When Stanley Construction first met with tenants of Knox-Met Manor to describe their plan to replace the windows of the seven-story building – with the seniors still living in their units – tenants thought it would be impossible. How could they live in a construction zone for six months, with no windows, in the middle of the summer? By the time the project wrapped up, the seniors and the construction team were sad to say goodbye to each other. What happened to bring about this happy ending to a challenging project?
Building Lasting Connections
Throughout the project, the Stanley team demonstrated a remarkable commitment to being senior-friendly, and treated the seniors with the utmost respect, ensuring the work did not come before their Quality of Life.
Over time, the workers’ kindness grew on the tenants, and they formed friendships. One tenant (pictured above with a few of the Stanley crew members) would occasionally prepare lunches for the workers, which the workers appreciated.
At the September 12 wrap-up BBQ hosted by Stanley with support from Cooper Equipment Rentals, both sides expressed how much they cherished the connections that were formed and how much they will miss one another.
The great new windows were almost a bonus compared to the relationships formed during the construction project!
A Sustainable Upgrade
The new windows are triple pane, PVC, casement style windows with a special coating that reflects solar rays, helping to keep the suites cooler in the Summer. In total, 159 suite windows and 18 shared area windows were replaced, contributing to greater energy efficiency.
To further enhance tenant comfort and energy efficiency, GEF made sure to install new roller-type solar shades on all of the suite windows facing south.
Together, We Can Make a Difference
This project exemplifies the kind of partnership we aim to foster between our community partners and the clients we serve. As part of our Quality of Life Philosophy, we promote and encourage relationships between seniors, staff, and communities based on respect, kindness, and compassion.
We invite other vendors and partners to collaborate with us to enrich the lives of seniors and to give back to our community.
Visit our donations page to learn more about our current campaigns and contribute to our Quality of Life fund. Together, we can make a lasting impact on the lives of seniors.
Elaine Ginter was over the moon when she was finally reunited with her dog, Pepper. Pepper, a Bichon cross, was with Elaine for five years before they were separated. After living without Pepper for over a year at Porta Place, Elaine couldn’t be happier that GEF implemented a pet policy. Pepper is the very first furry resident of GEF Seniors Housing, and is fitting in quite well!
The new pet policy, which was rolled out in January 2020, went through months and months of work to develop, to ensure that each pet that is brought into one of our communities fits perfectly into our family. There are certain criteria that a pet has to meet, but the overall goal is to enhance the quality of life of our seniors.
Pepper moved in with Elaine’s daughter while she was getting settled at Porta Place. It was hard for her, as Pepper is like the son she never had. Elaine could go over and visit Pepper, but it was never the same. After continuously asking about the pet policy, Elaine was truly on cloud nine when she was told Pepper was able to move in with her. “I felt like my life had a purpose again. It meant the world to me!”
Having Pepper back in her life full-time means Elaine is getting out of the house more. She needs to take him out to do his business, and they go for walks and car rides. Pepper gives Elaine a reason to stay motivated and get active!
“There were a few neighbours that were hesitant with this new policy and having a dog live in their building, but when they got to know Pepper and what a sweet dog he is, everyone was on board,” said Elaine. “When we get off the elevator, everyone says ‘Hi Pepper’ and gives him some love.”
It even took Pepper some time to adjust to his new living situation. “At my daughter’s house, he was so used to being let out the back or front door. Now we have to go in an elevator to go outside. He used to be scared of the elevator but has now since gotten used to it. Whenever we get to our floor, he knows exactly which door to go to – which door is home!”
“I do love it here at GEF! My neighbours, the staff – they are all so wonderful! Everyone is doing an amazing job, and I have settled in quite nicely,” said Elaine. “But it has made my experience even better, having my Pepper here with me! I wouldn’t change it for the world!”
I was a very magical few days in December for hundreds of GEF Seniors Housing residents when Santa and his elves made their rounds to deliver presents as part of London Drugs’ Stocking Stuffers for Seniors 2019 Campaign.
What started out in 2015 with Operation Friendship Seniors Society and London Drugs partnering together with a goal to help 40 seniors in its first year has grown exponentially in five short years. Today, Stocking Stuffers for Seniors helps more than 4,000 seniors in Northern Alberta and 17,000 seniors across Western Canada have a brighter Christmas! The campaign now involves all London Drugs stores. Altogether, 878 seniors in eight different GEF Seniors Housing communities received a gift this holiday season.
