The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Covia (pronounced co-VEE-a) is not a word that you will find in any dictionary. It’s not an acronym, but it still stands for something. Covia is a name that emerged from deep consideration about who we are and what we stand for as an organization.

The “co” of Covia comes from our belief in the importance of community, of connection, of companionship, of compassion. The “via” comes from two sources: both “via” – the path, and “vita” the Latin word for life.

At Covia, we come together on the path of life. We hope you’ll join us on the journey.

Covia Affordable Communities is pleased to announce it is entering into an affiliation with Bethany Center Senior Housing (BCSH) of San Francisco, strengthening both organizations’ ability to provide housing and services to low-income seniors in San Francisco. The affiliation agreement was approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and was finalized on March 15, 2018.

Bethany Center, located in the Mission District, was established in the late 1960’s as a ministry of the Methodist church in San Francisco to provide affordable housing for low income seniors. In addition to 133 apartments, Bethany offers programs, activities, and special events at Ruth’s Table, an art and wellness space named for renowned San Francisco artist Ruth Asawa.

Covia Affordable Communities and Bethany share a common mission to provide a continuum of care for seniors of all backgrounds. Bethany Center Chief Executive Officer Jerry Brown continues in his role leading Bethany Center.

“Together BCSH and Covia will be able to expand affordable housing to low and middle income seniors and meet the needs of our aging population with innovative services that allow them to remain at home as long as possible circumventing institutional care,” says Brown.

BCSH will join other senior affordable housing communities operated by Covia: Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto; Presidio Gate Apartments in San Francisco; Oak Center Towers in Oakland; and Jennings Court in Santa Rosa. Brown states he “looks forward to becoming part of the Covia vision on how to best meet the needs of our aging population through housing and supportive service delivery in the place they call home.”

Karim Sultan, Vice President of Affordable Housing for Covia, says, “We are so pleased that Bethany is now part of Covia Affordable Communities because they serve a very low income population that would not be able to live in San Francisco – or anywhere near San Francisco – without them.”

Find out more about Covia Affordable Communities.

The following is an interview with Mary McMullin, Senior Vice President for Organizational Advancement.

Tell me about the process of getting to Covia.

Initially we worked on our brand identity: what does our system stand for? What’s important? Based on that work, which was over several months, we sent information to professional namers, which was a team of three people. What they do for a living is try to probe an organization’s identity to then tie it to a meaningful name.

They came up with about 400 names. Then we went through and read the names silently, read them out loud, kind of did a gut check on how we felt about them, and got down to about 20 contenders. Then we spent time on the 20 contenders, searching for them online, looking to see what was similar because you don’t want to have a name that’s adjacent to something you don’t want to be affiliated with.

We also looked at some name trends. So, for example, in our field, there’s a whole bunch of groups that have “age” in their name, and there were a number of our names that had “age” at the end. After a while we rejected those because we realized we would just look like we were jumping on the bandwagon – and in the end we didn’t want to be Age-ist. The more we focused on the word “age,” the more we realized that we were not being as inclusive as we wanted to be.

There was some level of personal interpretation, but ultimately it came down to which names had the most meaning. And then of those with the most meaning, which ones could get all the rights we needed – trademark, web address.

So I would say the process was: identity, then name options, then paring down for meaning, then checking on what we could in fact control. And I think we ended up with three. And the more we all sat with Covia, the more we realized that was the name.

What does Covia mean to you?

I’m hoping it means to me what it means in general. It really is the “co” – the coming together – so you think of all the good “co” words: coordinate, collaborate, community, communicate. So all of those words are important. And then the “via” to me seems a little light-hearted. It’s upbeat. I love the dual meaning of “life” and “path.” So it really is like a command. Covia is “let’s come together on the path of life.” It’s a rallying cry.

What do you hope this change will accomplish?

I’m hoping it will simplify how we are known. All of these details and all of this work to make the change hopefully will lead to simplicity.

Before, we had multiple initials, the different companies that didn’t seem to be logically tied together, and made it really hard to explain not only who we are but all the work we do. Coming into the company last year after having been affiliated ten years, there were volumes that I didn’t know about what we did. And that’s a shame. And that shouldn’t be allowed.

So simplicity, but also getting credit, broadcasting the fact that we are multidimensional. I guess simplicity and story are what I hope it will accomplish.

What do you wish people knew about Covia as an organization?

That we take our mission and vision seriously. It is so not a statement on the wall. And the fact that we take it seriously – and also how it’s interpreted differently at each location and program. We are not in any way a monolithic organization. We have a lot of autonomy and creativity. But ultimately, it’s how do we meet that mission.

So the vision of the continuum is not just about being in a continuing care retirement community. We can offer a broader range of care and services involving people who don’t live in our communities, but create a sense of community.

I guess it comes down to, I hope people know we’re all about community.

What’s your favorite thing about this new brand?

