The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

On September 5, residents and guests of Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove will have the opportunity to hear renowned scholar Dr. Fernando Torres-Gil present on Smart Aging in the 21st Century.

Currently serving as Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy at UCLA, Director of the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging, and an Adjunct Professor of Gerontology at USC, Dr. Torres-Gil was born and raised in Salinas, the son of migrant farm workers and one of nine children. After contracting polio at the age of 6 months, he spent much of his childhood in and out of hospitals. In an interview with the American Society on Aging, Torres-Gil reports, “I credit this experience with my educational success; I would return after long absences from mainstream K–12 schooling and I was always ahead of my fellow students because of receiving home-schooling, personalized attention and mentoring. My mother fought the school district to keep me with the ‘normal’ kids, saying, ‘There is nothing wrong with his mind, only his legs.’”

Dr. Torres-Gil has a distinguished background in public service. He advised three separate presidential administrations on the topics of aging and disability and he currently co-chairs the National Academy of Science’s Forum on Aging, Disability and Independence. In 2013, he received the John W. Gardner Legacy of Leadership Award from the White House Fellows Foundation and Association.

“I remember when I first looked him up before taking him on a tour of the community, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! Can I just be myself when I meet him?’” says Jody O’Connell, Director of Sales and Marketing for Canterbury Woods. But when she met him, “He is so laid back and so engaging. What he’s about is just amazing, but as a person, he’s just one of us.”

“He is passionate about the fourth quarter in life,” says O’Connell. For his presentation, Dr. Torres-Gil will discuss smart aging, current trends, retirement options, and supportive systems. Those who attend will have the opportunity to learn about developing a longevity plan and more.

O’Connell is thrilled with the partnership Canterbury Woods is developing with Torres-Gil. “He loves that we’re a non-profit and our whole purpose,” she says. She hopes this event will demonstrate how living in a community like Canterbury Woods can be part of a successful longevity plan. “Medicine is something, but quality of life and how to live your fourth quarter – this is it. People are doing it right here.”

Space for the event is extremely limited. Please contact Jody O’Connell to reserve your spot at 831-657-4224 or jo’connell@covia.org.

Earlier this year, Covia was certified for a second year as a Great Place to Work. This certification, based on a Trust Index that includes over 60 evaluated elements, considers not only organizational culture but also each team member’s experience.

“We like to get feedback from the organization to see how we’re doing,” says Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources. “Are we meeting our objectives? Is everybody engaged with their current roles? And, most importantly, are there areas to improve? At the end of the day, we want to build a strong culture and the only way that we can do that is by getting employee feedback.”

The Great Place to Work survey revealed a lot of exciting insights about Covia. One of the things that was made clear in these results is that employees are proud of their work. 89% of respondents indicated that they “feel good about the ways that Covia contributes to the community” while 87% feel a sense of pride about what they have accomplished. The people stand out at the top as one of the main reasons employees enjoy their work, especially in their interactions with staff and residents.

“The work that we do truly makes a positive impact in people’s lives,” says Lizette Suarez, Well Connected Español Program Manager. “I am surrounded by a great team who is dedicated and committed to making a difference in the world.”

The Great Place to Work survey not only highlights successes but also serves as a great tool to pinpoint areas of improvement within the company. Based off of the results of the survey, each community has identified specific goals that will be their focus over the next year. These goals range from managers more readily including employees in important decisions to working quicker to adapt to changes.

Beyond these individual goals, there is one company-wide goal, which is centered on creating a great culture. Over the next year, Covia will focus on developing a hiring culture that is both fun and effective with the goal of bringing in more candidates that are a great fit. This will include becoming more transparent and creating a New Hire Orientation and Onboarding process that does a better job of orienting new hires within their particular community as well as with the company as a whole.

These goals will be evaluated through pulse surveys sent out to employees periodically. Based on these surveys, the entire company as well as each community will be able to determine if they are moving forward or if more work is needed to reach their designated goal.

 “All of the work that has gone into identifying these goals and tailoring them to each community is intended to better the experience of every employee,” says Brinton. “There are always places to improve and the Great Place to Work survey has provided a great jumping off point from which to evaluate and enhance Covia’s employee experience.”  

Inspired by their passion for protecting the environment for future generations, members of St. Paul’s Towers’ Green Action Committee created CoviaGreen, a program focused on sustainable living and environmental responsibility.

The program is centered around the CoviaGreen pledge, which offers residents a number of ways that they can reduce their negative impact on the environment. Pledge items fall into four categories: Waste & Energy Reduction, Materials & Products, Culture & Community, and Water & Food. The choice options allow pledge signers to choose which items are the most relevant to their particular situation. The most popular action items among residents included turning off lights and appliances when not in use, eating more seasonal fruits and vegetables, and learning how to recycle in their community.

