2021 Annual General Meeting

We would like to thank all of you who joined us for the Bernard Betel Centre Annual General Meeting on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 via Zoom. Below are highlights of the evening from Marcus Staviss’ President’s Remarks; Gail Gould, Executive Directors’ Organizational Review; and Members Council Chair and Board Member, Hava Aharoni’s Leadership Award Presentation.

If you are interested in viewing the full recorded session of the Annual General Meeting, please click HERE.

Bernard Betel Centre Board of Directors’ President’s Remarks – Marcus Staviss

Last year I sat right here in my bedroom, on Zoom, before the members of the Bernard Betel Centre, delivering my report. I mentioned how long the pandemic had lasted and that we hoped a light was coming at the end of the tunnel.

Well, it was wishful thinking. How much we all would like to be back together in the auditorium, enjoying a meal and each other’s company, perhaps with some entertainment. Celebrating our accomplishments in providing exceptional wellness and social programs for our members, and outreach to seniors in our community.

Just before the High Holidays, I set foot in the Centre for the first time since February of 2020.  I saw so much evidence of the work they have been doing, as part of an essential service to our community. The auditorium is made up of rows upon rows of tables, as an efficient, temporary assembly hub for Meals on Wheels. Outside the doors in the lobby there is a shipping container-slash-refrigeration unit. Where there once was a cafeteria line there is now the shell of our kitchen-renovation in progress. Where there were once inaccessible bathrooms that were falling apart, there is now a blank slate!

It was all very exciting, and emblematic of how much we have changed to respond to the pandemic and the needs of our members, and how much work is ahead of us.

So, I will focus on what’s happening with the Board of Directors, as well as what we have in store for the future. Over the past year, we have seen two valued colleagues, Cyrelle Muskat and Marsha Zinberg, move on from the Betel Board, after many hours of volunteer dedication. We have been privileged to welcome Bobby Walman to the Board. I am proud that we will soon have new Board members Julie Gilbert and Deborah Glasser join the team.

This year we put our plans to become accredited by the Canadian Centre for Accreditation on pause while we focused on dealing with the pandemic. However, our committees have been busy at work. The Governance Committee has developed and reviewed succession management policies for the Executive Director and Board leadership positions; defined the roles of Board officers; and conducted self-assessment surveys of the Board to improve our performance. The Board has received education on Betel’s programs, and on important topics including Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The Marketing and Development Committee, with a lot of support from our staff, implemented a fundraising event “Betel Spotlight!” where we welcomed political journalist and author Sasha Issenberg to provide an exclusive Q&A session, moderated by our own Todd Lamsworth. My thanks to our sponsors, Benjamins Group and Civic Works for their generous support. The Finance Committee has worked with our auditors and Management to deal with the financial uncertainties of the pandemic and budgeting during this difficult time, with our Treasurer, Inna Kravitz.

Critically important for our Board this year was looking ahead to what Betel may look like after the pandemic is over. We have struck a Strategic Planning Task Force which is looking at our 2017-2022 Strategic Plan and will be updating it to be more relevant.

But in the shorter term, I know there are lots of questions of “when are we reopening the Centre for all our programs?” and perhaps even more importantly “how can we keep everyone safe?”

The Board is considering these questions. Given the real risk of the delta variant, the continued rise in COVID cases in the community, and the significant health risks to the seniors we serve, we have to be very careful. Just because we can possibly open does not mean it is the right thing to do. But it has been important to hear from you to guide our decisions. I want to thank the hundreds of members who participated in the re-opening survey this summer which will help us shape our reopening plans. One question on many of your minds is what rules will be in place about vaccinations and access to the building? We will always comply with the law and consider what our members are telling us, what is safe for members, staff and volunteers. I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of members who responded to the survey say they support vaccination requirements, and the Ontario Government also has recently put in place some expectations for vaccinations at healthcare facilities, as well as at events.

