Doug Kitlar stands on the main floor of the Sakaw Terrace construction site, looking out to the Bobcat skid flattening the wet soil where the first asphalt for the building’s main parking lot will be laid. He explains that this first layer may not last through the end of the construction but is being installed to help with the rest of the construction project by covering up the mud.
“The soil’s been so wet all summer, it’s been hard to move anything,” Kitlar explains. “The asphalt is going to be damaged by the end of the project as we keep moving materials and equipment across it, but it’s going to make our lives a lot easier as we move forward on the project. It will of course have the finished layer laid toward the end of the project.”
Kitlar’s role as GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Facility Management has seen him work on his fair share of new building projects. Sakaw Terrace has seen Kitlar and the rest of the teams with GEF Seniors Housing and Chandos (Sakaw Terrace’s general construction contractor) branch out into trying new approaches while completing the building project. It’s been close to one year since shovels first broke ground on Sakaw Terrace and the project is moving fast.
All four above ground floors and the underground parking garage have all had concrete poured for the flooring to the north wings and central core, making it possible to walk through every floor of the building (with the right safety gear, of course). The structural steel frame is nearing completion, giving the building its familiar shape. The remaining concrete will be poured over the next month.
With progress moving so smoothly on Sakaw Terrace, Kitlar already has his mind on developing show suites. He explains that the main floor will display one lodge room and one apartment room that will first be used for weather and pressure testing, to ensure that no matter the weather outside the inside of the building and the suites will stay dry. Once the suites meet all the demands for weather and pressure testing, they will be an established standard for the finishes in all suites in the building and ultimately become the show suites for prospective tenants.
“In about a month or so, we’ll start putting together the show suites to be pressure tested,” says Kitlar. “If things keep moving as they are now, we should be able to show our future residents and tenants the show suites by spring 2018.”
The next steps for the construction crew that will take the project into the New Year include paving the west side parking lot, finishing the ramp down to the underground parkade, securing the last of the structural steel walls, and installing the last of the roofing.
Standing on Sakaw Terrace’s roof, there is a great view of the city’s south side and of downtown Edmonton’s skyline. The roof is sturdy and secure and the ventilation system vents are already being installed. Kitlar smiles as he looks out to the Edmonton skyline and reminisces about his affinity for going on buildings’ roofs.
“When I first started with GEF Seniors Housing, I went out on to every building’s roof to get to know everything with all the buildings,” Kitlar explains. “I took a photo from each rooftop and displayed them to the managers and had them guess where each photo was taken. With this unique view, no one will have problems guessing any photo taken from here.”
Jenna Toogood and Saleen Shivji walk down one of the back halls at Kiwanis Place towards the work room where they, along with the rest of their group from their Nursing 202 class, meet to discuss the day’s activities and hold different clinical services for the seniors living in the building. Today, the nursing students are hosting a blood pressure clinic. A long line stretches out from the room and down the hall of seniors looking to take advantage of the services the students are offering to help the young nurses gain some real world experience.
“I was not expecting this many people to be waiting to have their blood pressure checked,” Shivji says with a laugh.
Both Shivji and Toogood are their second year of nursing studies at the University of Alberta. They explain that their first year of studies was heavily focused on classroom lectures and that the second year is their first chance to go out into the community and put what they’ve been learning into practice. As Toogood explains, she and Shivji both had some preconceived notions as to what their experiences were going to be working in a seniors apartment and lodge.
“I really didn’t understand the difference between nursing homes and independent seniors living,” says Toogood. “I was really surprised to see how healthy and active everyone at Kiwanis Place is and my experiences here have really changed my assumptions as to what seniors and aging are like.”
Toogood and Shivji are part of just one group of seven nursing students spending their semester at Kiwanis Place. All nine GEF Seniors housing lodges are hosting nursing students for the semester, totalling more than 100 nursing students receiving their first practical health care experiences working with seniors. The students work with the seniors directly on different real world project like documenting health history and wellness clinic such as hand massages. For Toogood and Shivji, the regular daily activity they wound up enjoying most surprised them.
“I think there is this big generation gap between me and the seniors who are living here, so I love just talking with them and hearing all of their stories,” says Shivji.
“When you’re in a classroom all day, you don’t interact much with people and that therapeutic communication is so important when working as a nurse. It’s building a good relationship and a lot of trust that can do so much for a person’s health and wellbeing,” says Toogood.