CoviaGreen extends beyond the residents and into the St. Paul’s Community with changes in dining and environmental services.  In the dining room, Impossible Burgers are now available at every meal and staff are introducing new vegetarian and plant-based proteins. Elsewhere in the community, housekeeping has adopted a program where residents can put out laminated cards to indicate that for that week, linens don’t need to be changed or showers don’t need to be cleaned.

Staff are also encouraged to sign the pledge. Resident Service Manager Jaclyn Carenbauer who, along with the Green Action Committee, has been a driving force for the program, has integrated the pledge into her daily life by biking to and from work. “The program is a great way to bring our community together and to help the environment,” she notes.

Beyond the pledge, Carenbauer commented that CoviaGreen’s main goal is education, explaining that it’s often easy to understand that composting or recycling is important without fully realizing how to go about it. “I didn’t compost before I started this. It’s not popular where I’m from and I thought that if you just put food in the garbage, it would compost,” she says. CoviaGreen provides more information on how everyone can reduce their impact, which can be especially helpful for “people who thought recycling was enough.”

Along with encouraging the St. Paul’s Towers community to sign the pledge, the Green Action Committee is updating signage within the community, including posted reminders for residents to bring their own coffee mugs to the coffee bar and signs to highlight what is in season in the dining area. Future goals for the program include trips to tour a waste management facility and showing relevant documentaries on movie nights.

Although St. Paul’s Towers is currently the only community implementing CoviaGreen, the hope is that other Covia communities will be inspired to adopt the program in the future and make a similar commitment to environmental responsibility.

On July 2nd, Fitch Ratings affirmed the A- rating on Covia’s revenue bonds, with a rating outlook of “Stable.” Covia first received an A- rating in 2017.

“Covia benefits from its size and scale with five full service retirement communities located in desirable locations throughout Northern California, with a total operating revenue base of nearly $150 million,” Fitch reports. “Along with a sophisticated and centralized management structure, Covia’s revenue diversity offsets credit risks relating to operating volatility, competitive pressures and actuarial risk.”

After the February decision by the Covia Communities Board to proceed with the closure of Los Gatos Meadows,  Diana Jamison, Covia’s Chief Financial Officer, immediately reached out to Fitch to provide them with details. “They appreciated our transparency and proactive response and requested specific information. Fitch then scheduled a formal surveillance process to review our rating given the impact of the closure,” reports Kevin Gerber, CEO.

During the surveillance meeting, which takes place every two years, “We demonstrated that we are a strong, healthy organization, even given this temporary closure of Los Gatos Meadows,” says Jamison. The Fitch report demonstrates that “they had faith in management and had faith in the strength of our financial performance.”

“Fitch understands our industry better than any other rating agency,” says Jamison. To be able to maintain Covia’s A- rating feels “Awesome. I don’t even know how to explain it any other way.”

“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to maintain our financial strength. It says a lot about the organization.”

Inclusion logoHonoring its core values of welcome, inclusion, social justice and grace, Covia is celebrating Pride not only through events this month, but through an ongoing commitment to make its communities and programs welcoming to all.

Covia is an Endorsing Organization of the Long-Term Care Equality Index (LEI) – the  first organization to do so on the West Coast. LEI, a joint initiative of SAGE and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, is a three-year project to “assess, benchmark, and ultimately improve the policies and practices of long-term care residential settings (nursing homes, assisted living, continuing care retirement communities, and more) regarding their LGBT-inclusiveness.” Jerry Brown, Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, is a member of the LEI Advisory Council.

As part of the LEI, communities and organizations are encouraged to sign the Commitment to Caring Pledge as an indication of their intention to engage in LGBT inclusive policies and practices. Kevin Gerber, President and CEO, says, “Covia has long supported the inclusion of LGBTQ+ seniors and staff in our communities. We are glad to support the work of SAGE and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in ensuring that senior communities throughout the country are safe and welcoming for everyone.”

In the greater community, Jen Arent, Director of Senior Resources for Sonoma County, created a display at Sonoma County Pride that won the “Year of Love” decorating contest as she asked those who stopped by to join Covia’s “Wall of Love.”

Arent asked everyone who came to the booth to take a multicolored paper heart and write down what they feel about love – “who they love, why they love, what they love, et cetera.” Then Arent would pin them up on the multicolored fabric panels used to decorate the booth. “It was an amazing success!” Arent says. “By the end of the day we had nearly 200 paper hearts with positive, kind, thoughtful messages of love from people of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs. It was truly inspiring.”   

