Betel Home Foundation


Betel Home Foundation was founded in 1915 by a small group of Lutheran Women. The first nine residents of the home moved into rented quarters in Winnipeg and then moved into a house in Gimli that was purchased by the Board later that year. An old hotel was purchased and renovated in Gimli in 1917 and continued to serve the community until the construction of a new permanent site in1990. Betel Home Foundation constructed a second Home in Selkirk, Man. in 1966, and today both facilities offer accommodation to 171 residents. Betel Home Foundation is guided by its Vision Statement: “Make Our Home Your Home … Where Care and Service Prevail”, and strives to remain a leader and innovator in providing the highest quality of life for every individual in their care.

Betel Home Foundation is an integral part of the community and continues to recognize its Icelandic roots. The Foundation itself was started by members of the Ladies’ Aid of the First Lutheran Church of Winnipeg to serve the needs of elderly Icelandic community members. The Home did not initially receive any support from the government and residents were required to provide labour to milk cows, feed chickens and tend the garden in order to contribute to their care. Betel depended mainly on the financial support of the Icelandic communities, who took tremendous pride in the care they were able to provide to their elderly. “Obviously, our homes today are open to all those who need our services, but the Icelandic community and its support is still very strong,” says Helen Sutherland, former member of the Board of Directors and Member Emeritus of the Foundation. Sutherland’s father Stephan Stephanson was a local fisherman and told stories of soliciting money from all of the other fishermen in town to help raise the funds needed for a personal care home in the community.

The philosophy of care in their private not-for-profit facility is one of family – Board, administration, staff and volunteers are all linked together, creating a homelike environment that enables each resident to live in full recognition of their dignity and individuality, with each resident participating in, and receiving competent ethical care and the highest quality of life possible. Part of creating this home like environment includes providing residents with a wide range of daily activities which residents can enjoy based on their personal tastes and backgrounds. Music programs, fishing on the dock, gardening and social outings are just a few of the programs offered in the homes.

“We always strive to keep our residents engaged and active, and try to offer new and innovative programming whenever possible. Selkirk Betel offers a strong music program which both entertains and offers residents the opportunity to participate with their own musical instruments. Gimli Betel has raised funds in the community to build a multi-sensory room, offering residents with dementia various levels of sensory stimulation – lights, aromas, sounds, etc. – to find out what is the most meaningful for them. They are outstanding program with some amazing results,” says Angela Eyjolfson, CEO of Betel Home Foundation.

To become a resident in Betel Home, each person must have their physician complete an application and assessment form that is submitted to panel. A process called paneling takes place. During this process a number of professionals look at a person’s needs and determine if they qualify for this level of personal care. If the person qualifies, s/he will be contacted to choose the Home you wish to enter and will be placed on a waiting list. With high demand and a shortage of beds for eldercare in Manitoba, the waiting lists at Betel Home are long and it can take well over a year to accommodate applicants.

According to Eyjolfson, there have been a lot of changes in healthcare for the elderly over the years. People are living longer, and their care needs are a lot more complex than they used to be, placing much higher demands on services. “Our buildings were not originally built for some of the heavy levels of care that we are providing today. For example, many of our residents now require wheelchairs and mechanical lifts, requiring more space and equipment than some of our current construction easily accommodates. It is a significant challenge,” says Eyjolfson.

While the Gimli location was built in 1990, the Selkirk location dates back to 1966. To address some of the challenges faced with this older building, the Board is looking at ways to improve the physical spaces but has identified the need to build a new facility in Selkirk. Fundraising projects have been a new initiative of the Board with a major project currently underway to replace the resident room furniture in the Selkirk Home. A fundraising fashion show and some corporate and community support have assisted to refurnish 20 rooms to date.

Betel Home is a significant employer in both the communities of Gimli and Selkirk with approximately 250 employees between the two facilities, and takes up an important part of the communities themselves, involving families, volunteers, local schools, day cares and churches. Eyjolfson states that all employees are a tremendous hardworking and compassionate group of people, as well as a tremendous support from the community, which is particularly evident in the strong volunteer base. In 2012, over 6,500 volunteer hours were recorded in the two homes.

“The volunteer support for our Homes is very strong from the Icelandic Community, but also from the community as a whole. It is really unbelievable how many programs are provided by volunteers, which is very important given our difficulty in obtaining funding to support some of these programs,” says Gayanne Prise, Director of Finance for Betel.
While Betel Home does face its share of challenges, the Board of Directors, administration, staff, volunteers and family members do everything they can to ensure that Betel truly feels like home for the residents. Eyjolfson says that it is a tremendous privilege to be part of such an outstanding organization and hopes that the Homes continue to be a tribute to the forethought and dedication of the founders of Betel Home.

All Photos Credit: Caroline Groot Photography