In 2019, Well Connected, Covia’s lifelong learning and engagement program, launched a sister program, Well Connected Español (WCE). WCE is the first program of its kind, designed specifically to engage Spanish-speaking older adults living throughout the United States with virtual classes and activities accessible by phone or online. It provides intellectual stimulation and meaningful human connection and mitigates the escalating crisis of social isolation and loneliness among older adults, a critical issue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. WCE specifically targets those who are hardest to reach due to barriers such as language, health, economic, and social factors. The program is designed to adapt to participants’ needs and be accessible to those with impairments related to mobility, vision, memory, and literacy.
WCE engages the community to shape its curriculum, with over 80% designed and 50% led by participants. “Facilitating WCE groups is very satisfying for me,” says Ana, a WCE facilitator and participant. “Connecting with other people who I do not personally know and to be able to cultivate a friendship and a strong affinity towards them is a great pleasure.”
Participation in WCE has more than tripled since its launch. More than 76 group conversation offerings include topics such as fitness, popular culture, games, and travel. With the onset of the pandemic, WCE responded to urgent demand for programming to reduce COVID-associated anxieties and included offerings related to stress management, gratitude, health, and wellness. As members of the Covia community, WCE participants also have direct access to a wide continuum of programs, including information and referral services. “I joined WCE out of curiosity. It has helped me so much and keeps me happy. In the group we all get along really well as if we were old friends,” says Ruben, a WCE facilitator and participant.
WCE has also been able to partner with other Spanish-speaking organizations to host virtual resource and learning events. Well Connected Español hosted Envejeciendo con Propósito (Aging with Purpose) for Spanish-speaking Older Adults in October as part the Binational California-Mexico Health Initiative. The event was hosted in collaboration with Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, Alzheimer’s Association-Northern California, San Francisco AIDS Foundation – Latino Programs, ON LOK Lifeways, Mexico’s General Consulate and Health Initiative of the Americas. WCE also offered the Mente Sana Cuerpo Sano (Healthy Mind, Healthy Body) series in collaboration with Psicologia & Educacion Global. This four-week series focused on sharing ideas and advice on mental health that help to achieve well-being. Topics ranged from How to Keep Memory Active to strategies for dealing with Worry and Anxiousness, Sadness and Depression, and Loneliness and Isolation.
“We are grateful to all the new partnerships and collaborations we have been able to build during this last year and we hope they will continue to grow and flourish. We look forward to what the future holds for our Well Connected Español community,” says Lizette Suarez, WCE director.
“Ice cream has always been a big deal at Canterbury Woods,” says Robert Kershner, Director of Dining Services at Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove. In 2019, Kershner reports that Canterbury Woods bought over 1200 gallons of ice cream – serving about 5 gallons daily.
“When we were restricted to our homes during the first stages of Shelter-in-Place, it was a natural choice to turn to ice cream to try to ease the stress and concerns on campus,” Kershner says. Since residents were no longer able to get their favorite flavors in the dining room, Kershner and his team turned to favorites like Dove Bars, Good Humor Cones, and It’s Its (ice cream sandwiches from San Francisco) to bring back comforting memories of years ago.
Each Thursday, two teams wearing masks and gloves “walk throughout the campus, knocking on every door to offer some edible comfort,” Kershner explains. Pushing a cart with a cooler attached and ringing a bell as they go through the 6 acre community, the ice cream delivery teams have become an important part of the week for many folks who now refer to Thursdays as “Ice Cream Day”.
Now, the “Good Humor Crew” has become highly popular as they make their rounds. Kershner says that people want to hear the full list of choices, and then sometimes ask for two. “One of our happy customers said it makes everyone feel like a kid again!” shared Mary Lou Kelpe, Life Enrichment Coordinator.
Ice cream has also become an important part of keeping the Webster House community connected. “I thought this would be a nice diversion for the residents to be outside eating a cold ice cream on a summer day,” explains Executive Director Linda Hibbs. “This is the first community social activity for our residents that have been sheltered in place.”
