What prompts someone to consider moving to a retirement community – and what is it really like to live there? More than 150 prospective residents recently joined together on a Zoom call to hear from a panel of Covia community residents about their choice of community living.
“When my husband died, I was living alone in a new home that we had just remodeled. I was really alone,” said Sharon, a resident of Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa. “Friends encouraged me to come and visit the community and I found it so welcoming. There are so many things to do and people to see that it’s enriched my life so deeply.”
Many echoed the importance of engagement with others as a major plus of community living.
“I wanted to live near my children but wanted to be with peers, in a vibrant community,” said Judy, a San Francisco Towers resident.
“There’s a welcoming committee that arranged for us to meet others over meals,” said Chuck, a resident of St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland. “It’s one way we started to understand the community. We have relationships with people we met when we first moved in.”
The supportive continuum of care was another key priority in evaluating a move to a community.
“One alternative for people is to stay at home and become increasingly incapacitated, and have to have family or someone hired to take care of you. The other alternative is a community with the opportunity to see people who model that transition — from being able to do so many things on your own to when you’re not able to do so much,” said Raymond, a resident of Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove. “It’s the last phase we don’t tend to think about for ourselves. That’s part of life. In a community like this, you have support and some role models that you wouldn’t have if you were on your own.”
Judy added that “With a background in critical care nursing, I very carefully evaluated the health care continuum. I’m very impressed with the way that Covia has really observed to the fullest all of the CDC recommendations during the pandemic.”
Staffing levels and quality of service in a community were a key criteria for many residents.
“Staff have been wonderful, especially during the pandemic. And we have wonderful resident health services staff; they’ve all bent over backwards to make life easier for us,” said Judy. “At first my family was very concerned when they saw the news [about the pandemic in congregate living] but you want to be in a place that is stringent and careful. My family has been very reassured by the staff competency and quality.”
Sharon commented that she appreciates that staff get to know residents individually. “The staff really take pride in the work they’re doing. The dining staff we see every day and each of more than 400 residents is greeted by name,” she said. “They are exceptionally competent. It’s an amazing variety of food. It’s one of the most nurturing places one could be, even more so in an epidemic.”
In addition to health care support, a community of peers and friends, and quality staff, every individual has unique priorities – and residents stressed the importance of knowing your own personal priorities.
“Take stock of the things you need and look at places through that lens,” advised Katie from Canterbury Woods. “I came and stayed overnight and discovered the distant sound of people moving about was reassuring to me.”
“For us, most of the places we looked at were remote and we wanted to be able to go out and get a cup of coffee on our own,” noted Richard.
Sharon, who like many residents retired from a demanding professional career, recommended considering how you might spend your time. “Look at the activities, performances and events that are available,” she advised. “Even during the pandemic, we have closed-circuit TV with exercise classes and performances and classes. I think it’s important to look at the daily life options you have.”
“We had criteria for physical facilities and architecture and we had geographic criteria,” said Peggy from Canterbury Woods. “But when we have lunch with people who are looking at our community as an option, my main message is ‘every retirement community has a culture, a people culture, that’s unique.’ I encourage people to have as much contact with people who live in a community and stay at the place for a couple of days so you can uncover who people are.”
All the residents on the panel agreed that it’s important to understand your personal priorities, do your research and visit communities of interest.
One of the residents summarized the process, saying, “I did my homework and so I was ready when it was time to make the choice.”
Originally published in the Spring Lake Village resident newsletter – special October edition
As part of what was labeled a “Public Safety Power Shutoff event” by PG&E and dubbed a “Massive Blackout” by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Spring Lake Village residents and staff were without electrical power midweek during the second week in October 2019.
Residents and staff relied on generators—big and small— battery-operated lanterns, ingenuity, problem solving and community spirit to weather the corporate-made outage.
Planning for a big storm or an earthquake started in the 2013 re-model of the Village Center when a new generator system was installed. This generator powered the kitchen and emergency lighting throughout the week. “Don’t worry, we’ll have lots to eat,” promised Dining Director Larry Brooks.
Melissa Anderson, Activities Director for Assisted Living residents, reports, “The kitchen was amazing, making sure our residents had hot food for all our meals, even though our own kitchen was down. With no elevators, Assisted Living staff went up and down stairs to be sure that the 16 residents on the 2nd floor had all they needed. The staff joked that we lost 10 pounds each in the stair climbing.”
