By BERNIE BELLAN Becky Chisick has been in her job as the new executive director of Gwen Secter Centre at Syd Glow Place for a little over a month.
Joining Becky, also new to Gwen Secter is Danielle Tabacznik, who is now the program and volunteer coordinator.
Recently I had the chance to sit down with both Becky and Danielle, as well as Gwen Secter Board president Nikki Spigelman, to find out more about Becky and Danielle’s backgrounds, as well as what their goals might be now that they both have taken over after what has been a turbulent but eventful year at Gwen Secter.
To recap – not only was it finally determined that the centre would be allowed to remain in its long-time Main Street home as a result of a $900,000 donation from an anonymous donor, both Gwen Secter’s long-time executive director, Marilyn Regiec, and long-time programming director, Elaine Stern, either retired (in the case of Marilyn) or were dismissed (in the case of Elaine).
Now that the Gwen Secter membership is safely ensconced in a building that, for years, looked like it was going to be sold by the building owner, the National Council of Jewish Women, with two new – and relatively young women, now at the helm, it will be interesting to see whether the centre changes direction at all.
The position of executive director at Gwen Secter was actually advertised twice. In fact another person had been hired to replace Marilyn Regiec as executive director and that person was supposed to have been introduced at Marilyn’s retirement tea in October, but the successful applicant had a last-minute change of mind.
Becky Chisick explained that she was one of the applicants the second time the position was advertised. As we noted in a brief mention in our Dec. 21 issue, Becky’s most recent work experience was as a district manager for Starbucks in Winnipeg.
We asked her what led her to apply for a job that would likely be quite different from her previous position?
Becky said that “being able to work in the community really attracted me to the position. I’ve always enjoyed the Jewish geography part and working with the older generation has always been very close to my heart.”
Raised in River Heights, the daughter of Hart Chisick and Susan Portnoy, Becky attended Sir William Osler and Kelvin, followed by studies at the University of Manitoba. “I moved away for a while,” she said, “and moved back a few years ago. At that time I still had two grandparents alive.” (One of her grandparents is still alive, she added.)
I asked Becky whether she had any prior experience working with seniors?
She explained that “years ago, when I lived in Vancouver, I was the recreation coordinator at the Jewish community centre there. I worked with all age groups. Part of that included working with the older adult group – younger adults as well.”
“I took a different angle after that – going into a lot more sales and management. When this opened up and I had the opportunity of going back to my roots – especially in my home town, it kind of warmed my heart..”
Danielle Tabacznik said that, while she has Winnipeg roots, she was raised in Toronto. The daughter of Esther Ruvinsky and Harold Tabacznik, Danielle noted that she used to spend her summers in Winnipeg.
“In my early twenties I did live here for a little while as well,” she added.
“I was looking for a reason to be back in Winnipeg for quite a while,” Danielle said, “and when I saw this position advertised, I knew it was just meant to be.”
“I have a background in social work – in health,” she explained, “specifically working with older adults.” (Danielle noted later that she has a Bachelors in Social Work.)
“I used to work in ‘Circle of Care’, which is part of the Sinai Health System in Toronto and when I worked there I worked specifically with Holocaust survivors. I’ve also worked with seniors – not necessarily Jewish seniors, as program facilitator in a personal care home.”
I asked both Becky and Danielle whether they were familiar with Gwen Secter prior to assuming their new positions. Danielle answered that she was quite familiar with the centre, as she used to come with her grandparents when they attended Gwen Secter.
Becky said that, while Gwen Secter “wasn’t a big part of my life, I always knew that it was here and why it was here. Growing up, my grandparents didn’t come here – because of the distance. It wasn’t as common then for a lot of south enders to come north, but now that we’ve been able to integrate a lot of the transportation, it’s become more popular for people in the south end to come.”
I asked both women whether they had any goals upon entering into their respective new positions. Becky answered that “every day Danielle and I come to each other’s offices and brainstorm – not just about the 80+ demographic. We’re looking at that younger adult age group as well, so that we can keep on moving.”
Nikki Spigelman joined in, saying that “I’m considered a senior, but I’m still working. When you talk about seniors, sure there are concerns about health and welfare, but there are other issues as well, such as isolation. People think of Gwen Secter as the Wednesday program, but there’s a lot more to Gwen Secter than that – and how do we build upon that? That’s what the hiring committee found with Becky and Danielle – that they brought a lot of new ideas with them.”
Danielle noted that one of the new programs that will be brought in will be a “mindfulness” program – which will complement the already existing yoga and fitness classes.
(I mentioned that I have a who son is a very popular yoga teacher; he’s also taught “naked yoga” at his studio in the Exchange District. I wondered how that might go over at Gwen Secter?)
Nikki added that when it comes to health programming, “we’re also looking at mental health, we’re looking at nutrition for instance – how do you cook for one? What’s out there is huge and we need to do some brainstorming and narrow down what we focus on. The board is looking at doing some strategic planning so that Becky and Danielle can bring their ideas and we can plan together with them.”
I asked Becky about the fundraising aspect of her role. I said to her that I knew that was something that “Marilyn Regiec was very good at”. I asked her whether she has any experience in fundraising?
She answered, “I definitely did fundraising in the past. I’m looking at how many outside sources we can tap into to insure that we have as much funding as we can possibly get to be able to offer the best types of programs to our members and to attract as many more members as we can possibly get.”
I further asked Becky whether she’s had any experience writing grant applications. She answered, “yes”.
I turned to the subject of Russian-Israeli seniors, asking whether any of them have now joined Gwen Secter. Nikki explained that Jewish Child and Family Service offers a special program at the centre for that group. Also, as we reported in a previous issue, a new program at the centre titled “Babas and Babes”, which is under the direction of Russian-speaking Tatiana Shilshtut, also caters to the Russian-speaking Jewish seniors’ community.
One of the problems in attempting to accommodate the Russian-Israeli seniors’ community, Nikki pointed out, as it is with Jewish seniors in general, is transportation.
“They’re all over the city,” Nikki noted. “They’re in Transcona, for instance – we’re not in a small community any more…Getting grants for transportation is one of the areas we’re looking at.”
I mentioned the Tallman grant for transportation, but Nikki said that, while that grant does apply to some of the transportation costs affecting seniors coming to Gwen Secter, it only covers a small portion of the total cost.
As we reached the end of our conversation, once again I paid tribute to the inestimable contribution of Marilyn Regiec, who was executive director at Gwen Secter for 13 years.
Nikki Spigelman agreed, saying that, prior to Marilyn’s arrival, “it was a Wednesday group.. She added though, that “speaking for the board, I think we’ve really lucked out. We now have a great team, we have a great working board. Any problems we may have had are now in the past.”