Tag: edmonton charity
As we mark our 60th anniversary as GEF Seniors Housing, we also celebrate the 12th Annual Great Knitting Giveaway. Held on Friday, October 25 at the Santa Maria Goretti Centre, the event was a huge success and our biggest yet! When the event started in 2007, we had 35 residents and tenants participating. Today, there are just over 130 knitters contributing to this amazing event and over 8,000 items knitted, crocheted, donated and loved.
This event has grown exponentially thanks to the enormous generosity and kindness of Edmonton residents, who have banded together to donate more than 100 bags of yarn just this year. That amount translates into thousands of skeins of yarn for our tenants and residents to knit their beautiful creations. Without the generosity of all our GEF seniors, this event wouldn’t be possible. We cannot thank them enough for their countless hours of working on these amazing handmade items, each of them filled with so much love.
The charities we choose to receive the knitted items also play a huge part in this event, and some of them have been with us since the very beginning. This year, we chose eight charities: Crystal Kids Youth Centre; Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society; Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers; Operation Friendship Seniors Society; SNUG; Ronald McDonald House Charities Alberta; Terra Centre and The Mustard Seed. The items knitted for these charities will provide warmth and comfort to their clients during the cold winter months, and a hug whenever they feel a little sad or lonely. These items will remind them that they are cared for and loved, no matter their situation.
The knitted items and request for items are constantly changing, based on the needs of the community. In 2011, with an especially cold winter, there was an increased need for “comfort bags,” which include warm winter wear like socks, toques and mitts that were given to people experiencing homelessness. One year, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton asked for knitted nests which became homes for small animals. In 2016, the Alberta Wildfire Donation Centre needed many more donations for families displaced due to the Fort McMurray wildfire. GEF seniors also crocheted Izzy dolls for the military, so soldiers could have them in their pockets to hand out to the children they met in the war-torn countries where they were serving.
No matter the charities or the circumstances, our knitters are dedicated to making a difference. They will work continuously to put love and warmth back into the Edmonton community, and their generosity will touch thousands of lives of people they have never met.
Please click the image below to enjoy a short video that highlights this wonderful event!
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.”
After nearly five years of renovations, Canora Gardens (10160 151 Street, Edmonton) will be opening its doors in early 2018. The $13 million renovation project saw GEF Seniors Housing collaborate with The Workun Garrick Partnership Architecture and Interior Design as the designer and Emcee Construction as the general contractors. The team opened Canora Gardens up, tearing everything down right to the studs and rebuilt from the main foundation. The building itself now features 98 suites that have been redesigned to be better suited for seniors living.
“Once Canora Gardens is done, it will be like a whole new building,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “I’ve been really proud of the team who not only have been rebuilding Canora Gardens but modernizing it as well.”
The renovation project began as a reaction to a fire that spread through much of the building’s second floor. Upon inspection of the damage, Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar could see how much smoke damage there was throughout the entire building.
“We opened up a couple of walls and we could clearly see the extent of the smoke damage,” says Kitlar. “It was a tragic situation for the whole building and the people living in it. The building was going to need a lot of work for the renovations but I knew with the right kind of renovation plan, we could turn this into an opportunity for something extremely positive.”
Throughout the Canora Gardens rebuild site, signs of bringing the building out of its original 1977 construction date and into 2017’s higher standards to residential buildings is evident all over. The building will feature better lighting, new interior finishes, improved common area spaces, a sprinkler system, and new energy efficient mechanical systems. For Kitlar, he’s proud of the mechanical and structural upgrades to the building, but there’s one facet that he’s especially excited about.
“We redesigned each of the suites so they function better for seniors,” says Kitlar. “We moved a few walls, flipped some floor plans, and were able to make the suites more conducive to the unique facets of seniors living without losing any suites. I am especially proud that we were able to keep the seniors who will live in the building so front of mind during this whole process.”
Applications are open now for Canora Gardens and the rooms are filling fast for the early 2018 opening. For Swonek, the excitement in the new tenants already approved to move in and from the community as a whole needing more affordable seniors housing options shows that Canora Gardens is a building to be proud of and filling a big need on Edmonton’s west-end.
“I visited the build site often during construction because I’m a very visual person and I like to see the process being made,” says Swonek. “Canora Gardens is going to set a standard for seniors building renovation projects happening all across Edmonton.”