Programs and activities for residents throughout campus continued – with changes necessitated by the lack of electrical power. A 2000 piece Cinque Terre puzzle donated by a resident was moved next to the Great Hall windows for better light. Dogs helped their resident owners stick to a walking schedule, regardless of a power outage.
The swimming pool closing was expected due to the need for filter, circulation and pool heating systems. What was unexpected was the prompt steaming up of the floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding the heated pool area. With the power outage, there was a fear of mold developing from lack of air circulation. Staff rigged up generators and fans to keep the air moving.
A power strip and generator with the sign Charging Station turned out to be a big hit. “What started as a single table, doubled in size to accommodate the demand as dozens of devices were recharged at the station on the Creekside Patio,” reported Facilities Director Dennis McLean.
Seventy motion-detector, solar-powered walkway lights installed in September lit up the covered sidewalks. The lights worked well during the power outage. For many residents, the first and last word was “the lantern” which lit up kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms and halls. “You need to have at least three,” was the agreed-to number. “I bought four for Christmas gifts and used them all,” exclaimed another resident.
Small generators were threaded into the business offices around the Village Center and Resident Health Services. Keeping computers going was essential to maintain “business as usual.”
No power meant no school, but if you were lucky, you became part of the impromptu Spring Lake Village Take Your Kids to Work Day. Bistro Sous Chef Adrian Alberto brought his three daughters to work to provide a no-school day option. Housekeeper Carmen provided on-the-spot assistance with activities. “We wanted to make sure our staff had an option for taking care of their kids,” reports Assistant Executive Director Kris Hermanson on the “bring your kids” impromptu program.
Anderson adds, “As we delivered the trays, the residents were so concerned about us, asking about our kids, our homes, our families and our power situation, wanting to make sure we were safe. The residents adapted to the routine, without a negative word. We are family.”
Inspired by their passion for protecting the environment for future generations, members of St. Paul’s Towers’ Green Action Committee created CoviaGreen, a program focused on sustainable living and environmental responsibility.
The program is centered around the CoviaGreen pledge, which offers residents a number of ways that they can reduce their negative impact on the environment. Pledge items fall into four categories: Waste & Energy Reduction, Materials & Products, Culture & Community, and Water & Food. The choice options allow pledge signers to choose which items are the most relevant to their particular situation. The most popular action items among residents included turning off lights and appliances when not in use, eating more seasonal fruits and vegetables, and learning how to recycle in their community.
CoviaGreen extends beyond the residents and into the St. Paul’s Community with changes in dining and environmental services. In the dining room, Impossible Burgers are now available at every meal and staff are introducing new vegetarian and plant-based proteins. Elsewhere in the community, housekeeping has adopted a program where residents can put out laminated cards to indicate that for that week, linens don’t need to be changed or showers don’t need to be cleaned.
Staff are also encouraged to sign the pledge. Resident Service Manager Jaclyn Carenbauer who, along with the Green Action Committee, has been a driving force for the program, has integrated the pledge into her daily life by biking to and from work. “The program is a great way to bring our community together and to help the environment,” she notes.
Beyond the pledge, Carenbauer commented that CoviaGreen’s main goal is education, explaining that it’s often easy to understand that composting or recycling is important without fully realizing how to go about it. “I didn’t compost before I started this. It’s not popular where I’m from and I thought that if you just put food in the garbage, it would compost,” she says. CoviaGreen provides more information on how everyone can reduce their impact, which can be especially helpful for “people who thought recycling was enough.”
Along with encouraging the St. Paul’s Towers community to sign the pledge, the Green Action Committee is updating signage within the community, including posted reminders for residents to bring their own coffee mugs to the coffee bar and signs to highlight what is in season in the dining area. Future goals for the program include trips to tour a waste management facility and showing relevant documentaries on movie nights.
Although St. Paul’s Towers is currently the only community implementing CoviaGreen, the hope is that other Covia communities will be inspired to adopt the program in the future and make a similar commitment to environmental responsibility.
Canterbury Woods residents are making use of the campus facilities to back their traditional holiday recipes: cookies, truffles, and more. One of our residents has shared her personal creation: a recipe for raspberry-jalapeño pepper jelly.
