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.”

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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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During the summer of 2016, GEF Seniors Housing tried something new to connect with more of the communities surrounding its buildings and construction sites. As GEF Seniors Housing’s Public Relations Manager Chris Schieman explains, the idea came from a bit of an unlikely source.

“When we talked about connecting with the community, what popped into my head was how I got my library card,” says Schieman. “I just finished college, I was living in my first apartment near Whyte Avenue, and I went to the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market and met a rep working with the Edmonton Public Library. I just remember how fun it was to talk with that rep and how without a second thought I signed up for a library card.”

Schieman wanted to translate the experience he had getting his library card to talking with other people about GEF’s services in their communities. His initial intention was to see more public support for the programs and operations and he wasn’t quite sure of who his main audience would be. As the Communications team began setting up at markets in Mill Woods, at the 124 Street Grand Market, and in the Downtown City Market, he learned the audience he would be connecting with is much broader than he initially thought.


“I met with young guys who wanted to volunteer teaching yoga, people who were curious if what we had to offer would work for their parents or grandparents, I even talked with current and retired staff from GEF Seniors Housing,” Schieman recalls. “Most importantly, I talked with a lot of seniors who did not know we existed and had no idea that they qualified to live in one of our buildings.”

As spring approaches, Schieman is already looking towards the next year of markets coming up. With so many building projects seeing life all across the city, GEF’s market presence will have more to do with where future buildings are going to see life.

“Canora Gardens is opening up later this year, Sakaw Terrace broke ground, and last year we had our first community consultation with developing our Elmwood lot right behind Meadowlark Place,” Schieman says. “The markets provide a direct way to keep in touch with the communities that we’re building in. We want to hear from the communities, we want to be a good neighbour, and we’re excited about how the feedback from the markets is going to help create in these new buildings.”


All the positive connections made at last year’s farmer’s markets have spurred a lot of excitement at GEF Seniors Housing for this year’s markets. Schieman points out that the connections he and the other volunteers who worked at the markets made with the community helped make for a fun summer – even if the weather didn’t always participate.

“There were definitely some days where the weather was not agreeing with,” Schieman says with a laugh. “I remember a few days with some high winds blowing over our signs and some heavy rain totally soaking us while we tried packing up. Knowing that being out at these markets and connecting with people is helping them find friendly, affordable, and secure homes for themselves or their loved ones makes it worth toughing out any bad weather.”