Elaine Ginter was over the moon when she was finally reunited 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 really 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 really has made my experience even better, having my Pepper here with me! I wouldn’t change it for the world!”
In 2000, Doreen Chapman had retired from her sales position at Sears, after 40 years of dedicated service. She soon realized being home all the time and not talking to anyone, was not what she was looking for. She knew about GEF Seniors Housing through her sons, who had delivered newspapers to the McQueen Place Lodge when they were young. She submitted a volunteer application to GEF and then received a call from the Recreation Coordinator asking for an interview. The Recreation Coordinator thought her vast experience in retail sales would be an asset for the tuck shop they were planning on opening.
Doreen has been volunteering at the McQueen Tuck Shop now for 18 years. She has continually worked on Wednesdays and has become a staple of the lodge. “It’s a nice service for [the residents] to have – snacks, gift things, and items for basic needs” Chapman mentioned.
Doreen’s main role at the Tuck Shop is to display the items and sometimes go shopping. “Technically, the job of the Recreation Coordinator is to do the shopping, but when there is a new person, I will go with them to show them the ropes” Chapman explains. “Older people don’t like change, so what they like is what you buy!” Throughout the years, the tuck shop has improved. They are able to have a wider variety of items in which they can sell. However, sometimes change isn’t always the way to go.
Over the years, Doreen has found that one of the more popular items is the individually packaged Cheezies and chips. They are a hot commodity at McQueen Place. However, Doreen knows what is important to keep fully stocked. “Mouthwash, toothpaste, laundry detergent – the necessities of life. I try and make sure we don’t run out of those.”
Other items that are kept on hand in the Tuck Shop are chocolate bars, throat lozenges, Kleenex, gift items, puzzles and games and cards. “I’ve picked up a few things over the years that have made it easier for me to display stuff, like a card spinner. When we first started, we had the cards in the box and it was a pain in the butt but we have the spinner now and we even have a small spinner that works like a charm. The [residents] love to be able to sit there on their walkers and look through the cards and pick what they want.”
Due to Doreen’s exceptional volunteer work over the years, she was nominated by the Honourable Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier of Alberta and MLA for Edmonton-Glenora for the 2018 Minister’s Seniors Service Awards (MSSA). The MSSA recognize exceptional volunteers and outstanding organizations. Across the province, dedicated Albertans volunteer their time to brighten the lives of seniors and build their communities while countless organizations work tirelessly to provide much-needed supports and services.
“It was very exciting!” Chapman said. “I first heard about it from McQueen Place Manager, Tracy Grover. She had asked if I knew I had gotten nominated and I said NO! I then received the letter and was invited to a nice afternoon. There were a lot of people there and a lot of them were from out of town. [But] it was very much appreciated!”
“Volunteering at McQueen has been fun though. It makes me feel good every time I’m there. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m hoping to make 20 years!”
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.”
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.”
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.”
For more than 10 years, GEF Seniors Housing has partnered with the Terra Centre, a not-for-profit association dedicated to providing supports to teen parents while they finish their education and plan for the future. The children who attend the Terra Centre’s Child and Family Support Centre program visit Ottewell Place for intergenerational programming that benefits both the seniors living at the lodge and the children with the Terra Centre. One child in particular has become a strong example of the benefits of intergenerational programming.
“We know that consistent and familiar relationships and routines are important to Skyler’s development and learning,” explain representatives from the Terra Centre in a story they wrote and published called At the Lodge with Skyler, which chronicles a typical day for three-year-old Skyler when he visits Ottewell Place. “This familiarity contributes to his sense of security and attachment, which is his emotional well-being, positive self-identity, and a sense of belonging.”
Skyler’s visits to Ottewell Place include everything from watching the pet birds at the lodge and spending time with the residents to more creative activities like playing the piano and singing for the residents and other children. The Terra Centre’s story on Skyler highlights Skyler’s especially strong interest and immediate attraction to music as a good avenue for further development.
“Many have noticed that Skyler seems to have an interest in music and singing, particularly the piano,” the story outlines. “Bringing musical instruments into the playroom as well as making musical instruments can help support him further.
The development that the Terra Centre is observing in Skyler demonstrates the clear benefits of intergenerational programming. The benefits for the children involved with intergenerational recreation include improved academic skills, better social skills, decreases in negative behaviours, and increases in social stability. Children see an increase in self-esteem, problem solving skills, and an appreciation for seniors and aging when involved with these kinds of programs.
GEF Seniors Housing’s has explored intergenerational programming with other community partners. Beverly Place saw a strong partnership with the Abbottsfield Youth Project with the Love Grows Here art project. Ottewell Terrace remains the home for the Primrose Place Family Centre daycare, where the children often visit the residents living at Ottewell Manor. For GEF Seniors Housing, the benefits of intergenerational programming to the children are important, but the mental and physical health benefits to the seniors are something to take note.
A 2004 study in the Journal of Urban Health shows that seniors involved with intergenerational recreation programming burn 20 per cent more calories per week, experienced fewer falls, were less dependent on canes and other walking aides, and had better cognitive skills. Another study from 2003 in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias showed that older adults with dementia or other cognitive impairments saw significant improvements in their overall mental health during interactions with children.
“The science is clear when it comes to intergenerational programming,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “It’s a trend that we’re seeing pick up all across Canada and that makes me really happy. It means more people are listening to the facts, seeing the same positive outcomes that we’re seeing, helping more people have a good quality of life. I hope we get to see more partnerships blossom like the ones we have with the Terra Centre and the Primrose Place Family Centre so even more children and seniors can gain from the benefits of intergenerational programming.”
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.”