The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

This essay by Webster House resident Jim Lyons originally appeared in the December 2018 Webster House Newsletter.

It is money grubbing time again. Buy, buy, buy, and then buy more. For those of us who stress about what to buy, discombobulation can smash our frames of mind. Mettle is challenged. Yet it need not be that way. Here are some ways of giving that are guaranteed to please and leave your purse or wallet untouched. Rank and randy commercialism be damned! Embrace the wonders of giving simply. Curiously they are worth more than money could ever buy. They are fun for you too.

First. Make two phone calls per day to friends or family that you have not spoken with for a long time. This is personal and profound. It is not a mass-produced card. The personal touch is rarely practiced in this era of electronic babble. You too will be enveloped in the warmth and surprise of the call. If you don’t know the person’s phone number, it is easy to find and free. Ask me and I’ll teach you how to do it.

Second. Write three short hand-written notes daily for 30 days. The message need not be long. Just one sentence or phrase – just like on the $2 cards. Example: “I appreciate hearing your cheerful voice when I call. Thanks.” It’s the personal touch that does the trick. Such touches are scarce these days. A written note takes a minute or so to write. By the end of 30 days you will have brought some warmth into the lives of nearly 100 people! That’s a quiet antidote to the current climate where insults, blame saying, arrogance, and egotism seem to flourish unchallenged.

Third. Here’s some gifts for close friends and family. Write a simple story about an earlier experience, perhaps shared or perhaps not. Each of our apartments is full of things with stories. I’ve given some in my family treasured seasonal decorations along with stories about what our family was like when we used the decoration. I described some of the traditions and the circumstances of that earlier time. Scooter wrote a story about her family and the world during the year before each of her kids was born. Whew! What a treasure.

Think simple giving. That may just be our way to put the human spirit back into the holidays and to penetrate those thick bastions of religious traditions and beliefs.

This is a season when many faiths celebrate the good in us all. A leader of the Hasidic Jews observed: “Everyday life is hallowed, and each of us is responsible for the bit of existence that has been entrusted to our care.” Let’s keep the traditions of giving centered on people.

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.

Spiritual Care expands far beyond providing Bible studies or religious services. Spiritual wellness – one of the eight dimensions of wellness – is an important part of Covia’s mission to support well-being for the whole person.

The goal of Covia’s spiritual care programs is to enhance the quality of life of every person by building and deepening community, encouraging meaningful connections, supporting people through the grieving process, and providing resources for a purposeful life at any age or stage.

Each Covia Life Plan and Multi-level community has a chaplain who is available to support those of all faiths or none. Rabbi Meredith Cahn, Chaplain at St. Paul’s Towers, explains, “My job as a chaplain is to help people in their spiritual work—dealing with the emotional and spiritual aspects of aging and loss, dealing with relationship that might be challenging, with forgiveness, or even coping with the way the world is right now. I am there to be present at moments of joy and sorrow and in between.”

Covia strives to provide an environment that fosters spiritual well-being for residents, their families and for Covia’s staff. Covia’s guiding principles are deeply informed by basic values of spiritual well-being, including the concepts of welcome, inclusion, social justice and grace; treating one another with respect, civility and dignity; embracing individuality and diversity; and serving with integrity.

Spiritual Care programs and services at Covia do not seek to proselytize or convert, but to support and respect all in their beliefs or traditions. Chaplain Jacquie Robb at Spring Lake Village says, “Most residents have no idea what a chaplain does, so there is usually some hesitation to seeing me. I want them to acclimate to my presence and assure them I’m not ‘selling’ anything. In my mind I hold the idea of a village vicar who is most often a friend but with the added benefit of being able to share matters in confidence, free from judgment.”

