fingers in a lot of different practices, so working on things outside of my trade is nothing new for me,” says Johnson. “Working on all kinds of different building issues still teaches me a lot. Everyone on the on-call team is prepared for pretty much anything.”
The way the actual call system works hasn’t changed much since Lovell first joined the team. When an emergency occurs, the tenant at the building calls GEF Seniors Housing’s answering service provider requesting assistance. The answering service provider system then sends a message to the GEF Seniors Housing staff tech’s pager (yes, pager) with contact information to the person who made the assistance call. Lovell points out that using pagers isn’t a result of not updating the technology within GEF Seniors Housing. It’s actually because of a lack of a more reliable option.
“A lot of our techs live outside of the city and a lot of the times they work in basement mechanical rooms, and all of this affects cell phone signals,” Lovell explains. “Pager signals are still quite a bit stronger than cell phone signals. This is why they’re still used by doctors. Surgeons and techs are the last professions still using pagers.”
For Johnson, working his week as the designated on-call always has its array of challenges. He stays motivated by remembering the people he serves and what his role is in making sure they’re living with a good quality of life.
“The people I work with are always very grateful when you get their heat working in the winter time,” says Johnson. “I’d be lying if I said that the decent extra bit on my paycheque isn’t a good reward for being on call. But I really do enjoy the people part of the job. I get to improve some part of a person’s life. And that’s what I do every time I go into a building. I look for ways to improve things and make things better for the people.”
One of the most challenging clients Lynn Fraser ever had was her own mother-in-law. Fraser is a professional organizer and member of the Professional Organizers in Canada, all of whom have different specialties and areas of expertise. It was working with her mother-in-law that made her realize how important her work is for seniors.
“My mother-in-law was 94 years old and still living in her own apartment,” says Fraser. “When we finally convinced her to move into something more appropriate for her, we had a small window of time to get her ready to transition from a two-bedroom apartment to a 300 square foot lodge room.”
Fraser’s mother-in-law moved to Queen Alexandra Place three months after she was placed on the waiting list. Like many of the other seniors she has worked with in her practice, Fraser noticed that her mother-in-law kept a lot of things from over the years. She attributes this partially to the generation her mother-in-law was a part of, one who lived through the Great Depression, and also as a sign that the next, and often scary, part of life is coming up quick.
“For my mother-in-law, moving into a lodge was putting one foot in the grave,” says Fraser. “I remember that first day she was living in Queen Alexandra Place, I walked with her around the neighbourhood and it took a lot of convincing to really demonstrate that this wasn’t the end for her. In fact, it was opening a lot of possibilities.”
Decluttering as a general practice for anyone is reported to have a multitude of benefits ranging from clearer thinking, more time and improved energy to alleviating anxiety. For seniors in particular, Fraser points out that the benefits revolve around living more in the moment. She explains that older adults who hold on to objects tend to either attribute memories to them or plan to give them to family members eventually.
“They’re either living in the past or in the future and they’re missing being fully present now,” says Fraser. “Once the decluttering process begins, there’s a huge shift in people’s happiness. They can see more possibilities, it allows for more dreaming, and for seniors especially it’s the understanding that family and friends can come to visit and have a place to sit and eat. Especially as they’re looking to move into a smaller space, alleviating the pressure of where they will put all of their stuff suddenly opens up possibilities of all the things they can do when their grandchildren visit.”
Beginning the process of decluttering can be the most daunting part of the whole process. Fraser suggests that as soon as someone is on the list for a seniors lodge or apartment, the downsizing needs to begin right away. By beginning the process sooner, it becomes a set of smaller decluttering goals, as opposed to one large one that needs immediate and drastic action. Keeping up the conversation about all the benefits to their new space to keep it top of mind is important throughout the process. Fraser was able to practice some of the more practical tactics in downsizing with her mother-in-law.
“My mother-in-law was an artist, so she had this incredible collection of paintings,” Fraser recollects. “As a family, we worked with her to pick out her favourites and determined where each painting would go once she moved.”
Paring down collections is an important step in the downsizing process and Fraser stresses that it’s of the utmost importance that the person downsizing be the one making the decisions on what stays and what goes, if she is cognitively able to. Even with her mother-in-law’s clothes, Fraser was able to lean on her mother-in-law’s favourite colours (pink and purple) as a means of reducing the amount of clothing she had. Fraser explains that it’s being able to give options within reason that makes for a successful downsizing.