The approach is simple, but the impact is immeasurable. Generous strangers carefully choose a name tag from specially-marked tree displays at their London Drugs store of choice and, our of the goodness of their hearts, but what’s written on the tag as their senior’s wish list – often adding in a few extra surprises. “I think the generosity of others in the community and the surprise of receiving a gift was really awesome,” said Montgomery Place Recreation Coordinator, Christine Kemp.
On delivery day, everyone was buzzing with anticipation. “I was up early – I am so excited!” said one resident. Santa and his London Drugs elves arrived, and the faces of residents and staff lit up like Christmas trees. “It was like Christmas morning for these residents – they were glowing,” said one staff member.
It was an overwhelming sight to see the number of presents that showed up under the trees at our GEF communities. After the gifts were distributed, residents started opening their presents. As well as the chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” around the room, seniors said comments like “This is more than I expected,” “This is over and above anything I could have imagined,” “I got just what I wanted,” “I wish I could say thank you to all the kind people,” and “I don’t usually get excited for Christmas anymore but this brought back feelings that I had as a kid.”
Some of our residents don’t have family so it was a surprise to them when they received a gift. “I wouldn’t have gotten any Christmas gifts this year, so thank you very much,” said one resident. At least one senior saved his presents to open on Christmas day because he doesn’t have any family. These unexpected gifts, filled with love, showed the residents just how much ther are cared for and each senior was grateful for what they had received.
“When you see someone’s face light up and the expression of someone who doesn’t normally get this, it’s a really special feeling and it makes my heart happy!” said another staff member.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this Christmas so memorable – not just for our seniors, but for all of the participating seniors who needed a little cheer this year! It will be a day they will never forget.
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 specialized 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 support 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.
“The official opening of Sakaw Terrace is a very proud time for GEF Seniors Housing as it allows seniors living in the Mill Woods community an affordable, secure, and friendly place to call home,” explained Raymond Swonek, CEO of GEF Seniors Housing.
MLA for Edmonton-McClung Lorne Dach MC’d the event and we heard wonderful speeches from the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Natural Resources; the Honourable Christina Gray, Minister of Labour; GEF Board Chair Karen Lynch and ASCHA’s Executive Director Irene Martin- Lindsay!
The day was full of big smiles and happy hearts. Residents and tenants who have already moved in were so excited to show off their new home. After the speeches were done, a ribbon cutting to announce the official opening commenced. Cake and refreshments were followed by tours of the building. Guests who went on the tours were impressed by the 70 lodge rooms and 88 apartments, two outdoor courtyards, a communal greenhouse, a theatre room, a salon, a bistro, underground and above-ground parking, and much more!
Seven years from concept to occupation, on November 1, 2018, GEF opened the doors to welcome the first Sakaw Terrace residents. This carefully planned project adopted an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) collaborative partnership approach to construction. “What this 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” explains Doug Kitlar, Director of Facility Management. By using this method, the project was able to be completed ahead of schedule and under budget!
The building is currently 90% full and hoping to be at 100% in the next few months. Residents and tenants are feeling at home living at Sakaw Terrace. “I just love the new building. The meals are wonderful and the sugar cookies are just delightful” said a lodge resident. An apartment tenant mentioned “It is my first time in community living and I am more than over the moon. The building, the staff, there is nothing not to like.” One other apartment resident said “I like my apartment. Everything is lovely. It’s beautiful. I like my privacy, but I never feel alone here.”
It’s been just over two years since Ottewell Terrace opened its door in the east-end Edmonton neighbourhood. The building added a whole new set of options for seniors living in the area, adding GEF Seniors Housing’s affordable apartments program that sees rent set at 10 to 15 per cent below market value in the area, and set a new standard for how GEF Seniors Housing approached new capital building projects.
“We were already established in the neighbourhood with Ottewell Place lodge and St. Nicholas apartments,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “So we knew we wouldn’t encounter any apprehension with affordable housing being built in the area. Rather, what we encountered was a lot of excitement and anticipation for this new building and that drove some really interesting conversations with the community.”
GEF Seniors Housing held community consultation meetings before any ground was broken on the project. This helped to ensure the neighbourhood was on board with the project and that they were kept in the loop throughout the entire process. It was during the community consultation meetings that the idea of integrating a daycare centre into the building came to light.
“I was already aware of all the research that had gone into the benefits of intergenerational programming both for seniors and for children,” Swonek says. “The idea of having easy access to this kind of programming was very appealing for both us and for Primrose Place Family Centre. Since moving in, it’s been a highly successful partnership and brought a lot of value not just to the seniors and the children but to the community as a whole.”
