The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

When Pat Lau, Activities Coordinator for Webster House in Palo Alto, first created the Healthy Connections program in 2016, she had no idea the kind of impact it would eventually have.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just have a little volunteer program. They can work with the residents, meet them, talk to them,’” she says. “But it evolved into so much more.”

Now in its third year, Healthy Connections partners with Stanford University’s Office of Undergraduate Advising to provide pre-med students with a setting to gain clinical experience as well as giving residents in the Health Center the personal connections that studies continue to show are beneficial to people’s health and well-being.

Webster House and its affiliated Health Center are located just a mile away from Stanford University. With physicians from Stanford and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation making rounds at the Health Center daily, the program offers valuable experience for students interested in exploring the medical field.

In addition, the program exposes pre-med students to the need for, and importance of, geriatrics as a medical specialty. According to the American Geriatric Society, 20,000 geriatricians are required to keep up with the need right now, and that need will only grow as the population ages. There are currently fewer than 7,300 certified geriatricians practicing nationwide.

Volunteers for the Healthy Connection program must spend a minimum of three hours each week with the residents and at least 100 clinical hours at the Health Center. “Most of the students, though, work well beyond the hundred hours and some have gone on to two hundred hours,” according to Lau.

Students must be 18 years old, pass a criminal background check, be screened for tuberculosis, and attend an in-depth orientation. “There’s a number of regulations and things they need to know about if they’re going to be in a health care setting and working with a vulnerable population such as older adults,” Lau explains, including the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), patient rights, elder abuse, infection control, and safety procedures.

So far, 12 students have participated in the program. Four of the 12 students who have been through the program have been accepted to medical school.

“Everyone seemed to benefit,” Lau says. “The student was exposed to a clinical environment, but most of all, there was a very strong, caring, and reliable relationship.”

Healthy Connections recently received a Sereno Group 1% For Good grant from the Palo Alto office. 1% for Good provides grants to local organizations that are active in improving our communities. Sereno Group Palo Alto will be supporting Healthy Connections from July through September 2018.

Brian Chancellor from the Sereno Group says, ““We were intrigued and touched by the inter-generational experience between the students and the residents. It’s exciting to support them all in their care and cultivation of such a relationship when it is so greatly needed and appreciated.”

As the new school year begins at Stanford, students can anticipate another benefit of participating in the Healthy Connections program: Dr. Peter Pompei, a professor at the Stanford Medical School, general internist and geriatrician with 20 years of clinical experience, will serve as the program’s medical director, providing mentorship and support for the students.

But it’s the relationships built between the residents and students that most impresses Lau. “These students really help support these older adults. They improve the quality of their lives. And for me, I can’t tell you what I feel when I see some of these individuals smile.”

For more information on the Healthy Connections program, please contact Pat Lau at plau@covia.org.

Throughout the country, National Night Out on the first Tuesday in August is a chance for neighbors to meet one another and to connect with local emergency responders. At St. Paul’s Towers, National Night Out does that and more.

With food, music, face painting, balloon hats, games, fresh produce, and information tables, the National Night Out event co-sponsored by Covia Senior Resources, St. Paul’s Towers, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is a block party like no other.

“About 7 years ago, [Alameda County Senior Resource Director] Carolyn Bolton presented the idea,” says Connie Yuen, Life Enrichment Director at St. Paul’s Towers. “The idea was for St. Paul’s Towers, St. Paul’s Church, Oak Center Towers and Market Day to come together and throw a block party for our neighborhood. Every year we invite local businesses to participate by setting up informational tables and sharing their resources with guests. Each year our National Night Out party has gotten better and better with the attendance rapidly growing.”

“National Night Out is also a great way for us to meet and personally thank our local law enforcement and first responders,” says Yuen.

“It’s a way to bring community,” says Carolyn Bolton. As a high rise senior living building, St. Paul’s Towers can appear cut off from the rest of the neighborhood. The National Night Out block party helps neighbors see that “they don’t need to think the people living there are snob-nosed. It gets everybody on the same page.”

St. Paul’s Towers Executive Director Mary Linde says, “For St. Paul’s Towers, it allows us to serve our neighbors and get to know our community outside our walls. It’s about being kindness, love, and community to our neighbors.”