Ruth Belford remembers sitting at a bus stop in central Edmonton, where she’s lived almost her entire life. She explains that she looked across the street and saw two older homeless gentlemen sitting on a bench one cold winter day. It was what the two gentlemen were wearing that caught Belford’s attention.
“I looked across the street and I’m thinking, there’s two of my toques,” Belford says with a smile. “That was for me [the moment I realized] that’s where they’re supposed to go. And there they were, right across the street.”
Belford lives at Ansgar Villa where she’s a part of a knitting group that gets together a few times a week to share knitting tips, try out new patterns, and socialize with her neighbours in the building. In fact, almost every GEF Seniors Housing building has a knitting club and each year the clubs combine everything they’ve made throughout the year and donate the items to local charities. In 2016, more than 5,000 items were donated to charities across Edmonton and 2017 is shaping up to see an even bigger donation out to the charities serving the communities who need it most.
Dubbed the Great Knitting Giveaway, the knitting clubs gather together each year for a meal and to hear presentations from the charities receiving the donations. This year’s event, taking place on October 20, will feature presentations from organizations such as Operation Friendship Seniors Society, Youth Empowerment and Support Services, the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and the Mustard Seed. Item donated range from scarves and gloves for adults and kids to toques for newborns. Previous years even included knitted dolls for newly landed refugee children and nests for animals needing rehabilitation.
The event acts as a reminder to the seniors who spend the whole year knitting that their efforts are going towards something important and that their contributions are both needed and appreciated. Sitting with other knitting clubs from around GEF Seniors Housing and seeing thousands of unique knitted items from other groups helps spur creativity in the knitters and prompts them to try new things when they reconvene for their regular knitting clubs.
For Belford, attending the Great Knitting Giveaway event reinvigorates her desire to keep contributing to the communities who need the things that she and her knitting club create. She describes the excitement she feels when she goes into the event space and sees the piles of toques, mittens, scarves, and blankets all going to people who need them. “It makes you want to go home and just knit!”
Sakaw Terrace as an idea was first conceived by Raymond Swonek when the City of Edmonton offered GEF Seniors Housing a surplus school site in the Mill Woods area. After seeing the plot of land being offered for a new affordable seniors housing development, he immediately pictured a building unlike anything GEF had ever attempted before.
“Mill Woods was really lacking affordable seniors housing,” says Swonek. “There was a huge need for lodge rooms and apartments catered to seniors with a low- to moderate-income. With there being such a huge need in this neighbourhood, I knew I had to go big – bigger than anything we had ever built before.”
Ambitions ran high for Sakaw Terrace. As the project development team began fleshing out the details that would make up this new seniors complex, Swonek started seeing something even better than he initially imagined. The designers and architects made space for 70 lodge rooms and 88 apartments, two outdoor courtyards, a communal greenhouse, a theatre room, a salon, and underground and above ground parking. Swonek explains that deciding what to include in this new building wasn’t a decision solely made by any one group.
“For any new building project, we always go out to the community and make sure they’re involved with as much of the process as they want to be,” says Swonek. “The community talked a lot about how much they like their green space, so between the courtyards and the greenhouse, we made sure to include as much green space as we possibly could.”
GEF began appearing at farmer’s markets and other community events to help keep up the momentum for Sakaw Terrace, only to be met by lines of people hoping to get on the waiting list early. With excitement running high in the Mill Woods community for Sakaw Terrace, the project team knew it needed to deliver something special and started looking to its environmental impact assessments for more inspiration.
“We decided to own more of the environmental stewardship around a project like [Sakaw Terrace],” Swonek says. “It’s important that what we build is sustainable and that we reduce our carbon footprint without compromising on our principle to provide great housing options for seniors.”
The team looked at sustainability in two ways, with the first being environmental. Sakaw Terrace was built with a combined heat and power unity (CHP), which better uses natural gas utilities by using the power and hear generated more efficiently. Estimates show that the CHP will reduce carbon gas emissions by 530 tons a year.
The other side of Sakaw Terrace’s sustainability is the financial side, which is helped by the CHP offering a savings of around $80,000 that GEF can reallocate to operations and services for seniors. But Swonek explains that they wanted to take financial sustainability a step further with a housing model he typically only sees in Europe.