The Chaplains work closely with their Life Enrichment department to provide a wide range of programs meeting a variety of spiritual needs. For example, at St. Paul’s Towers, “We have non-denominational ‘sacred time’ on Monday mornings, integrating residents from all floors as well as staff; we have a weekly meeting to discuss the events of the world—to be able to mourn or celebrate or holler or vent about Charlottesville (and the racism and antisemitism it spotlighted), #MeToo, climate change, et cetera. We have just started a widow and widower’s grief group to help residents who have lost their partner. And we have groups on spiritually healthy aging.” Other communities have had programs such as a group discussion on Handel’s Messiah, the Blessing of the Animals on the Feast of St. Francis, a celebration of the Solstice, meditation groups, and much more – including, yes, Bible study! In addition, religious services are available for those from a range of traditions.

It’s not only the communities that offer Spiritual Care programs. Well Connected also offers many opportunities for participants from around the country to meet for support, reflection, meditation, a daily gratitude group, and other spiritual care programs through their phone- or online-based programs. Once each session, Laura Darling, Senior Director of Communication and Spiritual Care, offers a memorial service so that participants can commemorate Well Connected members who have died – an event that is powerful, even for those who have never met. “I’m consistently moved by the way community is built through Well Connected,” says Darling. “It doesn’t matter that they have never met face to face. The relationships among the participants are strong and real, and it’s important that they get a chance to remember and celebrate their friends.”

Above all, Spiritual Care is grounded in kindness and compassion. “Spiritual care provides individual support to people going through their own challenges feeling the love and care they need,” says Rabbi Meredith.

“Spiritual care encompasses so much more than religion and religious services. It encompasses people’s hopes and dreams, their desire for good connections and for a life of meaning. It can help people deal with the real challenges of aging and loss, in a language that meets people where they are.”

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.”

Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa is hosting its 4th annual Wellness Games the week of September 24-28.

Held during International Active Aging Week, the Wellness Games celebrate all dimensions of wellness, including social, emotional, intellectual, physical, occupational, environmental, spiritual, and financial wellness.

According to Spring Lake Village Director of Wellness Diane Waltz, “Wellness is an expanded idea of health and means more than the absence of disease. It is much more than being in good physical health, exercising regularly, and eating right. True wellness is determined by the decisions one makes about how to live life with vitality and meaning.”

Each year’s Wellness Games include a wide array of activities such as a walk-a-thon, treasure hunt, table tennis tournament, sing-a-long, bird walk, brain fitness challenges, poetry readings, and the ever-popular SLV’s Got Talent Show. Participants can win points for an activity in any of the eight dimensions of wellness. For example, they can get physical wellness points for going for a walk; earn emotional wellness points by smiling five times a day; collect intellectual wellness points by reading the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle; gain social wellness points by playing bridge with a friend; or add environmental points by recycling.

The games are open to residents and staff across the community. Residents and staff are randomly assigned to one of six color teams. Participants are notified of their color team assignment the week before the games begin and given a team color button or bracelet to wear throughout the week. The team getting the most points receives a team photo and color team recognition on the Wellness Games Plaque displayed in the Montgomery Center for a year.

But everyone benefits from Wellness Week as it builds relationships and community throughout Spring Lake Village. And it’s fun. Waltz says, “I love that it brings residents across all levels of care and employees across all departments together for a week of fun activities that promote all dimensions of wellness.”

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.

When Pat Lau, Activities Coordinator for Webster House in Palo Alto, first created the Healthy Connections program in 2016, she had no idea the kind of impact it would eventually have.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just have a little volunteer program. They can work with the residents, meet them, talk to them,’” she says. “But it evolved into so much more.”

Now in its third year, Healthy Connections partners with Stanford University’s Office of Undergraduate Advising to provide pre-med students with a setting to gain clinical experience as well as giving residents in the Health Center the personal connections that studies continue to show are beneficial to people’s health and well-being.

Webster House and its affiliated Health Center are located just a mile away from Stanford University. With physicians from Stanford and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation making rounds at the Health Center daily, the program offers valuable experience for students interested in exploring the medical field.

In addition, the program exposes pre-med students to the need for, and importance of, geriatrics as a medical specialty. According to the American Geriatric Society, 20,000 geriatricians are required to keep up with the need right now, and that need will only grow as the population ages. There are currently fewer than 7,300 certified geriatricians practicing nationwide.

