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Interview with Natalie Santos – General Manager – Magellan Community Charities

Revista Amar: Natalie, for those who don’t know you, tell us a bit about yourself.

Natalie Santos: I am married, and my husband’s name is Steve Ferreira. We have a daughter, Victoria Ferreira, who is 14 years old. They are involved in our community through the Arsenal do Minho Folk Dance Group where both dance, and Victoria loves it! I have a little dog named Duchess, whom I love very much. But I love my daughter more (laughs). I enjoy traveling and have a close-knit group of friends who support each other. I like sports and attending games. My parents are fans of Benfica, but I wanted to be different, so I’m a Porto fan (laughs). 

My daughter participates in equestrian sports, and I love accompanying her. I enjoy watching her ride horses every weekend, and she also plays hockey, both my husband and I accompany her to her games. My free time is for Victoria. I completed a certificate program in Project Management at the University of Toronto. I love Project Management because I’ve always been interested in construction, having been raised in a home where my father was a carpenter, and my siblings work in construction. So, it’s natural that I have a strong admiration for construction and the industry. I find it interesting to see a building being constructed from the ground up.

RA: The fact that your mother worked as a PSW (Personal Support Worker) – both professionally and taking care of your grandfather – did it make you view the needs of the elderly differently?

NS: Yes. I was raised in a household where, in our culture, it’s natural to see our parents taking care of their elderly parents. Before becoming a PSW, my mother took care of my grandfather with my grandmother, aunts, and uncles.This phase in her life inspired her to help the elderly. As the youngest of four siblings, whenever my mother went back to Portugal to take care of my grandfather, I would go with her. I saw the work she did in taking care of her father. She also looked after the elderly mother of one of her employers. My mother would take her shopping, go to the movies with her or spend weekends with her when her children were out of town. 

Through her caregiving experiences with the elderly, my mom decided that she wanted to be a PSW. Since I was a child, I’ve been involved and witnessed all of this. For me, it’s natural that we look after our parents. When the opportunity arose to work at Magellan, I thought, “Let’s build a home for the elderly”. One thing is certain; not just anyone can do the work of a PSW. PSWs are very special people! I see this through my mother, but also through the people we see in long term care homes. It’s challenging work and requires a person with compassion and empathy. Working with the elderly is slightly different from working with children. So, seeing my mother caring for my grandfather or my aunt, who had no children, (my mother would pick her up and take her to appointments) was a very normal upbringing for me.

One thing I observed with my grandfather and my aunt was that they felt very comfortable knowing that their caregiver (my mother) spoke the same language and cooked cultural meals for them.  Therefore, I think this is very important, and that’s what we’re doing  here at Magellan, building a Portuguese home, providing the appropriate care to seniors in our community. It makes a huge difference when you feel like you’re at home.

RA: When you applied to Magellan, did the fact that it was a project for the seniors in our community make any difference?

NS: I was at a point in my life where I wanted a career, and this opportunity came knocking at my door (laughs), and it was the ideal opportunity at the right time. Working for the Portuguese community and having the opportunity to make a difference, especially knowing that I am working with seniors, I thought, “This is an opportunity that not everyone will have in their lifetime.”I saw it as an opportunity to participate in a construction project, in property management, which is related to housing; working with directors and stakeholders and completing a project where people will live. 

With my professional background in property management and experiences I gained throughout my professional career, I already had the skills and thought about how I could apply them to Magellan, “Here’s an opportunity to construct a new building that will be home to many seniors.” Despite being in a completely different sector from what I was doing, I thought, “This is what I’m going to do and where I want to be!” and I was very excited! Another thing that motivated me was Magellan’s vision of building not only a home for seniors but also a center that people of all generations can visit and enjoy together. I really liked the fact that we are building a home and not just an institution. In summary, I switched to a new professional career, knowing that I was doing something good for our community.

RA: It will be more than an institution; it will also be a meeting point for the community?

NS: It will be a home for the Portuguese community, a home for the Portuguese people. Magellan is a necessity for our community! As everyone knows, our community does not have a project like Magellan. 

RA: What have been your roles within Magellan?

NS: I have many roles, and every day is different. Not everything is written down on paper, as the project evolves so will my roles. I participate in many meetings with various groups: I attend monthly meetings with our board, meetings with our committees, monthly meetings with the Ministry of Long Term Care, and also with our operator, the Responsive Group.

RA: What will be the role of the Responsive Group in Magellan?

NS: They are the operator responsible for overseeing the home… the nurses, the PSWs, staff etc. They will essentially be managing the operations of the home and affordable housing. I spend a lot of my time in meetings. It is important for people to understand that Magellan is a huge project that involves many different teams, and many committees/departments.

