Community life at Covia shifted with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation of the shelter-in-place orders — residents, staff, and program participants found new ways to stay connected. Group activities and communal dining were put on hold while residents stayed safer at home, but resident resiliency and staff dedication quickly allowed for new realities.
A primary challenge for dining services at each community was shifting from a seated dining room experience to packaging all meals for delivery or take-out. Dining staff rose to the occasion with creativity, experimentation, and flexibility. At Canterbury Woods, residents even volunteered to help coordinate the orders for their neighbors so everyone could get what they wanted. To enhance their regular meal offerings, the San Francisco Towers dining staff offered a weekly door-to-door cart with wine and cheese and fresh produce from the farmer’s market.
At St. Paul’s Towers, a server went out of his way to bring Margaret Hasselman, an SPT resident, part of her meal that had gotten left out of her bag. “Last night after I returned to my apartment from picking up my dinner at the bistro, I heard a knock at my door. It was Roderick! He came up to my 12th floor apartment to bring me crudités that were missing from my bag,” Margaret says. “I still am so delighted that he would do that. Such an act of kindness, generosity, and thoughtfulness. ”
At Webster House, Executive Director Linda Hibbs checks in on residents by personally delivering glasses of wine door to door in the evening. At Canterbury Woods, the “Good Humor Crew” was a big hit, with dining staff going door to door delivering ice cream. “It makes me feel like a kid again!” says one happy customer.
Activities directors also had to adapt, and staff and residents alike began embracing the virtual possibilities for group activities. Spring Lake Village, which has a robust wellness program, created a schedule of fitness classes for residents to enjoy via the Zoom online platform, accessed by computer or tablet. A parcourse with exercises to be done outside along the walking path was also created as a way for the residents to get exercise while socially distanced. Musicians who would typically perform for an audience in the Spring Lake Village Montgomery Center recorded concerts to be enjoyed online. Residents also staged impromptu concerts in courtyards for neighbors to enjoy from their windows and doorways.
At St. Paul’s Towers, the program team organized a socially distanced virtual happy hour where residents visited the lounge to pick up a glass of wine, sparkling water, or portioned ingredients to make their own cocktail of the day. Residents took their beverages back to their apartments and tuned into a Zoom session to catch up and enjoy each other’s company.
Social distancing may mean that our residents and staff can’t be physically close, but fortunately, there are still plenty of ways to connect with each other and the outside world while staying safe at home.
*This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of Community Matters
“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.
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.
In September, Canterbury Woods received the Award of Excellence for Food Safety from the Environmental Health Bureau of the Monterey County Health Department – the only senior living community to receive this honor.
“All operating food facilities meet regulatory food standards. Those who excel are recognized with our Gold Seal and those food facilities who have consistently demonstrated excellence in providing safe and secure food will be honored,” said John Ramirez, Director of Environmental Health, in a press release shared by the County of Monterey.
The Award of Excellence program began in 2016, and recognizes 3 locations every year as part of National Food Safety Education Month. This year, Nepenthe Restaurant and Sun Street Center were also honored along with Canterbury Woods.
The Monterey County Department of Health inspects over 2000 food service facilities throughout the county. The unannounced quarterly inspections review all aspects of food safety, from food sourcing, to employee health and hygiene, to safe storage practices. Facilities that meet or exceed health standards based on state laws are awarded the Gold Seal. Of those Gold Seal facilities, inspectors nominate 25 that demonstrate excellence in food safety year over year for the Award.
“We have received the Golden Seal at every inspection since I have been here,” says Robert Kershner, Director of Dining Services at Canterbury Woods. “Morrison Community Living prepares us and supports us in the best ways possible to set us up for an award like this.”
“This recognition is a big deal,” he adds. “It confirms to me and our staff that our efforts are focused successfully on maintaining a safe environment for our residents. Credit is really due to all of the department staff for their undying dedication to food safety.”
If you are considering moving to a Senior Living Community – but not just yet – there’s another option available to you: joining a waiting list.
Too often, people start looking for senior living options after a need arises, leaving them scrambling for the first available option, even if it isn’t what they truly want. You may be thinking that a move to a Life Plan Community is something that will happen 2, 3, 5 or more years down the line. It’s still worth taking steps now so that when the time comes, you’ll get what you want.
