Karen Lynch was just eight years old when she “repurposed” some money she had taken from a UNICEF donation box. When her parents found out what she had done, they determined the consequence to her actions would be to volunteer at a local charity. Her parents arranged for her to volunteer at GEF’s Meadowlark Lodge and play the piano for the residents. It is still unknown today if the real punishment was for Karen or the residents. This was the first time Karen was introduced to GEF Seniors Housing, and she has kept that memory with her ever since. Many years later Karen is still a part of the GEF Family. She has been a member of our Board of Directors since 2014 and the Board Chair since 2017.
Karen is a respected civic leader, with over 40 years of diverse experience. Her reputation for making things happen and getting things done is well known in Edmonton. Karen’s passion is creating and nurturing networks of people involved in building community leadership, which makes her a perfect fit for GEF. She has served on the boards of the Edmonton Public Library, Volunteer Canada and Alberta Ballet, and as the elected President of the Alberta Library Trustees Association. Her extensive experience in politics and her wealth of knowledge has proven to be an asset to our organization.
Being a Board Chair is no easy feat and chairing meetings is the least of what she does. “An important aspect of being the Chair is creating and shaping the agenda and conversations for meetings [to ensure the organization is always following the right path and the] board members can speak up and bring the value to the table to be able to shape what GEF does.”
“Part of my job is to help recruit new board members along with the rest of the Board. We look at our matrix to see who is retiring or leaving and then we try to encourage people to approach the City or approach us, to see if they would be suitable for the Board and if they have talents or knowledge they can share and contribute.”
When reflecting back on the past five years, Karen doesn’t think the organization or the Board has changed very much. “This is an exceptionally well led organization. What I think has changed, is the environment around us. We’ve had two complete changes in the government, both federally and provincially. We’ve had many new council members, so in that respect, the connections with the external community has changed. I think that we are starting to do a better job of reaching out to other community partners we may not have known about in the past.”
Karen has been a dynamic leader and visionary for the Board of Directors of GEF Seniors Housing. She has a vision for where we need to be as an organization and the talents and passion to help us strategically get there. Her desire throughout her time on our board has been to make GEF the best organization it can be and she will not stop driving the enhancements until we get there!
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.”
In April of 2016, GEF Seniors Housing hosted a community meeting with members of Elmwood and the surrounding neighbourhoods. The meeting was to discuss a new proposal for a seniors housing building on the vacant lot behind the Meadowlark Place lodge. GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar explains that this initial meeting was expected to have around 30 people attend and share a few ideas for what the building should look like and how to integrate it into the neighbourhood. By the time discussions began, more than 100 community members were in attendance.
“We were still setting up tables and trying to find more coffee by the time [GEF Seniors Housing CEO] Raymond [Swonek] began the introduction for the discussion,” says Kitlar with a laugh. “We’re really blown away by how invested this community is in seeing some new affordable seniors housing be added to the area.”
Community consultations are always unpredictable and typically have a few naysayers who come in ready to oppose any new developments, Kitlar points out. The meeting in Elmwood saw nothing but positive feedback and constructive ideas on how to best integrate the building onto what’s typically a busy street corner at 87 Avenue and 159 Street on Edmonton’s west end. With interest from the community being so high for this proposed building, Kitlar explains that the pressure is on to come back to the next community meeting with a solid building plan that the people will want to stay invested in.
“The building we want to add to this community really needs to add a lot of value to this area,” says Kitlar. “This is an area that’s seeing some big spikes in its senior population and we need to deliver a building that’s going to serve the needs for this area.”
Though the process for a new building project can come off as slow, a lot has progressed for Elmwood Terrace over the past year. The City of Edmonton re-zoned the land to accommodate a five or six story building. A study into the need for the building is required by the Province of Alberta and part of this study will include architectural designs for the space. More than 20 different architectural firms have expressed interest in working on the design of the building with GEF Seniors Housing.
Once the architect for the study is selected, a budget for the building will be set and brought to the Province of Alberta for its support. After the budget is approved and the Province dedicates its funds to the project, the rest of the team will be selected, including the general contractor. Kitlar explains that the team is looking to implement an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) approach to the project, much like how Sakaw Terrace is being built.
“In short, IPDs see all project partners, from the architects to the contractors, having some financial stake in the game,” says Kitlar. “As the project progresses, if any setbacks come about, the partners put their profits at risk. This then motivates the partners to work more collaboratively to find creative solutions for any setbacks without compromising the quality of the building.”
With such strong interest in a new affordable seniors housing building in Edmonton’s west end, Kitlar knows the demand will only go up as time moves forward. He explains that any new capital building project is a long process. It’s those long processes that ensure GEF Seniors Housing will only open the best quality buildings to the seniors looking for a new home.
“If we’re looking at a building like Sakaw Terrace, for example, plans for that project began back in 2012,” says Kitlar. “We just broke ground on it in late 2016 and the building won’t be finished until 2018. It might seem like an incredibly long time for something as pressing as a growing seniors population who need affordable housing options. What we’re creating is a building that will be home for a lot of people. We don’t want to rush any of this. We want it so that when people move in, they know they’re in a safe and secure place that’s built to the highest standards. Elmwood Terrace will be no different.”