Tag: quality of life
The 11th annual Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser was held in the Blatchford Hangar at Fort Edmonton Park on May 30th. It was a tremendous event and the most successful Breakfast we’ve had thus far.
With a record-breaking number of attendees, we hit a record breaking amount of donations! After countless hours of tallying up the donations, we raised over $118,000! Because of our guests and sponsors generosity, we are going to be able to house and improve the quality of life of so many seniors!
The new Minister of Seniors and Housing, Josephine Pon was in attendance and shared some wonderful remarks on the importance of seniors housing! We also heard from GEF Board Chair, Karen Lynch, Diamond Level Sponsors; CBI Home Health, Chandos Construction and Telus, GEF’s Vice Board Chair, Jacquie Eales, as well as GEF’s CEO Raymond Swonek. Shanika Donalds, Community Support Manager, spoke about the Community Support Program GEF has put in place where outreach workers work one-on-one with seniors experiencing difficulties in their day-to-day lives and help them find solutions. In 2018, GEF’s four-person team assisted more than 430 seniors.
With GEF being in its 60th anniversary year, our sponsors have invested in making the city a better place to live, grow and age with more than $60,000 raised in Breakfast sponsorships alone. Thank you to all our Diamond Level Sponsors; CBI Home Health, Chandos Construction, Historical Painting, and Telus, and our Platinum Level Sponsors; Emcee Construction and Management, HHS Contracting, Kemway Builders, Nakamun Group, O’Canada Contractors, Priority Mechanical, RPK Architects, ServiceMaster Restore and Shearwall Triforce, for all your support!
Thank you to everyone who attended our Breakfast this year and who helped contribute to make it a huge success! We hope to see you all again next year!
My career with GEF Seniors Housing began in November 2003 as a sous chef at one of the lodges. At the time I had no idea about GEF Seniors Housing, its vision, mission and values. I just needed a steady job and some work life balance. You see as a Chef working in the hospitality industry, work life balance was a distant dream at most times. Over the years working with GEF Seniors Housing, I have been fortunate enough to grow in my career with various positions.
My current role as a site Manager involves many dynamics. From assessing seniors for housing, working with a fantastic group of caring and dedicated staff, helping seniors to enhance their Quality of Life while they live in our buildings, dealing with the complexities and challenges of aging and seniors housing, every day at work is different and exciting.
GEF Seniors Housing relies on several partners which are part of the everyday job; some of these partners include home care, public health, family members, various Government and City licensing bodies and authorities, contractors, service providers, hospitals…..the list goes on. Each of these organizations has their own mandate and it can be challenging at times to see the common goal in enhancing the Quality of Life for our seniors and provide affordable housing.
How do we do it? The challenges that GEF, our seniors and myself face are many. However the one equation that never changes is the unwavering dedication, love, caring and compassion of my staff towards our seniors: it overcomes all hurdles and obstacles.
You might ask how, why? The answer is simple! Our staff feel that our residents are family and treat them as such. The culture at GEF is that of relationships, trust and caring, and not many things can go wrong when you have such a work environment. Our working days are filled with all kinds of entertainment, fun and surprises. We are always dressed to impress and we take our work very seriously. We can be strict when we have to be, but remember that spills happen every day!
I was very excited when the construction of Sakaw Terrace, a 158 unit self sustaining building with a mixed market housing model, was approved and I was chosen to manage it. This building will be unique in Alberta, where it will allow people of different income levels to live together and the money generated by the 30% of market lodge and apartment units will not require GEF to borrow any money from the Government or City to operate the building once the mortgage is paid off. In fact, it will create a surplus, which will help GEF build more affordable housing units. That is the future GEF is offering seniors. The progress of Sakaw Terrace is going well and we are ahead of schedule. We will be welcoming residents in Winter 2018 and everyone in the community, at GEF and myself are very excited!
