Tag: greater edmonton foundation
Stephanie Mahé holds six bags of yellow and orange ribbons, smiling at the hard work from the four residents at Ottewell Manor who volunteered their time and efforts for the ribbons that are a part of international World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10. The residents at Ottewell Manor are no strangers to the struggles of mental health issues and Mahé explains that the residents are able to appreciate what these ribbons means on a more personal level.
“In four days, the resident volunteers made 520 ribbons,” Mahé says. “They really love ribbon making. It’s something that not only gets them out of their rooms, it also brings them together to work on something proactive and they can share their efforts with each other.”
In 2016, Mahé, her sister-in-law Elizabeth Turnbull (Edmonton based opera singer and University of Alberta voice instructor), and a group of their friends assembled a collection of Canada-wide concerts for international World Suicide Prevention Day, calling their events Mysterious Barricades Concert Society. The concerts, which included an eclectic mix of opera singers, drummers, jazz performers, quintets, choirs, and aboriginal performers, was livestreamed around the world. Quickly following the concert’s success came audiences and performers excited to for next year’s concert, something that the Mysterious Barricades Concert Society wasn’t sure was going to happen.
“Two and a half years ago, my brother died by suicide,” Mahé explains. “Mysterious Barricades was an event to try and help my sister-in-law [Turnbull] and me heal through music. With all the excitement around the event, we knew we had to keep it going.”
The event was named after Mahé’s brother’s favourite piece of music, “Les Barricades Mysterieuse” by François Couperin. Mahe explains that her brother was so moved by the composition that he actually built his own harpsichord a couple of years before his passing.
Last year’s concert saw 12 cities throughout Canada take part and stream free concerts as part of the awareness campaign to end the stigma around mental illness. This year’s concert will see 15 cities holding concerts, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, across to Victoria, British Columbia, with performers from notable performers such as Ontario based baritone Russell Braun and University of Victoria tenor Benjamin Butterfield. In all, the livestream will go on for 21 hours with performances starting at 2:00 a.m. Mountain Time, and all performance videos will be available on the Mysterious Barricades website for a week after World Suicide Prevention Day.
“The performers are all friends from the music community and they along with all the livestreaming technicians are volunteering their time for World Suicide Prevention Day,” says Mahé. “People kept reaching out, wanting to be a part of this event and the entire operation remains all volunteer based.”
The idea for Mahé to involve the residents at Ottewell Manor (where she works as an office supervisor) stemmed from two sources: the first being that the residents used to make ribbons for breast cancer awareness and were very disappointed when that volunteer program ended for them, and the second being the close connection between Mysterious Barricades and the mental health focus driving Ottewell Manor.
“There are people living here who were physical therapists, some have Master’s degrees,” says Mahé. “These are bright and intelligent people who have so much to give still and, just like my brother, mental illness took so much away from them.”
Mahé looks ahead to the future and sees what benefits international World Suicide Prevention Day and events like Mysterious Barricades can bring. Five years from now, she hopes to see a 24-hour staffed safe house open that can be available to people who struggle with mental illness on an emergency basis.
“A place like this will help show people struggling that they are not alone,” says Mahé. “People often spend evenings sitting in hospital hallways because they need help but hospitals are at capacity. Ottewell Manor has been lucky to have such a great relationship with Alberta Health Services, but not everyone is so lucky. By having these discussions and sharing these stories we can address mental illness more and work to end the stigma.”
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 south east. After he settled in his new home, one of the first jobs he had was adding stucco to the outer brick wall on 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 from 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 to one of the most distinctive design features on 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 for 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 wants 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 sun room 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 book case 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 is can be appreciated.”
Linda Ensley remembers when she encountered a senior who was just weeks away from living in his car. His monthly income was only around a couple of hundred dollars and he could no longer afford to pay rent, let alone pay rent while affording food and all the other aspects that make for a good quality of life. Ensley explains that once she was put into contact with this senior through the work she does with the Strathcona Place Seniors Centre, she was able to start the right kinds of conversations to help this person work out his situation.