Volunteers for the Healthy Connection program must spend a minimum of three hours each week with the residents and at least 100 clinical hours at the Health Center. “Most of the students, though, work well beyond the hundred hours and some have gone on to two hundred hours,” according to Lau.

Students must be 18 years old, pass a criminal background check, be screened for tuberculosis, and attend an in-depth orientation. “There’s a number of regulations and things they need to know about if they’re going to be in a health care setting and working with a vulnerable population such as older adults,” Lau explains, including the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), patient rights, elder abuse, infection control, and safety procedures.

So far, 12 students have participated in the program. Four of the 12 students who have been through the program have been accepted to medical school.

“Everyone seemed to benefit,” Lau says. “The student was exposed to a clinical environment, but most of all, there was a very strong, caring, and reliable relationship.”

Healthy Connections recently received a Sereno Group 1% For Good grant from the Palo Alto office. 1% for Good provides grants to local organizations that are active in improving our communities. Sereno Group Palo Alto will be supporting Healthy Connections from July through September 2018.

Brian Chancellor from the Sereno Group says, ““We were intrigued and touched by the inter-generational experience between the students and the residents. It’s exciting to support them all in their care and cultivation of such a relationship when it is so greatly needed and appreciated.”

As the new school year begins at Stanford, students can anticipate another benefit of participating in the Healthy Connections program: Dr. Peter Pompei, a professor at the Stanford Medical School, general internist and geriatrician with 20 years of clinical experience, will serve as the program’s medical director, providing mentorship and support for the students.

But it’s the relationships built between the residents and students that most impresses Lau. “These students really help support these older adults. They improve the quality of their lives. And for me, I can’t tell you what I feel when I see some of these individuals smile.”

For more information on the Healthy Connections program, please contact Pat Lau at plau@covia.org.

Throughout the country, National Night Out on the first Tuesday in August is a chance for neighbors to meet one another and to connect with local emergency responders. At St. Paul’s Towers, National Night Out does that and more.

With food, music, face painting, balloon hats, games, fresh produce, and information tables, the National Night Out event co-sponsored by Covia Senior Resources, St. Paul’s Towers, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is a block party like no other.

“About 7 years ago, [Alameda County Senior Resource Director] Carolyn Bolton presented the idea,” says Connie Yuen, Life Enrichment Director at St. Paul’s Towers. “The idea was for St. Paul’s Towers, St. Paul’s Church, Oak Center Towers and Market Day to come together and throw a block party for our neighborhood. Every year we invite local businesses to participate by setting up informational tables and sharing their resources with guests. Each year our National Night Out party has gotten better and better with the attendance rapidly growing.”

“National Night Out is also a great way for us to meet and personally thank our local law enforcement and first responders,” says Yuen.

“It’s a way to bring community,” says Carolyn Bolton. As a high rise senior living building, St. Paul’s Towers can appear cut off from the rest of the neighborhood. The National Night Out block party helps neighbors see that “they don’t need to think the people living there are snob-nosed. It gets everybody on the same page.”

St. Paul’s Towers Executive Director Mary Linde says, “For St. Paul’s Towers, it allows us to serve our neighbors and get to know our community outside our walls. It’s about being kindness, love, and community to our neighbors.”

Yuen says, “We look forward to National Night Out every year because it’s our way of giving back and showing love to our greater community. I love seeing our residents bonding and laughing with neighbors they are meeting for the very first time.”

And the connections don’t end with meeting for the first time. Yuen says, “It’s a great feeling to see familiar faces and the same families come each year and seeing the children grow!”

“We’ve been told that many times that we host the biggest block party in Oakland. It’s truly a great place to be so I hope to see many new faces this year,” Yuen says. Linde adds, “Anyone may come. It’s really fun!”

National Night Out 2018 takes place on Tuesday, August 7. The event in front of St. Paul’s Towers, 100 Bay Place in Oakland, takes place from 6:00-8:00 pm.

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Creative Aging Symposium

Covia’s second annual Creative Aging Symposium will take place January 23rd.

For more details, click here.