There are many words to describe seniors advocate Lorna Gibbs, but the one that comes to mind most readily is “determined.”
Lifetime caught up with Gibbs recently to discuss the status of the plans for a long-awaited seniors center for Southeast Vancouver, a project she has been passionately fighting for longer than most can remember. Gibbs was quick to share credit for that hard work with the many volunteers who have advocated alongside her during the past decade, in particular her close friend and ally Keith Jacobson, who unfortunately passed away June 24. Gibbs says it’s a tragedy Jacobson never had the opportunity to realize his dream of walking through the front door of the new centre, which will be located adjacent to the Killarney Community Centre.
How long have you been campaigning for this seniors centre?
We started meeting as a small group of seniors in early 2005, and soon learned the Killarney community had been struggling to get a centre since the mid-'90’s. I met with Keith Jacobson and we teamed up to move the project ahead. With his guidance and the generous support of the Killarney Association and City Social Planners we got organized and in 2007, formed a separate society of concerned senior citizens. So it’s been a long time now — more than 10 years.
Has a date been set to break ground? Any idea how long it will take to complete, once they’ve started?
There is no firm date for groundbreaking as yet. I would think it could be this autumn at the earliest and late spring of 2017. Weather will play a big part in choosing the best date. Funding from federal and provincial governments specified the seniors centre must be finished by March 2018, but we are all hoping it will be sooner.
What does this centre mean to the seniors of Southeast Vancouver? And to you?
It means that seniors programs won’t be bumped when extra space is required for children’s day care -- that won’t happen in the seniors centre. And, it means, that they can find better food than the fast food concession can offer and not easily digested by seniors or suitable for take-away. The dining room will fill a definite need, I think.
It also means they have a place to go without fear of being bumped into by exuberant youngsters in the hallways and they can take the time to play a quiet board game, read a book, sit in front of the fireplace and dream or just have a cup of coffee and chat. They now have an option to sign up for a program or just visit with friends, but it’s still their place to be, like a community living room.
But, I’m sure if you ask 10 different seniors they will all have different views on what it can or will mean to them depending on their particular interests but one thing they can be sure of is that this centre is their dedicated space and their needs or programs or meetings have priority.
What does it mean to me? It means I have seen a dream come true and have played a part in making the community a little better and more complete.
What are you looking forward to the most about the centre?
I’m really looking forward to the dining facility and being able to enjoy a freshly cooked, affordable and wholesome meal with my friends and neighbours in nice surroundings. Places like that are not plentiful in Southeast Vancouver. And I’m hoping for some nice special afternoon teas, maybe some entertainers and concerts on stage in the dining room.
They say it takes a village. Can you name a few of the key players, besides you, who helped make the seniors centre a reality?
No, sorry that’s impossible. All our supporters were and are “key” players in our success. Because we involved every senior we could from Main to Boundary and from East 41st to the Fraser it would be a very, very long list. Attaining the goal of a dedicated seniors centre has been an epic journey and required a cast of thousands, so even if I named 100, it would leave out many others.
But please let me say it again, it wasn’t done by any one person. No one could have done the work alone. In my opinion, the names Killarney Association, Killarney Seniors Centre and Keith Jacobson are almost synonymous — no one thinks of one without the other. Keith Jacobson has not only been president, but has been a driving force in the main centre and for the seniors’ centre for many, many years and the seniors centre would not be being built without his influence.My role was as spokesperson and I did my best.
What’s on the horizon for Lorna Gibbs?
I still see plenty of work before the roof is on and the doors open. I don’t think I’ll be bored.