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
The Social Call program connects older adults with volunteers for one on one visits in person or over the phone. Due to social distancing and shelter in place orders, the program is holding all visits over the phone and has added a new card writing component where volunteers write cards that are sent to Covia Community Services participants, Covia communities, and other senior living communities. They’ve sent 4,100 cards so far. During this time, opening the mailbox to a personalized card can go a long way to brighten spirits and help someone who is isolated feel connected to the wider world.
Social Call is actively seeking volunteers to write cards. There has been a great turnout from existing Social Call volunteers who are also visiting with participants one on one over the phone, new volunteers who signed up specifically to write cards, and employees from throughout Covia.
Covia Foundation Development Associate Michelle Haines was excited to participate. Haines says “I love putting smiles on people’s faces. This is a challenging time for humanity, and it’s important that people know that we’re all in this together and that no one is alone. Lonely maybe, but definitely not alone.”
Volunteers are “giving someone a little visit and hug via mail” says Social Call Program Manager Amber Dean. The program has been providing volunteers with suggestions on how to reach out in meaningful ways from sharing what they are grateful for to discussing what they have been doing while sheltering in place. Haines suggests “Use as much sunshine and color as you possibly can! It may be the only ray of sunshine and color the recipient receives that particular day when they open your letter.”
The Social Call team has been receiving positive notes and messages from participants who have received a card. One participant reached out to the program with the message “I want to say thank you for the beautiful card I received… a lovely note expressing their concern for me and wishing me all the best. I truly, truly appreciate that so much, you have no idea.” Another recipient noted “I was really feeling down and then a card came in the mail and it meant so much. Printed so very nicely and it said warm hugs, that was so nice. I’m keeping this card. I would never part with something like that. It’s just wonderful. It really made my day, today is a better day.”
The card writing campaign also has a positive impact on the volunteers who are creating the cards. Haines notes that what she enjoys most about the project is “knowing that I made a difference in the life of a beautiful stranger and that the world is a better place for having done so. Love wins!” At a time when normal life has been transformed, the act of reaching out to make a personal connection has the possibility to positively impact those on both ends of the interaction.
Volunteers have even been expressing their creativity by making their own cards. Pieces submitted for the program have included homemade cards utilizing stamps, scrapbooking paper, and stickers. One volunteer even created a whole selection of cards utilizing different images of birds. Volunteering has become a family affair for some with kids creating drawings to be sent with the cards or turned into cards themselves. No matter what materials are on hand, they can be utilized to brighten a participant’s day.
The call for card writing volunteers is ongoing. If you are interested or would like to learn more, please email us at email@example.com. It is a simple and safe volunteering opportunity during this time that can make a difference for you and an isolated older adult.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.