Svetlana Pavlenko

Top 40 Under 40 2015

Photography Curtis Trent

Age: 39

Job Title: Executive Director, Jewish Senior Citizen’s Centre

Why She’s Top 40: She is helping seniors of all nationalities and faiths live fuller and richer lives while also bridging the gap between generations.

If you could change one thing about Edmonton, what would it be? “Edmonton is a cultural capital of Alberta. It should be a cultural capital of Canada. We should see more international artists come to Edmonton and explore more cultures through the city’s festivals and events.”

As the executive director of Edmonton’s Jewish Senior Citizen’s Centre (JSCC), Svetlana Pavlenko wanted to battle the negative stigma that seniors’ centres can carry. So she turned to the people who could help her the most: The seniors themselves.

Pavlenko talked with the centre’s members and asked them what programs they wanted. She found out that the members wished to learn more and continue being active. She began arranging outings to watch Edmonton Opera dress rehearsals and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performances, as well as bringing in experts on arts and cultures from around the world.

Pavlenko soon saw a 20 per cent increase in the centre’s membership and started opening the doors five days a week, up from just two. She says the JSCC was “Edmonton’s best kept secret for a while,” as many thought only Jewish seniors could join. But as word spread about the centre’s inclusivity, more seniors came out.

One of those programs is Cooking with Bubbie and Zaida, where members share recipes from all over the world with young people. This led to the JSCC publishing Traditional to Modern Cooking: An Intergenerational Cookbook.

“The older generation wasn’t just sharing the recipes with the younger generation,” says Pavlenko. “They were sharing stories, and the young people were asking advice. It created a connection and helped develop an appreciation for what this older generation went through.”

Appreciating history is one of the reasons Pavlenko was drawn to working with seniors. She emigrated from Russia in 2007, ending her career as an associate professor of philosophy, but she found her calling with the JSCC and in volunteer work with the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts, where she continues to help develop arts programs for people living with disabilities. In 2010, Pavlenko received the Recognizing Immigrant Success in Edmonton (RISE) award.

“The people I work with at the JSCC and at Nina Haggerty are similar because they both tend to feel like they don’t have any use,” says Pavlenko. “I want to show them that they have value and they can contribute and help create something amazing.”

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