In addition to meetings, I also do office work with my colleague, Richard Ramos. When we receive invoices, he must approve them, invoices are then signed off by the board Treasurer for processing. I assist with accounting functions; submit everything to the accountant on a monthly basis, who cuts the cheques. I am responsible for taking the cheques to the signing officers for signing. I am also responsible for bank deposits, including issuing tax receipts for the donations we receive.This is just a brief summary of the many functions/roles I have within the organization.

RA: Natalie, despite having an extensive resume, did you feel at any point that you needed to add any additional courses to better perform your duties?

NS: Yes. I recently enrolled in a 1-year course called the Long Term Care Executive Leadership Certificate program. What does this mean? This course will help me develop skills in the long-term care sector that will prepare me for the critical role of leading a person-centered, quality-focused, and innovative continuing care home.

It also includes leadership skills and taking care of the well-being of our teams working at Magellan. So, this certified program will prepare me for all of that, and is currently underway. In addition, I have also had the privilege of participating in seminars and conferences with the Responsive Group, who are professionals and excellent people to work with. They are absolutely fantastic.

The president of the Responsive Group, Bill Dillane, and his team have been doing phenomenal work, especially with their partnership and support in guiding us through the long term care sector, as this is all new to us.

RA: No one is obligated to know, and you have to learn from someone.

NS: Exactly. Like most people, and that’s what I have been doing.

RA: What have you done to learn about nursing homes and continuing care?

NS: Over the past year and recently, Richard, our director Tulia, and I have been visiting long term care homes with the Responsive Group team. The goal of our visits is to see how a home operates, how they make things work with the resources they have. Including the different models of care, because from one home to another, things are completely different, and we wanted to see how they handle services, programs, etc. In one of the homes we visited – which are homes and not a facility – they have a program called the Butterfly Model of Care, dedicated to people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. I was very impressed with this specific model of care . Outside each resident’s room, there is a memory box displaying photos of the resident and their families, each box tells a story. . 

So, anyone who works there or visits, before entering that room, can see the photos. Let’s say, John’s photos, visitors will know that he likes cars because he has photos of cars in the memory box. In other words, you already enter that room knowing something about that person and have a topic to talk about with them, and that is a beautiful thing, because each person’s story is different. I also saw a Portuguese lady sitting, folding bibs that they use when they eat, and she was very happy to feel useful. This model is very good for seniors, because, amongst many things, it involves seniors, and has many purposeful and meaningful activities. This was something that stuck with me, and as we are building a new home, Magellan, we have an opportunity to implement these things in ours.

RA: In essence, the visits serve not only to learn how it works but also to select the good things that can be implemented in Magellan?

NS:  Yes, there are many take-aways from these home visits, and we only want what is good for our community. This month we will be visiting a home in London, Ontario.  In December, we visited a culturally-sensitive home, and one thing that stood out and I loved was seeing the Executive Director (who gave us the guided tour) greeting everyone. Whether it was a visitor, an employee of the home, or a resident, whoever  walked by him, he would say “good morning” or ask them how they were doing. And people, especially the PSWs and nurses, always had a smile. For those who know, know that their work is not easy, but they were happy. 

And what I found admirable, a lady, (bound to a wheelchair) who lives in the home,  accompanied us during our visit, as if she were  showing us her home. That was really touching. Sometimes I feel that our seniors don’t have what they deserve, and there is still so much to do, and we can do more for them, we’re still young!

RA: Our generation was raised to feel responsible for our parents and grandparents, but not as an obligation. That responsibility was not instilled in us through words but by example. We saw our grandmothers taking care of our great-grandmothers, our mothers taking care of our grandmothers; it’s a cycle. Our children will no longer have that responsibility?

NS: It’s true. I hope my daughter follows in my footsteps and sees what I do for my mother. My mother is also of a certain age; she still has her independence, but there are things she needs help with, like taking her to doctor appointments, and I help her with whatever she needs. 

Victoria sees me helping my mother. I think I am encouraging her and instilling values that she will carry with her as she gets older, just as I received them as a child from my mother when I saw her helping my grandparents and others.. It’s by seeing me do what I do that she will understand that it’s important to help our elders. In fact, there was a time when my mother did a lot of volunteering at Abrigo Centre, and during school holidays, my mother always took Victoria with her to Abrigo. Victoria had the pleasure of interacting with the elderly people, participated in games, and had lunch with them. She’s already accustomed to helping people.

RA: My children also saw what I did for my mother and what I did for my father, but life today is different, and it is up to us to do the best we can, and not all seniors want to go to care homes.