Each Wednesday at 2:00, about one-third of the residents meet outside for ice cream sandwiches, ice pops, or sorbet and an opportunity to meet and catch up while staying a safe distance apart. “The residents have the ability to socialize with their friends which I feel is best for their overall well-being,” says Hibbs. The ice cream is really just the cherry on top.
At Canterbury Woods, Kershner says it’s difficult to find words to describe what made these visits special. “When people open their doors and see who we are, the looks on their faces are very rewarding,” he says. “These folks were missing interaction, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
During one of his daily briefings, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York told listeners to be “socially distanced but spiritually connected.” Covia’s Spiritual Care team is responding to the challenge of the COVID-19 stay at home orders with creative solutions to keep residents spiritually connected during holy days and every day.
Since gathering in person is not a possibility, the chaplains have found new ways to offer Holy Week and Passover services for their communities.
At Spring Lake Village, Chaplains Jacquie Robb and Jeanne Forte have worked with a member of the Wellness staff to record services for Palm Sunday and Easter that are broadcast on the community’s internal TV channel. Bulletins are distributed to interested residents so that all can participate, including singing along with favorite hymns.
For Passover, Chaplain Meredith Cahn worked with Well Connected to develop a virtual Seder that will be offered live on Zoom on Thursday, April 9. Residents from all Covia communities as well as seniors living elsewhere can register to join by calling Well Connected at 877-797-7299 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Cahn also created a coronavirus-related haggadah, available for all participants. The St. Paul’s Towers community in Oakland, where Cahn serves as chaplain, is creating individual Seder plates that will be delivered to the apartments of residents who wish to participate.
At San Francisco Towers, Chaplain Hans Hoch is assisting the community’s Passover celebration with Congregation Emanu-El via Zoom and offering opening remarks and welcome. He is also broadcasting Sunday services through the community’s CCTV.
Chaplains have been turning to phone calls and other ways of reaching out and staying connected. Chaplain Cahn from St. Paul’s Towers says, “I provide one-on-one support over every remote medium I can.” Chaplain Kevin Philips from Canterbury Woods says, “I make several calls each day and so far have reached over 80% of the community in meaningful conversations.” “People need connection; they are so appreciative of calls,” says Chaplain Robb at Spring Lake Village.
The chaplains have also adapted to using Zoom as a way to offer services and keep connected – including helping residents learn the new system. Chaplain Cahn, who had surgery in early March, says, “Since I was expecting to be on medical leave convalescing from surgery, this has happened at a perfect time to work remotely. As soon as the shelter in place orders came, I was able to start working with our amazing IT staff member, Eric Powell, to introduce residents to Zoom.”
Using Zoom provides opportunities for residents to meet for services and spiritual practices. Chaplain Forte, drawing from her Episcopal tradition, is offering an evening Compline service daily by Zoom for residents at Spring Lake Village while Chaplain Robb is offering a weekly meditation class through the Zoom application. “Fourteen people came to our first meeting!” Robb reports.
Along with providing spiritual care for residents, the chaplains are a resource for Covia’s employees as well. Many of the chaplains are providing daily emails with reflections, spiritual practices, and other resources for their colleagues. Chaplain Philips from Canterbury Woods shared his own poem, Strange Days, to emphasize that “There is nothing that can keep our hearts apart.” Another day, Lily Godsoe, chaplain at Webster House, shared a simple breathing meditation practice to help reduce stress.
Laura Darling, VP of Spiritual Care for Covia, sends a daily email to staff at Support Services (Covia’s administrative offices in Walnut Creek – now all working remotely), Community Services, and Covia’s Affordable Communities. “One of the things I hope to do with these spiritual care emails is provide a real range of ways to connect with your spirit,” she said in one of her emails, which included a link to a 10-minute meditation video, a downloadable sheet for coloring, and the link to a blog post providing support and encouragement. “These emails are meant to provide support for people who come from a wide range of religious backgrounds, including those with no religious background at all,” Darling says. “This pandemic is affecting all of us, and we need to support one another in all kinds of ways.”