When Alanna Cyre started with GEF Seniors Housing as a Dining Room Attendant turned Supervisor five and a half years ago, she would have never guessed she would switch to a Recreation Coordinator at McQueen Place. Over a year into the position, she loves every minute of and is discovering new things every day.
“I stepped in when the Recreation Coordinator was away for a bit. I realized how much I enjoyed the difference between Dining Room Supervisor and Recreation [when it came to] getting to know the residents in a different way. Really learning what they are passionate about and then when the opportunity arose for me to take on this position, I was very excited to take a step forward and continue on what I was doing to help the residents”.
The role of the ten Recreation Coordinators located in all of our lodges is to plan and oversee the activities and events at the lodges and apartments. They coordinate a monthly calendar of age appropriate activities, outings and special events for the residents to enjoy, such as bingo, card games, entertainment, birthday parties, exercise classes, bus outings, religious meetings, pub nights and more!
Recreational activities geared for seniors have been proven to provide emotional, physical, and cognitive benefits. “I think [recreational programming] is really important because it helps with their Quality of Life. I’ve seen seniors at other facilities [and] they don’t have as many activities as what GEF has to offer”.
“You can see how excited and happy the residents are to be able to do these activities. If an activity gets cancelled because someone is sick or a volunteer has to cancel last minute and no one else can take over, you see their disappointment because they were really looking forward to be able to do something”, Cyre says. “At the lodge, they have a harder time, getting out as much, they aren’t as mobile. So to be able to have all those activities inside the building, so that they don’t have to go far, is great! They can walk down the hallway or go down to the basement to do these activities and still feel the comfort of their own home and not have to worry.”
When a new resident moves in, Cyre meets with them multiple times within the first few weeks to let them know of the programs the building has in place and helps them to get to know some of the other residents. Some residents aren’t quite ready to make that jump right away and others fit right in. At the lodge, they use the buddy system for new residents to get acquainted. She will often introduce them to more active residents who can show them the ropes a bit. This makes them feel more comfortable and when it comes to meal time, because they had that previous connection and know a friendly face or two, they don’t feel so alone.
“Working at GEF has been very eye opening to see the difference between isolated seniors and how to [combat] that isolation. Whether it’s doing one-on-ones with residents or getting them involved with group activities, we like to figure out when new residents move in, what activities they like to do and what they used to do before they moved here. If they liked to do certain activities that aren’t normally ran here, then we will try to introduce those activities so that other people can learn to play them.… It’s really helping their Quality of Life and seeing how much of a difference it makes to the seniors”.
One of the things that surprises Cheryl Ackimenko the most about the Community Supports program with GEF Seniors Housing is how often individuals call the team’s main phone line looking for assistance. She points out how every one of GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings has posters up in common areas giving information about the Community Supports program with all relevant contact information. Some individuals contact the Community Supports team even before they’re in a position of needing assistance.
“One gentleman, who recently called, moved in to his apartment a few days earlier and said he does not need any support now, but wanted to learn about services in the community should he need them in the future,” recalls Ackimenko. “He was pleasantly surprised the Community Support program was available and so accessible to him.”
Ackimenko’s previous career as an Outreach Worker, made her the perfect fit to oversee the Community Supports team while the team’s original manager, Shanika Donalds, completes her temporary leave. Ackimenko managed multiple buildings around GEF Seniors Housing for five years before moving to her position as the interim Community Supports Manager, where she oversees the team of Outreach Workers and the individual projects each is working on. The Community Supports team is made up of Nicole Smith, Madison Black and Marita Gronberg. “This team does an amazing job providing support, as they are all passionate about helping seniors increase their Quality of Life.” Though many of the referrals that come to the Community Supports team are straight from the individuals looking for help, there are still those which come from other members of the GEF Seniors Housing community.
“[The referral] may be a tenant who has a concern about their neighbor in the building and they want an outreach worker to offer information about the program to the neighbor,” explains Ackimenko. “It is great to see a sense of community being built through connections with neighbors.”
