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.
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.”
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.
“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!”
When Alanna Cyre started with GEF Seniors Housing as a Dining Room Attendant turned Supervisor five and a half years ago, she would have never guessed she would switch to a Recreation Coordinator at McQueen Place. Over a year into the position, she loves every minute of and is discovering new things every day.
“I stepped in when the Recreation Coordinator was away for a bit. I realized how much I enjoyed the difference between Dining Room Supervisor and Recreation [when it came to] getting to know the residents in a different way. Really learning what they are passionate about and then when the opportunity arose for me to take on this position, I was very excited to take a step forward and continue on what I was doing to help the residents”.
The role of the ten Recreation Coordinators located in all of our lodges is to plan and oversee the activities and events at the lodges and apartments. They coordinate a monthly calendar of age appropriate activities, outings and special events for the residents to enjoy, such as bingo, card games, entertainment, birthday parties, exercise classes, bus outings, religious meetings, pub nights and more!
Recreational activities geared for seniors have been proven to provide emotional, physical, and cognitive benefits. “I think [recreational programming] is really important because it helps with their Quality of Life. I’ve seen seniors at other facilities [and] they don’t have as many activities as what GEF has to offer”.
“You can see how excited and happy the residents are to be able to do these activities. If an activity gets cancelled because someone is sick or a volunteer has to cancel last minute and no one else can take over, you see their disappointment because they were really looking forward to be able to do something”, Cyre says. “At the lodge, they have a harder time, getting out as much, they aren’t as mobile. So to be able to have all those activities inside the building, so that they don’t have to go far, is great! They can walk down the hallway or go down to the basement to do these activities and still feel the comfort of their own home and not have to worry.”
When a new resident moves in, Cyre meets with them multiple times within the first few weeks to let them know of the programs the building has in place and helps them to get to know some of the other residents. Some residents aren’t quite ready to make that jump right away and others fit right in. At the lodge, they use the buddy system for new residents to get acquainted. She will often introduce them to more active residents who can show them the ropes a bit. This makes them feel more comfortable and when it comes to meal time, because they had that previous connection and know a friendly face or two, they don’t feel so alone.
“Working at GEF has been very eye opening to see the difference between isolated seniors and how to [combat] that isolation. Whether it’s doing one-on-ones with residents or getting them involved with group activities, we like to figure out when new residents move in, what activities they like to do and what they used to do before they moved here. If they liked to do certain activities that aren’t normally ran here, then we will try to introduce those activities so that other people can learn to play them.… It’s really helping their Quality of Life and seeing how much of a difference it makes to the seniors”.
Since starting with GEF Seniors Housing in 2017, Madison Black has bounced between multiple GEF location including Central Services, Pleasantview Place, and Montgomery Place. She is working to develop positive initiatives that she hopes will address many of the challenges faced by seniors when they experience social isolation. Pleasantview Place was being used as the first pilot site for the program because of its size and its integration of both lodge units and apartments. Black’s pilot project has a very simple and direct objective.
“My goal is to reach socially isolated seniors through recreational programing, community support resources and to help build a sense of community throughout the building” says Black about the Resident Buddy program. The program will act as a welcome-committee for seniors moving into GEF Seniors Housing buildings, offering a chance for neighbours to get to know the new members of the community.
In addition to the welcome-committee activities, the Resident Buddy program also opens up volunteering opportunities for individuals living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings. The volunteering opportunities that the seniors join can either be at a GEF Seniors Housing site, directly positively affecting their friends and neighbours, or out in the larger community. Black explains she’s developed close relationships with many of the local senior centres in Edmonton to help increase more opportunities for residents living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings to find those meaningful connections and opportunities to contribute something back.
“I want to show [the seniors] how valuable they are to the community and the building through volunteering opportunities,” says Black.
In addition to the Resident Buddy Program, Black is also developing a program that will bring in individuals to befriend seniors experiencing social isolation. The Friendly Visitor Program is still in development and will soon see connections being made between GEF Seniors Housing residents and community volunteers.
“[The Friendly Visitor Program] offers companionship to seniors that are feeling isolated,” says Black. “It will give the seniors someone to talk to, confide in, share stories with, and it gives the seniors something to look forward weekly. I want to provide support and resources to seniors that may be facing everyday barriers.”
The programs Black continues to help develop encompass one only aspect to her work. She and the other Community Supports team members schedule regular times to visit different sites for seniors to drop-in with questions or just sit and talk. Black has also developed a calendar system that helps address the language barriers in some of the buildings.