The group of Nursing 202 students working at the Virginia Park lodge echo Shivji and Toogood’s sentiment on the importance of communicating with the patients. In fact, the previous week’s clinical work for the students was focused entirely on connecting with a resident and beginning the process of building trust.
“Having that good communication and connection with the resident helps the healing process,” says Carlina Allegretto, one of the students in the Virginia Park group. “It’s treating the emotional side of healing, which can have a powerful effect.”
Brook Sherwin, another student from the Virginia Park group, explains how the connections from the previous week has helped them in their more practical clinical work, which has included hand hygiene and documenting health history.
“It’s one thing to just go through a list when you’re working on someone’s health history, it’s another to actually have a connection where that trust it built and they’re willing to disclose this medical information,” says Sherwin. “Here, we’re working in a natural setting and we’re not just going through a list. The seniors we’re working with can go at their own pace.”
“Learning to communicate with older adults and having those positive connections has been helpful and is going to be important when we work as nurses,” adds Danielle Zelt, another nursing student with the Virginia Park group. “This whole experience has been about taking what we learn in textbooks and applying it to real life.”
Though Toogood and Shivji aren’t sure just yet which way their nursing careers are going to take them, both see the value in the practices that help seniors live with a better quality of life and are seeing their interests grow in seniors health. They both credit this growing interest to their work at Kiwanis Place.
“I have a new love for doing puzzles,” Shivji says with a laugh. “Working directly with people like this is a lot more fun than sitting through a lecture”
On September 12, 2017, members of the GEF Seniors Housing Board of Directors and Senior Management team met with candidates from all 12 Wards for Edmonton City Council and for the Mayoral position. The event was held at McQueen Place and hosted by GEF Seniors Housing Board Chair Karen Lynch. It featured a breakfast prepared by McQueen Place’s Chef Lynn Hunting, a presentation from CEO Raymond Swonek, and concluded with a question and answer session where the candidates shared their thoughts on seniors housing issues.
In total, 25 candidates joined GEF Seniors Housing to learn more about the Foundation’s mission and vision and why supporting affordable seniors housing options in Edmonton is so important. “All of the candidates were completely engaged with the presentation,” says Swonek. “They agreed with our principles and were ready to continue supporting both the continued operations of our current buildings and new capital projects around the city.”
Swonek explains that the questions from the city council candidates mostly revolved around new capital projects. They were curious about the steps taken to start new building projects and what it would entail for a new project to be built in wards where GEF Seniors Housing currently do not have buildings. For Swonek, this line of questioning is a good sign for what’s to come.
“What these questions tell me is that they want to see more affordable seniors housing options being built,” says Swonek. “They understand the facts around seniors and social housing issues, they agree with our approach to start solving some of these issues, and they want to see us continue the work that started almost sixty years ago when GEF Seniors Housing was first established.”
The candidates who attended the breakfast are in the midst of scheduling times to continue the conversation by visiting GEF Seniors Housing buildings in their wards. They will be able to connect with residents to hear about their concerns for the new City Council. In total, GEF Seniors Housing has a presence in eight of the 12 wards and candidates from all areas are working to share ideas directly with members of the community.
“We’re thrilled that so many of the candidates see eye to eye with what we’re trying to do as an organization,” says Swonek. “I’m looking forward to this election and working with the new City Council on future GEF Seniors Housing projects.”
Every year, Sage Edmonton holds a free event to help seniors navigate all the different housing options available to them as their needs and necessities change with aging. The Seniors Housing Forum features presentations from housing organization experts, information sessions from public figures, and a tradeshow displaying the wide array of different supports and services that allows seniors to have an excellent quality of life.
“The Seniors Housing Forum aims to provide a wide range of information and resources for older adults to age well in their existing home, and to better understand the variety of options for seniors’ housing,” says Karen McDonald, Executive Director with Sage Edmonton. “All sessions at the Forum will be closed captioned to ensure they are accessible and participants will also enjoy a free lunch, coffee and tea, and door prizes.”
This year’s Seniors Housing Forum will be held on Saturday, September 23, 2017, at the Central Lions Recreation Centre (11113 113 St., Edmonton) with the tradeshow opening up at 9:00 a.m. and presentations beginning at 10:00 a.m. Presentations at the event include information on financial literacy, new home technologies that help seniors age in their community, and a panel discussion on alternative housing options that will feature GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek.
