The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

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.

October 1st through 7th mark Active Aging Week, a weeklong celebration of living well and aging well initiated by the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA).

The term active naturally conjures up images of exercising or other physical activities, but active aging encompasses far more than just keeping oneself physically fit. The ICAA highlights seven dimensions of wellness: from physical and emotional wellness to less well known dimensions like environmental and vocational. The point of Active Aging Week is to highlight that active aging involves more than just keeping the body fit; it’s about recognizing all of the different aspects that allow one to age with purpose.

“Active aging is choosing to live life with vitality and meaning,” notes Diane Waltz, Director of Wellness at Spring Lake Village. In the hustle and bustle of life, it can be easy to forget about how important it is to consider all of the dimensions of wellness, which is what makes Active Aging Week so crucial.

Covia & Active Aging

Covia strives to support every dimension of wellness through community programs and amenities as well as community services.

Activities and classes support physical, emotional, and intellectual wellness within Covia’s Life Plan communities. Engaging exercise activities like line dancing and chair volleyball keep residents both physically and socially engaged as they exercise in a group setting. Creative classes like beading and card making allow residents to pursue their emotional wellness by creating pieces of art. Regularly updated libraries that foster engaging book clubs improve intellectual wellness alongside activities such as Brain Fitness and Brain Builders. Life Plan communities even support vocational wellness with the opportunity to volunteer for causes like Habitat for Humanity or local food banks.

Environmental Wellness

Covia is also dedicated to environmental wellness through CoviaGreen, initiated by residents and staff at St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland. CoviaGreen is a committee-led program that focuses on sustainable living and environmental responsibility. This takes the form of the CoviaGreen pledge, which highlights a number of ways that residents and staff can reduce their negative impact on the environment from eating seasonal fruits and vegetables to turning off lights and appliances when not in use.

Beyond the pledge, the greater St. Paul’s Towers community has also implemented changes to promote environmental wellness. These changes include making Impossible Burgers available at all meals and adopting housekeeping programs that allow residents to forgo cleaning if it is not needed. CoviaGreen was created with the intent that it will inspire other communities to make a similar commitment to environmental responsibility.

Spiritual Wellness

With an Episcopal heritage, it would be easy to assume that spiritual wellness at Covia is tied directly to religion. But spiritual wellness encompasses far more than just religious practices or beliefs. Each Covia senior living community has its own chaplain who is tasked with supporting residents and staff from a myriad of religious backgrounds.

Chaplains guide the spiritual health of the community, which can take the form of religious services but more broadly supports spiritual wellness by being someone that residents can talk to for any type of spiritual help. Kevin Philips, chaplain at Canterbury Woods says, “A chaplain finds joy in nurturing the human spirit by offering kindness, connection and an empathetic ear.” Having support can be the first step in cultivating a stronger sense of spiritual wellness.

Social Wellness

Covia Community Services are dedicated to improving social wellness in older adults. Programs like Well Connected and Social Call were created with the intent to decrease social isolation and forge connections between people that might not otherwise have had the opportunity to connect. Well Connected creates community through group sessions available over the phone that range in topic from book clubs and armchair travel to museum tours and garden talk. The program provides the opportunity to connect with others and talk or learn about a shared interest without ever stepping outside the home.

Social Call, a friendly visitor program, connects volunteers and participants for one-on-one meetings, either in person or over the phone. Participants and volunteers can discuss anything of interest as they forge bonds that combat social isolation. “Both volunteers and seniors are looking for social connections and Social Call is a conduit for that,” says Katie Wade, Director of Social Call. It’s easier to support social wellness with programs that simplify what is often the hardest part of social interaction, forging the initial connection.

Redefine Active

It can be easy to forget about all of the different aspects of wellness that contribute to overall health. Campaigns like Active Aging Week are dedicated to bringing these different yet important pieces to the forefront where they can be examined and adopted into daily life. As Alex Gerasimov, Life Enrichment Manager, notes “Aging is normal and a part of human evolution. By staying active along the aging journey, you will feel better, look younger, and improve your overall quality of life.”

Covia aims to support all of their residents, staff, and community members so that it is easier to incorporate each dimension of wellness into daily life. Happy Active Aging Week! Here’s to aging with purpose and a wider understanding of all that makes that possible.

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.

On August 3rd, over 170 residents from Covia Communities gathered at Spring Lake Village for the fourth annual Circle of Friends luncheon. This summer luncheon raises awareness for and supports the Circle of Friends Fund, which provides assistance to Covia life plan community residents who have outlived their resources.

This year’s luncheon pulled from the theme of the Golden State of California for food and decoration inspiration. Executive chefs and their staff from St. Paul’s Towers, San Francisco Towers, and Spring Lake Village prepared a four course meal that spanned everything from heirloom tomatoes with burrata and aged balsamic to a princess cake paired with coffee and tea. Beyond the luncheon, attendees participated in a raffle and wine pull with wine donated from Covia executive staff, the Circle of Friends planning committee, and Kendall Jackson Wineries.

The Circle of Friends luncheon wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of the planning committee, which is made up of Covia Communities residents, members of the Covia Foundation and partners from Morrison Community Living. Committee members are brought together by their desire to raise awareness for the Circle of Friends Fund.

Committee member and Spring Lake Village resident Patricia Wilson notes, “when we signed up to help out on organizing the first Circle of Friends luncheon in 2016, it was simply the contagious enthusiasm of creating an event to enlarge the Circle — the Circle of Friends. Then each successive year, it has been the creative challenge to increase the participation in the Circle. It has gone from ‘creating an event’ to ‘how can we increase the awareness of what the Circle of Friends means and does.’ The best part, we are always thinking, ‘what can we do better?’”

The Circle of Friends Fund helps Life Plan residents who have outlived their resources to pay their residential fees. Residents who receive support are on average in their 90s, have lived in a Covia community for over 16 years and are primarily single, having outlived their partners. Part of Covia’s promise is that residents will be provided with support whenever they need it, and the Circle of Friends Fund is one way Covia helps fulfill this promise within the communities.

In attendance at the event was Van Moller, an acclaimed pianist and long-time resident of Spring Lake Village, who delights the community with weekly performances. Moller, who says, “moving to Spring Lake Village in 2004 gave me the opportunity to play and sing more than at any other time in my life”, has created a DVD of his piano performances, now available as a thank you gift for those who donate to the Circle of Friends Fund. This gift is an extension of Moller’s enjoyment of “sharing his love of music with neighbors and friends at Spring Lake Village.”

This year’s Circle of Friends luncheon was a rousing success from the participation by the communities to the delicious meal crafted by Morrison Community Living chefs. If you are interested in giving to the Circle of Friends Fund, please visit www.covia.org/giving.

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.