“Because GEF Seniors Housing has such a large spectrum of languages throughout the building, I started to offer a calendar translation services,” says Black. “This service allows seniors to request their monthly activity calendar translated into their preferred language. It is my hope that this would encourage all of our seniors to participate in daily activities.”
Janet was never one for napping. Shortly after moving into Canora Gardens in February, 2018, she decided to take a quick rest in the afternoon. She woke up a few hours later, realizing that this was the first long and deep nap she had taken in years.
“I told my daughter and she howled because she’s never seen me nap!” Janet says with a wide smile. “I remember waking up and thinking, ‘oh, this is what it’s like to relax.’”
Moving into Canora Gardens has changed a lot about Janet’s day-to-day life. Even in the short time she has lived in the GEF Seniors Housing building, she says she already feels more at home here than she has anywhere else in the past 20 years. Though it took some time to finally move in, Janet believes that being able to call Canora Gardens home was well worth the wait.
“I would have waited another two or three years if it meant I was living somewhere as great as this,” Janet says. “I applied even before the applications were technically open. I was approved in about four days.”
Janet saw photos from Canora Gardens before it experienced its 2012 fire and was immediately drawn to the building. She was living in another apartment building close to the city’s west-end, but wanted to be further west so she could live closer to her daughter. Janet remembers the first few interactions she had with GEF Seniors Housing staff
“You don’t get that kind of respect everywhere,” says Janet. “I felt immediately welcomed by everyone working here.”
Seeing the show suite at Canora Gardens impressed both Janet and her daughter. They were both immediately drawn to the counter space and cabinets in the kitchen. Living with celiac disease means Janet has to do a lot of her own cooking so having a spacious kitchen with full sized appliances was important.
In addition to the full kitchen, Janet and her daughter immediately noted how safe and secure Canora Gardens is. She immediately noted that all the locks in Canora Gardens are set with a fob and not with the typical key system in most older apartment buildings. She remembers back to her previous building where there were serious issues with break and enters.
“It got to the point where I was piling up chairs against my door,” explains Janet. “Now, I live with a sense of serenity. I’m actually able to sleep now because I feel so safe.”
Janet’s positive spirit is seeing her already looking to make connections within her community. She’s never been one to shy away from meeting new people and is even exploring the larger neighbourhood to help keep her busy. She’s even starting to look ahead, knowing that as she ages she won’t be able to live totally on her own. Janet laughs as she points out that she already has her next GEF Seniors Housing building picked out.
“I got to see Meadowlark Place and I told my daughter, this is where I want to live next when the time comes,” says Janet. “For now, I am completely happy here. It feels like I’ve been given a new lease on life.”
For his 65th birthday, Harry Johanson boarded a flight to Toronto. But that was far from his final destination. After stops in Chile and Argentina, he found himself on a Russian research ship, heading further southward. Fourteen days later, he set foot on Antarctica. He explains that he was lucky to land safely because the route the ship took was one of the most dangerous routes any ship could take on planet Earth.
“We took the Drake Passage through to Antarctica and had to race a storm that was coming up behind us,” Johanson says. “The next year, that same ship got trapped in the Antarctic ice and needed to be rescued by a Chinese cargo ship.”
Johanson is a self-taught photographer who first took up the hobby in the 1990s while working as a long-haul truck driver. He remembers being hired by the Canadian Fish and Wildlife service to travel into what is now Nunavut and met a wildlife photographer while he was up there. He was immediately fascinated by the craft and decided to take it up for himself. What transpired over the years is a passion for travel and capturing images of wildlife that has seen Johanson explore all seven continents. His trip to Antarctica saw him snap shots of penguins, seals, and many different species of birds.
“I don’t edit any of my photographs,” Johanson boasts, proudly displaying photographs of Red Pandas in China and sea turtles off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. “I want to show my authentic photographs.”
His most recent trip was down to Yuma, Arizona, where he spotted humming birds. He set his camera to take shots at 1/4000th of a second and caught the bird in flight, making it appear as if floating in mid-air with its wings completely still. This is far from his most impressive photographs. His trips out to Kenya put him in close proximity with lions and water buffalo. On a trip to Tanzania, he visited Olduvai Gorge where the world’s oldest human fossils were discovered. And his trip to the Galapagos Islands gave him first-hand experience as to what Charles Darwin saw as he wrote On the Origin of Species. The photograph Johanson is most proud of, though, is one he captured while in India.
