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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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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“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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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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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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When Marlene started working for GEF Seniors Housing at Kiwanis Place, the starting wage was $3.50 an hour.  That was on November 1, 1977.  Over 40 years later, Marlene still worked at Kiwanis Place and was an integral part of the team there.

Marlene was a soft spoken woman and everyone she encountered felt special when they were with her.  She was private, yet bold in her ideas about how to improve life for both residents and staff at GEF.  She was persistent in her pursuit of getting the black and white dress code changed and realized her desire when GEF adopted a coloured clothing dress code in February 2017.  Finally she could dress daily in her favourite colour of pink and flowered clothing, bringing warmth and a family atmosphere to Kiwanis.

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Marlene is known for her appreciation of the food GEF provided to staff during staff recognition events.  Coworkers would tease Marlene as she enjoyed her second and third trip through the buffet line. On other days, Marlene always ate healthy and moderately to ensure she kept herself well and fit to complete the work that was so important to her.

Marlene was an avid shopper who regularly spent her free time checking for bargains focusing on anything pink and shoes, lots of shoes! “At Kiwanis, we were always anxious to see her new outfits after her annual bus trip to New York to visit family” said Peggy Caine, Manager at Kiwanis Place. Being the woman that she was, she always wore dresses or skirts to work and also had her hair pulled back neatly; no matter how many times her coworkers begged her to let her hair hang loose.

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Marlene was born in Trinidad and moved to Montreal when she was a young adult.  She and another long term GEF coworker then moved to Edmonton.  She eventually was able to sponsor both her mom and sister, Mary, to come to Canada.

In 2010, Marlene was diagnosed with cancer.  Despite the diagnosis, Marlene fought a great battle.  Even through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Marlene missed very little work.  She knew the importance of her work and wanted to be there for her coworkers and the seniors GEF serves.  It was only when she had to be in the hospital that Marlene would miss work and it was unwillingly.  No matter how much coaxing from her co-workers, Marlene would not hear of retirement.  She enjoyed her duties, the residents and her coworkers too much to not keep working.  When one thinks of a dream employee, Marlene fits the bill in terms of reliability and dependability.

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On June 12th, 2018 Marlene lost her battle with cancer but it was a battle well fought.  She will be remembered for her courage, perseverance and mostly for her quiet strength.  Marlene was an inspiration.

For those of us at GEF that were touched by Marlene’s presence, we will miss her greatly.  To her family, please know what a difference your mom, sister, grandmother, aunt and friend made to our lives.  With heart felt gratitude, we offer this tribute to Marlene for having had the pleasure of knowing and working with her.

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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.”

 

One of the things that surprises Cheryl Ackimenko the most about the Community Supports program with GEF Seniors Housing is how often individuals call the team’s main phone line looking for assistance. She points out how every one of GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings has posters up in common areas giving information about the Community Supports program with all relevant contact information. Some individuals contact the Community Supports team even before they’re in a position of needing assistance.

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“One gentleman, who recently called, moved in to his apartment a few days earlier and said he does not need any support now, but wanted to learn about services in the community should he need them in the future,” recalls Ackimenko. “He was pleasantly surprised the Community Support program was available and so accessible to him.”

Ackimenko’s previous career as an Outreach Worker, made her the perfect fit to oversee the Community Supports team while the team’s original manager, Shanika Donalds, completes her temporary leave. Ackimenko managed multiple buildings around GEF Seniors Housing for five years before moving to her position as the interim Community Supports Manager, where she oversees the team of Outreach Workers and the individual projects each is working on. The Community Supports team is made up of Nicole Smith, Madison Black and Marita Gronberg.  “This team does an amazing job providing support, as they are all passionate about helping seniors increase their Quality of Life.” Though many of the referrals that come to the Community Supports team are straight from the individuals looking for help, there are still those which come from other members of the GEF Seniors Housing community.

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“[The referral] may be a tenant who has a concern about their neighbor in the building and they want an outreach worker to offer information about the program to the neighbor,” explains Ackimenko. “It is great to see a sense of community being built through connections with neighbors.”

Much of the work the Community Supports does involve one-on-one consultations to identify the roots of the hardships the individuals are experiencing. Many seniors face issues around social isolation, which contain a range of debilitating mental and physical health detriments that can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. It’s during the one-on-one work that Ackimenko experiences people opening up about things.

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“Recently, when assisting a woman who wanted help with decluttering her home and connecting to her community, she shared her story of how she came to GEF a few years ago,” says Ackimenko. “She was renting a house with a roommate but the relationship with the roommate deteriorated to the point where she had to move out quickly. She was very grateful that she was able to find housing within GEF Seniors Housing during this stressful time of her life. She moved in to her own apartment within GEF Seniors Housing and has felt safe every day since then. She is again happy that GEF Seniors Housing has a program to support her with her needs.”

Sharing experiences and personal stories isn’t uncommon for the Community Supports team. Part of the work of understanding what’s affecting a person’s quality of life stems from the person’s experiences. Ackimenko cherishes when people are able to open up to her and respects the amount of faith people are able to put into her and her team.

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“As a Community Outreach worker, on the first visit, it is an opportunity to get to know the person and build trust,” says Ackimenko.” You learn a lot about the person and their unique needs as they share their past experiences with you and the challenges they are facing now. Often they are experiencing loneliness and isolation at this time in their life. The second visit is always welcomed, as a relationship begins to build. Helping seniors navigate their needs to increase their quality of life and reduce their social isolation is very rewarding.”

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