Covia will cap off the month by participating in San Francisco’s Pride parade, cosponsoring a contingent of LGBTQ+ seniors that will include residents and staff from Bethany Center, Presidio Gate Apartments, San Francisco Towers, and St. Paul’s Towers. The theme of this year’s parade, Generations of Resistance, is “an opportunity to put seniors at the center of the celebration and the march towards social justice,” according to Openhouse, which is coordinating the parade contingent.

LGBTQ+ inclusion at Covia doesn’t end with the month of June. A new session of Well Connected, beginning on July 8, offers a weekly LBGTQ Chat group. Open to all LGBTQ older adults, the group “will create an inclusive place to share our stories with each other and build a sense of community.” Participants can register for this or any other Well Connected group by calling 877-797-7299.

Throughout Covia, “we continually work to build the value of inclusion in all we do,” says Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer. “It’s important to us that the moment people walk into one of our communities, they know that they are welcome, just as they are.”

2019 Village People

The Village People, Spring Lake Village’s entrant in the Sonoma County Wine Country Games (commonly known as the Senior Games), won their first medal on May 31, 2019, taking third place in the bocce tournament. The team included Capt. Sue Guerra, Don Allison, Brenda and Butch Dippel, Pete Guerra, and Barbara Ware, all residents of Spring Lake Village, a Covia Life Plan Community in Santa Rosa.

The Sonoma County Wine Country Games, a program benefiting the Council on Aging, encourages healthy activity and social engagement for anyone 50+ through education, connections, and the spirited competition of sport, inspiring all to take an active role in determining the quality of their aging experience. Along with bocce, events include basketball, cycling, pickleball, tennis, volleyball and more.

In the bocce tournament, teams competed with each team playing three 50-minute games.  If teams did not finish in 50 minutes, the existing score at the time was used. At the end of the three games, four teams were eliminated from competition based on number of games won and point count.  The two remaining teams with the highest point count played each other for first and second place.  The two other remaining teams played for third place.

In the first round, The Village People beat a team from Oakmont called Varenna #2, lost to Fountaingrove (another Oakmont Team), and beat the Collectiballs, a Santa Rosa league team, giving them enough points and wins to progress to the second round. After defeating Varenna #2 a second time, the Village People squared off against the Go Getters for their chance to win the bronze medal. 

Congratulations to the Village People for their third place win!

Each year, Covia sends candidates to LeadingAge California’s EMERGE program to build and develop their capacity for leadership and to help them network with other leaders in the Aging Services field. This May, Rosa Torres, Human Resources Manager for Los Gatos Meadows, and Cammille Lo-Li, Regional Social Services Manager for Covia Affordable Communities, are graduating as members of the class of 2019, and Maggie Youssef, Health Care Administrator at St. Paul’s Towers, will join the class of 2020.

“EMERGE is a year-long program to help candidates reach their potential in their organization to successfully lead innovative programming within their organizations,” explains Jerry Brown, Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, who helped establish the statewide program and has served as a coach for the past four years.

Brown explains that EMERGE fellows “can be any level of employee. It doesn’t have to be a CEO. It can be a maintenance person or a nurse, which I think is the wonderful thing about it. The supervisor sees the value that you have as a leader – that you can be a leader, not necessarily in the current job you have, but for the organization in some way.”

Lo-li first heard about the program while working at another organization in 2011. “I got that opportunity back then when I was first on the job as a Resident Service Coordinator. But I put it on hold and things kept holding me back [from participating]. So I’m glad that as soon as I was employed by Covia, I got a call saying, ‘Hey, Cammille, we want you to participate.’”

Youssef explains, “I applied for the EMERGE program so that I can professionally grow as a leader, build long lasting professional relationships with other leaders from other organizations and network with other fellow EMERGE members.” For Youssef, “Although I’ve worked in the Long term Care industry the last 25 years, I believe that there is so much more to learn. It is an ever evolving industry. The EMERGE program can help me improve on the skills I already possess and develop other skills I need to become a better leader in the industry.”

Participants in the program meet in person four times a year, participating in site visits at LeadingAge California member communities. They read and discuss four books on leadership development, and participate in monthly team calls between sessions. Each participant also creates an Action Learning Plan, or ALP, to apply what they have learned and bring it back to their workplace.

“It’s a training to help you lead, but it’s not only that,” says Torres. “I feel that this year has helped me to understand people in all their diversity, how to deal with them, how to communicate, how to address employees properly.”

Torres’ ALP involved building a more inclusive culture in her community. “The first thing I did was instead of saying ‘Staff Meeting,’ I changed it to ‘Team Meeting.’ And you know, believe it or not, that Team word made a big difference for some employees. I had people from the Environmental Services department tell me that this was the first time that somebody saw them as part of a team.”

Lo-li is developing a social work mentorship program “by shadowing current employees in different positions, getting their interest in the aging services field.”