Advice from the Chaplains
When asked what they would say to help those who are socially distancing take care of their spirit, the chaplains had this advice:
Chaplain Jacquie Robb, Spring Lake Village: Give yourself plenty of rest and good food; don’t worry so much about getting things accomplished but give yourself time to BE with yourself and connect with others.
Try to Zoom with each other and do things together online. For instance, I’m watching a play that is offered online with a friend from Maine. Find a routine. Keep moving your body. Pray/meditate. Ask God the hard questions (Where are you in all this?) and listen for a response.
Chaplain Jeanne Forte, Spring Lake Village: Be gentle with yourself. There will be time, when this pandemic is over, for ‘amendment of life’ things. Now is not the time to launch into demanding life changes. Keep things simple. Keep things kind. Be generous with yourself.
Chaplain Meredith Cahn, St. Paul’s Towers: Be in regular contact with loved ones – daily, or even more often, using every medium possible. Help your parent/grandparent/whoever get on Zoom or Skype or Facetime. Exercise, eat healthy, limit news intake. Laugh when you can find it. Dance. Recognize and name your fears, and see if you can let them go.
Chaplain Kevin Philips, Canterbury Woods: Food for the spirit comes in so many forms and by so many conduits. For those I know who have faith in something, I will encourage tapping in to that. For those who are able, I encourage walks or just sitting on a bench somewhere on our beautiful campus. For those with only a phone, I suggest calling up old friends. For those with Zoom, I pass on information about how to connect with others. For those without Zoom who have a computer, I encourage them to download it and give them the information they need to do that.
I hear myself say to people who are angry or having some other ego dystonic feeling: “Don’t judge your feelings. That will only make it worse. Feelings are feelings and don’t have to be rational. Just accept that you are feeling that way and let it pass through you.”
Image: Chaplains at a weekly Zoom meeting.
Interview with/Entrevista con Lizette Suarez, Program Manager/Coordinadora de Programa Well Connected Español
To learn more about Well Connected Español, visit our webpage at https://covia.org/services/well-connected/bien-conectado/.
Para obtener más información sobre Well Connected Español, visite nuestra página web en https://covia.org/services/well-connected/bien-conectado/.
For those who don’t know, what is Well Connected?
Well Connected is a phone and online program offering activities, education, friendly conversation, and an assortment of classes and support groups to older adults accessible from the comfort of home.
|Para los que no saben, ¿Qué es Well Connected?
Well Connected es un programa telefónico y en línea que ofrece actividades, educación, conversación amistosa y una variedad de clases y grupos de apoyo para adultos mayores accesibles desde la comodidad de su hogar.
|Has Well Connected had groups or classes in Spanish or any other languages before?
Yes, Well Connected has offered classes in Spanish and Russian over the years, but without designated staff who spoke those languages it was hard to gain traction. With designated Well Connected Español staff we are better equipped to connect Spanish speaking older adults with programs they can enjoy.
|¿Ha tenido Well Connected grupos o clases en español o en otros idiomas antes?
Sí, Well Connected ha ofrecido clases en Español y en Ruso a lo largo de los años pero sin personal designado que hablaba esos idiomas era difícil ganar terreno. Con personal designado para Well Connected Español, estamos mejor equipados para conectar a adultos mayores que hablan español con programas que puedan disfrutar.
|Why did Well Connected decide to offer a program in Spanish?
There has been expressed need from service providers and from within the Spanish-speaking community. With the support of Navigage and Metta Fund, Well Connected Español was born. We hope to be able to offer Well Connected in more languages in the future.
|¿Por qué Well Connected decidió ofrecer un programa en español?
Se había expresado la necesidad de los proveedores de servicios y de la comunidad latina. Con el apoyo de Navigage y Metta Fund, nació Well Connected Español. Esperamos poder ofrecer Well Connected en más idiomas en el futuro.
