Over the past year, residents at Oak Center Towers have been fostering their creativity through art classes and art programs. Aliona Gibson, Activities Coordinator at Oak Center Towers, has been introducing residents to a new art project every month in addition to supporting the community’s connection with the Art with Elders program.
Art with Elders at Oak Center Towers
Art with Elders provides weekly art classes led by professional art instructors to over 450 residents in communities around the Bay Area. Their classes focus on teaching art skills such as composition and color as well as fostering community. Participants are invited to submit their artwork for the annual exhibit that showcases their hard work to the public around the Bay Area.
This year, artwork created by residents at Oak Center Towers for the Art with Elders program is featured in the 27th Annual Art with Elders Exhibit, currently on display at the Gerald Simon Auditorium at Laguna Honda Hospital through November 18th. Aliona Gibson and Oak Center Towers residents attended the exhibit’s Opening Celebration on October 27th where, Gibson notes, residents were “very proud and excited about their work being on display.”
One resident’s art was even selected to be printed onto greeting cards that could be purchased at the event. Gibson purchased one of these cards, saying that “it was invaluable to me to have such a beautiful and professional reproduction of the resident’s work.”
Beyond their work at Oak Center Towers, Art with Elders also provides classes at Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto, and Executive Director Mark Campbell and Instructor-Exhibits Manager Darcie O’Brien spoke as part of Covia’s 2019 Creative Aging Symposium, which celebrates the importance of creativity in creating a sense of self and living with purpose. The Creative Aging Symposium will return on January 29th, 2020 to explore more aspects of creative aging featuring speakers with backgrounds in eco-friendly fashion, choreography, and medicine.
Monthly Art Projects
In addition to the Art with Elders program, Gibson has been introducing residents at Oak Center Towers to monthly art projects that allow them to try out different mediums and materials. Residents have created everything from tie-dye t-shirts and terrariums to painted flower pots and tissue flowers.
One popular event even had an edible component where residents created rainbow fruit skewers with strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupes, pineapple, green grapes, and blueberries. Gibson notes that the event was particularly popular because residents “got to take them home and some residents ate while creating.”
Beyond the monthly art projects, there is also a weekly coloring activity where a small group of residents gather to color with gel pens, markers, and colored pencils.
Oak Center Towers’ diverse population means that not all of the residents share the same language, which can make craft projects and teaching difficult. Gibson says, “There is usually one person who speaks English who will relay what I am saying but mostly they go by pictures. I always bring examples of the craft we are doing, sometimes a prototype and sometimes pictures from the internet.”
Between the monthly art projects, regular coloring group, and Art with Elders program, Oak Center Towers has created a number of beautiful pieces that have been displayed around the community on top of the art accepted into the Art with Elders’ exhibit.
The Art with Elders Annual Exhibit is open until November 18th at the Gerald Simon Auditorium at Laguna Honda Hospital. After November 18th, the exhibit will move to the Rincon Center in Downtown San Francisco through January 18th, 2020. Artwork from the Art with Elders exhibit is also available on their website.
*Image of Oak Center Towers group courtesy of Art with Elders
On July 11th, Ruth’s Table, a program of Bethany Center Senior Housing, is celebrating its grand re-opening at a new dedicated gallery space located at 3160 21st Street, San Francisco. The opening reception from 6:00-9:00 pm launches a year-long exploration of Bauhaus through a series of exhibits.
Founded in 2009 with the support of artist Ruth Asawa, Ruth’s Table began as an arts initiative integrated into Bethany Center, an affordable senior housing community. The new building will serve as a gallery and creative learning space where people of all ages can come together to learn, connect, and create.
Jessica McCracken, Director of Ruth’s Table, says, “Ruth’s Table provides a safe, inclusive and welcoming space for the community to engage with arts, build meaningful connections and feel the uplifting joy of community. Our programs encourage personal growth and promote lifelong learning, while strengthening creativity, health, and independence to greatly enhance one’s quality of life.”
The first exhibit in the new space, Beyond the Warp and Weft, launches a year-long inaugural program of contemporary exhibitions celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus. The exhibit brings together 14 artists to illuminate the diversity of contemporary ideas of weaving and textile, highlight innovative craft thinking, and chart the future trajectory of the practice. The exhibition presents a stylistically diverse selection of works that combine hand weaving, sound, science, sculpture and site-specific installation.
