Category: Partner Organizations
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
Colleen Simpson started working with GEF Seniors Housing in 1994 and has worked at multiple sites all throughout the organization before landing at Cathedral Close, where she works as an Assistant Manager. One constant that she has noticed, right from her first position at the original McQueen Place, is that hoarding behaviour is prevalent in many seniors. While working at Central Services, former Director of Operations Greg Dewling suggested that Simpson join a group chaired by Sage Seniors Association looking at the problem of hoarding style behaviour.
In 2012, Simpson began working with the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition, a group made up of representatives from non-profit community organizations and people with lived hoarding behaviour experiences. The group’s mission includes looking more into hoarding behaviour, recognizing gaps in services and funding, identifying supports for clients, pinpointing the roles of community partners, and researching the statistics for community presentations. As Simpson explains, much of the information needed to properly address hoarding behaviours is severely lacking.
“Much of the data we rely upon for our research is actual US based because the Canadian research simply doesn’t exist,” says Simpson. “Hoarding behaviour as a condition was only recognized in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013. Much of the research and recognition of this as a disorder is new. Even the research in the US only started about 20 years ago.”
A few facts that are known about hoarding disorder are that older adults are three times more likely to experience the behaviour than younger adults, men are more likely to exhibit the symptoms where women are more likely to seek out help, and that hoarding tendencies begin between ages 11 and 15. As part of working with other agencies to gather data through surveys of reported cases, the group conducted a survey in 2016 that looked at 257 individual cases. The stats have been compiled into presentations for other organizations to help increase the awareness and knowledge of the issue. Though Simpson is proud of the work done in the surveys and being gathered by the Coalition, she also knows where the research falls short.
“The survey only covers reported cases of hoarding behaviour where individuals sought out help and accessed services,” says Simpson. “That leaves enormous gaps in unreported cases and cases where individuals didn’t seek help.”
Though there are other groups like the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition across Canada, Simpson points out that they are not consistent in other cities. She stresses that it’s going to be through the work of community focused groups that will spur more interest and better education around what constitutes hoarding disorders. Simpson explains that even some of her own assumptions from before her work with the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition has led her to inaccurate assumptions.
“I’ve made the call to support services about a hoarding issue and once the workers arrive, they tell me that’s it’s not a hoarding situation,” says Simpson. “Hoarding disorder is so much more than just accumulating things. It’s a whole range of behaviours that when combined, build to dangerous situations.”
Dangers with hoarding situations in the home include blocking electrical outlets and heating vents which can lead to fire, piles of possessions toppling over causing injury, and blocking essential spaces like kitchens and washrooms. For seniors, the issue becomes more hazardous as many live with mobility restrictions and require mobility aids to get around their apartments. There are support services available such as Sage Seniors Association’s This Full House program, which sees outreach workers assisting seniors work through hoarding issues and maintain healthier living environments, but often times the call for an intervention comes much later than it should.
The Edmonton Hoarding Coalition’s goals include setting up a directory of services for people living with hoarding behaviours, even beyond decluttering and waste management. Simpson points out home trades such as plumbers and electricians often won’t work in homes where hoarding is occurring. Finding the services that can help a person while living in a hoarding situation will be key to ensuring they can continue living with a good quality of life.
For Simpson, some of the most important impacts that the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition has had for her are working to change her own attitudes and assumptions and enlightening her as to what to look for when she suspects someone is living with a hoarding disorder. Most important, though, is ensuring she remembers that who she is talking with is a human being.
“We don’t identify people as hoarders, people are not the condition that they are living with,” says Simpson. “Our seniors living with hoarding disorder, or any other condition that may need services and supports, deserve to live with a good quality of life. Without the right kind of data leading us in the best direction, it can be hard to know what are the best steps to take. We’re hoping that the work with the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition will establish that data set needed to increase awareness and work towards building a community that has a better understanding of how to help people living with hoarding disorder.”
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.”
A little over a year ago, GEF Seniors Housing broke ground on Sakaw Terrace, the newest affordable seniors housing project for the organization and the first for the Mill Woods neighbourhood. The event was celebrated with appearances from Edmonton Ward 12 City Councillor Mohinder Banga, Provincial Minister of Labour Christina Grey, Provincial Minister of Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson, and with a message from the office of Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi.