“The person downsizing has to be the one who chooses,” says Fraser. “You need to be respectful and work as a team. Keep reminding them of all they have to look forward to and talk about the things they love to do and how decluttering will help them be able to do those things. For my mother-in-law, I was able to talk about how many interesting people she would have to draw again. That really resonated with her and helped her along.”
Fraser recommends at times even using games to help with the decluttering process. One game she utilizes is identifying your clutter hot spot in the space and challenging the person to beat the clock in sorting and purging the pile. Another effective game can be found on the Minimalists website called the 30-Day Minimalism Game where a person gets rid of one thing on day one, two things on day two, three things on day three, and so on. Fraser also cites the Marie Kondo book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up as an effective text with practical and motivating advice. The most practical piece of advice in the text comes from a single question: “Does this bring me joy?”
For Fraser, there are actually eleven effective questions when deciding on what to do with an item:
- Does this bring me joy?
- Do I really need this?
- Do I need this many?
- Does it work?
- Am I using it?
- Will I ever use it or go back to it?
- Do I really care about it?
- Where am I keeping it?
- Can I quickly find it when I need it? (change to ‘find it quickly’)
- Is it worth storing or filing?
- Who am I keeping it for?
The last piece of advice that Fraser would give anyone looking to downsize or declutter is to envision the space that they want. How do they want it to look? How do they want it to feel? By creating that clear idea of what they want this space to be, it will continue helping that drive to continue the decluttering process.
“Staying focused is the hardest part of an already difficult process,” says Fraser. “Having another person there can both offer a lot of support and add some accountability. If they can stick with that vision, all the amazing benefits, the self-esteem, the happiness, the possibilities, all will fall into place no matter the size of space you’re living in.”
When Mesert first arrived in Edmonton from Ethiopia, she didn’t think there would be much of a language barrier. She had learned English before immigrating and was confident integrating wouldn’t be a problem. There was one thing she didn’t account for in the language barrier though.
“I couldn’t understand anyone’s accents!” Mesert explains. “I called my brothers and told them that I didn’t think I could stay in Canada because everyone was so hard to understand.”
It took Masert about six months before she became comfortable with listening to Canadian accents. Even when she got her job with GEF Seniors Housing, she still struggled with understanding what to do, especially in emergency situations. Eventually, she learned that GEF Seniors Housing offers English classes at no cost to its staff. She didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity to improve her English skills.
GEF Seniors Housing has been providing the English classes to its staff since 2014. Partial funding for the program is provided to GEF Seniors Housing by the Canada Alberta Job Grant, which provides grants for training programs that focus on improving employment skills.
Miss Hofman used to teach for Edmonton Public Schools and now helps 49 employees with their English skills at six GEF Seniors Housing sites across the city. Hofman points out that of all the site staff she works with, the group who meets at the Virginia Park lodge every Monday is one of the most culturally diverse.
“We have women from Somalia, Cambodia, Colombia, and Ethiopia in the same class learning to master what can be a confusing Canadian language and culture,” says Hofman. “Having such a diverse group connecting, all striving to improve their English and seeing their lives slowly become a tad easier is personally very satisfying.”
Even though the women in the class are all from different parts of the world, the challenges each of them face in mastering English is the same. From pronunciation to understanding the differences between past, present and future tenses, the group works through each challenge together often using examples from what they’ve encountered in their daily lives and on the job with GEF Seniors Housing.
The group at Virginia Park lodge has been getting together for close to four years now and lessons can range from discussing events at work and how to talk about them to tasks that can be more daunting such as booking appointments over the phone.
“One time my assignment in class was to phone for a medical appointment. The lady who answered hung up on me,” recalls Mesert. “So we went right back to our script to practice some more. When I called back before the end of class the lady understood me and I booked my appointment!”
The most notable change in the students is their increased confidence. They are no longer shy about asking people to repeat things or to use different words so they can understand better. Even booking appointments over the phone has become an easier task for the group members.
“My son is very good at English, but there was one time when he would not call the eye doctor to book an appointment,” recalls Marta, a class member who works at Beverly Place. “Finally, I just took the phone and booked it for him. It took no time at all and when I was done, I looked at my son and said, ‘See! It’s easy!’”