“GEF Seniors Housing is involved with the Seniors Housing Forum because we believe the event serves a huge need for Edmonton’s senior population,” says Swonek. “There’s a lot of information and choices seniors need to make as they age. The Seniors Housing Forum helps ensure that seniors are getting the best information right from the source and making sure their changing needs are going to be met while maintaining their quality of life.”
The information presented is relevant not just to seniors themselves but also their families, friends, caregivers, and anyone else interested in the ever-evolving landscape of seniors housing options. Last year’s event brought in around 1,200 people to explore the tradeshow and take in the presentations, looking for information on what housing options will best serve their own or their loved ones’ lifestyles.
“I always love presenting at the Seniors Housing Forum,” says Swonek. “Last year, presented on new housing models and introduce many of the new concepts we’re building into Sakaw Terrace to an audience that was interested and engaged. I always look forward to the seniors Housing Forum and am excited I was once again asked to present.”
Registration for the Seniors Housing Forum is now open and anyone interested is encouraged to contact Sage Edmonton directly at 780-809-8604 to register.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
While working as the head of the 124 Street Business Association, Helen Nolan received a call from a couple with a new business idea. The couple had been rejected by two other business associations in Edmonton before calling Nolan. She loved the business plan and got right to work making sure the rest of the association was on board for this new business venture.
“If I want something, watch out!” Nolan exclaims with a laugh. “The business plan was just so unique and I knew that 124 Street would benefit from this new business tremendously.”
A short while later, Duchess Bake Shop opened its doors and quickly became a staple not for just 124 Street, but for Edmonton as a whole. To this day, Edmontonians venture out to the Westmount neighbourhood solely for macarons and other French baked delights. Nolan’s business savvy and community building know-how made her 15 years with the 124 Street Business Association crucial in the area’s development as it’s become one of Edmonton’s new favourite areas for food and culture.
To commemorate her contributions, the park on the corner of 124 Street and 108 Avenue will be named after Nolan with a big celebration taking place on Saturday, September 23, 2017, starting at 1:00 p.m. For Nolan, her commitment to her work as the Executive Director with the 124 Street Business Association stems from early years.
“I grew up in Mitchell, Ontario, a small town where I was related to half of the population,” Nolan explains. “My whole family was in business there and that’s where I learned that small business is truly the back bone of our country.”
In 1960, Nolan married a Member of Parliament from Hamilton, Onatrio, and found her passion for politics, remaining a champion for small businesses in the area. The couple eventually moved to Calgary for work, and then to Edmonton a short while later in 1987. She immediately embraced the city. “I remember taking a bus trip in and looking at the Hotel MacDonald and looking into the River Valley and thinking just how beautiful Edmonton was,” she reminisces. “Since moving to Edmonton, I’ve never looked back.”
It didn’t take long for Nolan to build connections around Edmonton both in business and in politics (she even ran for City Council for Ward 1 in 1992). At 75 years old, she finally decided to retire. A couple of years after that, she moved into Pleasantview Place, where she now focuses on her creative and artistic side.
“I’ve been singing jazz professionally for about 60 years,” Nolan says. “I’ve done shows with big bands and small quartets all over Canada.”
You can still find Nolan singing with her trio for the seniors at Cantebury Manor, Devonshire, and other venues around the city. She also volunteers with Pleasantview Place working with some of the other residents and tenants in a drama group. Nolan explains that the group had so much fun with the plays, they took the show on the road and performed for other GEF Seniors Housing buildings.
For Nolan, the park dedication is a happy by-product of a life working to make other people’s lives better. Whether it’s joy and entertainment from singing an Ella Fitzgerald classic or finding business opportunities to help build communities, Nolan’s drive to keep going isn’t slowing down. Now at age 81, Nolan describes herself as having a bubble of happiness in her that spills out.
“Every day I want to do something positive,” says Nolan. “Even if it’s just saying hello to someone at the grocery store. I never miss an opportunity to say hello or say something silly. So many people put up walls around themselves, especially as they get older. They shut out life. I want to open up my heart and keep embracing life.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
This is a story that was published in the August 2017 edition of Edmonton Prime Times. The editor was Maurice Tougas.
In the summer of 2015, GEF Seniors Housing opened Ottewell Terrace, welcoming more than 50 seniors to their new homes and over 70 children. On the main level of Ottewell Terrace, Primrose Place Family Centre, one of Edmonton’s oldest not-for-profit daycare centres, found its new permanent home. A staple in the East Edmonton community, Primrose Place Family Centre approached GEF Seniors Housing with the idea of building a day care in Ottewell Terrace.