Being able to tell the story. People say, “What’s Covia?” And that gives us an opening to talk about who we are. Using the old name, people didn’t ask. They just assumed. And so I like that we get to tell our story.

Dear Friend,

More than 50 years after our founding, we remain committed to our charitable purpose and to our Episcopal heritage: the values of welcome, inclusion, social justice, and grace. As we go forward, our identity is evolving to fully reflect the increasing range of services and communities we offer and people we serve. We have grown into a new name: Covia. This created word trumpets our aspiration to come together on the path of life.

two men conversing

At Covia, we believe how people live is as important as where people live. We believe in providing outstanding residential options and community services to help seniors get the most out of life – wherever they call home. We have been working to further our commitment to serving people of all means for over half a century.

At Covia, we celebrate age. We believe in a strong continuum of care and services. We promote well-being by building strong and engaging communities, connecting people with the services they need to thrive, and providing compassionate, personalized support.

At Covia, we strive to meet the challenges people face as they grow older. We strive to fulfill our mission, to be innovative in our services, and to be financially responsible. To do this, we rely on the dedication of our staff, the energy of our volunteer force, the commitment of our board members, the trust of our residents, friends, and community service members, and the generosity of our donors.

This new website at will begin to bring life to our new name. I welcome you to explore how ESC has become Covia and I invite your continued support of our mission.

Kevin Gerber
President and CEO

We are proud to announce our new identity as Covia.

Our new name reflects our shared purpose of bringing people together and creating a true sense of home. It reflects that we serve people both who live in our communities, and those who live in their own homes. And it reflects that, whatever our age, whatever our income, we all come together on the path of life.

Our name has changed; our mission remains the same: to cultivate healthy and engaged
communities with a continuum of innovative services that actively support intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. We look forward to the opportunities to live out our mission in all that we do, and we invite you to help us fulfill that mission.

Thank you for being part of Covia.

Senior Resources in Marin is hosting its third annual Health Services Day on Wednesday, February 21st. From 9:30 to noon, people age 60 and over can stop by the Margaret Todd Senior Center in Novato to receive a range of free services, including screenings for skin cancer, glucose testing, and fall prevention tips, as well as non-traditional treatments, such as acupuncture and trigger point massage.

senior resources logoIt’s these non-traditional treatments that set this event apart, according to Carol Ann Moore, Senior Resources Director for Marin County. “You can try out new alternatives and see if they work for you,” she says. The event also provides support for screenings and services often not covered by insurance, such as dental and vision evaluations, thanks to a wide range of community partners.

Last year, more than 150 people came to the event. Moore reports that in 2017, seniors received 225 health screenings in the course of 2 ½ hours.

“This event provides an opportunity for seniors to come to a place where they are comfortable and receive free health services,” says Moore. “The senior center is both safe and convenient.”

And the free services makes a difference. Moore reports that last year’s screenings identified several skin cancers and one melanoma. The screener was able to refer these seniors to their health care providers to follow up and receive the treatment they need.

Episcopal Senior Communities’ Senior Resources provides a variety of other programs at Margaret Todd Senior Center, including the Senior Produce Market which will also take place on February 21 from 10:00-11:00. ESC oversees more than 20 Senior Produce Markets throughout Northern California where seniors can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at cost and in reasonable quantities. The Produce Market in Novato also accepts CalFresh.

Both the Health Services Day and the Senior Produce Market are open to all people age 60 and older. The Margaret Todd Senior Center is located at 1560 Hill Road in Novato. For more information, contact Senior Resources Marin at 415-899-8290.

Artist Madeline Behrens-Brigham’s solo show A New Nest, a New Chapter is currently on display at Finley Senior Center in Santa Rosa. After 30 years as an artist and activist in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, Behrens-Brigham has found a new home at Jennings Court, a Covia Affordable Housing community.

Behrens-Brigham helped to shape the Hayes Valley neighborhood of shops and restaurants that we know today. She opened her mid-century furniture and art store, Modernology, on Hayes Street in 1990, shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake which damaged the freeway running through that part of town. She was part of the committee that went to CalTrans to lobby for the freeway running to be torn down – a change that led to the revitalization of the entire neighborhood.

“At one point I had keys to all the stores,” says Behrens-Brigham. “If the owner would get sick, they’d call and ask me to open the stores.”

Behrens-Brigham also organized block parties, co-founded the Hayes Valley Art Coalition, and also served as a community board member of Legal Assistance for the Elderly, as a result of her own painful experience.

Madeline Behrens-Brigham

Madeline Behrens-Brigham and her art

“For ten years I was pressured to leave my apartment in San Francisco, the landlords doing everything to get me out of the place,” Behrens-Brigham explains. “I was in a rent controlled apartment, but I’d come home and the manager of the building would invite the sheriff over. My landlord was a church, and for all the words on their letter head, they didn’t seem to care about me.”