Raspberry-Jalapeño Pepper Jelly
1 4-oz can diced jalapeño peppers, drained
1 medium-large red bell pepper, diced
1 ½ – 2 cups fresh raspberries
1 ½ cups white vinegar
6 cups sugar
1 packet Certo fruit pectin (there are two in each box)
Red food coloring (optional)
Place in blender the first three ingredients and blend until there are no large particles, adding a little of the vinegar if it’s too thick to blend well. Place in large pan with the rest of the vinegar and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring throughout. Add the sugar; bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the Certo and a little red food coloring, if desired (I do). Spoon the foam from the top. Pour into 7 or 8 half-pint jars, that have been sterilized by boiling. Cover with the sterilized sealing rings and tightly screw on the tops. You will hear them popping within an hour to make sure they are sealed. Don’t move for several hours. I serve with crackers and cream cheese.
Every Christmas residents at San Francisco Towers enjoy a beautiful Christmas Circus Wagon, on display in the Lounge during December. This is the story of how SFT residents brought the wagon into existence.
In Bill and Martha Steen’s Christmas tree ornament collection was a circus wagon ornament. Bill decided it would be a special treat to build such a wagon as a Christmas decoration for The Towers. Bill approached Dick Brain with his idea, along with a sketch for a table to implement his project. Dick made a mockup showing Bill how he proposed fabricating the table and its accessories. With Bill’s approval of the mockup Dick proceeded with precise drawings and wiring diagrams for the wagon. Fabrication started in September 2005, with the wagon completed and installed in the main Lounge just before Thanksgiving.
The wagon was fabricated from a 8’ x 4’ plywood sheet, metal folding legs and dimensional lumber and moldings. Finishing items were the wheels, finials, side curtains, acrylic widows and electrical service equipment and wiring. The miniature amusement park rides were purchased from Gump’s. The wheels were based on those shown in an old photograph of a cart. The wheels and finials were made by a specialty cabinet shop in Windsor.
Dick Brain and Roger Cutler fabricated the wagon and painted the table. Marcia Cutler painted the columns, wheels, finials and moldings. In addition, she and Roger glued small human figures to their poker chip bases and then painted the chips to match the table. Hope Streeter made the side curtains, which are held to the table molding with Velcro strips.
Custom storage boxes for the figures, trees, vehicles, buildings, etc. were fabricated from cardboard paper boxes. Storage containers for the rides and the various wagon parts were fabricated from plywood and dimension lumber, with casters for transport. It was mandatory that all these rolling storage containers had to fit through regular and elevator doors in the building. Dick prepared assembly and dis-assembly instructions for setting up and removal of the wagon.
The Christmas Circus Wagon display includes amusement park rides with moving parts, houses and other buildings, vehicles, people, trees, animals, a moving train, lights and music. You can see a video of the Christmas Circus Wagon on San Francisco Towers Facebook page.
The wagon was ready for viewing Christmas 2005, and has since been enjoyed every holiday season by the residents, families and other visitors to The Towers. The 2018 Circus Wagon is dedicated to Dick Brain, a tribute to his many years of dedicated service to so many San Francisco Towers activities.
This essay by Chaplain Jacquie Robb was originally published in the Spring Lake Village newsletter.
We talk a lot about community here at Spring Lake Village. The conversations are usually about joining the community. . .what it’s like to eat with others in the dining room, how to navigate the programs and events. It’s only later, after residents have been here a while, that I hear about the heart of community rather than the logistics.
Most communities form around an intention, from the ancient spiritual communities of many faith traditions – the monasteries of Christians and Buddhists, the Hindu ashrams – to the 60s communes and the modern eco-villages. It got me wondering if we hold a common intention here at Spring Lake Village.
When I ask people why they moved here, what I hear most often is “so I won’t be a burden to my children,” or “so there will be people to take care of me.” Seldom do I hear anyone say that their primary motive for moving here is to be part of a community. It seems almost an unintended consequence of their motives.
And yet, here we are – all 450+ residents and over 250 staff – living and working together. How might we refine our intention in living here to develop more of a sense of community, of “being in it together?”
This takes time. We don’t know how this community works on us until we’ve lived here for a while. Many of those who evacuated last year returned with a renewed sense of community. Did this fade over time for you or did it grow? Did you make new friends, deepen the friendships you had?
Maybe we don’t know until we’ve lived here for a while how we will grow into community. I see so many residents find a renewed purpose, rejoicing that being retired doesn’t mean retiring; living into a growing understanding that a sense of true community, like true friendship, means thinking about what’s good for “us” and not just me.
Maybe we can’t know until we’ve lived here for a while the joys and challenges and ultimately the great freedom inherent in interdependence.