I want to thank the Return to Work Planning Group: Betel staff, the Chair of the Members’ Council and two other Board members, for their hard work on the complicated logistics of a potential reopening, and a great deal of due diligence about how to keep everyone safe and how to make sure we are doing the right things for the right reasons.

But before we even get there, we have to complete our renovations! We are hoping to have completed the kitchen and brand new, accessible bathrooms later this fall. At this point, we are essentially a construction site and a Meals on Wheels hub and do not have the space to offer in-person programs even if we wanted to. But I am really excited by how the construction is taking shape and we can’t wait to welcome everyone back to the building after it is done and the public health situation allows.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my colleagues on the Board and all our volunteers for your dedication during a truly strange year, and how you have given so much of your time and yourself to Betel and the seniors in our community. To our staff, I am in awe of your knowledge, passion, and tirelessness for our organization, our clients, our members and each other.

I would also like to recognize all those who helped in putting this AGM and our Board and Committee meetings together.

Last year, I thanked our staff and volunteers for making sure Betel remains a vital, relevant centre that helps seniors live active, healthy and creative lives during completely unexpected, challenging and difficult times. This year, you have done even more. We will get through to the end of this pandemic and emerge different, but I think even more relevant to our community than ever before, thanks to all of your belief in our vision: Enriching quality of life for all. For life!

Organizational Highlights – Gail Gould, Executive Director

Tonight, I have the privilege of highlighting some of the incredible achievements accomplished this past year by our outstanding staff, as we continue to respond to the growing needs of our community during this pandemic. Author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinuk recently said ‘there is no going back to normal after this pandemic. We are not going back…. but we are moving forward as things evolve as the global pandemic changes what we do and who we are as we move forward. This year I am proud to highlight how the Bernard Betel Centre has continued to move forward and evolve.

To begin, I want to thank our dedicated, passionate and compassionate Board of Directors, Members’ Council, staff, volunteers and students for moving us forward and providing a beautiful brightness amidst the dark of this pandemic. We have often heard the phrase ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel’. This optimism Sinuk says is not naïve, but the undying belief that the future is bright and we have the ability to see and will find light in darkness.

Throughout the past year, our staff and volunteers have found this incredible light, strength and hope. Their positivity and energy is inspirational making it special to come to the Centre daily. The majority of our staff have continued to come to the Centre on a daily basis to support the incredible hard and results driven work of our Food Services Department and volunteers.

In particular, I want to acknowledge our Board Chair, who has been my rock and teacher during the past year. Marcus, you have provided me personally with sage advice, a friendly ear, and your whole family to support the Bernard Betel Centre this past year. Thank you Marcus, and the entire Staviss family for your support, commitment and sacrificing much family time this past year.

Thank you to our funders and wonderful donors for their ongoing support over the past year. We would not have been able to achieve our incredible accomplishments without the financial support of Ontario Health Central (previously the Central Local Health Integration Network), United Way Greater Toronto, the City of Toronto, Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility, UJA- United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto and the Jewish Foundation.

This past year the majority of our staff and volunteers prepared, packaged and delivered an outstanding and unprecedented number of meals on wheels to those seniors in the community who needed it the most. In the past year we prepared a staggering 139,412 meals. We have been truly blessed with the critical assistance of our dedicated and most valued volunteers who have delivered this unfathomable number of meals this past year.

This year we also saw the sun-setting of the UJA Door to Door poverty initiative but have continued to be funded till the end of 2022 to feed 56 clients from this program.

Over the past year, we continued to add many new and innovative programs via Zoom, Facebook Live or Teleconferencing through Seniors’ Centres without Walls. Each month we provide over 100 virtual programs. During the spring and summer months of 2021 we provided outdoor programs and lectures ensuring physical distancing on both our back and front patios including Digital instruction on I-pads, walking programs, and a weekly Russian Library. We organized over 23 outdoor balcony concerts for our Healthy at Home program participants and since September 2020, 17 Russian Golden Age Cultural Program concerts on the Betel back patio.