The combination of confidence and the ability to better communicate with other Canadians (including the seniors they work with every day) demonstrate how important these continued English classes are for staff at GEF Seniors Housing. The close-knit dynamic of the group helps students better understand the lessons and how to apply them in day to day situations. For some, the traditional classroom setting wouldn’t be as beneficial as the small, once a week classes during the workday are.
“When Miss Hofman is speaking, I can look at her across the table and understand what she means better because I can see the expression on her face. She knows I try hard and am learning.” says Marta. “I tell my friends that GEF Seniors Housing gives us free English lessons and they’re shocked. I’ve never worked anywhere else where they would do something like this for their staff.”
Bob Baldwin completed the Glenrose Hospital’s Short Term Assessment Rehabilitation and Treatment program close to seven years ago. The twenty-week program saw Baldwin attending discussion groups and presentations on memory, relaxation, visualization, depression, panic attacks, and other cognitive and mental health issues. Throughout the program, he made close ties with other participants with whom he connected because they were all seniors and all living with different mental health conditions. As the program was coming to a close, he realized that the work he had begun with the START program should not just end.
“The way the program ends is shuttering and kind of cold turkey,” says Baldwin. He explains that for some, the program ending sees a significant rise in the same mental health conditions they experienced before the program. “The contrast between how good you felt at the START program and then going back to living without it was really bad for some people.”
Realizing that easing off of a mental health support program would be better than simply ending, Baldwin and other friends he had made through the START program began exploring various seniors associations and recreation centres to see what existed to continue the mental health support work. Quickly he realized none existed. “We circled around the city and ended up right back at the Glenrose Hospital,” Baldwin says with a laugh. “That’s when it became clear that we needed to create this support group for ourselves.”
Leaning on his experience in leadership and organizing from his career as a teacher, Baldwin got help from the Glenrose to form START Plus. The staff at the hospital recognized the importance of building on the foundation that had been put in place by the START program and of having it organized and administered by the very people seeking the peer support. At its largest, START Plus had between 12 to 15 seniors regularly attending the Wednesday morning meetings. Finding a permanent home for the meetings proved to be a whole new challenge for the group.
“We would meet at the Glenrose, and we moved all around the building trying to find somewhere private and quiet to hold the meetings,” recalls Baldwin. “But we realized that we would have to find somewhere different to hold our meetings if this group were to be successful.”
One of the group’s members, Marlene Jones, immediately thought of her apartment building as a good venue for the regular meetings. She has lived at Strathcona Place for the past seven years, and remembered there was a large boardroom up on the ninth floor perfect for holding private meetings. The group has been happy in this space ever since, continuing the regular meetings and even having special guests attend, such as the Alberta Seniors Advocate, Dr. Sheree Kwong See.
With the group flourishing in its meetings, the members have grown incredibly close, being able to contact each other outside of the meetings and even creating memorial plans for each other as they face the inevitability of members passing on. The group decided that (if the individual member chooses to do so) as members pass on, they would have stars placed up in the Telus World of Science in remembrance.
“There’s a connectedness to this group; even if the members aren’t around, you know you’re connected to them,” says Jones. “The group has helped break isolation, encouraged us to reconnect, and made us interested in being a part of our communities.”
The mission of START Plus can be summarized as socializing, supporting, and providing a safe place in which to talk. What’s shared amongst the group stays with the group. The trust among the members is paramount to the group’s success, and the regularity of the meetings assures them that when they need it, there will be an ear — actually many ears — to listen.
“Even if there are only two people, we’ll have a meeting,” says Jones. “There would be a lot of disappointment if a meeting were cancelled. It gives us a sense of purpose and adds to our quality of life.”
Baldwin echoes Jones’ sentiment about START Plus giving the members of the group a sense of purpose. As the group selectively looks for new members (many of whom are from the START program at the Glenrose Hospital as well) and stands ready to help establish other groups with a similar mission, Baldwin reflects on why he continues to work so diligently on this group.
“I often get asked why I put so much time into START Plus,” says Baldwin. “It’s really not an onerous job and it gives me a sense of purpose. It’s something to look forward to. There are plenty of Wednesdays when I think ‘I’d rather stay in bed.’ I’m happy, though, every time I make the effort to come out to talk, give some support, and meet with ‘my second family.’”