Many of us have helped our children’s schools, our neighborhoods or towns before coming here, but it takes a while to learn how we can serve this type of community. Planning movies and concerts, joining a committee, visiting those who need a bit of company are all manifestations of being of service. But there’s also an inner attitude that I hear expressed by so many of us – one of gratitude. Gratitude for being cared for by staff, gratitude for feeling safely held through the many transitions we face at this age. Gratitude for the company we share, on this sacred journey through life. I suggest that gratitude expressed and shared is in itself an incredible and enriching service for those offering and those receiving the thanks.
This month, as we celebrate all we are thankful for, we can open ourselves even further to the gratitude of those who make up this community. The axiom “it takes a village” becomes ever clearer as we settle into living here. And the longer we’re here, it seems our community’s intention might best be expressed by our gratitude and service.
Originally published in Community News, San Francisco Towers’ resident newsletter.
Part of the charm of San Francisco Towers are the exquisite floral displays in the public areas of the building, created by the Flower Committee.
Of its thirty members, the Flower Committee has four members (plus a weekly flower carrier) who specialize in purchasing and arranging the flowers: Joan Tayler, Marilyn Jacobson, Sophie Lee, and Fukan Yen.
Joan and Marilyn spend Thursday mornings at the San Francisco Flower Mart, which was founded by Japanese flower-grower immigrants around the turn of the century. It is one of the oldest and most successful Japanese-American corporations in the U.S. There are more than 60 vendors using Mart space. The flowers used to be strictly local but now include imports from as far away as Israel.
The Flower Committee shoppers wander down the aisles of flowers displayed in giant buckets, fishing out a stem that looks interesting: a branch with berries, a particularly beautiful rose, or some palm leaves that would make a good background. Usually five or six stems are tied together and priced as a group, anywhere from $6.50 to over $32.
Joan and Marilyn base their selections on what will go well with what is still usable from the previous week, and any upcoming holiday. Independence Day next month? Their choices will be red, white, and blue. The total Towers bill can be as much as $150, which the Towers staff will later pay.
A grocery cart in the garage awaits the returning buyers. It is loaded with the bunches and taken to Craft Room 3, where Fukan and Sophie unwrap the flowers. They set aside the pieces they want for the arrangements that are developing in their heads. Fukan says she has to see the flowers before she can decide what she will design, and Sophie agrees. They begin work on their signature still-life arrangements and soon are joined by Joan and Marilyn, who seem to specialize in large bouquets for the lobby and other public spaces. Although questions are freely answered, the room is largely silent as the women focus on what they are doing with the flowers.
Flower arrangers have the showiest jobs, but a lot of Flower Committee work goes on behind the scenes. There are the carriers and the vase washers and someone who arranges the memorials to departed residents.
There is also a small team that works on Wednesday night after dinner collecting all the arrangements from the first floor, and the small vases from dining tables in Assisted Living and the Staff Lounge. They bring these to Craft Room #3, where the vases are washed and the flowers edited (“This daisy looks like it will survive another week, but throw away that tulip”). There are carriers who take weekly turns driving the buyers to the SF Flower Mart, helping carry the selected flower bunches, and delivering arrangements to their spots.
Flower Committee Chair Joan Tayler says she is not worried about the relocation in a few months of the Flower Mart to temporary space on Potrero Hill, while a multistory office and condo building is being erected on the longtime Brannan Street site. The Flower Mart is guaranteed a space in the new building. At present, it can take as much as 45 minutes to drive from San Francisco Towers to 540 Brannan; Joan thinks getting to Potrero Hill won’t be any harder.
Back in the old days, flowers were arranged and delivered from Whole Foods, which cost something like $48,000 to $60,000 a year. When Flower Committee volunteers took charge, the cost went down to $10,000 to $12,000 a year. This is one of the many reasons why we should be grateful to the Flower Committee.
Sophie seemed to sum up the spirit of the Flower Committee members: She does the work because she always has loved flowers and always will. All Towers residents owe the Flower Committee a giant thank you for making our home so beautiful.
written by Anne Turner
It’s easy to see the communities that Covia creates through its housing. What’s less known is the community created through its services. Covia provides Resident Service Coordination to 21 senior affordable housing communities throughout California, a service that’s largely invisible despite its impact on people’s lives.
Service coordination is about connecting residents with the public benefits, services and programs that can improve their lives and makes it more likely they will be able to stay longer in their homes.
“A lot of seniors have a lack of resources so we bring them community resources. We play the role of a bridge, connecting our seniors to local community resources,” says Bonnie Chang, Resident Services Coordinator for Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto. These can range from help with insurance or other paperwork to finding a way to pay for an electric scooter to registering residents with a local PACE [Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly], and much more.
