The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

On January 29th, Covia Community Services is celebrating creative aging with the Creative Aging Symposium. The symposium, which can be attended online or by conference call, celebrates how creativity shapes our sense of self and guides us to more purposeful living.

Both individual participants and senior communities nationwide are welcome to register for the 3rd Annual Creative Aging Symposium, occurring on January 29th from 9am to 12:15pm PST. The focus for this year’s symposium is on how creativity, a resource available to us all, builds resiliency. Through the wisdom of a talented group of presenters with a variety of creative backgrounds, the symposium will uncover the potential for imagination and provide tips for daily practices of self-expression.

Social Call Director Katie Wade, who created and spearheads the symposium, notes “Older adults want to explore new social connections, deepen their sense of self, try new things, be healthy, be of value to their community, and be seen as valuable. Creative aging concepts and programming provide a compelling solution to many of these priorities.”

Creativity is often associated with art, but one of the goals of the symposium is to demonstrate how creativity encompasses far more, such as trying a new approach when solving a problem to organizing space more efficiently. The Creative Aging Symposium seeks to help participants understand how they use creativity every day, even if they wouldn’t initially describe themselves as creative.

The concept of creative aging was originally heralded by Dr. Gene Cohen, who asserted the potential that creativity brings to aging. Inspired by Dr. Cohen’s work, Wade created the Creative Aging Symposium as a way to teach and inform more people about the positive effects of creativity and our immense capacity for creative growth, especially as we age.  

Wade particularly values the concept of ‘little c’ creativity as described by Dr. Gene Cohen: “Little ‘c’ creativity is represented by creative acts that can change the path ahead of us and bring something new into existence – perhaps how we do a daily task, approach a problem, or relate to our family.”

The 2020 symposium presenters will explore creativity in its numerous forms, including little ‘c’ creativity, and how it can help build resiliency as we age. These presenters include geriatrician, writer, and educator Louise Aronson; storyteller and co-founder of MiHistoria.net Albertina Zarazúa Padilla; dancer and choreographer Nancy Cranbourne; artist and activist Edythe Boone; and eco-friendly style icon Debra Rapoport. The wrap-up experience will be led by author and community organizer David “Lucky” Goff.

Speaking about this year’s symposium, Wade notes that she is “looking forward to hearing how attendees will be inspired to explore creativity a bit more in their daily lives or use a creative practice to get through difficult life circumstances.”

The Creative Aging Symposium is part of Covia Community Services’ dedication to creative aging as a way to reframe the narrative around aging through exploration, programming, and events. This takes a number of forms within Covia, from the Creative Aging Symposium to Ruth’s Table programming and Social Call’s integration of creative learning methods like The Hummingbird Project’s Joyful Moments cards.    

On February 4th, Leading Age California is hosting their Golden Gate Regional Event all about creative aging at Ruth’s Table. At Make Something Together: The Power of Creative Programming Ruth’s Table Director Jessica McCracken and Social Call Director Katie Wade will lead a conversation for professionals in the Aging Services field on creative aging and how it can be utilized to increase social connection and change the narrative around aging. More information about the event and registration can be accessed here.

If you are interested in learning more about creative aging and its benefits, please join us on January 29th for the Creative Aging Symposium and at Ruth’s Table on February 4th for the Leading Age California event.

Register here for the Creative Aging Symposium.

Register here for The Power of Creative Programming.

The Thanksgiving season at Covia is a time for great food, from the Support Services Nuthin’ But Sides potluck to the annual Thanksgiving meals put on by communities and Senior Resources. Two of these Thanksgiving meals, the Senior Resources San Francisco Thanksgiving dinner and the Annual Oak Center Towers’ Thanksgiving Luncheon, give a great peek into what it’s like to celebrate the holiday season at Covia.

SF Senior Resources:

On November 20th, Senior Resources San Francisco hosted its fifth annual Thanksgiving dinner – part of its monthly Senior Lunch program, usually held on the fourth Wednesday of the month in the Parish Hall of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church. With a jazz trio playing in the background, nearly 75 seniors gathered at long tables for a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, and pumpkin pie for dessert.