Much of the work the Community Supports does involve one-on-one consultations to identify the roots of the hardships the individuals are experiencing. Many seniors face issues around social isolation, which contain a range of debilitating mental and physical health detriments that can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. It’s during the one-on-one work that Ackimenko experiences people opening up about things.
“Recently, when assisting a woman who wanted help with decluttering her home and connecting to her community, she shared her story of how she came to GEF a few years ago,” says Ackimenko. “She was renting a house with a roommate but the relationship with the roommate deteriorated to the point where she had to move out quickly. She was very grateful that she was able to find housing within GEF Seniors Housing during this stressful time of her life. She moved in to her own apartment within GEF Seniors Housing and has felt safe every day since then. She is again happy that GEF Seniors Housing has a program to support her with her needs.”
Sharing experiences and personal stories isn’t uncommon for the Community Supports team. Part of the work of understanding what’s affecting a person’s quality of life stems from the person’s experiences. Ackimenko cherishes when people are able to open up to her and respects the amount of faith people are able to put into her and her team.
“As a Community Outreach worker, on the first visit, it is an opportunity to get to know the person and build trust,” says Ackimenko.” You learn a lot about the person and their unique needs as they share their past experiences with you and the challenges they are facing now. Often they are experiencing loneliness and isolation at this time in their life. The second visit is always welcomed, as a relationship begins to build. Helping seniors navigate their needs to increase their quality of life and reduce their social isolation is very rewarding.”
The expression “every day is different” is often overused. In the case of Marita Gronberg, Community Supports Outreach Worker with GEF Seniors Housing, the expression takes on a whole new level of meaning. She explains that her role in the Community Supports team sees her making those one-on-one connections with people living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings and building the kinds of relationships where she’s able to identify what’s missing in a person’s life and how her area of expertise can help them.
“Some days I spend making phone calls and referrals, other days I am out visiting people in their homes within the GEF Seniors Housing community,” says Gronberg. “There are a variety of concerns residents bring forward during conversation, anywhere from the topics of experiencing abuse to the need of support for housecleaning.”
The foundation of trust Gronberg builds with the people she works one-on-one with is crucial to ensuring they receive the supports they need. She identifies social isolation as being one of the most pervasive issues that many seniors face. Research has shown that social isolation’s damaging effects extend far past simply having no one to talk to. The mental and physical health detriments seniors experience when isolated can seriously affect their quality of life and include an increased risk of cognitive decline, dementia, increased blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.
“This isolation makes it difficult for seniors to be aware of the resources available to them that can improve their quality of life and independence. Community Supports breaks through the wall of isolation, meeting people where they are at, and creating a support for someone they may not have had in a long time.”
The kinds of issues Gronberg has helped people work through include finding transportation solutions for people who can no longer drive, working on finance issues with people trying to live on a low-income, and even more serious mental health issues such as hoarding disorders and depression. She recounts a story about working with a woman living with depression and some of the challenges she helped her overcome.
“She no longer had interest in any activities, lost her appetite, found no feelings of happiness, felt she had no reason to live, and only wanted to sleep,” recalls Gronberg. “She reached out to Community Supports and was able to share everything she has been experiencing and feeling without any judgment in return. She said the biggest thing she needed was just to talk to someone, and know that she is not alone with these thoughts and feelings. Within another month of taking the medications from her doctor, she was back to feeling like her normal self. She was so happy to have had someone to listen to her during her darkest time.”
Gronberg knows how hard it can be for people to open up and ask for help. Seniors especially have this difficulty because they often don’t know what’s available to them and how easy it is to access what are often free or low-cost services and solutions to many issues they face. Gronberg’s worked hard to earn a good reputation around GEF Seniors Housing and continues working with people one-on-one to ensure they’re living with a good quality of life.
“Each time someone allows me into their home and personal space, and opens up to me about their deep and personal experiences,” says Gronberg. “It is always a high honor and privilege.”