Of course visiting in person is an important part of the process. Each community has a different personality. Getting to know a community, asking your questions, and meeting other residents makes it more likely you will choose a place that feels like home.
But if you’ve come to the event, taken the tour, and still think it’s not the right time to move, joining the community’s waiting list gives you the chance to consider the pros and cons while reserving your place for the residence you want.
“A waiting list is a terrific opportunity to secure your future plans without a large commitment of time or money,” says Linda McMenamin, Covia’s Senior Director of Sales and Marketing. “Often people will join wait lists at multiple communities to ensure they have options in the event their needs change and they are ready to make a move.”
Joining a waiting list at the community – or communities – of your choice has other benefits as well.
- Reduce anxiety: “Most people benefit from being on a list because the opportunity to move often coincides with changes in health, lifestyle or living situation,” McMenamin notes. You no longer need to worry whether you have a place in line when you are ready to move. With most of the preliminary paperwork completed, you know you’re pre-approved.
- Take your time: “Being on the waiting list allows you the freedom to explore your options at your own pace, without time constraints or pressure to make a decision,” says McMenamin. You can use the time you are on the waiting list to think through what’s important to you and to put other parts of your plan in place.
- Build connections: As a waiting list member you will be invited to special events, allowing you to get to know a community even better. “Often times wait list members can join the fitness center, attend activities and join residents and future neighbors for meals,” McMenamin observes. When you do move in, it will be a much more familiar place that’s a lot easier to call home.
- Priority access: When an apartment opens up that matches your preference, we’ll call to let you know. Our waiting list applicants receive priority for any new inventory. “Having that plan in place gives you the flexibility to say yes when you are ready to make a move,” says McMenamin.
- No obligation: Just because you’re on the waiting list doesn’t mean you are required to move in. “There’s no risk and the financial cost is usually very minimal,” says McMenamin. If you decide a community isn’t for you, your fee is fully refundable.
If you do decide to put down a deposit, be sure to ask how long the waiting list is for the home style you’d like, and what the expected waiting time is. Many times, larger homes have longer waiting lists, which may affect your plans. Talk with your senior living counselor about your plans and timeline and they will do their best to accommodate you.
Some communities may have a limit on the number of times you can turn down an apartment offered to you without losing your place on the waiting list. Although you are not obligated to accept a home presented to you, this may mean that eventually you won’t be the first person called.
But when you do get the call for the home you want, at the time you want it, you can feel comfort and confidence knowing the plan you’ve put in place is working as you hoped.
On September 5, residents and guests of Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove will have the opportunity to hear renowned scholar Dr. Fernando Torres-Gil present on Smart Aging in the 21st Century.
Currently serving as Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy at UCLA, Director of the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging, and an Adjunct Professor of Gerontology at USC, Dr. Torres-Gil was born and raised in Salinas, the son of migrant farm workers and one of nine children. After contracting polio at the age of 6 months, he spent much of his childhood in and out of hospitals. In an interview with the American Society on Aging, Torres-Gil reports, “I credit this experience with my educational success; I would return after long absences from mainstream K–12 schooling and I was always ahead of my fellow students because of receiving home-schooling, personalized attention and mentoring. My mother fought the school district to keep me with the ‘normal’ kids, saying, ‘There is nothing wrong with his mind, only his legs.’”
Dr. Torres-Gil has a distinguished background in public service. He advised three separate presidential administrations on the topics of aging and disability and he currently co-chairs the National Academy of Science’s Forum on Aging, Disability and Independence. In 2013, he received the John W. Gardner Legacy of Leadership Award from the White House Fellows Foundation and Association.
“I remember when I first looked him up before taking him on a tour of the community, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! Can I just be myself when I meet him?’” says Jody O’Connell, Director of Sales and Marketing for Canterbury Woods. But when she met him, “He is so laid back and so engaging. What he’s about is just amazing, but as a person, he’s just one of us.”
“He is passionate about the fourth quarter in life,” says O’Connell. For his presentation, Dr. Torres-Gil will discuss smart aging, current trends, retirement options, and supportive systems. Those who attend will have the opportunity to learn about developing a longevity plan and more.