Throughout the year, four exhibitions will examine the enduring impact of Bauhaus ideas on weaving and textile design, color interaction and theory, photography, and activism in the arts, with a particular emphasis on the way contemporary art practices have evolved with the innovations in materials and technology.
For more information, please visit https://www.ruthstable.org/.
The 8th Annual Celtic Cup Golf Tournament and Gala Reception brought together more than 220 guests to raise a quarter of a million dollars to support services for seniors in need. Thanks to our many sponsors, golfers and community friends who joined us at Berkeley Country Club and made this year’s tournament the best yet!
“The energy of the day was truly remarkable,” says Katharine Miller, Executive Director of the Covia Foundation. “We couldn’t do this without the enthusiasm and involvement of the many people who partner with Covia to promote life-changing services for seniors.”
Over 200 corporate and individual participants, including our title sponsor City Building, Inc., supported the event. The sold-out golf tournament on the cool and sunny course provided scenic bay views throughout the day. Mike Acosta, Vince Baldwin, Steve Baldwin, and Bob Giarusso won the tournament in a playoff against Barry Johnson, Jenny Noymany, Mark Marshall, and John Durham.
The evening auction, hosted by Liam Meyclem from KCBS’ Eye on the Bay, provided its own entertainment as participants tried to outbid each other for a Farm to City Private Dinner at San Francisco Towers or an evening with Covia CEO Kevin Gerber. The auction raised more than $80,000, with almost half coming from fund-a-need bidding to support Covia Community Services and Covia Affordable Communities as attendees learned the stories of seniors whose lives have been touched by Covia through a video created for the event.
For going above and beyond in their service to seniors and senior living, and their generous support to Covia over the years, the team from Morrison Community Living was the recipient of this year’s Celtic Cup.
“It was a successful event,” says Miller. “But more importantly, the funds we raised make a difference, ensuring that seniors have a safe home and remain connected with the greater community. We’re grateful for the generosity of all who attended.”
You can see photos of the event in an album on our Facebook page.
In theory, Fair Housing is a straightforward concept: “At the end of the day, it’s that you don’t have special treatment for one resident over another,” says Karim Sultan, Covia’s Vice President of Affordable Housing. But in practice, it may not be as easy as it sounds.
The Fair Housing Act guarantees protection from discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. It is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which subsidizes Covia’s six Affordable Communities.
“I think a big myth is that fair housing is something that’s automatic and that you don’t have to be incredibly intentional about it. You can very easily be in violation of fair housing in two seconds if you’re not careful,” says Sultan. “You have to really be aware of it at all times and be very diligent about maintaining it.”
April is Fair Housing Month, but Covia Affordable Communities works hard to practice that intentionality in fair housing all year round. “We do an annual fair housing training with a fair housing attorney religiously every year,” Sultan reports. “But we also have periodic fair housing check-ins when we do our monthly meetings. It’s something you can’t reiterate enough. If you say it a thousand times, say it a thousand more times. Because as soon as it starts to be not present in the mind, things can happen.”
The planning for fair housing starts long before people move into a community, Sultan explains. “When we open up a wait list, we have to have a HUD approved marketing plan and tenant selection plan. And so those plans really seek to ensure that the process by which you move people into the building is fair.”
Once people move in, “you have a lease and house rules that again you have to be really diligent about because the lease is the same for everybody. Everybody follows the same house rules. So it’s really incumbent upon the site staff to make sure that they’re treating everybody fairly.”
If residents do feel there has been a violation of their rights, they can go through an appeal process. At Covia, “I haven’t had to reverse an administrator for violating fair housing up to now. It could happen. It just hasn’t happened as of yet,” says Sultan. “But I do remind them always that sometimes it’s not what you do but how you do it. Are you communicating thoroughly enough when you’re having people stick to their lease or talking to them about the violation of house rules. Are you ensuring that you’re communicating in a way where they feel like, ‘This is standard, and this is not just targeted at me’?”