Yiming Li found her passion in working with seniors at a very young age. She explains that while she was growing up in Dalian, China, her parents were very busy people and so she spent a lot of time with her grandparents. Developing that close relationship with both sets of her grandparents made her realize that there were some serious gaps in how China is addressing aging.
“China is an aging country with many older adults,” explains Li. “Yet, the government there isn’t focused on seniors issues.”
Li landed in Canada in 2013 to study at the University of Alberta’s Department in Human Ecology, Majoring in Family Ecology and Minoring in Aging. Now in her fourth year of studies, she’s spending her practicum working with GEF Seniors Housing’s Community Supports team on the Quality of Life survey and on surveys for people transitioning into living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings.
The surveys themselves aren’t particularly intensive and more rely on conversation and discovery as opposed to question and answers. The aims of the surveys are to identify keys points in the individuals that will help them live with a good quality of life while calling a GEF Seniors Housing building home and to find where key areas of services are lacking so the team can develop new programs based on the data from the surveys.
Through the surveys that Li has conducted so far, she has noticed a trend toward loneliness and isolation, especially in people with English as a second language or limited skills in English. Li saw this as an opportunity, especially with the large population of people living at Montgomery Place whose first language is Mandarin.
“Because of the language barrier, some of the people living at Montgomery Place had some frustrating experiences,” explains Li. “So when I first called to interview them, they were very hesitant to speak to me and didn’t want to participate in any of the survey work I was doing.”
Even speaking Mandarin over the phone didn’t break any of the barriers these people had, Li points out. So she had to rethink her approach in trying to reach a segment of GEF Seniors Housing’s population who needed connection. With calling on the phone no longer being a viable option, Li started making regular treks to Montgomery Place during the regular coffee hour in hopes of connecting with the Mandarin speaking population face to face.
Meeting face to face proved to be a huge success for Li. She quickly noticed how much more comfortable the people were when they met with Li in person and how happy they were to talk with her about the things that would help give them a good quality of life. Through her experience working with the people living at Montgomery Place, Li wants the rest of her practicum at GEF Seniors Housing to be focused on the Chinese populations in the building and to connect with them on a level that may be lacking for them.
“A bigger goal from all of this is to have a volunteer program where people who can speak the language come in and connect with the seniors who are experiencing isolation,” explains Li.
Once her practicum ends and she graduates from the University of Alberta, Li hopes to go back to China and implement much of what she has learned to the Chinese seniors industry. She explains that her country has a long way to go before even catching up to Canadian standards for aging and seniors programs and thinks that her education could make an impact on the Chinese systems.
“There is very little seniors housing available and what is available isn’t very professionally run,” says Li. “I hope to work with the seniors housing organizations in China and start to make some changes based on the things I learned while working with GEF Seniors Housing.”
Gordon Coolidge points to the peony bush at the back of Barvinok Apartments in Edmonton’s North East. He planted the bushes in the spring but knows, as the summer days are becoming fewer and fewer in number for the year, he has some work to do before the fall.
“I have to take the leaves and split them open,” he explains. “They need to breathe during the winter kill. Otherwise, they’ll suffocate and won’t regrow next spring.”
Coolidge, always something of a green thumb, kept up his garden while he lived and worked out of Westlock up until 2006. He moved into Barvinok Place after he suffered a stroke during an 11 and a half hour triple by-pass surgery. He explains he was bounced between hospitals for more than six months to see different specialists before finally deciding moving into a seniors apartment was his best option.
“I moved in before GEF Seniors Housing started managing the building, and I right away noticed that the garden hadn’t been kept up,” Coolidge recalls. “I started by digging out the dry clay balls from over the years and I put in all the soil for a healthy garden.”
What started off as activity to keep Coolidge busy evolved into a passion that he credits for helping keep him healthy and happy. He explains that gardening is no easy task and is a full body workout that keeps the 79 year old active.
The garden at Barvinok Apartments has helped to brighten up and add colour to the Beverly Heights neighbourhood and plenty of people in the community have taken notice. In the summer of 2017, the garden was nominated for a Front Yards in Bloom Award, which is a recognition program for outdoor space that adds to a greener and more sustainable urban environment.
