Saturday, 14 December 2013

The small miracle of bad news

Bad new creeps up from behind and slaps you.
It is shocking. Painful. Paralysing.

But sometimes, while you are reeling and keening, good news puts a comforting hand on your shoulder and says. "I am here."

If you follow me at all, you know of the emotional last month with the Aviva Community Fund contest and Christie Gardens. We dreamed an incredible dream of winning $150,000 from the Aviva Insurance Company for our project.

We want to not only renovate the rest of our first floor, but to change the culture of eldercare. We have a vision. Care can go beyond respectful and kind to restoring purpose and growth, even in the end of life.

The journey was a wild ride. We won the first round, and advanced. The ten days of the semi-finals were a nail-biting, stomach-clenching experience, as we struggled in 12th place for days. With a final incredible push in the last three days, we gained over 1,000 supporters, and climbed to 10th and finally 8th place.

Voting closed at noon on Wednesday, and I didn't accomplish much that morning.  Incredibly distracted, I kept running back to my computer to click "refresh." The race was so close--only 150 votes separated the four contenders surrounding us. Could we maintain our position in the top ten?

Just before noon, I was assisting people to the dining room for lunch when I heard cheering. I ran to the  reception area, and saw a scene unprecedented at Christie Gardens. We are a conservative bunch, after all. Not that day. Residents, staff, visitors and family members crowded the area, and were screaming, crying, hugging. It went on and on. Our incredible dream was a huge step closer to reality, and we made it to the finals!

Thursday afternoon, we had a celebration. No, a CELEBRATION. Staff and residents together danced to the tune of "Celebration." Laughed. Cried. Cheered. Danced. Grinned with smiles that started in our toes. It wasn't just about Aviva or the money. There was a sense that something had shifted at Christie Gardens, and we would never be the same again.

Friday morning, a meeting of the Aviva committee was called for 10:00. Was there something we had to do to prepare for the finals? A group of 20+ staff and residents sat expectantly in a large circle.

That was when the bad news hit us.

Apparently, it is possible if you are tech savvy (which I definitely am not) to generate votes by computer. A computer rather than a person does the voting. This is, of course, against the rules. It is also possible for Aviva to discover which votes were generated this way. After checking and re-checking, they informed us that 700 of our votes were disqualified as fraudulent. Someone (or perhaps a few someones) thought they would "help us out." They didn't. Because of this, we dropped to 12th place, and were not qualified for the finals.

A hush filled the room. It's not fair. We worked so hard. Our project is so worthy. Why? Tears fell.

That was when good news quietly entered the room.

Around the circle, we began to share. We realised Christie Gardens changed, we changed, and culture change began though this experience.

  • The barriers between independent living and the care sections were coming down like never before. Residents living in apartments no longer felt that moving to the first floor was a "death sentence" but coming to a place for purpose and growth.
  • Residents and staff worked together in ways that had never happened before. Residents stood in Starbucks and Loblaws handing out bookmarks and talking about what we were doing, and people listened, and voted. Residents went to schools and the young people gladly got on board. So did their parents, their teachers, their office staff. And voted.
  • Residents and staff had fun together. There were no barriers. We were people celebrating together.
  • People in our community, across the country and around the world heard what we are doing. Many considered for the first time the possibility of caring for elders in this way. People caught the vision. As one resident said, "$150,000? That's nothing. You'd pay millions for this kind of publicity!"
  • Residents reached out to staff and comforted them. 
I was particularly touched by the comments of our chaplain. He remarked on the similarities between our story and the Christmas story. The first Christmas, Israel was looking for strength to overthrow the Roman rule. They were thinking in terms of  soldiers and an army. Instead, God sent a baby. What was He thinking? Yet, that wasn't the end of the story, and God had a plan.

And so with us.

This isn't the end of the story.

And God has a plan.

And that's good news.


  1. I could not be more proud of the family that we have at Christie Gardens, we all took on a challenge together and ran with it, worried, started to lose hope but never gave up we only fought harder for the change of the status quo. While we did not get the goal we thought we were seeking, we did attain a whole lot more, spreading the word about Elder care, changing the status quo for our Elders, showing not just Toronto or Ontario or Canada but all over the world that Christie Gardens is in the for front of change and initiative of what the fourth stage of life should look like. Congratulations to the wonderful team that I work with every day.

  2. That is so true that this project has helped towards breaking down some of the barriers between the first floor residents and the residents from the rest of the building. Especial thanks from this fairly new resident to Mrs. Peachman.

  3. I'm a member of the Aviva Community Fund team and have led the project for the past 5 years. I just want to say thanks for writing this blog. We are a small team who organizes this project and it's never easy to see great ideas like yours come so close.... but the good news is... we see time and time again that ideas come back the next year and win. We pride ourselves on ensuring all votes are completely valid and owe it to all ideas to run the same fraud scripting.... as ever idea is deserving is their own right. I want to send my congrats to you and Christie Gardens. Please don't consider this the end of our relationship.... you have touched the hearts of many staff at Aviva and we look forward to continued communication and opportunities in the future.