“Sakaw Terrace is the first building in Alberta to offer a mixed-income model for housing in Western Canada,” Swonek says. “Thirty per cent of the suites in Sakaw Terrace are going to be offered to any senior, regardless of income, at a market value. We can then use the profits from the market value suites to keep funding the operations at Sakaw Terrace, making it a completely self-sustaining building.”
Though the financial side of sustainability is appealing to GEF Seniors Housing (especially being a not-for-profit), Swonek’s more proud of the communal aspects of these innovations.
“What our efforts amount to is making Sakaw Terrace more accessible to the 20,000 seniors currently living in the Mill Woods area,” Swonek says. “As people age, they want to stay in their communities. They want to be close to their families, friends, and the services they’re comfortable with. At the end of the day, the people have to come first. This is going to be someone’s home, and that needs to stay front of mind before anything else.”
GEF Seniors Housing holds an annual raffle over the summer months with an early bird prize of $500 and a grand prize of $1,500. The Building for Life Raffle is a staple in GEF Seniors Housing’s fundraising efforts and continues to be one of the most exciting endeavours over the summer for the residents and tenants living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings and for the communities at large who take part.
“There’s nothing better than making that call to tell someone they won a pretty significant prize,” says Chris Schieman, Public Relations Manager with GEF Seniors Housing. Schieman, along with the rest of the Communications team, take charge of GEF Seniors Housing’s fundraising initiatives, including the ever popular Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser.
Schieman goes on to explain that most people contribute to the raffle, “not even thinking about the prizes. Every call that I’ve made telling someone they won a prize, they always respond saying they weren’t expecting anything. They just wanted to give something back.”
Last year’s early bird prize winner was Juvy Santos, a friend of the staff working at Cathedral Close. Santos stopped by GEF Seniors Housing’s Central Services to pick up her cheque and posed for a few photos.
The grand prize winner from 2016’s raffle was Joan Ripplinger, a long-time tenant living at the Britannia Gardens apartment building. Schieman and the rest of the Communications team paid a visit to Ripplinger at Britannia Gardens to present the grand prize cheque.
“I remember [Joan] Ripplinger telling me about how she and the other tenants at Britannia Gardens all get together to buy raffle tickets,” recalls Schieman. “It’s something that many people find a lot of fun and they can take part knowing the money raised is going to a good place.”
Tickets for the Building for Life Raffle are only two dollars each, which helps make taking part more accessible for everyone. Efforts from 2016’s raffle brought in close to $7,000 for the Sakaw Terrace building project.
With tickets for the raffle going on sale starting June 1, 2017, and available to purchase at any of GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings or at Central Services (14220 109 Ave, Edmonton, AB.), Schieman is excited to see what this year’s raffle will bring in. As he explains, every year the raffle can be a little bit unpredictable.
“We’ve had years where the winners donate back the prizes, we’ve had tickets completely sell out at some of the buildings, and we’ve even seen individuals spend hundreds of dollars on tickets with no expectation for winning,” Schieman says. “You give people an opportunity to contribute to something they believe in, and they will take full advantage to contribute. In the end, everyone who takes part in this raffle believes in our mission and wants to help us push forward so that no senior ever has to worry about where they’re going to call home.”
Every year, members of knitting clubs based in GEF Seniors Housing buildings donate thousands of pieces of winter outdoor wear to local charities at an event that’s become known as the Great Knitting Giveaway. All the yarn used was donated to the knitting clubs throughout the year at the more than 40 buildings that GEF Seniors Housing currently owns or manages. The winter clothing given out ranges from toques to mittens to scarfs and even includes pieces for kids and newborns.
“This is an opportunity for the seniors to give back to their communities,” says Emily Rotella, Assistant Manager with Pleasantview Place and former Chair of the Great Knitting Giveaway event. “The people who receive the items our knitters donated doesn’t just give them warmth on the outside for the cold months, but warmth on the inside too knowing that someone cares enough to hand make a toque or a scarf that’s going to help them.”
The event itself is a thank you to the knitters who made the clothing that was donated and features speakers from the charities receiving the items, telling the seniors about the kinds of people their contributions are going on to help. Charities that collect the winter clothing include the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Operation Friendship Seniors Society, schools in low-income areas such as St. Benedict Catholic School, and the Royal Alexandra Hospital maternity ward.
“A lot of the seniors don’t think their donations are a big deal,” Rotella says. “But, [for example], they’re giving a baby her first toque and that family is going to treasure it for their whole lives.”