Yuen says, “We look forward to National Night Out every year because it’s our way of giving back and showing love to our greater community. I love seeing our residents bonding and laughing with neighbors they are meeting for the very first time.”

And the connections don’t end with meeting for the first time. Yuen says, “It’s a great feeling to see familiar faces and the same families come each year and seeing the children grow!”

“We’ve been told that many times that we host the biggest block party in Oakland. It’s truly a great place to be so I hope to see many new faces this year,” Yuen says. Linde adds, “Anyone may come. It’s really fun!”

National Night Out 2018 takes place on Tuesday, August 7. The event in front of St. Paul’s Towers, 100 Bay Place in Oakland, takes place from 6:00-8:00 pm.

As Jennings Court, a Covia Affordable Community in Santa Rosa, celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer, its first residents are reflecting on their initial impressions.

“I was one of the first 8 people to move in,” says Fred Campbell. “And the day I walked into the facility, I fell in love with the structure, the ambiance.” Campbell, who had lost his business as a hairdresser in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, had been cleaning houses in Southern California when he learned that Jennings Court was being built. “I always thought [low income housing] was bad stuff because that’s how the movies always show it,” he said. Instead, “On a scale of 1-10, I’d say my first impression was an 11.”

“It was a rural setting then,” when Jennings Court opened in 2008,  says Penni Colley. “Across the street were horses grazing around a barn. Of course, that’s not there any more, but it was so beautiful.”

Colley had been surprised there was still room in the new building when she received a letter saying there was an apartment available for her. “At my age and being low income, I didn’t think I would ever have a new apartment. You just kind of have to forget that because the chances of me having a brand new apartment were slim. When I saw how beautiful these were, I just couldn’t get over it.”

Colley explains that the apartments hadn’t filled due to the strict qualification requirements. Residents must be 62 or older and “very, very, very – three veries – low income,” she says.

“They were offering me such a sweet deal on the rent that I figured it would be a dump. And I was very pleasantly surprised to find how nice it is,” says Roger Hanelt, who had been homeless before moving into Jennings Court. “It’s been a very healing environment for me. Because I’ve gone through highs and lows and this place was definitely a rescue.”

Campbell remembers, “The day we got in, I stayed most of the time looking at the courtyard, so beautiful. Now I watch the seasons change with all of these trees outside my front door.”

Jennings Court has 54 apartments that look out on a central courtyard that contains a garden tended by the residents and a fountain donated by Spring Lake Village, another Covia community in Santa Rosa. It was built through a partnership between Covia and Burbank Housing with funding from HUD and the city of Santa Rosa. Along with housing, Jennings Court provides service coordination and programs such as a weekly Market Day and monthly visit from the Bookmobile.

Colley remembers “When we had our very first welcome party out in the patio out there, I just ran around to anyone who looked like they were a suit and said, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’

Before she moved in, “I remember thinking, ‘oh, well, I’ll have to let that thought go. I’m never going to have my own new place. And then God blessed me with this. And I just have a wonderful new apartment. Everything in it was new. It smelled new. There were no residual crumbs in the drawers that anybody had missed. So. Gratitude.”

“I kept telling myself how fortunate I was. I’m still poor as a church mouse but I’m not unhappy,” says Campbell. “Every time I think about Jennings Court when I’m away from it, it’s home.”

When the summer session of Well Connected begins on Monday, July 9th, it will include a new season of virtual visits to museums throughout the United States in a series called Museums at Home.

Amber Carroll, Director of Well Connected, remembers attending a program with the Oakland Museum. “I was blown away by how amazingly descriptive, fun, and educational a virtual tour could be. The participants loved it! At that moment I started fantasizing about creating a Museums Without Walls program. When Katie [Wade, Assistant Director of Well Connected] came on board, she made my dream a reality.”

And the reality is powerful for participants. Carroll explains, “Imagine how crowded the Art Institute of Chicago was for the John Singer Sargent exhibit this past spring! Museums at Home provides the opportunity to view exhibits without travel, without crowds, without admission fees, and without sore feet. Because we additionally train docents about accessibility for low-vision and blind participants, the experience really feels like you’re there without any of the hassles.”

This session’s museum visits include exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the South Carolina State Museum, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Wade says, “Some participants remember visiting these museums with their children, or learning about an artist in school, or spending hours in a particular museum and they value the opportunity to recreate those experience in a new, more accessible way. Others have felt a shift in how they view important moments in American history. Some are newly exploring art and find it meaningful to be able to ask questions of the docent and other participants. There’s a little something for all.”