How did you hear about this project, and why did you decide to get involved?
I heard of this posting via Indeed.com, from the moment I read the listing I knew it was a project I wanted to be a part of. I grew up very close to my grandparents and older adults all throughout my childhood. As an adult, that did not change much. I am amazed by their wisdom, their life knowledge and experiences. The more I am exposed to them the more I have access to information I wouldn’t learn otherwise because it is stored and unique to them and their personal stories.
|¿Cómo se enteró de este proyecto y por qué decidió involucrarse?
Me enteré de esta publicación a través de Indeed.com, desde el momento en que leí el listado, sabía que era un proyecto del que quería formar parte. Crecí muy cerca de mis abuelos y adultos mayores a lo largo de mi infancia. Ahora como adulta eso no a cambiado mucho, estoy asombrada por su sabiduría, su conocimiento de la vida y sus experiencias. Cuanto más me expongo a ellos, más acceso tengo información que no aprendería de otra manera porque está almacenada y es única para ellos y sus historias personales.
Have you talked to any Latino elders about this program? What do they think?
Yes, I began promotion of the program both locally in the Bay Area and through virtual trainings to reach Latino elders across the country. I have done presentations at senior centers and at senior housing facilities. The biggest challenge is getting people to understand this new way of thinking about community. Once people understand the concept, the feedback has been positive, with and lots of excitement.
|¿Has hablado con algún anciano latino sobre este programa? ¿Qué piensan ellos?
Sí, comencé a promover el programa tanto a nivel local en el Área de la Bahía como a través de capacitaciones virtuales para alcanzar personas mayores latinas en todo el país. He hecho presentaciones en centros para personas mayores y en instalaciones de vivienda para personas mayores. El mayor desafío es lograr que las personas entiendan esta nueva forma de visualizar comunidad. Una vez que las personas entienden el concepto, la retroalimentación ha sido positiva, y con mucha emoción.
What are you going to offer for this first session?
For the first session we will be offering the following activities;
|¿Qué vas a ofrecer para esta primera sesión?
Para la primera sesión estaremos ofreciendo las siguientes actividades;
Apreciación de Arte
Introducción al Tejido Basico
Serie de Viajes Desde el Sillon serie;
Peru, Mexico e Italia
Como Vivir Una Vida Saludable
¿Sere yo Co-dependiente?
Día de la Madres
Estado de Well Connected Español (Foro Comunitario)
How can people sign up to join?
They can register the following ways for the program;
|¿Cómo pueden las personas registrarse para unirse?
Pueden registrar de las siguientes formas para el Programa;
Teléfono: (877) 400-5867
Correo Postal: 881 Turk Street | San Francisco, CA 94102
WhatsApp: (415) 602-9518
What if people want to volunteer? How can people get involved?
People can get involved as a facilitator for activities, as a member of the advisory council to advise program manager or as a volunteer helping promote and or send birthday and thank you cards out. To get involved, you can call me, Lizette, at (877) 400-5867 or email me at email@example.com.
|¿Qué pasa si la gente quiere ser voluntario? ¿Cómo pueden involucrarse las personas?
Las personas pueden participar como facilitador de actividades, como miembro del Comité Asesor para asesorar coordinador de programa o como voluntario para ayudar a promocionar y / o enviar tarjetas de cumpleaños y de agradecimiento.
Para participar, puede llamarme, Lizette, al (877) 400-5867 o envíe un e-mail a firstname.lastname@example.org.
What else do you want people to know about Well Connected Español?
Well Connected Espanol is a program by and for Latino elders. This program is only possible with the participation and volunteerism of the community. Together, we put together a great selection of classes and facilitators to make the experience very enjoyable for participants. We hope people participate, consider volunteering, and help us spread the word that Well Connected Español is launching and is here to stay!
|¿Qué más quieres que la gente sepa sobre Well Connected Español?