Although not subject to the same federal law as the HUD-subsidized communities, Covia’s Home Match program is also attuned to the need for fair housing. Home Match, Covia’s Shared Housing program, connects homeowners with extra space with home seekers who need a place to live in the expensive Bay Area housing market. Home Match works with home owners and home seekers to create a Living Together Agreement that may include a home seeker providing services, such as shopping or pet care, in exchange for a reduction in rental costs.
Tanya Ahern, Program Director for Home Match in Fremont, previously served on a board of a Fair Housing organization and brings her experience to the table when helping to match homeowners and home seekers. “With shared housing I think the most important thing is to make sure that you don’t have identifying characteristics that go into referring people so that that way it’s based purely on their merit and their financial means to pay and it’s not based on race or gender,” says Ahern.
“I see a lot of people who have been turned away from housing because of race, because of disability status,” says Ahern. “Because Home Match prescreens, it makes people more comfortable and more open to housing with people that maybe they might not have considered before. I think it’s really helping house people who didn’t have a fair shake in the world. I think it’s a perk that it’s helping house people who face challenges due to stigma.”
For Covia Affordable Communities, fair housing is part of its legal mandate, but Sultan observes it’s not just about complying with the legal requirements. It’s about making residents feel at home. “Over time, when residents witness the rules being applied equally, it does give them confidence that ‘this is a place where I can feel safe, where I won’t be targeted because of my race, because of my sexual orientation, because of my religion.’ And that’s very, very important because a big part of home is security and being safe.”
“As long as you own and manage communities, and you house people, fair housing is something you have to be constantly aware of,” Sultan says. “It never gets old. It never gets easy. It never gets stale. It’s just something you have to be really diligent about at all times.”
Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto offers something almost unheard of in senior affordable housing: an Assisted Living option. Openings are currently available for seniors age 62 and older who meet certain financial eligibility requirements.
Housing Administrator Doris Lee says, “Affordable Housing usually only has independent living, so to have the assisted living and the nursing home on the same campus is truly unique.”
“Many people know about Lytton Gardens independent living and Webster House Healthcare Center. The assisted living is not as widely recognized. Our assisted living is more affordable than others in the area, and we want to spread the word out that we have affordable assisted living,” adds Lee.
Assisted Living allows residents to remain independent in many areas while provide support for activities of daily living, such as dressing or bathing, that may require additional support. A typical Assisted Living community can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 per month or more, far out of reach for many seniors.
At Lytton Gardens, however, the cost is far less. In fact, the maximum allowable income to qualify as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is currently set at $66,150 for a single person or $75,600 for a couple. Once income-qualified, residents at Lytton Gardens Assisted Living pay 30% or less of their monthly income for rent, a meal fee of $642.60, and a personal care fee of $1350. For this, residents receive three meals a day, housekeeping and laundry services, and 24-hour staff assistance. The rest of the resident’s rent is subsidized by HUD.
Located only blocks away from downtown Palo Alto, Lytton Gardens offers not just a place to live, but a community, with many activities and special events as well as a weekly Market Day. “Having the different levels of care on one campus allows the resident to still live amongst the friends they have cultivated and in the place they have called home for so long,” says Lee. “Although the resident needs to move to a different apartment, they are still part of the Lytton Gardens community. Also having the nursing home on site has given some residents the extra motivation to be able to look out their window and see their apartment and work extra hard to be able to return to their apartment safely.”
One resident who has been living in Lytton’s Assisted Living for three years says, “I love the central location of the community, so close to all the shops and restaurants on University Ave. I love my apartment. Having maintenance crew on site is a plus. All the caregivers are great and they personalize the care.”
Lytton Gardens Assisted Living is currently accepting applications. Please contact Lytton Gardens to schedule a tour or call (650) 617-7338 to speak with the Assisted Living Manager, Anahi McKane.
Bethany Center, a Covia Affordable Community, celebrated 50 years of housing and services for seniors with a range of activities, including a gala event entitled The Art of Growing Older and the unveiling of the newly renovated Salud! mural. The celebrations also mark the completion of a two-year rehabilitation and modernization project of Bethany Center and Ruth’s Table, a gallery and community arts space.
“We honor 50 years of supportive housing and wellness programming for seniors,” says Jerry W. Brown, Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities. “We recognize the invaluable contributions of the board and staff, community partners, artists, volunteers, and residents who have breathed life into these walls.”