The knitters meet year-round as part of their recreation programs to make the winter clothing that is eventually donated. The seniors are given new knitting patterns to continually challenge them and keep the activity interesting. For many seniors, the knitting clubs are a chance to socialize and remain close to others living in their buildings. But for some, it’s what gives them a purpose to their lives.
“We have some knitters who never went to school and never learned to read,” says Rotella. “So knitting is what they can contribute to the world and it’s how they know they can help others.”
For Rotella, the Great Knitting Giveaway is an opportunity not just to show the knitting clubs from GEF Seniors Housing an appreciation for everything they do throughout the year, but also demonstrate that what would be something to pass the time for many is actually making a huge difference in Edmonton communities.
“We participated in an event at St. Benedict Catholic School where some of our seniors read to the kids and we asked how many received winter clothing from the Great Knitting Giveaway and almost all of the hands went up,” Rotella says. “That was a moment when some of our seniors realized how much of a difference their donations made. These are kids who would have gone the winter without mittens or toques and the kindness of a few knitters made sure these kids stayed warm during the winter.”
For the past nine years, GEF Seniors Housing hosts a breakfast fundraiser to help support new capital building projects in Edmonton. Though the Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser is held annually and has been hosted by CTV’s Daryl McIntyre, every event has a different flavour that’s kept GEF Seniors Housing’s business partners and community connections returning each year. As GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek explains, you can never predict who will attend any of these events.
“Last year, we saw tremendous support from the Province of Alberta with five MLAs attending the event, including Minister of Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson and MLA for Edmonton – Centre David Shepherd who both spoke as part of the event,” says Swonek. “This year, we had the honour of hosting Mayor Don Iveson, who has continued to be a partner in our mission to provide affordable housing options to Edmonton’s senior population.”
Also in attendance at this year’s breakfast was Ward 1 City Councillor Andrew Knack, MP for Edmonton – West Kelly McCauley, MLA for Edmonton – Decore Chris Nielsen, former City Councillor and Chariman of the University of Alberta Board of Governors Michael Phair, and staff members from the Minister of Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson’s office. For Swonek, seeing public dignitaries from so many different levels of government attend the breakfast fundraiser shows that the issues of providing affordable housing to seniors is a very important topic.
“We’re seeing more elected officials than ever being engaged with social programs like ours and recognizing that there will be more than one million seniors in Alberta alone in the next fifteen years,” says Swonek. “We’re seeing engagement from all levels of government and a recognition that we need to act now to ensure that no senior ever has to worry about where they’re going to call home.”
In all, GEF Seniors Housing raised over $80,000 at the event. The funds raised go directly to support Sakaw Terrace, GEF Seniors Housing’s newest capital building project in the Mill Woods area of Edmonton. Swonek points out that the breakfast fundraiser came up a little short of the $100,000 goal to raise the last $450,000 needed for the project, but he remains optimistic for what Sakaw Terrace holds and what the future support for affordable seniors housing will look like.
“Construction for Sakaw Terrace started back in November of 2016, and one way or another that building will be finished,” says Swonek. “We have other fundraising opportunities coming up before the building’s winter 2018 opening date. I know we have partners fully invested in this project, wanting to see it come to life as much as we do, and we’re more determined than ever to see Sakaw Terrace become a vital part of the Mill Woods community.”
“I turned the key/Opened the door/One bedroom suite/Second floor/Grace Garden Court.”
Deepa Garbaria wrote this opening line to a poem when she moved into her new home at Grace Garden Court. The poem titled “Anxiety” outlines her struggles adjusting to both moving to Edmonton from Montreal and to moving into her new apartment.
“I didn’t like it at first,” Garbaria says with a chuckle as she points out that she moved into the building back in 2001. Needless to say, Grace Garden Court has grown to be Garbaria’s home and has become the centre of much of her poetic expression.
Garbaria discovered her love of writing poetry after she retired from working as a teacher. Originally from Nairobi in Kenya, she landed in Montreal with her husband and three children and eventually got a job teaching at the school on the Kahnawake reserve. She remembers being involved in many different arts programs with the children she taught including directing theatre productions and writing poetry.
“Some of my former students would go to see my sister because she was an eye doctor,” Garbaria reminisces. “They all remembered me teaching them poetry and would still talk about it.”
