Over a decade ago, long before COVID-19 would drastically alter our world, Covia developed a resource to promote social engagement among older adults and combat loneliness and social isolation. That program, Well Connected, is now a nationwide social connection and lifelong learning program that is free and open to all older adults — not just Covia residents or its affiliates.
“The program was initially designed for low-income, extremely isolated, frail older adults who needed more engagement,” says Tracy Powell, Covia’s Vice President of Community Services. “It was a lovely but small support system rooted in engagement and volunteerism,” she notes, initially offering 10 free one-hour classes per week. Over the last few years, the programming has grown “in sophistication and audience.” Participants, who currently come from 46 states, can now choose from over 80 classes and groups that are offered every single week. The programs vary from support groups to topical discussions to interactive courses, all available by phone or online.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Well Connected participation has skyrocketed. Prior to the social distancing and quarantining requirements brought about by the crisis, Well Connected had about 2,000 participants. Then, in the first two weeks of April alone, 200 new participants joined — a 10 percent increase in just two weeks after 10 years of operation. Since the onset of COVID-19, Well Connected has had a total of 685 new participants. Now staff are getting calls from other senior living operators interested in enrolling their residents.
“There has been a huge increase in terms of enrollment and interest,” Powell says. “There have been 50 to 75 organizations so far just through the end of May that have contacted us and asked if they can join and find out more about what’s involved in virtual programming.”
Social Call, another Covia Community Services program, matches individuals for one-on-one social connections. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, many of these friendly visits were conducted in person based on shared interests and geographic proximity. Now, Social Call happens entirely by phone, lifting the geographic limitations and significantly expanding the possibilities for connections based on interests and compatibility — especially since the program has seen a huge increase in volunteers as well as participants.
Another project that Covia has spearheaded in response to COVID-19 is “Enduring Inspiration,” a worldwide call for art made by older adults. The program was developed in partnership with Ruth’s Table, an arts center named in honor of the internationally-known artist Ruth Asawa that is a part of Covia’s Bethany Center affordable housing community in San Francisco.
Seniors around the world are encouraged to make any kind of art and send it in — a recipe, a collage, a painting, a drawing, or anything else that can be easily mailed — for a juried exhibit that will be held at the freestanding gallery space at Bethany Center once it is safe to do so. Covia is also developing art packets and embroidery kits to send out to seniors in their communities so they can create their own art.
“At the heart of it, this is all very central to our mission as an organization: building community wherever people are,” says Ron Schaefer, Covia’s Chief Operating Officer. “These programs help bring people together and create connections.”
*This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of Community Matters
As we shelter in place, many people are taking up new creative projects, everything from knitting to baking or even learning a new musical instrument. Ruth’s Table is celebrating the power of creativity to lift our spirits and bring us together with the Enduring Inspiration: Creativity at Home initiative.
Ruth’s Table, part of Covia’s Community Services, is an arts nonprofit committed to increasing access to creative opportunities for older adults and adults with disabilities located at Bethany Center Senior Housing, a Covia Affordable Community. Through the Enduring Inspiration initiative Ruth’s Table is encouraging individuals sheltering in place to express themselves through creative projects with the help of creative care kits, support from teaching artists, and virtual classes. The culmination of the project is the Enduring Inspiration exhibition, a gallery show that will feature submitted art pieces created during this time.
Ruth’s Table Director Jessica McCracken notes, “Knowing that people were going to have to stay at home for a long duration of time, our first thought was around the risks associated with social isolation. Ruth’s Table programming has proven that the arts are an incredible tool for bringing people together. Enduring Inspiration was designed to bring a sense of hope and offer a way to process the magnitude of this experience.”
One way that this has manifested is with creative care kits, which include art-making activities (paired with supplies) that participants can use at home. Ruth’s Table has partnered with Covia Creative Spark to create Creative Spark worksheets, which are fun prompts intended to spark inspiration. Worksheets vary greatly, from turning a provided squiggle into a drawing to curating a personal art collection. An example of the worksheets can be found here.
Beyond the Creative Spark worksheet kits, Ruth’s Table has also partnered with Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSW), which empowers underprivileged youth through sewing and quilting, to create an intergenerational quilt. Ruth’s Table and SJSA have created quilt making kits that guide recipients through creating a quilt block that will be incorporated into a full quilt. This quilt will be on display as part of the Enduring Inspiration exhibit. If you are interested in creating a quilt block as part of the project, please reach out to email@example.com.