It didn’t take long for the 54 suites in Ottewell Terrace to fill up with seniors excited to call the building their new home. For many of the people who moved into Ottewell Terrace, staying in their community was a big deciding factor for where they were going to live. As neighbourhoods in Edmonton age, so do the people who live in them and Swonek explains that when staying in their own homes is no longer safe or suitable for a good quality of life, affordable housing options need to be readily available in the community.
“A big philosophy we live by is ageing in community,” says Swonek. “We’re seeing this kind of demand for affordable senior housing in a lot of neighbourhoods across Edmonton, especially in older communities like Ottewell. People want to stay in their neighbourhoods, stay close to their friends and family, and keep seeing the same doctors and dentists who know them so well. This easily explains why Ottewell Terrace has become one of our most popular buildings for new applicants.”
With the success of Ottewell Terrace, Swonek is looking forward to implementing everything GEF learned from the whole process to new capital projects such as Sakaw Terrace and the new development in Elmwood. One of the biggest reminders he had from the Ottewell Terrace project is how much value affordable housing adds to a community.
“You offer people an affordable place to call home and it immediately changes their lives,” says Swonek. “I think every neighbourhood in Edmonton could benefit from having some affordable housing options. Research time and time again shows that mixed communities are healthier and happier places to live. Ottewell Terrace is just one example of how an affordable housing project can add so much value to a community.”
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. Governments 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 percent of your gross monthly income on housing, you’re considered below the poverty line,” says 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 percent 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 exhibit much of the progress made from the support of all levels of government. 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.”
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 loved the idea,” says Colleen Simpson, Assistant Manager with Cathedral Close. “We have a couple of our 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 excited to see some of the interactions happen.”
Jim Murland came back to Edmonton in 1948 after serving in the Second World War and he found his first home in the McKernan neighbourhood in the city’s southeast. After he settled in his new home, one of the first jobs he had was adding stucco to the outer brick wall of Knox Metropolitan United Church in the Garneau neighbourhood. Now at 98 years of age, Murland lives at Knox-Met Manor, an apartment building currently being managed by GEF Seniors Housing that was originally built in 1984 in part with help from Knox Metropolitan Church.
The church closed its doors in 2016 with plans to tear down the original building for a new condo development. For Murland, some of his memories of the church that first opened its doors in 1928 stem from one of the most distinctive design features of the building. “I remember attending sermons at the church and always looking up at the stained glass window,” says Murland.
Knox-Met Manor was one of the recipients of a section of the stained glass window because of its close ties to the church. Of the more than 80 tenants living in Knox-Met Manor, many share Murland’s enthusiasm about receiving the window.
Joyce Dahl has been living at Knox-Met Manor since 2000 and was the building’s tenant representative to the church group. She explains that preserving the role that the church played in the development of the property and the connection between the church and the Manor is one to be celebrated. The church played a significant role not just in the history of the Garneau neighbourhood but in Edmonton as a whole.
One piece of history is the role Knox Metropolitan United Church played in the Edmonton chapter of Amnesty International. Before she moved into Knox-Met Manor, Florence Miller was a member of Amnesty International and would take the bus from her north-side Edmonton home to the Garneau neighbourhood for meetings. She recollects the different events the Edmonton chapter of Amnesty International played in welcoming new communities to the city from all around the world and the work done to help ensure that these new groups knew they were welcome.
“Even now, there’s still a lot of diversity in [Knox-Met Manor],” Miller says. “We have neighbours from Egypt, Pakistan, South Korea, Papua New Guinea, all over. I want to make sure this piece the church’s stained glass window has a place in our building to commemorate the history of Edmonton being a welcoming city.”
Gail Brown is part of a group of tenants at Knox-Met Manor who want to see the donated piece of stained glass find a permanent place displayed in the building. Though only living in Knox-Met Manor for the past two years and having no direct connection to the church, Brown still feels a responsibility to preserve this piece of the community’s history.
“I’m in very strong support of public art that shows the history of our city,” says Brown. “The church is empty now but it helped build this place that so many people call home. We have a piece of the architecture and it’s something amazing that needs to be respected, preserved and its history maintained.”
Lorna Etwell points out that the seventh floor of Knox-Met Manor is a perfect spot to mount the stained glass. It’s a shared space where tenants go to do their laundry, read a book, hop on an exercise bike, do a puzzle, or meet in the sunroom that overlooks the Garneau neighbourhood and right to the spot where the empty Knox Metropolitan United Church stands for the time being. She recalled that after some discussion it was determined that the brick wall next to the bookcase was the best location to proudly display the piece of community history.
“It’s an honour to have received this gift from the church,” says Etwell. “We want to do right by making sure it has a place where it can be appreciated.”