She continues, “Museums at Home reminds me that art is such a powerful tool for personal growth – it sparks new ways of thinking, innovation, and brings people together.”

Well Connected is a Covia Community Services program. To find out more about Well Connected, visit https://covia.org/services/well-connected/. You can download the current catalog here to learn more about Museums at Home and the many other programs, support groups, and educational sessions offered by Well Connected.

Residents and staff from Covia Affordable Communities recently attended LeadingAge California’s annual Affordable Senior Housing Resident Advocacy Day in Sacramento. One of our staff members reported that one resident left an impact on his Assemblyman when he introduced himself saying, “My name is Dean and I was homeless for four years before I got a studio in an affordable HUD building.” We’ve asked Dean to share his story.

If you have ever experienced a trauma (and most of us have), you may not want to talk about it. That’s the way it was with me, but my friends at Covia convinced me that other people might be helped by my “confession.” So, here goes.

The trouble began in early 2012. Having been unemployed for 2 years (a direct result of the 2008 recession), my money completely ran out and I was faced with eviction from my Oakland apartment of 16 years. When you can’t pay the rent, the sheriff simply changes the locks and you don’t get in.

A friend (call him J.R.) saved me from life in the street by offering to let me sleep in his van. This is not an ordeal I would wish on anyone. Though not too uncomfortable physically (just make sure you have lots of blankets in cold weather), you are constantly in fear of police and hostile “neighbors.”

After 3 ½ years in this situation, I returned to the van one afternoon to find that it was no longer there. A police woman parked nearby informed me that the van had been towed only an hour before. All my possessions (books, CDs, clothing and a guitar) were gone. Although I’d been careful not to park it in front of anyone’s house (it had been near an empty lot), I guess the old Dodge Ram was an eyesore to some “upstanding citizens.” So I experienced two disasters in less than 4 years.

At this point, I walked to J.R.’s house and told him what had happened. He somewhat shamefacedly admitted that he had neglected to pay some old parking tickets as well as vehicle registration, but then offered to let me sleep in a tent in his back yard.

One afternoon soon after this, I received a phone call from Oak Center Towers. I had applied for residency there over a year before, and they now had a vacant studio apartment. This was the first cheerful note in my life since 2010! On arriving at my first interview, I met Julia Bergue, a sweet and flexible person who did all the necessary paperwork.

Finally, on August 17, 2016, I spent the first night in my new home. Somewhat dazedly, I realized there was a solid, legitimate, leak-proof roof over my head.

So take it from me: when you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way is up. Keep a-going’!!

Dean, age 66, earned his Master’s degree and worked as a paralegal for 20 years before losing his job during the great recession. 

 

Mother’s Day arrangement

Originally published in Community News, San Francisco Towers’ resident newsletter.

Part of the charm of San Francisco Towers are the exquisite floral displays in the public areas of the building, created by the Flower Committee.

Of its thirty members, the Flower Committee has four members (plus a weekly flower carrier) who specialize in purchasing and arranging the flowers: Joan Tayler, Marilyn Jacobson, Sophie Lee, and Fukan Yen.

Joan and Marilyn spend Thursday mornings at the San Francisco Flower Mart, which was founded by Japanese flower-grower immigrants around the turn of the century. It is one of the oldest and most successful Japanese-American corporations in the U.S. There are more than 60 vendors using Mart space. The flowers used to be strictly local but now include imports from as far away as Israel.

The Flower Committee shoppers wander down the aisles of flowers displayed in giant buckets, fishing out a stem that looks interesting: a branch with berries, a particularly beautiful rose, or some palm leaves that would make a good background. Usually five or six stems are tied together and priced as a group, anywhere from $6.50 to over $32.

Joan and Marilyn base their selections on what will go well with what is still usable from the previous week, and any upcoming holiday. Independence Day next month? Their choices will be red, white, and blue. The total Towers bill can be as much as $150, which the Towers staff will later pay.