Ruth’s Table is also supporting community creativity through individual or group phone calls as well as virtual classes. Group or individual support calls allow teaching artists to provide assistance and encouragement to those working on the creative care kits and Creative Spark worksheets. Virtual classes are also available for senior communities as a way to keep connected and engaged while we stay at home.
Set to take place later this year, the Enduring Inspiration exhibit is an invitation to us all to explore creative projects at home and share our work with others. Ruth’s Table is encouraging everyone to submit any creative projects of choice, from traditional art pieces like paintings and sculpture to other creative endeavors like recipes, musical pieces, and more.
Everyone and anyone is invited to submit their creative project for consideration and submissions are open now through August 1st. The submission process is easy and consists of a short write-up about the project, a photo of the project if applicable, and a short, 2 to 3 sentence bio. The full submission guidelines are available on Ruth’s Table’s website. To submit, please reach out to Ruth’s Table at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415.505.3269.
If you are working on a creative project during this time, also consider sharing photos and your process on social media using the hashtag #RTmakes. We’re excited to see what you create and how you are utilizing creativity to stay connected.
Social distancing may mean that we can’t be physically close but there are still plenty of ways to connect with each other and the outside world while staying safe at home. Technology can keep us connected to our family and current events but there are also ways to create new social connections during this time. Programs like Social Call, Well Connected, and Ruth’s Table provide opportunities to join insightful discussions, connect one on one, and experience art all while sheltering in place.
Connect One on One
Social Call pairs older adult participants with volunteers for one on one conversations. Matches meet for 30 minutes every week over the phone. It’s a great opportunity to meet someone new and it’s “a tangible way to alleviate pain in our world,” says Social Call Director Katie Wade.
Matches connect over their shared interests or backgrounds and often teach each other new things. “I’ve learned about delighting in the present,” says one Social Call volunteer, while another notes that “I always learn beneficial things from my match – especially relating to growing flowers.”
Social Call is actively seeking volunteers and participants and it’s easy to get started. Individuals interested in volunteering can get started on VolunteerMatch and older adults looking to participate can get in touch by calling (877) 797-7299 or emailing email@example.com.
Join a New Community
Looking for an inclusive community where you can participate in caring conversations, learn new things, and even travel to different countries without leaving your home? Well Connected offers easily accessible sessions over the phone that range from writing groups and guided meditation to armchair travel and museums at home. Amber Carroll, Well Connected Director, notes “COVID-19 or not, these programs provide a unique opportunity to connect with others from the comfort of home.”
Well Connected sessions are free and available in both English and Spanish. Check out what sessions are currently being offered in the Well Connected and Well Connected Español catalogs. Enrolling is as easy as calling (877) 797-7299.
Send a Card
In addition to staying connected over the phone or online, Social Call and Well Connected are currently creating snail mail connections as well. Both programs are looking for volunteers who are willing to send cards to brighten participants’ mailboxes. It’s as easy as having a handful of postcards and a pen. Volunteers have been sharing everything from a quick note of encouragement to sketches of what they have been doing while social distancing.
Interested in sending a card? Check out VolunteerMatch to get started.
Visit a Museum Virtually
Ruth’s Table is an art space and gallery in the Mission District of San Francisco that hosts exhibits and art programming. Though in-person art programming and classes are currently closed to keep the community safe, Ruth’s Table is offering a virtual tour of their current exhibition Echoes of the New Vision through Well Connected on March 25th from 11am to 12pm PST.
Curator Hanna Regev will provide an in-depth tour of the exhibit and the facilitator will include verbal descriptions for those with low vision. Explore how Bauhaus ideas have impacted photography and photo-based art from the comfort of your home over the phone or through your computer. To learn more and register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
During this time, it is important to remember all of the ways that we are connected even when we are physically distant. Reaching out to someone that you care about or creating a new connection can be a great way to remind oneself that though we’re all staying in our personal spaces, we’re still participating in the same shared world.
Happy Employee Appreciation Day! We are so excited to celebrate all of the amazing people who help Covia support older adults around the Bay Area and beyond. In honor of this holiday, we were inspired to share stories about our incredible employees from throughout the organization.
Lizette Suarez, Well Connected Español Program Manager
Lizette came to WCE without having ever worked with older adults, but her humor, energy, dedication, passion, and skills leave me believing that she was the only person for the job. As a one-woman team for the first year, she made our fantasy of diversifying Well Connected a robust reality and has successfully created a virtual community for nearly 100 older adults living across 5 states!