“Through the systems we set up, we put him in contact with our year-round tax clinic and helped him find seniors benefits he didn’t know about,” explains Ensley, whose work as Strathcona Place Seniors Centre’s Executive Director has her and her team working with hundreds of seniors every day, ensuring that they have everything they need to continue living comfortably as their situations change. “After we worked out his finances, we got in touch with GEF Seniors Housing to find him an affordable place to live. Within two weeks, we had more than tripled his income and had him ready to move into the nearby Strathcona Place seniors apartment.”
The Strathcona Place Seniors Centre’s role in the lives of the seniors living in the south-central and south-western Edmonton neighbourhood has expanded exponentially since Ensley took over as Executive Director three years ago. She explains that the social work aspect to the centre needed upgrading. Thankfully, her background working with General Electric’s Information Technology (IT) department gave her some unique insights as to where the improvements could begin.
“Before, we worked on one to two cases a month,” says Ensley. “Since implementing our new technology driven processes, we handled more than 1,800 individual cases over the past six months.”
The encrypted technology component integrated into Strathcona Place’s operations consists of two different pieces of software: MeisterTask and HipChat. The MeisterTask software was originally designed to track IT work orders for private companies, but Ensley and Assistant Executive Director Francisco Yu quickly spotted how easy it could be used for securely tracking social work cases. The HipChat software helps the staff, students, and volunteer base drive internal conversations on issues that the case workers need different perspectives to create the choices seniors need. It allows the multi-disciplinary team the chance to find, creative, and innovative solutions for complex cases by pooling their resource knowledge from different disciplines.
“Using this technology has completely streamlined our approach to the social work aspect,” says Yu. “We know technology can be intimidating so we’re making sure that any work we do with the technology while talking with a senior is as seamless as possible.”
The total range of services that Strathcona Place Seniors Centres Outreach Team offer range from financial assistance to assisting newly landed senior immigrants with language barriers and even creative arts classes such as exercise, writing and painting. Staff at Strathcona Place Seniors Centre speak a total of 12 languages including a range of Asian languages, European languages, and indigenous dialects such as Kanada. The team also has access to translators for another 17 languages through extended partnerships with other multicultural organizations.
For all the good that Strathcona Place Seniors Centre is able to offer the community, Ensley knows that the building itself needs some improvements. Being built in 1971, much of the building needs upgrades and Ensley knows a simple facelift won’t be enough. Plans to tear down the current building and rebuild it are currently underway. Most interesting is the idea of connecting the seniors centre to the nearby GEF Seniors Housing Strathcona Place apartment and finding ways to be a community hub that addresses the needs of the seniors and the community.
“The value that the tenants living at the GEF Seniors Housing building near the centre receive when they participate in its programs is tremendous,” says Manak Dhillon, GEF Seniors Housing’s Strathcona Place building manager. “Finding creative and innovative ways to bridge our two organizations and help our partnership grow makes the most sense and gives the best possible benefit to the people most important to us: the seniors we serve.”
Be it athletics, textile weaving, supporting LGBTQ+ seniors, partnering with Indigenous groups, providing intergenerational programming opportunities, or working on elder abuse education, the Strathcona Place Seniors Centre continues working to add value to the lives of seniors in Edmonton. Its partnerships with other community focused organizations, such as GEF Seniors Housing, ensures that it can reach as many seniors possible and continue working to create a better quality of life for those who need it most.
“Everything we do is to help people find better outcomes,” says Ensley. “Things are always changing and we’re working to future proof everything that we do. We’re always asking ourselves what’s the next step in further addressing the needs of seniors.”
On the afternoon of July 31, 2012, GEF Seniors Housing faced one of its worst building fires in over 50 years it has been an organization. The Canora Gardens building’s second floor caught fire after a new tenant moving in put a cardboard box on a hot stove element. One tenant lost their life in the fire due to smoke inhalation. GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar explains that getting the call about a building fire is always unpredictable.
“It’s policy that whoever on the team is closest to the building when the fire call comes in has to go directly to the site to begin assessing the situation,” Kitlar explains. “Ed Campion, one of our project managers, made it to the site before I did. The whole drive over, I was looking over the horizon of buildings and I could see the black smoke billowing out and all I could think was that we were in trouble.”