Sandra, who is a regular at the senior lunch, says the service she receives is what makes this meal special. “All those other places you have to stand in line, out in the cold,” she says. After having wrist surgery, she finds carrying trays difficult. “Here, you’re indoors, you’re sitting at a table like we are, there’s nice music playing in the background, and you just sit and they serve you, instead of you carrying a big heavy tray.”

Vivian, who has been attending for the past three years, had a different experience: “At first I had trouble because I’m used to potlucks with my friends, so I wanted to help. I realized I’m supposed to sit down, so that was the hardest part.”

Amy Brokering, Director of Senior Resources in San Francisco, says that the service was a deliberate choice when the program was first started six years ago to make it feel more special for those who gather. Since its inception, the lunch has grown from fewer than 20 seniors to, at its largest, around 80 participants – with volunteers, close to 100 people. “It’s a community,” she says. “They support each other.”

Volunteer Pam agrees. As she serves in her fourth Thanksgiving for the program, she says, “The memories of all the differences we were able to produce is really beautiful. We have a core group of about five or six of us and we work really well together. We have a lot of joy in being here for these people and knowing it’s a community. It just makes us feel good.”

Three additional volunteers from Lindquist CPA joined the team to help serve the Thanksgiving meal. A vendor partner with Covia, Lindquist has been helping with the Thanksgiving senior lunch for the past three years. As a surprise at the end of the meal, the team from Lindquist presented Amy Brokering with a check for the Covia Foundation for $2,000 – the largest gift this program has received.

Oak Center Towers:

Also on November 20th, Oak Center Towers, a Covia Affordable community, hosted its 18th Annual Thanksgiving Lunch. Held in the Oak Center Towers multipurpose room, the lunch invites residents to enjoy a special holiday meal in their community. 

“It’s a much loved and appreciated, long-standing tradition that residents seem to really look forward to,” says Aliona Gibson, who joined Covia this year as Activities Coordinator at Oak Center Towers. “There was buzz for weeks before the date.”

Over 100 Oak Center Towers residents and guests took part in the annual lunch, arriving early to socialize with their family and friends before the food was served. The room was a pleasant hubbub of conversation as the group shared time together along with the Thanksgiving meal.

The multipurpose room at Oak Center Towers was decorated for the occasion with fall colors, flowers, and even featured a display with the community’s initials spelled out using water bottles. A tree with residents’ thankful wishes fashioned out of paper leaves adorned one wall, a happy reminder of the nature of the season.

Oak Center Towers’ staff and volunteers from Covia Support Services worked together to plate and serve the meal, which included holiday staples like turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac and cheese and green beans as well as fried rice and steamed vegetables. For dessert, there was a choice of apple pie or ambrosia salad and each resident was able to toast the season with their own glass of sparkling cider.

“It was a pleasure and fun to work alongside the Covia family to create such a wonderful experience. I felt the love and genuine care, concern and effort put forth towards making the event memorable,” Gibson noted. “I could not have asked for a better inaugural Thanksgiving at OCT.”

Happy National Estate Planning Awareness Week! Estate planning is an often overlooked but important part of maintaining financial wellness. The financial aspects of estate planning include assessing your personal situation, creating a will and possibly a trust, planning for disposition of accounts (like life insurance or retirement accounts), naming a power of attorney, gift planning, and much more. It’s important to regularly review your plan and keep it updated so that it relates to your current life situation.

In honor of this week, we’re sharing some gift giving tips from the Covia Foundation that directly relate to estate planning. Check out these tips, consult your advisors, and remember to regularly review your personal estate plan to make sure it is accurate and up to date.

Make a Gift Through Your Will

When people think about estate planning, writing a will is what often comes to mind. A will is an important tool to make sure your wishes are carried out after your death – including gifts to your favorite charitable organizations.

One of the most common gifts in a will is a gift of a specific dollar amount. Another common approach is to leave a percentage of the balance of your estate that is left after specific gifts are made to family members (this is generally called a residuary gift). Every gift, no matter how small or large, can make a difference.