As her skills in writing poetry developed, she began taking part in poetry readings throughout the city and even had a collection of poems published by a teacher named Sandra Mooney called Seeking in 2010. In 2016, she decided to submit a poem to a Canada-wide contest with the Victoria, British Columbia, based Poetry Institute of Canada. She received a fourth place prize for her poem Rossington Cottage and her poem was published in the Island Tides anthology along with the other contest winners.
For Garbaria, writing poetry in English provides a special challenge that she finds joy in overcoming. She speaks Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu (all relating back to her relatives who were originally from India), and Swahili (the main language in the African countries she grew up and worked in) along with English.
“Direct translations never work right, so I sometimes struggle to find those right words I need to express what I’m feeling,” says Garbaria. “When I find the words, though, it makes me so happy. But the happiness doesn’t last long and I want to work on the next poem and keep building my self-confidence.”
The topics of Garbaria’s poems range from the spruce tree outside her apartment window to watching nature during the winter time. She even wrote a poem to commemorate former Grace Garden Court building manager Joyce Rebman after she left GEF Seniors Housing. Even at 89 years old, every one of Garbaria’s poems is another opportunity for her to grow.
“I have so much in my brain and it needs to come out,” Garbaria says. “I have so much culture in my background, being Indian heritage, being a part of the British colonies, living in Africa, and now living in Canada. I have seen and experienced so much, countries changing, capitals changing, kingdoms falling, and I have so much to share.”
Garbaria’s life experiences help drive her to continue being creative. As she explains, she gravitates towards poetry because of how far it can reach and how anyone can enjoy it.
“Poetry is so universal,” Garbaria concludes. “Right from the songs and lullabies that a mother would sing to her child, poetry is in every human being.”
Every April, GEF Seniors Housing holds its Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser, which is the Foundation’s biggest event of the year. In 2016, GEF Seniors Housing raised more than $100,000 in sponsorships and donations from this single fundraising breakfast.
“We work with a lot of different contractors and consultants and other companies to help our Foundation,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “The Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser helps remind our business networks and community connections that we are a registered charity and donations that we receive go towards new seniors housing building projects in Edmonton.”
The Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser is just one fundraising activity that GEF Seniors Housing holds during the year. In addition, GEF Seniors Housing also participates in larger casino events and holds the Building for Life Raffle held every summer. Charitable fundraising for new building projects is important to GEF Seniors Housing because of the changing seniors demographics Edmonton is currently facing and how the seniors population will only be increasing in the coming years.
“We often talk about the statistics showing that there will be more than one million seniors living in Alberta in less than 15 years and it can be hard to picture what that number really means,” explains Swonek. “The current population of Edmonton is around one million people. So imagine the entire population of Edmonton all being seniors. That’s the population boom we’re looking at. Using our Building for Life Fund, we plan to build more housing options for seniors to meet that need.”
In addition to the population boom of seniors in Alberta, the proportion of seniors needing affordable housing is increasing at a rapid pace. The cost of living increases faster than pensions, leaving many seniors unable to afford even the most basic of apartments. Swonek points out that the average senior living on a Government pension alone brings home around $1,800 a month and, to remain above the poverty line, that senior should only be putting 30 per cent of their income towards housing.
“That would mean seniors living on Government pension alone would have to pay around $540 a month in rent to stay above the poverty line,” says Swonek. “In Edmonton’s housing market, that’s simply not possible. We want to make sure that low to moderate income seniors can enjoy their golden years without worrying about high housing costs that are only increasing.”
Anyone can donate to GEF Seniors Housing at any time, but the fundraising events become important as bigger opportunities to remind people why GEF Seniors Housing wants to build more housing in Edmonton and why these buildings are essential parts of so many communities. In 2016, fundraising efforts were concentrated on supporting Sakaw Terrace, GEF Seniors Housing’s newest building project in Edmonton’s Mill Woods area. This year sees the same focus for GEF Seniors Housing’s fundraising effort and with Sakaw Terrace’s construction already well underway, Swonek is looking even further into the future.
“We saw so much success in the past with buildings like Rosslyn Terrace and Ottewell Terrace that I’m excited to see what we can achieve with future building projects,” says Swonek. “I’ve always believed that we’re only as strong as those who support us. We’ve been so lucky to see support from so many amazing Edmontonians and I hope that we can keep this level of support because there are a lot of seniors depending on it for an affordable place to call home.”