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
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.
Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! Between September 15th and October 15th, America celebrates Hispanic heritage and all that those with Hispanic roots have contributed to our nation. Mexico’s Independence Day, paired with the anniversary of independence for multiple Latin American countries on September 15th, kicks off this month long celebration. (Mexican Independence is often mistakenly believed to be Cinco de Mayo, and not the actual date: September 16th.)
Hispanic Heritage Month is especially important as an opportunity to recognize Hispanic older adults, who currently constitute 8 percent of the older population nationwide, one-quarter of them living in California.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Covia is celebrating Well Connected Español, our community service program that supports Spanish speaking older adults. Well Connected offers phone-based and online activities for older adults anywhere in the US and with Well Connected Español, these offerings also promote Hispanic heritage and arts. Sessions like Lotería, Encuentrame en la Cocina (Find Me in the Kitchen), and Poesía de Otros Tiempos (Poetry from Other Times) allow participants to partake in games and conversations tied to their Latinx roots.
Poesía de Otros Tiempos celebrates Spanish poetry through the work of Gil Saenz while inviting participants to bring their own poems to share. As the session’s description highlights, the group is centered on poetry’s ability to heal the body and soul while also being challenging and inspiring. By choosing a Hispanic poet, the session discusses poetry that will distinctly connect to its participants’ experience.
Lotería, on the other hand, translates a popular Mexican game to a form that can connect people over the phone. Lotería, also called Mexican bingo, is similar to American Bingo except that participants mark off images on a grid instead of numbers. Like with bingo, images are called once and participants can win depending on completing a predetermined pattern on their board. An exciting aspect of Lotería is that it’s a fun game that is fully functional over the phone, making it a perfect session for Well Connected Español. Join Lotería during their next session on September 25th at 4:00pm PDT by calling (877) 400-5867 and requesting your free Lotería card.
Beyond these sessions that specifically address Hispanic heritage, the entire Well Connected Español catalog provides opportunities to connect with older adults that speak Spanish and every session is tailored to address Hispanic culture and roots.
This month provides the opportunity to not only celebrate Hispanic culture but also to reflect on its impact on our country, community, and personal lives. Michael Cueva, Well Connected Español Administrative Coordinator, notes, “As we enter Hispanic Heritage Month, I am thankful to my community for making me who I am. I thank my parents who struggled very hard, leaving their homeland to come to the U.S., where they worked very hard to give my sisters and me the life and opportunities we have today. I am proud of being Latino and of having the opportunity to give back to my community.”
Over the next 30 days, consider how you can celebrate Hispanic culture and its positive impact on all of our lives and follow along on the Well Connected Español and Covia Facebook pages for further celebrations.
A poet since she was a young child, San Francisco Towers resident Sally Love Saunders’ eyes light up when she talks about helping others get in touch with their creativity. “I’m doing it for me because I enjoy it,” she says. Sally has been a poet, poet-in-residence and teacher of poetry in a wide range of situations — with kids in schools, in senior centers, and at migrant labor camps. She was instrumental in developing poetry therapy and worked in Philadelphia mental hospitals as a Certified Poetry Therapist for many years.
Sally has six published books of poetry and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Times International, The London Times, The Denver Post, and among over 300 other anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her lesson plan for teaching poetry writing was published in The Christian Science Monitor.
She has shared poetry all her life. From her young days growing up on a farm in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to her college years on the East Coast, she would muse to herself, “What can I pass on to others?” The answer was poetry. She received many grants to take poetry into underserved areas such as Appalachia and inner-city libraries in Philadelphia, to mention a few.
Her family, like many, is far flung and she was looking for connection with others when she discovered Covia’s Well Connected program. She participates in Well Connected programs, has taught poetry to some Well Connected presenters, and has been a generous supporter of Well Connected creativity programming with a gift to the Covia Foundation.
She has also shared her poetry presentations throughout other Covia communities — visiting Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa, Webster House in Palo Alto, St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, and Presidio Gate Apartments in San Francisco. She looks forward to presenting again at San Francisco Towers this Fall and working with Bethany Center residents in San Francisco soon. She does this all as a volunteer.
It is serendipitous that she relocated to the West Coast. After college, as she was traveling to Japan to study haiku, she had a layover in San Francisco. “As soon as I stepped out of the plane and enjoyed the coastal air, I knew I wanted to live here,” she says.
For many years, she lived a few blocks from San Francisco Towers and saw it under construction as it rose to its current place overlooking the City skyline. Over the years, she got to know people and staff from the Towers from poetry workshops. Now, as a resident, “I am a very happy camper.”
*This article was previously published in the Summer 2019 edition of Community Matters