NS: I agree, and one of the things we learned from participating in conferences is the result of studies conducted on various topics, and in one study, it was concluded that the majority of Baby Boomers do not want to leave their homes. To which many of them don’t have a plan in place to be able to stay home while still receiving the care that they need. 

RA: What progress has there been since we first spoke in 2022?

NS:  On September 16, 2023, we had the groundbreaking ceremony at 640 Lansdowne Avenue. We were very excited for the day to have finally arrived, but also to see the level of interest from our community and the pleasure of having the participation of our Portuguese President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa; the Mayor of Toronto, Olivia Chow, and other dignitaries.

RA: Representation from both governments: Portuguese and Canadian?

NS: Yes, representation from both countries. Some work is already underway, but the work will progress further once we receive approvals from the City of Toronto. We are in the process of finalizing the Site Plan Approval, once approved, the city will issue the building permit for construction.

RA: But excavation has already begun?

NS: Yes, JMX has cleaned the site and have started some excavation and other things that could be done because we had authorization to do so, such as preparing the ground before starting construction, which will begin shortly, sometime in the spring because we are still in winter, and the ground is frozen, so we have to wait. On the other hand, the Construction Committee is still reviewing the tenders that were submitted to CoreBuild as part of the public tender. We have already received 75% of tenders that cover various components of the project. In the end, the committee will present the top 3 tenders and make a recommendation to the Magellan board of directors, and only then will the directors make the final decision.

RA: Does the committee have a process or guidelines to help select the proposals?

NS: Yes, the committee is following a proper process. When the tender review has concluded, we will have a better understanding of the total construction costs at which point we can  proceed to the final stage of the project financing.

RA: Once construction begins, how long will it take?

NS: The construction duration is approximately 32-36 months more or less, because, as we all know, there can be delays. Delays happen and are normal, but the 36 months is what we anticipate.

RA: The Board of Directors, meaning the leadership, has also been in constant evolution?

NS: It’s very normal to have a turnaround in a board of directors. Anyone working with a board of directors understands that terms expire, some members seek re-election while others don’t, etc. However, one thing I want to mention here today is that I find it very important to acknowledge the founders directors (past and present), and all the volunteers who have worked and continue to work for Magellan’s success. They all did a good job, and we are continuing with that good work. I think it’s important to express our appreciation.  The board is made up of many different talents and skills. 

RA: More work, more people?

NS:  Yes, a team of professionals who complement each other, including the project itself.

RA: Who are the new directors, and what are their respective committees?

NS: We have the Governance Committee working on by-laws, policies, and recently developed a conflict of interest policy for all directors. They also organized governance training for the board members, which will take place soon. The Fundraising Committee and the Marketing Committee used to be separate, but now they are working together and working hard to ensure that the community is informed about the project and also trying to raise the remaining $7 million out of the $15.2 million. 

The Operational Committee is working with the Responsive Group to negotiate management contracts for the long term care and affordable housing. The new directors are: John da Costa, who is on the Fundraising Committee; Túlia Ferreira, who has a lot of experience in long-term care, is on the Operational Committee, the Governance Committee, and the Fundraising Committee; Ofelia Isabel leads the Fundraising Committee and is also on the Governance Committee and helps with the Marketing Committee; Gil Nicolau is on the Construction Committee, and Vitor Silva leads the Marketing Committee.

RA: Over the past few months, what changes would you highlight?

NS: The most significant change came from the Ministry of Long-Term Care, they approved the Construction Funding Subsidy, and the zoning by-law amendment was resolved by the City of Toronto back in October. We had our groundbreaking event on September 16, and we are in the process of developing a Marketing and Fundraising strategy. Both committees launched the “casinhas” campaign in November.

RA: During the past year, 2023, the 70 Years of Portuguese Emigration in Canada were commemorated with some events to raise funds for Magellan. From these events, what was the amount raised?

NS: From Mariza’s concert, Portugal the Fest outdoor event at Nathan Phillips Square, and other events organized by people such as Matthew Correia, approximately $63,000 was raised.

RA: Financial aid is important, but publicity is equally crucial. Do you think these events helped raise awareness of Magellan within the community?

NS: The reality is that there are still many people, both inside and outside the community, who are unaware of our project, and I think these events helped draw people’s attention to Magellan. We will continue to do a lot of marketing and campaigns to raise awareness. We will also conduct educational series every month – we will talk about a different topic, such as why Magellan is different from other long term care homes. 

One of the other topics will be how to select a long term home for a family member or friend and how the application process works. Every month we will pick a topic for discussion t, and we will distribute this information through our media partners like Milénio Stadium, Correio da Manhã, and others to publish in the newspapers.  We recognize that there is a certain age group that still reads the newspaper, therefore, it is important to continue with the print. As younger people prefer their phones and don’t read newspapers, we will communicate through social media, sharing our articles and educational series. 

