VANCOUVER In January 2007, community activist Lorna Gibbs helped organize a protest that saw two busloads of seniors from southeast Vancouver converge on city hall to convince council a seniors centre for their neighbourhood should be fast-tracked.
The area had seen a large influx of men and women in their 40s and 50s move to the neighbourhood in the 1970s.
"And now they're all baby boomers," Gibbs told the Courier in 2007. "That dust cloud you see down the road is them coming. These are the seniors we need to awaken. We have to mobilize."
Progress seemed slow. The next year, then-president of Killarney Seniors, John Pawluk, accused the city of being more interested in building a $31 million animal shelter than helping seniors living in isolation.
But fast-forward to Jan. 7 of this year when Gibbs was met with a standing ovation by more than 100 seniors who attended an event at the Killarney Community Centre during which Wai Young, Conservative MP for Vancouver South, announced federal funding of $2.5 million towards the long-awaited project estimated at $7.5 million several years ago.
The commitment tops up the $2.5 million promised by the city in 2011 and $1.3 million announced by Liberal Premier Christy Clark the day before the 2013 provincial election. In 2009, the park board agreed to provide land for the project adjacent to the Killarney Community Centre on Killarney Street at East 49th Avenue. Now all eyes are on the province to follow through with its commitment.
B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, MLA for Vancouver-Fraserview, was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
Gibbs hopes the federal funding will be the last piece of a puzzle she started putting together with other residents of the neighbourhood 15 years ago. One of her allies was Keith Jacobson, former president of the Killarney Community Centre Association.
She added it's vital the project get rolling as soon as possible.
"The province made the contribution we wanted in the spring so now everyone wants to get going on this," Gibbs told the Courier Wednesday morning.
While there are seven seniors centres located west of Cambie Street, there are none in southeast Vancouver, home to one-third of the city's seniors about 27,000.
Young told the Courier Wednesday she got involved with the project as soon as she was elected more than three years ago. She added she worked as an outreach worker with the Ministry of Social Services years ago and was a common visitor to seniors housing complexes in the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown.
"And my mom is a senior, she was at the announcement," said Young. "So I know seniors want to have their own place where they can socialize and give back. Giving back is very important to seniors."
Young hopes the project will break ground as soon as possible.
"Until now this project has been worked off the side of a desk," said Young. "We know the city can begin projects very quickly when it wants to. Let's move forward on this."
On Wednesday morning, Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson released this prepared statement: "Today's announcement of a federal funding contribution toward a new seniors' centre at Killarney is great news for Vancouver, after years of advocacy by the community and council and $2.5 million committed by the city in 2011.
As mayor, I would like to thank the Government of Canada for this significant commitment. I look forward to continuing work with our partners in the other levels of government to ensure construction can get started on this important new resource and community space for seniors and their families in southeast Vancouver."
Gibbs noted Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie has been a longtime advocate of the project. She is now urging all three levels of government to work together.
"It doesn't matter who wears the crown," said Gibbs. "They now have to work together to benefit the community."
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