A grocery cart in the garage awaits the returning buyers. It is loaded with the bunches and taken to Craft Room 3, where Fukan and Sophie unwrap the flowers. They set aside the pieces they want for the arrangements that are developing in their heads. Fukan says she has to see the flowers before she can decide what she will design, and Sophie agrees. They begin work on their signature still-life arrangements and soon are joined by Joan and Marilyn, who seem to specialize in large bouquets for the lobby and other public spaces. Although questions are freely answered, the room is largely silent as the women focus on what they are doing with the flowers.

Flower arrangers have the showiest jobs, but a lot of Flower Committee work goes on behind the scenes. There are the carriers and the vase washers and someone who arranges the memorials to departed residents.

There is also a small team that works on Wednesday night after dinner collecting all the arrangements from the first floor, and the small vases from dining tables in Assisted Living and the Staff Lounge. They bring these to Craft Room #3, where the vases are washed and the flowers edited (“This daisy looks like it will survive another week, but throw away that tulip”). There are carriers who take weekly turns driving the buyers to the SF Flower Mart, helping carry the selected flower bunches, and delivering arrangements to their spots.

Flower Committee Chair Joan Tayler says she is not worried about the relocation in a few months of the Flower Mart to temporary space on Potrero Hill, while a multistory office and condo building is being erected on the longtime Brannan Street site. The Flower Mart is guaranteed a space in the new building. At present, it can take as much as 45 minutes to drive from San Francisco Towers to 540 Brannan; Joan thinks getting to Potrero Hill won’t be any harder.

Back in the old days, flowers were arranged and delivered from Whole Foods, which cost something like $48,000 to $60,000 a year. When Flower Committee volunteers took charge, the cost went down to $10,000 to $12,000 a year. This is one of the many reasons why we should be grateful to the Flower Committee.

Sophie seemed to sum up the spirit of the Flower Committee members: She does the work because she always has loved flowers and always will. All Towers residents owe the Flower Committee a giant thank you for making our home so beautiful.

written by Anne Turner

 

May 30, 2018 marked the 25th anniversary of National Senior Health and Fitness Day, which is observed annually on the last Wednesday in May. We interviewed Esteban Sahade, Wellness Coordinator for St. Paul’s Towers, for his insights on senior health and fitness. 

How did you get involved in senior health and fitness?

When I was in grad school I took an internship to work in health and fitness with seniors. It was an opportunity to learn something I was little familiar with. As I started I discovered a new, fascinating world. I felt that all my previous training, experience and even my personality came together and preparing me for that. Soon afterwards I knew it was what I wanted to do from that moment on.  

What (if anything) is different about senior health and fitness from being a fitness trainer for other populations?

From a fitness perspective I think it’s a most rewarding experience. You can positively impact so many lives. With a relatively small investment of time and energy you can see fast and profound functional changes. You’re directly helping them improving their quality of life, independence, and dignity.  Besides that, older adults recognize and are grateful for any effort, little or big, in helping them improve, and the time you put into it.

What do you think would surprise people about senior fitness?

One thing that surprises many people is to know that the rate of improvement in some fitness components, like muscular strength, is similar for people in their 90s and people in their 20s. There are challenges, but with good care, the right stimulus, and in the absence of disease and injuries/accidents, the aging human body is capable of outstanding physical achievements, as shown by the performance of senior athletes who train and compete in many sports and age categories, including 100+.

What do you recommend for someone who wants to stay fit and healthy as a senior?

Find activities you like and enjoy. Exercise is not really necessary if you have a diverse physically active lifestyle. The movement involved in regular activities such as grocery shopping, gardening, domestic chores, visiting friends or family, playing with your grandchildren, walking your dog, dancing, travelling, etc., may be all the stimulus your body needs to stay fit and healthy. Add movement throughout your day; for example, stand more times, walk more when you have the opportunity (or create some), and use the stairs if you can.

Why is it important to recognize senior health and fitness?

Because it’s not about exercise, it’s about life and dignity. Failing to recognize its importance creates a negative social conditioning. Even if times have changed, many people, including family members, still think that their elders are too old or too frail to move or to exercise. This results in lost opportunities and motivation for seniors to get more fit and be healthier, creating an environment that leads them to an accelerated decline and functional loss.

What have you learned from working with seniors on health and fitness?

It doesn’t matter how active (or little active) you’ve been all your life. It’s never too late to start moving more, or different, and increase your body functional capacity which will result in positive changes in your life, improved wellbeing (not only physical, but also psychological, emotional, and even social), and better quality of life.