With an annual income of $11,000, Behrens-Brigham found herself priced out of even many low-income apartments. She signed up for waiting lists and waited. She got to number 26 on the list for housing in San Francisco. When she asked how long it would be before she got to the top of the list, they told her it would be 11 years.

When the call came from Jennings Court, she and a friend drove up so she could see it for the first time. Though she hadn’t wanted to leave San Francisco, she knew this was her opportunity and took the apartment.

“When she first came here she had dyed blue hair and people were taken aback by that,” says Housing Administrator Sadie Bracy. “It was the talk of the town.”

“Now I have bright pink hair,” Behrens-Brigham notes. “It’s not so much that I wanted bright hair, but [the stylist] needed to teach others in the salon.”

“She’s constantly going places, inviting residents to do things, trying to draw people out and make friends,” says Bracy. “I’m always encouraged to see people move here and continue to have a good life.”

Behrens-Brigham currently serves as the Jennings Court Resident Council president. “My friends in San Francisco, knowing how involved I was politically, are laughing saying, of course we knew you’d become president.”

Getting a one-woman show “was a little bit serendipitous. I didn’t put my name forward. I didn’t believe I would qualify.” Though she offered to share the show with others, Finley Senior Center encouraged her to do a solo show.

Her art show illustrates through mixed media the new life she is building in Santa Rosa. “I went through a period of grieving to have left after 30 years. But now, I can honestly say, things are changing so much in San Francisco it’s not my town any more. The coffee shop is now a caviar bar.

“I’m making a new nest here and new chapter. I truly have done quite a few things in my life that other people consider unusual. I was a personal chef. I’ve done a number of interesting things. Some people have said, ‘When are you going to write a book?’ Well, I can’t write a book; I’m still writing new chapters.”

A New Nest, A New Chapter is on exhibit through February 22, 2018 at Finley Senior Center, located at 2060 W College Avenue in Santa Rosa.

January 21-27 is Activity Professionals week. But what is an activity professional? And what do they do?

“From an outsider’s perspective, one assumes that we play bingo every day. This is not the case,” says Connie Yuen, Program Coordinator for St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland. “Our activities aim to stimulate the mind and body, awaken your senses, enrich lives and make an impact to the culture of our community.”

Executive Director Mary Linde agrees. “What is amazing about activities/life enrichment at St. Paul’s is that it truly is Life Enrichment. The kinds of activities are broad and so engaging. We bring residents across all levels of care together so no one feels marginalized.”

The activities at each community vary depending on the interest of the residents. Megan Sullivan from San Francisco Towers says, “The majority of programs provided at SFT are based on resident input; they help support the unique culture here. As Life Enrichment Director, I work directly with the [Resident] Program Committee to schedule all special concerts and lectures. I also add my own programming, based on resident interests, such as online talks from the Harvard Institute of Politics.”

Activities are also designed with the eight aspects of wellness in mind: Emotional, Environmental, Financial, Intellectual, Occupational, Physical, Social and Spiritual.

“Activity professionals create programs to be beneficial and therapeutic to increase overall well-being and quality of life in individuals, by determining their interests and finding what activities provided can best suit them,” says Alexis Kendrix, Director of Activities at Webster House Health Center in Palo Alto.

“I wish that people knew more about the benefits of participating in wellness activities. People should want to participate in activities because of the enjoyment and fulfillment, instead of just to keep busy. Providing activities that are of people’s leisure interests is meaningful to their overall well-being,” Kendrix adds.

senior community activities

Mary Lou Kelpe celebrating with the Pirates chair volleyball team

Mary Lou Kelpe, Director of Wellness for Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove, explains, “When we go to Point Lobos State Reserve with multiple docents and have a picnic, it’s much more than a walk and lunch. It’s Emotional, Environmental, Intellectual, Physical, Social and Spiritual Wellness. I believe that’s why we feel so great, after spending time engaging in nature.”

“The active imaginations and energy of our professionals working in tandem with the residents lead to extraordinary events and activities,” says Norma Brambilla, Executive Director of Canterbury Woods. “Truly the trick is finding some one thing to entice each person. Variation is key. The challenge to these professionals is never-ending and their caring and ideas are boundless. It would be so boring without them!”

Welcome to our blog. We know that company blogs are everywhere, and some may think them passé, but we are excited to get started.

We wanted a place to share information about the programs, activities, resources, and events we have to offer. We wanted a place to share the wisdom of so many people who work, live, and volunteer with us. And we wanted a place where we could comment on the areas that impact seniors wherever they live.

This space will provide a channel to express in the moment on what’s important to us, to reflect on our history and heritage, and to look forward to the good things we believe are to come.

We hope you’ll join in and that this blog will give you resources you can use as you navigate your own path into healthy and successful aging.

Episcopal Senior Communities (ESC) is now Covia

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

Welcome to Covia.