Amber Carrol, Director of Well Connected
Rita Mukhsinova, Ruth’s Table Manager
Rita implements gallery exhibits and events of incredibly high quality, which challenges preconceptions of senior living communities. A Bethany Center resident recently commented that a gallery lecture, “was so intellectual and stimulating. Sometimes people think that just because you’re older you won’t get it. The whole gallery and its programming is so intriguing.”
Katie Wade, Director of Social Call
Resident Service Coordination
Kristy Huang, Resident Wellness Director at Casa De Los Amigos
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Kristy Huang, Resident Wellness Director at Casa De Los Amigos in Redondo Beach for her hard work and dedication. Kristy went above and beyond with coordinating IWISH (Integrated Wellness in Supportive Housing) programs by herself after her partner RWD moved to another site. In spite of the difficult situation, Kristy has been doing an awesome job balancing health presentations, exercise programs, social workshops, art therapy classes and more while managing it all on her own. She kept her professionalism and still manages to serve residents with a great smile. I am grateful and appreciate her willingness to go the extra miles.
Sarah Choi, Lead Resident Service Coordinator
Elvyra Abare, Canterbury Woods Executive Director, and Wei Chang, Canterbury Woods Transportation Manager
The incident/accident I experienced on January 21st on the way to a Covia meeting in Walnut Creek re-affirmed the correct decision I made about entering the Canterbury Woods community. Elvyra, the CW Director, finding me bleeding profusely, took charge and her calm voice and clear directions soothed my state of mind and prevented me from over-reacting. She treated me like I was her mother and that had a profound effect on my perspective of the situation. Where could I find such support in a moment of distress? Canterbury Woods of course…
And Wei, the transportation manager, who had to revise his driving plans because I did not heed to his rules about getting in the limousine, and who understands so well the flaws of human nature. Wei is a master at decision-making, is a compassionate human being and surprised me when I came out of E.R. Wei was there waiting for me and worried about my nutritional needs. Wei easily combined his responsibilities with the CW group he was driving to the Covia meeting and giving me his caring attention. Wei is a multi-tasking man with a heart. Thank you both, Elvyra and Wei.
Canterbury Woods Resident
San Francisco Towers Staff
Thank you! We have just been through an ordeal that I would have had difficulty managing if not for our staff at the SFTowers.
One morning, I heard my husband calling for me. I found him lying in a pool of blood in our hallway near the front door. I called Security and when someone arrived he wisely called our 2nd floor. Two Skilled Nursing staff took my husband’s vitals and called for an ambulance. At the hospital, we found he had dislocated his shoulder.
When we arrived back at SFT, our front desk called for a wheelchair to get us to our apartment. Almost immediately Grace Tom from Resident Health Services, an angel, arrived and took over. She organized everything, meals delivered that day, assistance, doctors orders to the PT people, and for our new doctor to make a house call. Dr. Aissatou Haman came to our apartment and scheduled my husband to see an orthopedic doc and have x-rays done.
While the above was happening, Troy Stewart, Housekeeping Manager, sent someone up to clean up the blood residue I had missed on the floor and the walls. Thank you to our staff for everything. We are most grateful for the care and attention we received in our hour of need. Everyone here knew what to do and did it.
San Francisco Towers Resident
Accounts Payable Team
In our Finance Department, Accounts Payable is responsible for making sure that every invoice gets paid, and Deanna Garcia and Stephanie Canady are an amazing team. Every once in a while you get lucky and find an employee that is a quiet constant, always comes to work on time, hardly every misses a day of work and is dedicated to doing a great job. Deanna is that person! Stephanie is one of those people that is dedicated to not only doing her job well, but she also makes work fun! I really appreciate her quick witted humor! She makes me laugh and smile no matter what problem we are trying to solve.
Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources
Grant Edelstone, Senior Director of Risk Management, Compliance & Risk
Grant is one of those people that you can always count on. He always gives solid, well thought-out advice and is never too busy to lend a hand. I appreciate his calm, professional approach.
Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources
The stories mentioned display only a fraction of the hard work and dedication that Covia employees bring to their job every single day. Thank you to everyone who supports our organization. You are a valued part of our team!
* Some of these stories have been edited to protect resident’s privacy.
Founded on the mission of “increasing access to creative opportunities for older adults and adults with disabilities and providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for creative expression and cross generational dialogue,” Ruth’s Table, a Covia Community Service, has been serving the San Francisco community for 10 years—a milestone they will be celebrating on November 14th with their R10 birthday party.