Covia’s Home Match program was featured in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled Affordable housing in the comfort of your own home.

From the article:

“We call these homeowners ‘house-rich and cash-poor,’” said Tracy Powell, vice president of community services for Covia (formerly Episcopal Senior Communities), which runs the Home Match program in San Francisco along with Northern California Presbyterian Homes & Services. “They have the house, but their maintenance, taxes, food and medical costs are all going up. So bringing in a lodger at $1,000 a month can make the difference between keeping or losing it.”

But finding a compatible housemate involves much more than just agreeing on pets, smoking, visitors and other deal-breakers, said Max Moy-Borgen, director of Home Match Contra Costa. “There’s a lot more that comes into play when you are living together with someone than just a standard rental where you’re living on your own,” he said. “But when everything clicks, it means that people are really enjoying the arrangement and it’s a good fit.”

In-person home-sharing services like Home Match counter that they have the advantage of face-to-face contact with applicants and knowledge of local conditions — and that their services are often free.

In San Francisco, for example, where the program is supported by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, Home Match created a model contract that can be canceled with a simple written notice, not a time-consuming eviction. And, because Home Match checks back regularly with both homeowners and lodgers, it can step in to mediate if their needs change.

When Kevin Wallace, a 67-year-old San Francisco remodeling contractor, first took in a lodger last year, for example, it was partly to help him take care of his wife, who suffered from dementia. After some months, however, his wife’s condition worsened and she had to go into full-time care. So Christine Ness of Home Match sat down with the pair to re-negotiate their contract.

Now the lodger, 72-year-old Elizabeth (she asked that her last name not be used), a retired Montessori teacher, pitches in on chores in exchange for her $350-a-month room in Noe Valley. “My son from Cambodia came home for a visit recently and said, ‘Hey Dad, the house looks great. Make sure you keep Elizabeth,’” Wallace said.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, figures she spends about an hour a day on chores ranging from dishes to laundry to clipping flowers from the garden for ikebana floral arrangements. In exchange, she has an affordable room in a city she loves because “San Francisco is an outdoors place, and I’m a nature person.”

The biggest challenge that all home-sharing services face — whether online or off — is finding enough homeowners to meet demand. “When we first started matching people in San Francisco a few years ago, no one had heard of it,” said Powell of the San Francisco Home Match program, even though the home-sharing phenomenon has been around nationwide for decades. “But now we’re reaching a tipping point, and homeowners are more willing to give it a try.”

And while the chief goal remains affordable housing, the Home Match crew is always happiest when its work leads to more.

“I tell homeowners that it can turn out to be a wonderful experience to invite someone into your home,” said Ness, director of Home Match Marin. “Even if you’re just doing it initially for rental income or service exchange, sometimes it can turn into a community of friends.”

Learn more about Home Match here.

Photo by Michael Macor / San Francisco Chronicle / Polaris

Leaders in senior affordable housing will share the story of the Openhouse Community, the Bay Area’s first LGBT-welcoming senior affordable housing project, in a free event on June 1 at 3:00 at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Pre-registration is requested.

LGBT Housing – A Community Conversation About Lessons Learned and Future Directions will be moderated by Karim Sultan, VP of Affordable Housing for Covia. The panel will include: Marcy Adelman, co-founder Openhouse, a San Francisco non-profit exclusively focused on health and well-being of LGBTQI elders; Karyn Skultety, Executive Director of Openhouse; and Ileah Lavora, Housing Developer at Mercy Housing. 

“Hopefully, the panel will motivate like-minded parties, whether it be in San Francisco or in the greater Bay Area, to build more LGBT housing,” says Sultan. “Obviously, there would be a lot of work between this initial conversation and a building going up, but we would like to start a larger conversation.”

After the panel, participants are invited to take a tour of the housing community at 55 Laguna, which provides Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender-welcoming housing for seniors age 55 and older. Though open to people of all sexual orientations or gender identity, 68% of the residents identify as LGBT.

The LGBT Community Center is located at 1800 Market Street. To register for this event, please visit this eventbrite site. 

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Episcopal Senior Communities (ESC) is now Covia

Our name has changed, our mission and values remain the same:
To serve our communities as a nonprofit organization as we have done for more than half a century. Our new name reflects our shared purpose of bringing people together and creating a true sense of home.

Welcome to Covia.