Well Connected Espanol es un programa de y para personas mayores Latinas. Este programa solo es posible con la participación y voluntariado de la comunidad. Juntos, organizamos una gran selección de clases y facilitadores para que la experiencia sea muy agradable para los participantes. ¡Esperamos que la gente participe, considere ser voluntario y nos ayude a difundir la noticia de que Well Connected Español se está lanzando y está aquí para quedarse!
The Well Connected and Well Connected Español Spring Session begin Monday, April 8, 2019.
La sesión de primavera de Well Connected y Well Connected Español comienza el lunes 8 de abril de 2019.
When Mary Linde, Executive Director of St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, plans development programs for her senior leadership team, “I try to do things that aren’t just about reading and discussing a book,’” she says. In January that led her to bring her team to the LeadingAge California offices in Sacramento.
“It’s typically nurses and licensed administrators who go to the conferences,” Linde observes. “But as I look at my leadership, I see so much talent, and yet they don’t get out of the community and network, partly because they don’t know all the opportunities that exist, and also because they don’t realize they can. As part of our leadership training, I really wanted to connect our team to LeadingAge so that they knew, first of all, the available resources and; secondly, the networking pathways open to them; and finally, that Covia supports them serving outside of our community.”
Linde arranged for her team to travel to LeadingAge California’s Sacramento offices. “When we got there, the LeadingAge staff didn’t just show up,” she says. “They had gift bags for all of us. They had an agenda. They had a folder with handouts for us. They were so excited.”
LeadingAge California President and CEO Jeannee Parker Martin agrees. “Their morning visit gave us an opportunity to learn more about the needs of each team member from a provider perspective, and also an opportunity for them to learn more about the myriad policy, committee, educational and resource opportunities from LeadingAge California staff. It was exciting to have the full team take a day away to meet with us, and we look forward to engaging with them on committees and other activities ahead.”
Sheba Jenness, St. Paul’s Director of Human Resources, is one of the team with a deeper investment in the work of LeadingAge after offering to serve on a committee dedicated to HR issues. Jenness has worked in Aging Services for 10 years, but before going to the LeadingAge offices, she admits she knew practically nothing about the organization. “It was very abstract,” she says. “I knew it existed. I didn’t know how much they advocate on so many different levels. They’re really invested in trying to find different ways to make sure that California is serving older people in a caring, conscientious way.” As part of the HR Group, Jenness will be working with a team doing a wage comparison survey this summer.
Linde is very active in LeadingAge California, serving as an EMERGE Leadership Development Program coach as well as participating as a member of two committees: the Service Excellence Committee and the Member Engagement Committee. As part of the Member Engagement Committee, Linde is encouraging people to participate in LeadingAge’s Age On, Rage On campaign, created to demonstrate to legislators how many people value services for older adults. “It’s not just for us as staff,” she explains. “It’s to get our residents involved so we really bring the issues of aging services to the forefront to our legislators, to our colleagues – everywhere – so that older people and their issues are heard.”
The experience of visiting the LeadingAge office changed Jenness’ perception of the organization. “I thought LeadingAge was a big machine, and it’s not. It’s a lot more hands-on and one-on-one than I expected.”
Linde concurs. “This isn’t some big corporate office collecting dues and not doing anything. These are people who are really committed to aging services and are working on our behalf every day so that we can get continuing education credits and get regulatory information broken down to us in language we understand quickly. And they’re also really lobbying on our behalf for dollars and for services for seniors.”
The invitation to visit is open to other senior communities, and Linde hopes they will take advantage. “I really believe that proverb that says, ‘Iron sharpens iron, so we sharpen one another.’ I believe we need to be truly rubbing shoulders to sharpen each other.”
Parker Martin says, “Mary Linde showed great leadership cultivation by bringing her full management team to LeadingAge California’s office in Sacramento. It offered not only insights into LeadingAge California, but team-building away from their community. We hope to host other communities in the near future, and look forward to deeper engagement at all levels of the organization. LeadingAge California is your association, and we are here to serve in whatever way possible.”