Next door to Ottewell Terrace are two other GEF Seniors Housing buildings: Ottewell Manor and Ottewell Place. Where Ottewell Terrace is a completely independent living apartment, Ottewell Manor and Ottewell Place both offer lodge accommodations, which means a full recreation program for the residents. GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek points out that it didn’t take long to make the connection between the lodge’s recreation programs and the operations at the daycare centre.
“In no time, the residents at Ottewell Place and Ottewell Manor were interacting with the children,” says Swonek. “The residents love reading to the children, taking part in arts and crafts, and just spending time with them.”
Intergenerational recreation is a trend that is picking up. More seniors associations and youth organizations are teaming up with the intent of providing meaningful connections for the populations they serve. The science and research behind intergenerational recreation programs brings up many interesting benefits.
The benefits for the children involved with intergenerational recreation include improved academic skills, better social skills, decreases in negative behaviours, and increases in social stability. Children see an increase in self-esteem, problem solving skills, and an appreciation for seniors and aging when involved with these kinds of programs.
Where the benefits for the children revolve around their development, the benefits for seniors focus on their continued health. A 2004 study in the Journal of Urban Health shows that seniors burn 20 per cent more calories per week, experienced fewer falls, were less dependent on canes and other walking aides, and had better cognitive skills. Another study from 2003 in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dimentias showed that older adults with dementia or other cognitive impairments saw significant improvements in their overall mental health during interactions with children.
The social and health benefits of intergenerational programs do not surprise Shelley Sabo, Community Animator with Sage Seniors Association. Her work on Sage’s Age-ing to Sage-ing program brought together seniors and youth in Edmonton’s Beverly neighbourhood. Activities included gardening with the Little Green Thumbs program, knitting and crocheting, organizing a back-logged school library, relaxation exercises, and helping out at school events.
“Seniors have so many gifts to share with the community and it is only a gift if it is given,” says Sabo. “This project created an opportunity for many seniors to share their gifts with their community and develop some caring relationships that benefitted both the seniors and the youth.”
Age-ing to Sage-ing focused its efforts in the Beverly neighbourhood because there are a high number of seniors and children who would greatly benefit from their company. Sage’s report on Age-ing to Sage-ing points out that some of Edmonton’s diverse neighbourhoods tend to have pressing social needs among seniors and youth including poverty, multicultural and intergenerational conflict, and declining community spaces. With a focus on recognizing that seniors have many talents, skills, and gifts they can share, Sage wanted seniors to realize that they still had so much to contribute to their communities, which was a new concept to many of the seniors who participated.
“The Beverly neighbourhood has so many strengths and it is important to keep their seniors in the community,” says Sabo. “One of the seniors involved with Age-ing to Sage-ing actually contacted Schoolboard Trustee Ray Martin and started a community conversation about turning the old Rundle School into a new intergenerational community centre. At the two community conversations hosted by the Edmonton Public School Board, more than 130 people turned out at each event to share their ideas.”
The seniors in the Beverly neighbourhood also saw some connection from the Abbottsfield Youth Project with the Love Grows Here program, which paired elementary school children with seniors living at Porta Place apartments and the Beverly Place lodge on an art project. The art piece was created over five sessions between the students and the seniors and saw a gala-style unveiling for the community on December 1, 2016.
Sabo sees the intergenerational programs all over Edmonton as much more than something to help keep seniors busy. At the core of every one of the programs has been the community connection that drives people to give something more.
“I remember one senior who was suffering from depression and she decided to take part in Age-ing to Sage-ing,” says Sabo. “For her, there was nothing better than going three blocks to her neighbourhood school where she had an opportunity to give something back.”
A man sits on a workbench next to a construction site. He wipes the sweat off of his brow and stares up at the beaming hot July sun. He’s been working all day and has five more days on this job site. He laughs as he takes a sip from his water bottle.
“Back in Pakistan, this heat is nothing,” he says. “It feels hot because in Edmonton, we’re at a higher elevation, so we’re closer to the sun. But Pakistan has hot, gusting winds that you never get here.”
He’s a father of three currently renting an apartment in North Edmonton. The construction site is in south east Edmonton and the bus ride takes him an hour and a half one-way. He landed in Edmonton five years ago looking for a better life for his family. He looks down into the dug up pit, with the first bit of concrete foundation of what will soon be the first home he’ll own in Edmonton.