Service Coordinators are also on-site resident advocates, says Ericka Battaglia, Lead Resident Services Coordinator at Good Shepherd Homes in Inglewood. “When I say advocate, I mean we support them through whatever they’re going through whether it’s physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual. If we see a resident is not doing well, we provide resources for them so that they’re able to get better and age in place successfully.”
Katherine Smith, Senior Director of Social Services, explains that one of the most important things RSCs do is provide wellness education programs on site. Giving residents information on managing chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or providing fall prevention programs makes it more likely that residents will be able to live at home as long as possible, and prevent the need for invasive and costly medical interventions.
Service Coordinators come from a range of backgrounds, though many have degrees in gerontology and social work; most have Masters Degrees. Most of the Covia RSCs are bilingual or trilingual; among them, they can offer services in Korean, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and ASL and help to bridge the gap between cultural and language barriers.
The advanced degrees in social work also help Service Coordinators speak the same language as community service providers, says Battaglia. “If you’re finding a resource for behavioral health, the process moves a lot swifter if you speak the same professional language.”
Battaglia explains that she works as a liaison between building managers and residents. While the property manager’s job is to maintain the facility and fulfill HUD guidelines, the RSC’s job is to see that the resident is doing well. “For instance,” she says, “my property manager will come to me and say, ‘We have a resident that is not going to pass this inspection because they’re hoarding.’ “Instead of just going to residents with paperwork, notices and warnings, I can go and say, ‘Let’s figure this out together.’” It’s a win-win situation.
Residents win when they receive the services they need. Mary Avina, Resident Service Coordinator at Jennings Court in Santa Rosa, tells the story of a resident who needed significant dental work but couldn’t afford it. “He also desperately needed other medical procedures, but due to the infection in his mouth, he wasn’t able to get the other medical procedures done,” Avina explains. “So I assisted him in find the resources to be able to finance his most needed dental work to be done, and he was able to get that done and then able to get the medical procedure that he desperately needed. He’s very happy now and doing a lot better.”
“A lot of these seniors are – you know, they’re new to aging,” says Battaglia. “We’re trained to make sure their living experience isn’t another hassle for them, isn’t another barrier they have to overcome. We chose this because this is what we love to do, and this is the population that we want to serve.”
January 21-27 is Activity Professionals week. But what is an activity professional? And what do they do?
“From an outsider’s perspective, one assumes that we play bingo every day. This is not the case,” says Connie Yuen, Program Coordinator for St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland. “Our activities aim to stimulate the mind and body, awaken your senses, enrich lives and make an impact to the culture of our community.”
Executive Director Mary Linde agrees. “What is amazing about activities/life enrichment at St. Paul’s is that it truly is Life Enrichment. The kinds of activities are broad and so engaging. We bring residents across all levels of care together so no one feels marginalized.”
The activities at each community vary depending on the interest of the residents. Megan Sullivan from San Francisco Towers says, “The majority of programs provided at SFT are based on resident input; they help support the unique culture here. As Life Enrichment Director, I work directly with the [Resident] Program Committee to schedule all special concerts and lectures. I also add my own programming, based on resident interests, such as online talks from the Harvard Institute of Politics.”
Activities are also designed with the eight aspects of wellness in mind: Emotional, Environmental, Financial, Intellectual, Occupational, Physical, Social and Spiritual.
“Activity professionals create programs to be beneficial and therapeutic to increase overall well-being and quality of life in individuals, by determining their interests and finding what activities provided can best suit them,” says Alexis Kendrix, Director of Activities at Webster House Health Center in Palo Alto.
“I wish that people knew more about the benefits of participating in wellness activities. People should want to participate in activities because of the enjoyment and fulfillment, instead of just to keep busy. Providing activities that are of people’s leisure interests is meaningful to their overall well-being,” Kendrix adds.
Mary Lou Kelpe, Director of Wellness for Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove, explains, “When we go to Point Lobos State Reserve with multiple docents and have a picnic, it’s much more than a walk and lunch. It’s Emotional, Environmental, Intellectual, Physical, Social and Spiritual Wellness. I believe that’s why we feel so great, after spending time engaging in nature.”
“The active imaginations and energy of our professionals working in tandem with the residents lead to extraordinary events and activities,” says Norma Brambilla, Executive Director of Canterbury Woods. “Truly the trick is finding some one thing to entice each person. Variation is key. The challenge to these professionals is never-ending and their caring and ideas are boundless. It would be so boring without them!”