For GEF Seniors Housing Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar, the progress made on Sakaw Terrace over the past year has even surpassed his expectations. He explains that with the designers at RPK Architects and the contractors at Chandos all being invested in the project along with GEF Seniors Housing, the team is working collaboratively to find more efficiencies and creative ways to reduce unnecessary spending without compromising the overall building.
“Sakaw Terrace is being built on what’s called an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD),” says Kitlar. “What this basically 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. If the project comes in under budget, the IPD parties share in those profits. If the project comes in over budget, all parties share in those extra costs out of their profits.”
With an opening date pending in late 2018, keeping Sakaw Terrace on schedule has been of significant importance to Kitlar. He explains that the project did see some setbacks in its first year, including issues with the soil conditions at the building’s location.
“The soil at the Sakaw Terrace site is very moist mostly due to the fact we had a lot of rain over the summer” says Kitlar. “We had to dig deeper than anticipated in a few areas to find solid ground to build on, but the IPD process has brought everyone together to find solutions that don’t compromise the building. Despite the challenges we’ve had, Sakaw Terrace has seen plenty of steady progress.”
The structural steel is completed and concrete flooring has all been poured, giving Sakaw Terrace its shape and structure. The driveway down to the underground parking lot has been poured and the asphalt that will eventually act as the above ground parking has been laid and is currently being used for construction vehicles to carry in supplies.
Throughout the entire progress of the Sakaw Terrace project so far, Kitlar works to keep in mind who the building is for and why it’s so important to the community. The number of seniors living in the Mill Woods community sits around 20,000 and many are in need of affordable housing options that simply don’t exist right now in the neighbourhood.
“Sakaw Terrace will have 158 units, obviously not enough to address the entire need in the Mill Woods community, but enough to get the ball rolling and start some big conversations about this need that really isn’t exclusive to Edmonton’s south,” says Kitlar. “I’ve yet to go through an Edmonton neighbourhood that wouldn’t benefit with some affordable housing options, be it for seniors or families. The need is so obviously there and hopefully Sakaw Terrace can demonstrate a really good solution to keep addressing this need.”
November is Housing Month, a reminder of how important an issue housing is for everyone and how many challenges a lot of people face when trying to find somewhere affordable and accessible to call home. Young adults, families, and seniors are all affected by the rising housing costs in Edmonton. Government at all levels have realized that housing is a growing issue for many people and are committing new funds and programs to help address these issues. Despite the growing efforts, many people still struggle with simple necessities that so many take for granted.
“If you spend more than 30 per cent of your gross monthly income on housing, you’re considered below the poverty line,” say GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. GEF Seniors Housing is just one organization participating in Housing Month efforts and activities to promote the need for more affordable housing in Edmonton.
“For many Edmontonians, spending only 30 per cent of their income on housing seems like an impossible dream. We serve low-income seniors and offer them affordable housing options. We know the need in Edmonton is great, so we take part in Housing Month to help make sure no one ever has to worry about where they will call home.”
Housing Month started in Toronto with National Housing Day back in 1998. The City of Toronto called out to other municipalities to join them in recognizing the need for affordable housing options in their cities. The City of Edmonton decided to expand on the idea of National Housing Day into a whole month of events, promotions, and publications to educate and inform what affordable and social housing is, how affordable and social housing programs benefit neighbourhoods, and how individuals and communities can help housing organizations serve the people who need the help most.
GEF Seniors Housing is working with the City of Edmonton and other housing organizations such as Homeward Trust, Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative, and Capital Region Housing Corporation on a campaign to spur discussions around affordable housing in Edmonton, how to bring more affordable housing to different Edmonton communities, and what steps should be taken to help see more affordable housing projects break ground. Housing Month’s campaign also includes the National Housing Day Luncheon, hosted by Homeward Trust, on Wednesday, November 22, 2017, at the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel.
“The partnerships we have with the other housing organizations for Housing Month is part of what makes this campaign so strong,” says Swonek. “Every one of these groups does amazing work in this city and is committed to seeing more affordable housing options available to Edmontonians who are in need. I’m so proud to be part of a city and a community that takes housing so seriously.”