A will can be easily amended with language (referred to as a codicil) to include a gift to a charitable organization.

Individual Retirement Account Gifts

If you leave your Individual Retirement Account to a child or loved one, you also leave them with the obligation to pay taxes on the money that is distributed from the IRA. You, too, must pay taxes on the money you are required to withdraw for your IRA each year—but recent tax policy changes mean you can make charitable gifts today with those funds and they won’t increase your taxable income.

Once you are over the age of 70.5, you are required to make minimum distributions from your IRA. Instead of taking the funds directly, you can direct your IRA trustee instead to make a payment to a charity (or charities) directly from your IRA account. These qualified charitable distributions (up to the $100,000 maximum per year) are not added to your gross income, so they are not taxable to you.

Even if you do not itemize deductions on your 1040 personal income tax return, you’ll come out ahead making charitable gifts this way. Just be sure you complete these qualified charitable donations from your IRA before the end of the calendar year.

Beneficiary Designations

You can leave a gift to charity from an IRA, 401(k), or other qualified retirement plan using a ‘beneficiary designation.’ Generally, you fill out a simple form with your plan administrator naming the charitable organization as a beneficiary of a death benefit payable under the retirement plan.

The designated portion will be paid directly to the organization, not to your estate, and is not designated by a will. Paying these benefits directly to charity means that neither the estate nor any beneficiary of the estate are subject to income tax attributable to the retirement plan.

Charitable Gift Annuity: The Gift that Gives Back

What if you want to make a charitable gift in your will but don’t know how much you might be able to commit? A Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA) can be a tax-smart way to benefit both you and your community. This gift plan allows you to make a charitable gift today that provides you with regular fixed income. After your death, this gift goes to the cause you care about. Because the payment rate is fixed based on your age, your income will never change and a portion of your payment could be tax free. (As an example, the rate for someone aged 81 is 7.5%)

A Charitable Gift Annuity offers other tax planning benefits. The gift annuity provides you an immediate income tax deduction in the year it is established and you can bypass capital gains tax if you fund the gift with appreciated stocks. Plus, you get the joy of planning your legacy today. With the Covia Foundation, you can choose to have your gift used where it is most needed, to support your retirement community, or to help a program you care about.

More Information

It is always best to consult with your legal, tax, and/or financial advisors before making any significant change to your will or estate plan. If you are interested in learning more about estate planning, have any questions, or are considering a gift to the Covia Foundation, please contact Katharine Miller, Covia Foundation Executive Director, at 925-956-7414 or kmiller@covia.org.

Social isolation and loneliness affect approximately one-third to one-half of the older adult population, negatively impacting seniors’ physical and mental health. For 10 years, Covia has been addressing these issues through a no cost to participants friendly visitor program, now named Social Call. When it was founded, the program only provided in-person connections to people living in San Francisco. Today Social Call works to prevent isolation by connecting people across the country. To celebrate Social Call’s 10th anniversary, here are 10 things you may not know about this life-changing program:

  1. Social Call is one way Covia lives out its mission. Covia promotes positive aging by cultivating healthy and engaged communities with a continuum of innovative services that actively support people’s well-being. Although Covia is known primarily for its Senior Communities and Affordable Housing Communities, it also has an extensive Community Services department, including Well Connected, Market Day and Social Call. Social Call is a vital part of Covia’s mission to help people live well and age well – wherever they call home.
  2. Social Call is a way to create community with older adults. Director Katie Wade finds that Social Call’s visits create a sense of community that is often lost in today’s busy society. “Social Call honors our need for connection,” says Wade. Thanks to Social Call, 194 participants ranging in age from 54 to 102 have weekly one-on-one visits with a volunteer.
  3. A “Social Call” can be an in-person visit or a phone conversation. Phone visits eliminate the barriers of transportation and mobility, so Social Call program managers can create matches based on personalities and specific interests. Participant Illana shared “I had a really interesting conversation with Sreemoyi on Sunday. She has spent two years in the country where I was born and knows so much about my culture. Thank you for matching me with her. This seems to be the beginning of a great friendship.”
  4. Volunteers are carefully vetted. Whether it’s a student who wants to give back to the community or a newcomer to the area who desires a connection in the neighborhood, volunteers are screened, trained and matched with seniors living in their communities. During the training process, volunteers learn indicators of a healthy relationship and reminders about communication skills. Often, Social Call finds volunteers through word of mouth and community resources like the library or on VolunteerMatch.
  5. Matching seniors and volunteers is an art. Covia’s Program Managers review the list of people needing a visitor and align preferences such as age, personalities and language requirements. Volunteers and seniors meet weekly for one-on-one visits to swap stories or enjoy one another’s company. In-person visits last one to two hours and phone visits about half an hour. The nature of the visit depends on the match: discussing a variety of topics and events, sharing stories, playing cards, going out for a cup of coffee and much more.
  6. Social Call visits improve mental and physical health. Social connection affects health in a myriad of ways, for both volunteers and participants. One volunteer notes, “Anna has such a great sense of humor. We can talk about really heavy, painful things, and we can still have some good laughs. In fact, she left with me cracking up as we said goodbye. I feel very lucky to know Anna and have her as a friend. When I left, she said that she was suddenly feeling much improved health-wise. I must say though, I think our visits benefit me even more than they do her! Truly.”
  7. Reciprocation is the key. Social Call is based on the idea that the volunteer and participant both benefit from the visits, ensuring a reciprocal bond. Being present, finding appreciation for the aging process, and gaining wisdom from hours of conversation with someone older are just two of the benefits that volunteers experience. Participants and volunteers often feel energized by the visits where they can provide emotional support and impart insight or share stories. Says one Social Call volunteer: “We chat about everything under the sun. We share our memories; we laugh together and sometimes we cry a bit too. We share a deep bond. I know our talks have lifted her spirits and made my life better too.”
  8. All participants desire a sense of connection. Wade, a mental health therapist in her earlier career, has observed the rise in loneliness. Despite the many ways available to connect with one another, research shows that people are increasingly more lonely. Once considered a problem facing mainly older adults, Wade believes it’s clear loneliness is a society-wide problem stretching across age groups. “Both volunteers and seniors are looking for social connections and Social Call is a conduit for that,” Wade says.
  9. Social Call brings creativity into the conversation. Social Call is introducing creativity into visits to foster meaningful experiences. During training, volunteers learn about creative aging. Some matches choose to incorporate storytelling, painting, poetry and more into their weekly visits to promote creative exploration, which often provides a deeper connection.
  10. Social Call creates unexpected discoveries! You might hear of June’s experience growing up in Germany, or learn of Jerry’s leadership in LA’s alternative music scene. You might find a friend that you never would have come across in your daily life or rethink your view of aging. For 10 years, in connecting people with one another, Social Call has offered journeys of exploration and amazing discoveries. We look forward to more adventures ahead and invite you to join us!

If you’re interested in learning more about Social Call, visit us on VolunteerMatch, or call us today at 877-797-7299 for more information.

September 23rd marks not only the first day of fall but also Falls Prevention Awareness Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of falls and how to prevent them.

While adults 65 and older are at an elevated risk for falls, these are not a natural part of aging and many falls can be prevented. It is especially important to prevent falls because they pose a significant threat to the health and independence of older adults, including causing serious injuries like a traumatic brain injury or hip fracture as well as being a major cause of unintentional death. Even if a fall does not cause an injury, it can trigger a fear of falling that can result in cutting down on everyday activities and becoming weaker.

The good news is that there are a lot of easy ways to prevent falls and cut down on the anxiety surrounding a fall. Joanie Bowes-Warren, Sr. Director of Quality and Care, notes that the first step to reduce falls is to “be proactive versus reactive.” Here are some tips on how to be proactive and reduce the chance of a fall.