Located in the heart of the Mission District, Bethany Center provides housing and services for almost 200 low-income seniors. In addition, Ruth’s Table offers artist-run workshops, after-hour events, and rotating art exhibitions open to people of all ages and abilities.
At the October 18th gala, attended by more than 400 people, California State Assemblymember David Chu presented the community with a Certificate of Recognition which read, “The California Legislature applauds your half-century of work providing affordable, compassionate housing for San Francisco Seniors, supporting them in their individual needs, and commends you in the inauguration of your new Ruth’s Table creative arts building.” The community also received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for the office of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Tom Azumbrado , Regional Director for Mulitfamily West Region of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was also in attendance.
“Bethany Center empowers our residents every day through supportive, innovative programs,” says Benson Lee, Bethany Center’s Housing Administrator. “We all share a commitment to excellence – and we’re ready to meet the challenges of our next 50 years.”
For more than 20 years, muralist Dan Fontes has helped share the story of Bethany Center Senior Housing in the Mission District of San Francisco. Fontes first created the “Salud!” mural that covers the 9-story building at 21st and Capp Street in 1997 with only one assistant. Now, he is in the midst of a full restoration, working with five other skilled artists to bring even more life to his original vision.
The idea behind the mural was to bring the inside of Bethany outside by sharing true-to-life images of some of the residents. “Unfortunately at the time I had to wrap it up a little too soon,” he says. “So this time I’ve been able to develop the characters more fully as I originally intended. Probably a lot of the neighbors won’t even be able to notice, but I would notice. There’s a few color changes here and there. We’ve brightened up their clothing so they’re not so gray. They’re just more lively, which is what I always intended: to have the seniors look lively and happy and activated and just living their fullest lives.”
Starting at 7:00 each morning, Fontes and his team – Desi Mundo, Kristi Holohan, Antoinette Johnson, Gwen Renee, and Haley Summerfield – use brushes as small as ¼ inch to apply acrylic paint over every inch of the 98 foot tall building, followed by three coats of heavy-duty anti-graffiti varnish.
“I have the dream team. These people have it all. They’re talented. They’re full of courage because you have to have courage to step out over that 9th floor at 98 to 100 feet,” says Fontes.
“We’ve gone through a lot of brushes and a lot of the human figures have now been triple-coated with new paint, so it’s as if you’re painting an entirely new mural on top of the one that’s here. I think it’s going to show.”
“People ask if that’s me in the mural,” says Elizabeth Dunlap who has lived at Bethany since before the mural was first developed. “I think they are surprised that it shows actual people that live here at Bethany.”
The mural also includes a silhouette of the steeple of the Methodist Church formerly located on the site. Bethany Center, a Covia Affordable Community, was established in the late 1960’s as a ministry of the United 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 through Ruth’s Table, an art and wellness space named for renowned San Francisco artist Ruth Asawa.
For former Bethany Center CEO Jerry Brown, now Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, the mural represents a connection to the Mission and the greater San Francisco community and illustrates the “empowerment of people of diverse backgrounds aging well with vitality in a place they call home.”
“To me that’s a really critical message: that people understand this is a senior center, these are beautiful people who live here, that it’s a diverse community that’s shared by multiple races and people from different countries and areas,” says Fontes. “It’s a positive place, it’s a beautiful place, it’s a gathering of souls. In a way, it’s a work of art.”
Bethany Center Senior Housing will unveil the completely restored mural in mid-October as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
As Jennings Court, a Covia Affordable Community in Santa Rosa, celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer, its first residents are reflecting on their initial impressions.
“I was one of the first 8 people to move in,” says Fred Campbell. “And the day I walked into the facility, I fell in love with the structure, the ambiance.” Campbell, who had lost his business as a hairdresser in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, had been cleaning houses in Southern California when he learned that Jennings Court was being built. “I always thought [low income housing] was bad stuff because that’s how the movies always show it,” he said. Instead, “On a scale of 1-10, I’d say my first impression was an 11.”
“It was a rural setting then,” when Jennings Court opened in 2008, says Penni Colley. “Across the street were horses grazing around a barn. Of course, that’s not there any more, but it was so beautiful.”