Since May 2020, the Return to Work Plan and Program Committee has been meeting on a regular basis developing policies and procedures to keep our staff, volunteers, students and members/patients safe.   The committee’s primary focus is on ensuring the health and safety of our entire Betel community.

As part of our efforts and commitment to ensure the health and safety of our community we rallied to the emergency need of our next door neighbours at 6250 Bathurst Street, the Toronto Community Housing Seniors’ building on the first night of Chanukah after a deadly fire killed one of the tenants and injured many more.

We rallied the community, provided Russian translation and support services and provided meals through-out the weekend to the over 400 seniors living in the building and acquired funding to purchase new clothing and or household goods.  

In addition, we hosted, registered and provided translation services for individuals who attended 2 flu clinics in the fall of 2020 and 6 Vaccination Clinics from March – August 2021 in conjunction with our Ontario Health Team- North York Toronto Health Partners. We also assisted with translation, registration and support to 22 pop up vaccination clinics with our Ontario Health Team (NYGH) and the North Toronto Sub-Region Team. (Sunnybrook and Baycrest).

We know how difficult this year and a half has been on our seniors. We mourn and acknowledge the passing of many in our community due to COVID -19, isolation, loneliness and other illnesses. May their memory be a blessing.

 Our staff have continued to work very hard at reaching out to our membership – doing check in or safety calls, providing 10,000 calls in the past year to our seniors and community participants.

We hosted a memorable, participatory and intergenerational Passover Zoom Seder on March 28, 2021 attended by Mayor Tory and MP Ya’ara Sacks and 75 participants.

Our annual Volunteer Banquet held on June 16 was unfortunately once again via Zoom and honoured the tremendous contribution of our volunteers. This event was magical.

Despite the pandemic, from September 2020-until September 2021, we had over 57 dedicated volunteers deliver for our meals on wheels program (both individuals and corporate groups.)

In responding to our diverse community, we have begun to review our diversity, equity and inclusion policies and procedures. We are at the early stages of reviewing training and procedures addressing Anti-Racism and Anti-Black Racism at both the Board and staff level.

Through the generous funding of the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the seniors’ new Horizons Grant, we have been able to start significant renovation of the Centre this past summer.

We want to thank all of you for being with us tonight, for continuing to support the Bernard Betel Centre in any way you can.  We know we will need your help as we try to rebuild the Centre’s membership when we are able to reopen safely for our community members.

Leadership Award Presentation – Hava Aharoni, Chair, Members’ Council and Board of Directors

This past year and a half were very difficult and challenging for all of us, but I feel that it was especially strenuous for our Executive Director and all the staff of the Bernard Betel Centre.

Everyone has made a big effort to keep the Centre in operation in some form, be it with Meals on Wheels, the Chiropody Clinic or online programming via Zoom or Facebook Live. Before 2020, I did not even know what Zoom was.

During the pandemic  and even before that you were always dedicated to Betel, Gail, you worked diligently for the Betel Centre family and the community. Your dedication, commitment passion and caring heart is felt everywhere. You paid attention to get to know the members, to speak with them, and were receptive to hear their comments and suggestion. You continued to fundraise and advocate for additional resources to elevate the Centre. We know that you do a lot more for Betel and the community that we are not even aware of and your work behind the scenes is greatly appreciated.

An example that comes to mind, was the fire at 6250 Bathurst Street. You contacted all the Jewish agencies, and city organization and mobilized them to help by distributing food, clothing and other support services.

Gail you and the staff have created an awareness of who we are, what we do and what we have to offer. We admire and respect you and your talents. You are an exceptional humanitarian, a caring soul and a person that keeps on giving to all of us and to the community at large.

It is my privilege and honor Gail, on behalf of Members’ Council and the Board of Directors to present you with this leadership award to recognize, acknowledge and thank you for all that you do.

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