Exercise for Balance and Fall Prevention

One easy way to prevent a fall is to improve balance. Balance exercises are easy to learn and practice at home and many are available on the Go4Life website. Practicing balance exercises not only helps reduce the possibility of a fall, it can also reduce anxiety by being proactive about any balance issues.

Another great option is to join or start a fall prevention program. These programs are dedicated to providing fall prevention information while also raising awareness.

Talk to Your Doctor

Doctors are a great resource to prevent falls. Bowes-Warren notes that “doctors and medical professionals should look over your medications regularly to make sure that they aren’t a contributing factor.” It’s important to pay particular attention to opioid painkillers, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and sedatives.

Doctors can also help by performing annual vision tests, checking for foot pain and proper footwear, and being a great source of knowledge on what other changes can prevent falls. If necessary, they can also assist in finding the correct walking aid.

Make Your Home Safe

Preventing falls in the home can be as easy as making sure that floor space is clear and rooms are well lit. A cluttered floor increases the possibility of tripping and falling, so be sure to clear the floor and arrange furniture so there is plenty of room for walking.

Railings and grab bars can ease movement up and down the stairs as well as making it easier to move in and out of a bathtub or shower. Good lighting makes navigation easier and is especially important on stairs and in hallways. Even when at home, it can be helpful to use a cane or walker to ensure stability. It is also important to put essential items where they are easy to reach since straining for something that is out of reach can easily tip one off balance.

Make Smart Choices

A number of falls can be prevented by taking the time to make smart choices. “Be cognizant that there are a lot of fall hazards and make sure to look at your surroundings and make sure that it is safe” says Bowes-Warren.

One of the easiest ways to prevent a fall is to take some time before standing to make sure that your feet are under you and that you are not light headed. Giving yourself the opportunity to make sure that you are ready before you stand up can both reduce anxiety and the likelihood of a fall.

If there are any tasks that require climbing a ladder or stepladder, ask for help. One resource is the Rotary Home Team, which schedules volunteers from local Rotary clubs to do minor home repairs such as changing lightbulbs, smoke alarm batteries, or other tasks.

Finally, be aware of how alcohol’s effect is different depending on age and steer away from drinking alcohol to excess.

Know Yourself

As Bowes-Warren notes “you have to know yourself.” Being aware of personal abilities and limitations is crucial to making the right adjustments to prevent a fall. These steps are a great starting point but it is important to consider them in respect to your personal situation to decide what is relevant and will provide the most help. 

Download a handout of tips and resources here.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15. The National Center on Elder Abuse created this information as a downloadable document.

Our communities are like buildings that support people’s wellbeing. Sturdy buildings ensure that people are safe and thriving at every age. We all have a part to play in this construction project. Here are 12 things everyone can do to build community supports and prevent elder abuse.

  1. Learn the signs of elder abuse and neglect and how we can collectively solve the issue.
  2. Talk to friends and family members about how we can all age well and reduce abuse with programs and services like improved law enforcement, community centers, and public transportation.
  3. Prevent isolation. Call or visit our older loved ones and ask how they are doing regularly.
  4. Send a letter to a local paper, radio or TV station suggesting that they cover World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (June 15) or Grandparents Day in September.
  5. Join Ageless Alliance, an organization that connects people of all ages, nationwide, who stand united for the dignity of older people and for the elimination of elder abuse. Visit agelessalliance.org
  6. Provide respite breaks for caregivers.
  7. Encourage our bank managers to train tellers on how to detect elder financial abuse.
  8. Ask our doctors to ask all older patients about possible family violence in their lives.
  9. Contact a local Adult Protective Services or Long-Term Care Ombudsman to learn how to support their work helping older people and adults with disabilities who may be more at-risk.
  10. Organize an “Aging with Dignity” essay or poster contest in a local school.
  11. Ask religious congregation leaders to give a talk about elder abuse at a service or to put a message about elder abuse in the bulletin.
  12. Volunteer to be a friendly visitor to a nursing home resident or to a homebound older person in our communities.

It is up to all of us to prevent and address elder abuse! For more information on elder abuse prevention, please visit ncea.acl.gov.