O’Connell is thrilled with the partnership Canterbury Woods is developing with Torres-Gil. “He loves that we’re a non-profit and our whole purpose,” she says. She hopes this event will demonstrate how living in a community like Canterbury Woods can be part of a successful longevity plan. “Medicine is something, but quality of life and how to live your fourth quarter – this is it. People are doing it right here.”
“I’ve always been interested in the environment,” says Canterbury Woods resident Nancy Frost. “I was fortunate enough to spend my summers in a redwood forest. And how can you not be interested in the environment when you get to do that.”
For more than 30 years, Frost worked for the Government, first in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and then as one of the first employees of the Environmental Protection Agency when it was established in 1970, the same year as the first Earth Day.
After returning to California, Frost continued to work on environmental issues – a passion that did not stop when she moved to Canterbury Woods, a Covia Community. For the five years since she has lived here, Frost has provided resources and training to help her community “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.”
“When I moved here, there was a small program, which still exists, but there wasn’t an overall educational program for people about what items goes where,” Frost explains. “I was also the chair of the then Housekeeping Committee, now called the Environmental Services Committee. It’s our staff who pick up all of our trash and recyclables. And I could see from looking at what we were doing that there was a lot of confusion.”
Staff aren’t allowed to sort through recycle bins. “Somebody got injured by reaching in and there was a broken glass, so for the safety of our staff, they are not asked to do any sorting. So it’s really up to us as the individual residents,” Frost said.
Frost provides information to help residents know which items are recyclable and which are not. “I have many hats here, and one of them is called the Trash Lady. I will get calls and I will get notes: ‘where should I put this?’” She explains that the information on recycling changes regularly. “Since I’ve been here, we are under the third, going on fourth reiteration of what can be recycled because of what’s going on worldwide.”
Earth Day gives Frost a chance to provide more focused information for the community with a display that is placed in Canterbury Woods’ main hall for three days, giving people information and updates on what can be put in recycling as well as other steps they can take to reduce their environmental footprint.
As she prepares for this year’s display, “One of the things I have spread out here in my usually neat living room is a whole bunch of papers,” she says. “I’m going to try to show from the tree to the process down the road. And paper can only be recycled four to six times, and after that, it’s trash. But that last reiteration – the paper napkins, the Kleenex – those are things that are designed to absorb moisture, and it’s why we can’t recycle it, even if it’s just water. They have had their last life. So when I prepare this, I try to educate folks on the Why so that they can make a decision when something new pops up. It’s not just, ‘This is what you do.’”
Her educational programs have made an impact. “As a community here in Pacific Grove, we are probably the top-notch community recycler. There are so many retirement homes and senior living homes, so we’re grouped in with many other communities and commercial establishments. We had a presentation last year that showed we’re the one that probably does the most and the best.”
Mary Lou Kelpe, Canterbury Woods’ Wellness Coordinator, has worked with Frost on Earth Day and other events that encourage the community to be mindful of how they can make a difference. Kelpe reports that, along with the Earth Day displays, “Nancy also went with our residents twice last year to tour our new recycling/waste management facility. We learned a lot about all the new recycling rules as a community.” Their trip is featured in the photo above.
Recycling is only one part of the community’s environmental efforts. Residents reuse items by selling them in the Canterbury Woods store. And Frost encourages reducing the amount of waste products by offering suggestions, such as using handkerchiefs instead of facial tissues and reusable water bottles instead of plastic. In the dining hall, residents can choose to get dinner to go in reusable, microwavable containers. “You can heat your food in it, you can refrigerate it if you’re not going to eat it right away, and you return and it gets washed and it gets used again,” Frost says.
Even if people aren’t interested from an environmental standpoint, Frost notes that these small changes add up to significant financial savings. “It’s cheaper to put something in the recycle bin than it is in the trash bin. If you use less of things, it’s cheaper than if you’re getting a new thing each time. For example, instead of taking the little white bags to take something home from the dining hall each day, how about a reusable bag that you bring? There are little things that each person can do that make a difference.”
One thing Frost tries to emphasize each year is that “It matters.” “Earth Day is one day a year when we can remind everybody that really every day is Earth Day.” Due in part to Frost’s annual Earth Day displays, “I think people think about what to do with things that they no longer want or use, along with the daily trash. I think there’s a pretty heightened awareness. And I think also it’s something that people think about much more than they thought about five years ago. But even then, they were more conscious than the average community. I’m proud of people wanting to make a difference.”