“In Pakistan, the power goes out, the gas goes out and you can’t cook for your family,” he explains. “I’m so happy to be here in Edmonton.”
He’ll be the proud owner of one of the 58 homes being built by the Habitat for Humanity Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, one of the largest Habitat for Humanity projects ever to be hosted in Edmonton. Members of the GEF Seniors Housing staff worked alongside the former United States President and other dignitaries such as Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and country music stars Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, and Eric Paslay.
Sheridan Kleininger, Communications Assistant with GEF Seniors Housing, has worked on volunteer build projects in the past. “I helped build a home in Ecuador,” she says. “That was an amazing experience, of course, but it’s different when you’re working on something that’s in your hometown.”
Upwards of 900 volunteers worked on the South Edmonton project near the Meadows Community Recreation Centre in the Silver Berry community. The volunteers consisted of locals from different organizations such as the Alberta Seniors Community and Housing Association (ASCHA) and the Alberta Ministry of Seniors and Housing as well as international volunteers from all over the United States who are committed to former President Carter’s mission of building affordable housing for those who need it most.
The GEF Seniors Housing team worked on a block of three row houses that just had its first bit of concrete foundation floors built. The crew’s task for the day was to build up the Styrofoam walls where the concrete for the foundation walls are poured. The GEF Seniors Housing team worked with the ASCHA team, the Alberta Ministry of Seniors and Housing team, and two of the future homeowners. GEF Seniors Housing Public Relations Manager Christopher Schieman explains that having the homeowners as part of the volunteer team acted as a big motivator.
“There were times where it felt like the sun was cooking me alive and I was so out of breath I didn’t think I could keep going,” says Schieman. “But then I would look over to the homeowners, working like crazy, and I would remember that this isn’t about me. It’s about them, their families, and about how every Edmontonian deserves to have an affordable home.”
The homeowners won’t be taking possession of their new homes until July of 2019. Even with the move-in date seemingly so far away, the homeowners still see a positive in everything.
“The LRT will probably be done by the time we move in, so I won’t have to commute on bus for an hour and a half anymore,” one homeowner says with a laugh. “This will be a place I own, though. That is very important to me. I’m so grateful that all of these people are helping.”
For the past six years, GEF Seniors Housing has taken part in the K-Days Parade festivities. In 2015, GEF Seniors Housing won the best not-for-profit float award. The float saw mascots Harold and Mildred standing next to a small house and waving to the crowds. In 2016, Harold and Mildred went to prom with a float that celebrated the class of 1959 (the year GEF Seniors Housing was established). This year, the K-Days Parade marches through downtown Edmonton starting at 10:00 a.m. on July 21, 2017, and Harold and Mildred are packing up the car and taking a road trip across Canada to celebrate the country’s 150th Anniversary.
“Any chance we get to connect with the communities we operate in, we want to take advantage of it,” says GEF Seniors Housing Public Relations Manager Christopher Schieman. “The K-Days Parade allows thousands of Edmontonians and other Albertans from surrounding areas to see who we are and want to connect with us.”
GEF Seniors Housing staff volunteer to put on the mascot costumes and dress up to the parade float’s theme. Schieman remembers the 2016 parade and trying to find leisure suits and retro-style prom dresses for the more than dozen volunteers who walked alongside the float.
“The Communications team spent a day digging through the racks at Value Village looking for dresses and suits,” Schieman says with a laugh. “We donated everything right back after the parade to make sure that the community members who shop at that Value Village are able to find more long term use for the clothing.”
This year, the staff volunteers in the parade will be dressing up in Canadian pride summer clothing to walk alongside the float being built to look like a car surrounded by different Canadian monuments. Schieman points out that each year, the audience members most excited to see the float always surprises him.
“The kids watching the parade love Harold and Mildred,” says Schieman. “They wave really big and yell, ‘It’s Grandma and Grandpa!’ It’s a nice reminder how important grandparents are to families and how what we do at GEF Seniors Housing helps so many people.”
Schieman always volunteers to ride shotgun in the truck pulling the float so he can snap a few pictures of the audience for social media as they drive by. He explains it’s one of his favourite events to work on over the summer and not just for the big smiles on the faces of everyone watching the parade.
“It doesn’t hurt to be out of the office on a beautiful summer morning,” jokes Schieman. “This is a great way to spread the message about the need for affordable housing for seniors. Everybody’s outside, feeling good, and ready to celebrate. We love being part of festivities like the K-Days Parade and being an important part of the Edmonton community.”