Our goal is to reach more people through our social media, because sooner or later, we will meet someone who will need help with a family member and won’t know what to do or what the process is or how to apply to Magellan. With these educational series, we will explain all of that. This project is very important for our community, and we want to ensure that everyone is informed along the journey.

RA: As we have already discussed, in September, we had the visit of the President of the Portuguese Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who, with his delegation, attended the groundbreaking ceremony of Magellan. Do you believe that the presence of the President of the Portuguese Republic helped Magellan?

NS: I think having the Portuguese President and his delegation at this monumental event was very important and a great honour, not only for Magellan but also for the Portuguese community and the people that were present at the event. I am Portuguese-Canadian, but for my mother, who was also there, it was special. We saw “that” pride on the faces of people having their President on Canadian soil.

RA: Personally, it was a clear demonstration that the Portuguese government recognizes the achievements and efforts that the Portuguese community is making in this country and abroad, and also supports this project!

NS: And I can say that there are now discussions between certain Magellan directors and the Portuguese government to see if there is any way the Portuguese government can financially assist Magellan. Nothing is confirmed, and for now, that’s all I can say.

RA: But the fact that these conversations are happening is what matters…

NS: Exactly, and the fact that the Portuguese President came here resulted in the Magellan project being discussed in Portugal on RTP, SIC, TVI, and now the Portuguese people back home know about the project.

RA: It was widely publicized worldwide?

NS: It was a significant moment, and, as we all know, the President  is an approachable person and of the people, especially the elderly, as we see on television when he visits certain places in Portugal, he has genuine compassion. He is a humble individual.

RA: That’s why he is known as the “President of Affection”?

NS: And I truly admire him for that.

RA: Now let’s talk about the “Little Houses” marketing campaign that was launched last November at the Consulate General of Portugal in Toronto. How did the idea come about?

NS: The idea came from Vitor Silva. He presented the idea to the board, and the directors liked the idea a lot, so we launched it. Now our team of volunteers, like you, are helping distribute the ” casinhas” throughout the Portuguese community.

RA: And what is the goal of this campaign?

NS: The goal is awareness and publicity. We need to spread the word so that people talk more about Magellan and also share it with others who are not yet familiar with the project. We hope that business owners and commercial establishments will help us with this campaign, just by giving us permission to place a “casinha” within their establishments.

RA: For those who want to make a donation, how or what do they have to do?

NS: The “casinha” has a QR Code, and all they have to do is take their phone, open the camera, and the link for online donation will appear.

RA: Meanwhile, for 2024, what are the objectives that Magellan’s leadership aims to achieve?

NS:  It has been widely discussed and announced that we need to raise $15.2 million. Of that amount, we have already raised approximately $8 million, but there is still $7 million to go, and we have to raise that amount as soon as possible, which will be a lot of work. In addition to this, we are working with committees and volunteers to organize events. I can’t divulge too much information yet, as dates have not been confirmed, but we have some ideas. 

We also want to connect with organizations and companies outside of the Portuguese community. It is important to talk to other communities who most likely are not aware of our project.We have the opportunity to go beyond the Portuguese community and establish new relationships with people, and it’s something we need to do.

RA: The Magellan project is no longer just a project… since September 16, 2023, it has been a reality, and Magellan will be a community home for the community. On the other hand, our community has many community associations and clubs… How do you intend to bridge the gap between Magellan and these associations and clubs?

NS: For now, we have some associations that have already helped Magellan with donations, meaning they raised funds at their events, tournaments, etc. One of our goals for 2024 is to go to all associations and all Portuguese clubs and talk about Magellan to their members because we know that there are still people who attend these events, but are not aware of the project. 

So, we have an opportunity to go to these associations, these clubs, these parties, etc., and talk about the project and ask people in our community to help us, particularly now when we need to raise funds more than ever! This is the reality, and we are working towards that.

RA: What news can we expect for this year, 2024?

NS: We will continue to actively monitor the construction phase of the project, ensuring that we have the right professionals on-site to keep construction on schedule and, above all, within budget. It is equally important to raise awareness and seek more support for the project within our community, and it is crucial to raise the remaining $7 million.

Recently, the Federal Government announced that it would give the City of Toronto $471 million for the construction of new affordable housing in the city. Magellan will apply for this subsidy and try to receive some money to help us with the construction of affordable housing.

RA: To conclude, I invite Natalie to leave a message for the Portuguese community.

NS:  It takes a village to raise a child. But it also takes a village to care for seniors.


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