New kitchen more than an upgrade

Summer reporter
Stephanie Hagenaars

Local MP Don Rusnak was at the Columbus Place for Seniors here last Wednesday to celebrate the renovations of the common room kitchen.
The once barely-accessible and cramped cooking area has a new, modern, and open look thanks to funding through the federal government’s New Horizons for Seniors Program.
This program focuses on “empowering seniors, encouraging them to share their knowledge, skills, and experience with others in the community, and enhancing seniors’ social well-being and community vitality,” according to the Government of Canada website, with those eligible to receive up to $25,000 in funding.
Even though the federal government may get the credit, Rusnak stressed it’s the work of the community that make projects like these a reality.
“All the hard work of all the people who had the vision, to the people who applied for the funding and did the work,” he said during a speech at Columbus Place.
“That’s where the real credit goes all the time.
“I get to cut a ribbon,” he added. “But all the work is done before by hard-working people in the community, and I think those people deserve the congratulations.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place in front of a full room of Columbus Place residents. Tom Duchnicki, president of the Columbus Place board of directors, and April Szpara, property manager for Columbus Place, stood with Rusnak.
“We really have to acknowledge April,” said Duchnicki.
“April had the vision and she had a plan . . . she never lets up and this is the result of her tenacity.”
The federal government made the announcement at the beginning of the year. It gave Columbus Place the go-ahead to begin renovations on Jan. 29 and was given a deadline of March 31.
Construction did not start right away, said Szpara, noting the team had a lot to plan and co-ordinate before it could begin.
She added the contractors were all local and everyone met at the same time to ensure the planning would go smoothly. Even Columbus Place residents had a say, providing their input on how they felt the new space should function.
“They already had a general plan of the kitchen, and got their [the seniors] approval on it and any modifications we might want to make,” said Szpara.
The project was finished by the March 31 deadline, and since then it’s been a much-needed social hub.
“They’re over the moon,” Szpara enthused. “So proud of that space now.
“All I did was make sure they had everything they needed and let them decide what they wanted to do with their space.”
Szpara arrived at Columbus Place in 2014 and the old, cramped kitchen was one of the first things she noticed needed an upgrade.
Even though she’s just “supposed to be the landlord,” she said she does “a lot of things outside the box,” such as cooking a meal for the seniors, and one day decided “we’re doing something about this kitchen.”
But the renovations were more than just modernization. It also is an important aspect in the mental, physical, and social well-being of Columbus Place residents.
Szpara explained seniors sometimes can become “shut-ins”–someone who has little to no visitors, leading them to become reclusive.
“We found they strive much better when they have an individual or people they can hang out with that have same interests and things like that,” she noted.
“They’re much happier,” Szpara added. “It’s good for their mental health. It’s good for their physical health.”