“I spotted a Jackal and I followed him along, snapping photos,” Johanson reminisces. “From a tall grass, a Bengal Tiger popped up its head. I followed it to a creek and captured some photos of it walking across the rock bed.”
Snapping photos of rare animals is Johanson’s biggest passion. With little more than only 2,500 Bengal Tigers left in the world, being able to see one in real life in the wild is a highlight to Johanson’s photography tenure. His adventures have also seen him snap photos of White Lions (though it was in a zoo in Germany), Kiwi birds, and a road runner (where he got close enough that the road runner’s head feathers stood on edge as a warning to Johanson not to get any closer). He tries to keep a safe distance from the wildlife he shoots but has suffered his fair share of injuries from his subjects. Once while shooting a goshawk, the bird it struck him in the face, leaving a severe cut near his eye. Johanson has also suffered injury from a great horned owl and a snowy owl.
Despite all he’s seen and experienced, Johanson’s drive to continue is far from waning down. He explains that he has yet to see Canada’s Maritime Provinces and wants to return to the Arctic Circle to capture photos of muskox and caribou. Knowing there is always something new to see and something new to learn, Johanson will continue travelling as far and wide as he can, taking in as much of this world as he possible can.
“Travel is the best learning tool a person can have,” says Johanson. “Everywhere I go, I meet the people and I learn so much about them. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that, as people, we are really all the same. We may have different cultures and customs, but we are all human beings who all come from the same place. There’s really no end to what you can learn.”
Around 30 years ago, Judy learned how to make dog figurines out of wool and wire hangers. She learned the craft from another woman who lived with her back when she called Strathcona Place home. Now living at Queen Alexandra Place lodge, she has become the teacher, showing the craft to her neighbour, Verna. The two ladies don’t make the dogs for just anyone, though. The pair makes the dogs for any of their neighbours who go to the hospital overnight and to the women fighting breast cancer and living at Compassion House.
“We just wanted these people to know that someone cares about them,” says Verna. “The dogs are a lot of fun to make and we get such nice letters from the people we give the dogs to. My grandchildren just love them too.”
The ladies have the craft down so tight, Verna can finish one dog every two days while the more experienced Judy can finish a dog over the course of a good hockey game. The process starts with the wire hanger bent in the shape the dog will take. Judy’s step-son bends the hangers for the ladies and drops off groups of them whenever the ladies are running low. The wool is then tied in a pom-pom style bow and tied off to hold its shape. The bows then line the wire hanger frame and are bundled together. The dogs’ ears are tied in the same pom-pom fashion, only with looser threads to mimic the bounce of floppy ears. Beaded eyes and a nose are then hot glued on to give the dog its face, and ultimately its personality.
Before Christmas, the ladies donated 24 dogs to Compassion House. Two months later, at the beginning of March, they donated another 22. This is in addition to the dogs given to their neighbours in the lodge and to their families.
“My granddaughter is an Assistant Manager over at Julio’s Barrio and she gave a dog to one of the servers she worked with and the server loved it so much she started to cry,” says Judy. “It’s amazing how attached people get to these little dogs.”
The ladies see the attachment to the dogs in many of the people they give them to. One gentleman from the lodge was given one before he went to the hospital, where he sadly later passed away. The man was so attached to the dog that his family put it in the casket with him. This kind of emotional attachment and positive influence is far from rare for people who receive the dogs.
“We don’t think about the cost while we’re making them,” says Verna. “All we think about is what it’s going to do for people.”
Even the ladies grow attached to some of their dogs. The pair has started naming many of them before they’re given out. One with orange and blue ribbons that was given to Recreation Coordinator Pavi Lally was named Oscar, after Pavi’s favourite player on the Edmonton Oilers Oscar Klefbom. Another shaggy brown one that Judy has grown particularly attached to is named Rags.
“I almost lost Rags on the way down here,” Judy says with a laugh. “One of the ladies saw Rags while I was coming down to the dining room. I’m saving Rags for my Granddaughter. The wire frame and bead eyes aren’t the best for small children.”
The ladies have no plans on slowing down any time soon. How the gesture of making and giving one of these dogs to someone facing a hard time positively influences a person’s quality of life is very evident to Judy and Verna. Some of the future dog projects they have in mind are also a little ambitious.
“We were given this one set of wool, and it is just massive,” Judy says, holding out her arms expressing the size of the ball of wool. “We were thinking of using it to make a mom, and dad, and a whole litter of puppies. Make a little family for others to enjoy.”