Colley had been surprised there was still room in the new building when she received a letter saying there was an apartment available for her. “At my age and being low income, I didn’t think I would ever have a new apartment. You just kind of have to forget that because the chances of me having a brand new apartment were slim. When I saw how beautiful these were, I just couldn’t get over it.”
Colley explains that the apartments hadn’t filled due to the strict qualification requirements. Residents must be 62 or older and “very, very, very – three veries – low income,” she says.
“They were offering me such a sweet deal on the rent that I figured it would be a dump. And I was very pleasantly surprised to find how nice it is,” says Roger Hanelt, who had been homeless before moving into Jennings Court. “It’s been a very healing environment for me. Because I’ve gone through highs and lows and this place was definitely a rescue.”
Campbell remembers, “The day we got in, I stayed most of the time looking at the courtyard, so beautiful. Now I watch the seasons change with all of these trees outside my front door.”
Jennings Court has 54 apartments that look out on a central courtyard that contains a garden tended by the residents and a fountain donated by Spring Lake Village, another Covia community in Santa Rosa. It was built through a partnership between Covia and Burbank Housing with funding from HUD and the city of Santa Rosa. Along with housing, Jennings Court provides service coordination and programs such as a weekly Market Day and monthly visit from the Bookmobile.
Colley remembers “When we had our very first welcome party out in the patio out there, I just ran around to anyone who looked like they were a suit and said, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’
Before she moved in, “I remember thinking, ‘oh, well, I’ll have to let that thought go. I’m never going to have my own new place. And then God blessed me with this. And I just have a wonderful new apartment. Everything in it was new. It smelled new. There were no residual crumbs in the drawers that anybody had missed. So. Gratitude.”
“I kept telling myself how fortunate I was. I’m still poor as a church mouse but I’m not unhappy,” says Campbell. “Every time I think about Jennings Court when I’m away from it, it’s home.”
Residents and staff from Covia Affordable Communities recently attended LeadingAge California’s annual Affordable Senior Housing Resident Advocacy Day in Sacramento. One of our staff members reported that one resident left an impact on his Assemblyman when he introduced himself saying, “My name is Dean and I was homeless for four years before I got a studio in an affordable HUD building.” We’ve asked Dean to share his story.
If you have ever experienced a trauma (and most of us have), you may not want to talk about it. That’s the way it was with me, but my friends at Covia convinced me that other people might be helped by my “confession.” So, here goes.
The trouble began in early 2012. Having been unemployed for 2 years (a direct result of the 2008 recession), my money completely ran out and I was faced with eviction from my Oakland apartment of 16 years. When you can’t pay the rent, the sheriff simply changes the locks and you don’t get in.
A friend (call him J.R.) saved me from life in the street by offering to let me sleep in his van. This is not an ordeal I would wish on anyone. Though not too uncomfortable physically (just make sure you have lots of blankets in cold weather), you are constantly in fear of police and hostile “neighbors.”
After 3 ½ years in this situation, I returned to the van one afternoon to find that it was no longer there. A police woman parked nearby informed me that the van had been towed only an hour before. All my possessions (books, CDs, clothing and a guitar) were gone. Although I’d been careful not to park it in front of anyone’s house (it had been near an empty lot), I guess the old Dodge Ram was an eyesore to some “upstanding citizens.” So I experienced two disasters in less than 4 years.
At this point, I walked to J.R.’s house and told him what had happened. He somewhat shamefacedly admitted that he had neglected to pay some old parking tickets as well as vehicle registration, but then offered to let me sleep in a tent in his back yard.
One afternoon soon after this, I received a phone call from Oak Center Towers. I had applied for residency there over a year before, and they now had a vacant studio apartment. This was the first cheerful note in my life since 2010! On arriving at my first interview, I met Julia Bergue, a sweet and flexible person who did all the necessary paperwork.
Finally, on August 17, 2016, I spent the first night in my new home. Somewhat dazedly, I realized there was a solid, legitimate, leak-proof roof over my head.
So take it from me: when you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way is up. Keep a-going’!!
Dean, age 66, earned his Master’s degree and worked as a paralegal for 20 years before losing his job during the great recession.