An important part of Ruth’s Table’s work includes partnering with like-minded organizations to expand its creative offerings. A recent partnership with Reimagine has sparked new programming as well as three events open to the public this October.
Reimagine hosts Reimagine End of Life, a weeklong slate of events that discuss death and dying through the lens of art and creativity. Events include everything from art installations and theater pieces to creative workshops and talks. Reimagine’s goal is to make end of life discussions easier by transforming them into celebrations of life through the use of art and creativity. This year’s Reimagine SF includes over two hundred events taking place in San Francisco between October 24th and November 3rd.
Ruth’s Table partnered with Reimagine in 2018 to host Curious Maps of Impossible Places, a life mapping workshop. This year the partnership is expanding with three new events: On Passing On: Poetry to Ease the Final Passage, on Friday, October 25th, Mortality in Motion on Saturday, October 26th, and Spirit Boat: A Makers Event on Tuesday, October 29th.
As Jessica McCracken, Director of Ruth’s Table, notes “I think it is very important to normalize conversations around end of life issues. It’s a way of celebrating life really. When working with an older adult population we deal with end of life issues more often and I think it’s important as a community of caregivers to explore those issues. I also know that we are working with a population that has the perspective and wisdom to really lead the conversation. Creative programming creates an amazing platform to have meaningful conversations.”
Events for this year’s partnership center on exploring end of life through multiple art forms. On Passing On: Poetry to Ease the Final Passage introduces participants to jisei, Japanese death poems, and then invites participants to write their own poem. The event will feature poet Bob Holman, folklorist Steve Zeitlin, and President of the Nurse Practitioner Healthcare Foundation, Phyllis Zimmer.
Led by artist Jennifer Ewing, Spirit Boats: A Makers Event, explores boats as a symbol of passage, especially in conveyance beyond death, through the creation of spirit boats. Recycled materials, wood, paper, feathers, twine, wire, and more will be provided to participants.
Intergenerational movement company Dance Generators will lead Morality in Motion, exploring how an embodied experience of mortality illuminates its reality in a new way. Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable clothes as the event will move between doing and discussion.
Everyone is invited to attend any of the festival events, no previous art experience required. Residents of Bethany Center will participate alongside community members in these engaging creative sessions.
McCracken hopes that “attendees from the community have a positive experience coming into our creative space. When people visit Ruth’s Table they often don’t realize they are entering an older adult residential community. What they notice is the vibrancy, the bright colors, and how alive the space is. We want to create an environment where growing older is inspiring.”
To learn more about On Passing On, Spirit Boats, and Mortality in Motion visit the Ruth’s Table Facebook page. For more on Reimagine End of Life, visit the Reimagine website. For more on Ruth’s Table and its 10th anniversary celebration, visit the Ruth’s Table website at ruthstable.org.
On July 11th, Ruth’s Table, a program of Bethany Center Senior Housing, is celebrating its grand re-opening at a new dedicated gallery space located at 3160 21st Street, San Francisco. The opening reception from 6:00-9:00 pm launches a year-long exploration of Bauhaus through a series of exhibits.
Founded in 2009 with the support of artist Ruth Asawa, Ruth’s Table began as an arts initiative integrated into Bethany Center, an affordable senior housing community. The new building will serve as a gallery and creative learning space where people of all ages can come together to learn, connect, and create.
Jessica McCracken, Director of Ruth’s Table, says, “Ruth’s Table provides a safe, inclusive and welcoming space for the community to engage with arts, build meaningful connections and feel the uplifting joy of community. Our programs encourage personal growth and promote lifelong learning, while strengthening creativity, health, and independence to greatly enhance one’s quality of life.”
The first exhibit in the new space, Beyond the Warp and Weft, launches a year-long inaugural program of contemporary exhibitions celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus. The exhibit brings together 14 artists to illuminate the diversity of contemporary ideas of weaving and textile, highlight innovative craft thinking, and chart the future trajectory of the practice. The exhibition presents a stylistically diverse selection of works that combine hand weaving, sound, science, sculpture and site-specific installation.
Throughout the year, four exhibitions will examine the enduring impact of Bauhaus ideas on weaving and textile design, color interaction and theory, photography, and activism in the arts, with a particular emphasis on the way contemporary art practices have evolved with the innovations in materials and technology.
For more information, please visit https://www.ruthstable.org/.