The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

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

SF Senior Resources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oak Center Towers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.