The ALPs are not just theoretical projects, but actually get carried out and have an impact on the participants’ organizations. A previous EMERGE fellow implemented Covia’s comprehensive, organization-wide online Accounts Payable system as her ALP.

In addition to what participants bring back to their organizations, “I got really good friends and I appreciate the training because of that,” says Torres. “You learn a lot of things about yourself, about your job, about the people around you.”

As a coach, Brown says, “I like hearing everybody’s personal stories. I like seeing the best practices when we go visit sites. There’s some really wonderful programs out there, innovative things. Covia has some of the most innovative programs within the whole membership of LeadingAge California. We should be very proud of that.”

“I’m really glad that Covia continues to support the program and that Cammille and Rosa both were able to get through the program this year and graduate, and I hope that they encourage others to do so too,” says Brown. “We have to remember that it’s not a cheap program. You are getting the support of your supervisor because you’re not at work. Other people have to fill in for you while you’re away. And so Covia’s really making an investment in your leadership, allowing this education. You’re being honored, I would say.”

“I wish that every employee, every colleague would get to attend, just to get the experience of it,” says Lo-li. “It’s an adventure ride.”

Maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging, but Covia is making it easier for over 1,500 seniors each week across the Bay Area. Through the Market Day program, Covia Community Services provides 19 produce markets from Sonoma County to Monterey that provide seniors with fresh fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices. The markets, run primarily by senior volunteers, also offer a convivial gathering, often incorporating information, tastings and music.

Nearly 25,000 pounds of produce pass through the markets each year, 20% of it donated by local businesses and growers. More than just providing nutritious food at a reasonable price, these markets foster community by giving seniors a great reason to get together with friends. Volunteers and shoppers share conversation, enjoy coffee and pastries, and listen to music at locations ranging from senior housing communities (including Covia Affordable Communities) to senior centers and churches.

A new Market Day is opening on Thursday, May 23 at the Yu-Ai-Kai Japanese-American Community Senior Service Center, located in San Jose’s historic Japantown. The market will be open from 10:30 – 11:30 am, and will be hosted on the 4th Friday of each month.  

Market Day is one of Covia’s fastest growing Community Services programs. Two new markets opened in 2018, one at Stevenson House in Palo Alto and one at the Walnut Creek Senior Center. Two more new sites are planned in 2019:  Emerson Village in Pomona (the first Market Day site in Southern California), and Shires Memorial, which became a Covia Affordable Community in 2018. New sites are also being explored in Marin, Sonoma and Los Angeles counties.

In Marin, the Community Services team is piloting a program at Market Day in Novato, helping low-income seniors sign up for and use Cal Fresh, a benefit that helps stretch grocery dollars. Covia Community Services is exploring plans to expand this service to other locations.

Each Market Day is unique, operated by local volunteers and offering a variety of services or activities. Some offer recipes while highlighting the health benefits of certain vegetables. Others provide music from local musicians, seasonal produce tastings or an informal lunch.

Stoneman Village, an affordable senior housing community in Pittsburg, wanted to provide fresh produce to all its residents, including those who are homebound. All it took was a plan and Gail Kellough, an outstanding volunteer. Volunteers shop for and deliver bags of produce from Market Day to their neighbors who are unable to get out and shop on their own.

Says Colleen Chavez, Covia Market Day Program Director:“I never tire of seeing the positive effect of each Market Day: the joy of seniors coming together, helping one another, having access to such great produce, and being part of the community.”

This story was originally printed in Community Matters

GPTW CertifiedFor the second consecutive year, Covia has been certified a Great Place to Work.

Great Place to Work™, an independent research and consulting firm, evaluates an organizational culture brief as well as more than 60 elements of team members’ experience on the job. These elements include pride in the organization’s community impact, employees’ belief that their work makes a difference, and a sense of respect, fairness, credibility, and camaraderie. Together, these items are called the Trust Index.

The certification process at Covia considered almost 700 employee surveys from across all of Covia’s California communities and locations. To be certified, an organization needs a participation rate of over 50%, and a Trust Index score of 75% or greater. Overall, 66% of Covia’s employees participated in the survey with a Trust Index score of 77%.

Being certified makes Covia eligible to be considered for the Fortune Great Places to Work list, including Great Places to Work in Aging Services. Last year, Covia ranked 29th on the list. The 2019 results will be published late this summer.

Survey results will be used to create action items to improve the employee experience. After reviewing the results, Covia will determine an action item that will be applied to the organization overall, and each community will also develop an action item that is specific for that location.

“The Great Place to Work certification is a testament both to the quality of our workplaces and of our employees,” says Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources. “We want to take this moment to celebrate this achievement as we strive to become the best workplace we can.”

The company overview is available online at the Great Place to Work website.