The suite where the fire started and the suites next to it had extensive fire damage and the smoke damage all along the second floor was clearly visible. Kitlar says that while working with the adjusters, there was ample concern for the water damage to the floors below the fire and more smoke damage in the walls above the fire. Canora Gardens’ original construction had plenty of fire protection between the suites, but no smoke protection (as is the standard for modern buildings). Kitlar knew that the smoke damage went far beyond what they could see on the second floor.
“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.”
GEF Seniors Housing first worked to relocate the tenants from all 98 suites to other sites before beginning what started out as a $6 million renovation project. Plans were put into place to improve the fire and smoke protection, redesign the suites to better suit the needs of seniors, and even install a new sprinkler system. More challenges arose with the building project, including discovering a large amount of asbestos where parts of the sprinkler system would need to be installed and issues with the building envelope that caused major leaks including through the windows. The project quickly ballooned to $12 million.
“We were lucky to have a lot of support from the Government of Alberta throughout the whole project,” says Kitlar. “They supported a full redesign from the beginning. They knew this redesign would add another 40 years of life in this building and that was important for everyone involved.”
The Canora Gardens project has taken more than five years to complete with an opening date slated for January 2018. Kitlar points out that some rebuilds in the past have taken less time, but the Canora Gardens projects presented a few unique challenges (like the asbestos issue and the building envelope issue), which pushed the team at GEF Seniors Housing to go deeper into the building and work more to breathe new life into it.
“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.”
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.”
Swonek echoes Kitlar’s excitement about the redesign of the suites. His frequent visits to the sites have shown him how far along the building has come and how well this building is going to function as an independent seniors living complex once it’s completed.
“I visit the build site often because I’m a very visual person and I like to see the process being made,” says Swonek. “Canora Gardens is going to be so much of a safer building for the seniors living in it and I know it’s going to set a standard for seniors building renovation projects happening all across Edmonton.”
The Sakaw Terrace construction project reached two important milestones this week: the completion and issue of Tender Package number eight and the suspended slab concrete pour over the parkade. This is one of the first major steps to completing a building that’s going to serve a major need in the Mill Woods neighbourhood.
Included in Tender Package number eight was the window package, cladding, roofing, fall arrest system, doors, and hardware, all necessary components in this building project. The concrete slab finding its way onto the parkade means the center section foundation is nearing completion as work continues on the foundations for the building’s four main wings.
“We are pleased that the project is on schedule in spite of program and weather delays,” says Ed Campion, Project Coordinator with GEF Seniors Housing. “Putting a foundation in the ground after frost has set in can be very challenging and can also affect the design of the building’s sub-structure. Our team did an excellent job overcoming these challenges, ensuring we stayed on schedule and on budget”
Campion points out that weather is often a wild card on any building project. Extreme cold spells caused the frost to penetrate the ground and the cold temperatures also wreaked havoc on the excavation equipment.
“When temperatures hit below minus 20, it can cause serious damage to the equipment, blades and shovels break,” says Campion, explaining that heating equipment was used to keep the frost at bay in the open excavations and to protect the concrete footings and walls as they cured.
“We also dealt with a lot of snow, melt water, and rain this spring resulting in very muddy site conditions,” says Campion. “But we were able to manage the ponding water and muddy conditions by strategically digging sump pits and laying down purpose-built bamboo mats for men and equipment to move on.”
The concrete foundations for the north wings are expected to be finished by April 27, 2017. From there, the first delivery of structural steel for the core section of the building is set to arrive at the site on May 2, 2017, with follow-on deliveries continuing into the summer.
To celebrate the milestone occasion, Chandos, the lead contractor on this project, treated members of the design and construction teams to an outdoor hot dog lunch from Fat Frank’s. Thankfully for everyone, the weather participated nicely.
“This is the first nice day that we’ve had in quite a while, certainly better than the snow we were dealing with just yesterday,” says Campion with a laugh. “This is a well-deserved celebration. Everyone has done such an amazing job to get us where we are today and to help us achieve our goals tomorrow.”