Posted March 04, 2013:
Apartments With a Difference

by Marilyn Grant.

Greetings from Victoria, British Columbia, on Canada’s west coast, where I live as one of the Madonna House staff "working away."

A few years ago, in answer to my favorite prayer, "what’s next, Lord?" I was offered a part-time job as assistant manager in the apartment complex where I live. With the blessing of my director general at Madonna House, I took up my duties in this "business with a difference" as a kind of housemother-poustinik.

Beacon Lodge, the largest of the five buildings, was begun by J.N. Cote of Morinville, Alberta, in the 1920’s. It was originally a tourist lodge near the ocean, catering to snowbirds who wanted to escape the prairie winter.

But eventually it became a permanent residence which has been handed down through the Cote family to the third generation of current owners.

After developing Beacon Lodge from the original tourist cottage, J.N. and his son, Henri, bought up the whole block of existing houses and turned them also into apartments.

The complex now includes five buildings. The ocean is on one side, and Beacon Hill Park and Mile Zero are on another.

Everyone who works for the business is a family member except me.

All together there are 96 apartments. Most of these are bachelor suites where people from ages 20 to 90 live.

The vision of J.N. Cote (pronounced Cohtay) was to create an environment where people who live alone can have some community life while still maintaining their autonomy and privacy.

That vision has been carried on by the family faithfully over the generations. In fact, the Cotes believe they are operating a ministry of family and community rather than running a business.

With that in mind, everyone on the management team knows the tenants by name, as well as many of their stories.

Often when people come here to inquire about accommodation, they ask what this place is about as they sense a difference immediately on coming in the door.

We make every effort to help people live well in our buildings, especially the lonely and elderly. I call it a "house of all sorts" after the title of the book by Canadian artist, Emily Carr.

We provide a variety of extras that apartment buildings generally do not. Every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, for example, we provide tea and cookies in the common lounges so that the residents can visit with us and with each other.

Each day is full of surprises for me and struggles for one tenant or another. For example: one evening last week, an elderly man’s care worker arrived to discover that he had been lying on the floor, injured, for hours.

I was called upon to open the apartment door, call 911, and help calm the injured man until he could be taken to emergency for treatment.

Fortunately that type of scenario is rare. The work of ministry mainly involves listening as people pour out their woes and worries, joys and suffering to a listening heart, mine or one of the other managers.

And since I am assigned the task of collecting the rents at the beginning of each month, I hear many sad stories of financial struggles and worries from both the old and the young.

Throughout the year, the management takes various opportunities to serve the residents and to build community.

Every year, as Christmas approaches, for example, the Cote family and management prepare a dinner for the residents as many have no family and nowhere to go for Christmas. The company provides the turkey and ham while residents contribute to the rest of the meal.

On average we feed and entertain 40 to 50 residents and staff for Christmas dinner. Once the meal is over, we all gather, Christians and Jews, Hindus and agnostics, to sing carols and hymns to welcome the newborn Savior. For many this event is the high point of the season and a time to meet and make new friends.

When I’m not attending to someone or something at Beacon Lodge or Manor, I am usually to be found either in the poustinia, at the parish, or out walking along the waterfront.

I am living a full and satisfying Nazareth life.


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