The Front Yards in Bloom program is run by the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Horticultural Society, and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. It sees postal workers and other volunteers walk through neighbourhoods to find spaces that have aesthetically pleasing gardens or growing edible fruits and vegetables. The best spaces receive a nomination card to place in their garden. The official awards will be given out on August 24, 2017, at the former Royal Alberta Museum.
“I always had neighbours coming by to take pictures and tell me that they love the garden,” Coolidge explains. “But I never expected a recognition like a Front Yards in Bloom nomination.”
As he approaches 80 years old, Coolidge has no plans to ever slow down on his gardening. He walks through his garden, pointing out the weeds he pulled before adding the pots of coleus plants alternating in purple and green, and revelling in how many bees are working hard to pollinate with the help of the flowers he planted.
“You need to have something to help you get up in the morning and get you through the day,” Coolidge says. “I don’t want to sit around and get old. You’re never old until you admit it. Until then, I’ll spend all day working in the garden.”
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.”
On October 8, 2017, Ed Archer will turn 97 years old. When he tells people how old he is, they don’t believe him. This might be because at almost 97 years old, Archer still hasn’t really retired. After he moved into Rosslyn Terrace in 2014, he started asking around to some of the staff at the building if there was anything he could do to help.
“I’m not one to sit around for too long, I get bored,” says Archer. “If something needs to get done, if something’s broken, I just want to fix it.”
Rosslyn Place’s Site Maintenance Jim Cadzow heard that one of the tenants in the connected Rosslyn Terrace was looking for work to do and decided to see what he could help out with. Cadzow wasn’t expecting much at first and he was quickly and pleasantly surprised.
“I asked him if he was good at carpentry and he said he was, so I gave him a bench to work on, more or less to test out what he could do,” Cadzow says. “Next thing I know, he has the whole bench taken apart. He’s sanding and staining the wood and asking for new two-by-fours so he can replace some of the broken ones on the benches.”
Archer grew up on a farm in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, and explains that he took to working with his hands early on, fixing whatever he could whenever it needed to be worked on. That passion for hard work followed him throughout his retirement and, as Cadzow explains, he hasn’t lost much steam over the years.
“In all, Ed [Archer]’s taken apart and repaired 18 benches so far,” Cadzow says. “And this is good work. He hand cuts all the wood and replaces broken parts piece by piece. Looking at the benches, you would think they were brand new and before Ed got a hold of them, they were ready for the dumpster.”
Benches were only the start of Archer’s work around the Rosslyn buildings. Soon, he was pressure washing and repainting the gazebo in the courtyard, trimming trees, repairing the outdoor handrails, helping fix up sidewalks, and even repairing some of the mechanical equipment Cadzow was using.
“I had this snowblower and this rototiller, and neither worked really all that well,” says Cadzow. “So I asked Ed [Archer] if he knew anything about engines. He took apart the snowblower and rototiller, fixed them up, put them back together, and I haven’t had a problem since. They’ve never worked better.”
Cadzow quickly realized that Archer needed a designated spot to work on all of the projects he had been taking on. In the far corner of Rosslyn Terrace’s underground parking garage, a wooden sign hangs saying, “Eddie’s Workshop.” Cadzow made the sign for Archer and created a space for all the incredible work he’s been doing.
Archer typically spends most of his days down in his workshop. He’ll head down before 8:00 a.m., bring a lunch with him, and finish up around 4:00 p.m., just like if he was still working a regular day job. Cadzow often reminds Archer that he doesn’t have to work so much, but Archer’s drive keeps him going day after day.
“I still have one bench in my workshop that I haven’t been able to finish because of a foot injury,” Archer says. “I feel like that bench is laughing at me. I need to finish it. The doctor told me I can’t work until my foot heals, and I’ll be plenty happy when it does and I get back to work.”