Housing Month seeks to highlight current affordable housing projects being built around Edmonton, showcase current affordable housing buildings already established in the city, and to exhibit much of the progress made from the support of all levels of governments. Though Housing Month is driven by the City of Edmonton, the Provincial Government and the Federal Government both have worked on major housing strategies that have benefited Edmonton greatly and even started releasing funds already so that housing organizations can begin work on creating new homes.
“I’m optimistic about the future of housing when I see how much all these different organizations and different governmental bodies are all collaborating with this common goal,” says Swonek. “Housing Month displays so much of the progress we’ve made over the years. I’m excited for more communities to become invested in affordable housing and Housing Month is the perfect way to make those connections and build that support.”
For GEF Seniors Housing, the Edmonton Municipal Election started on September 12, 2017, when 25 of the candidates for City Council met with members of the Board of Directors and Seniors Management team over breakfast at McQueen Place. After CEO Raymond Swonek’s presentation provided an overview as to who GEF Seniors Housing is and how the Foundation adds value to communities, the candidates asked engaging questions and expressed their support for the Foundation’s mission.
In the weeks following the breakfast meeting, the candidates took to visiting GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings all throughout the city, totalling well over thirty formal visits through eight Wards. Some of the visits were even formatted as full panel discussions with a range of different candidates all running in the same Ward, sharing their platforms and answering questions.
Through many of the meetings, there was a clear support for addressing several issues faced around seniors and social housing. As the new Edmonton City Council takes shape, GEF Seniors Housing is excited to continue its working relationship with the City of Edmonton and is looking forward to seeing what new opportunities arise from strong collaboration.
Thank you to all the candidates who ran during this election for your visits to GEF Seniors Housing buildings. The conversations brought to light many of the issues seniors face every day and helped spur a lot of creative ideas to help improve the quality of life for seniors in Edmonton.
Congratulations to Mayor Don Iveson on a successful campaign to be re-elected. We’re looking forward to your second term as Edmonton’s Mayor.
Congratulations to all of the incumbent City Councillors taking your seats once again for another four years in office. We’re looking forward to continuing our strong relationships in your communities.
Lastly, congratulations to the new City Councillors: Jon Dziadyk (Ward 3), Aaron Pacquette (Ward 4), Sarah Hamilton (Ward 5), and Tim Cartmell (Ward 9). We’re looking forward to working with you on new projects and helping to make sure no senior ever has to worry about where they will call home.
With new capital projects moving forward such as Sakaw Terrace, Elmwood Terrace, and the redevelopment of Strathcona Place, GEF Seniors Housing knows it has allies in Edmonton’s City Council, sharing a vision of accessible and affordable housing options for everyone.
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”
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.”
A new bench was placed outside of Cathedral Close on June 29, 2017, and while this isn’t normally something to pay special attention to, this bench represents something more than simply somewhere to stop for a quick rest. As part of the City of Edmonton’s Hello, How Are You? campaign to address urban isolation and mental health, the Buddy Benches were developed by the City Lab as an open invitation to make a connection.
Edmonton Transportation Service (ETS) donated 20 brand new benches to be used as Buddy Benches all over Edmonton as a means to try and address social isolation. The idea is that people can stop and sit on the bench as a signal that they’re looking for someone to talk to. Anyone else can then join the person on the bench, ask how they are, and start a conversation. Most Buddy Benches are painted bright colours with the hashtag #SayHelloYeg to signal that this bench is meant for connections.
“When the bench was being installed, a lot of the tenants were asking what it was about and after I explained the Buddy Bench program they really loved the idea,” says Colleen Simpson, Assistant Manager with Cathedral Close. “We have a couple of our own benches and a gazebo on our property, but the Buddy Bench is allowing more connection with the community, which is important for a lot of people.”
Areas being targeted for Buddy Benches include high density neighbourhoods with lots of pedestrian traffic and close to seniors residential buildings. Seniors are increasingly a population at risk for social isolation and more organizations are taking steps to try and address the isolation issues and help prevent any of the adverse health effects that follow social isolation.
“In the short time the Buddy Bench has been in front of Cathedral Close, I’ve already seen a few seniors sit on it, and these are seniors I don’t recognize,” says Simpson. “People from the community are already trying to make more connections and I’m really excited to see some of the interactions happen.”