The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Over the past year, residents at Oak Center Towers have been fostering their creativity through art classes and art programs. Aliona Gibson, Activities Coordinator at Oak Center Towers, has been introducing residents to a new art project every month in addition to supporting the community’s connection with the Art with Elders program.

Art with Elders at Oak Center Towers

Art with Elders provides weekly art classes led by professional art instructors to over 450 residents in communities around the Bay Area. Their classes focus on teaching art skills such as composition and color as well as fostering community. Participants are invited to submit their artwork for the annual exhibit that showcases their hard work to the public around the Bay Area.

This year, artwork created by residents at Oak Center Towers for the Art with Elders program is featured in the 27th Annual Art with Elders Exhibit, currently on display at the Gerald Simon Auditorium at Laguna Honda Hospital through November 18th. Aliona Gibson and Oak Center Towers residents attended the exhibit’s Opening Celebration on October 27th where, Gibson notes, residents were “very proud and excited about their work being on display.”

One resident’s art was even selected to be printed onto greeting cards that could be purchased at the event. Gibson purchased one of these cards, saying that “it was invaluable to me to have such a beautiful and professional reproduction of the resident’s work.”

Beyond their work at Oak Center Towers, Art with Elders also provides classes at Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto, and Executive Director Mark Campbell and Instructor-Exhibits Manager Darcie O’Brien spoke as part of Covia’s 2019 Creative Aging Symposium, which celebrates the importance of creativity in creating a sense of self and living with purpose. The Creative Aging Symposium will return on January 29th, 2020 to explore more aspects of creative aging featuring speakers with backgrounds in eco-friendly fashion, choreography, and medicine. 

Monthly Art Projects

In addition to the Art with Elders program, Gibson has been introducing residents at Oak Center Towers to monthly art projects that allow them to try out different mediums and materials. Residents have created everything from tie-dye t-shirts and terrariums to painted flower pots and tissue flowers.

One popular event even had an edible component where residents created rainbow fruit skewers with strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupes, pineapple, green grapes, and blueberries. Gibson notes that the event was particularly popular because residents “got to take them home and some residents ate while creating.” 

Beyond the monthly art projects, there is also a weekly coloring activity where a small group of residents gather to color with gel pens, markers, and colored pencils.

Oak Center Towers’ diverse population means that not all of the residents share the same language, which can make craft projects and teaching difficult. Gibson says, “There is usually one person who speaks English who will relay what I am saying but mostly they go by pictures. I always bring examples of the craft we are doing, sometimes a prototype and sometimes pictures from the internet.” 

Between the monthly art projects, regular coloring group, and Art with Elders program, Oak Center Towers has created a number of beautiful pieces that have been displayed around the community on top of the art accepted into the Art with Elders’ exhibit.

The Art with Elders Annual Exhibit is open until November 18th at the Gerald Simon Auditorium at Laguna Honda Hospital. After November 18th, the exhibit will move to the Rincon Center in Downtown San Francisco through January 18th, 2020. Artwork from the Art with Elders exhibit is also available on their website.  

*Image of Oak Center Towers group courtesy of Art with Elders

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.”

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.”

Space for the event is extremely limited. Please contact Jody O’Connell to reserve your spot at 831-657-4224 or jo’connell@covia.org.

Ruth Reznikoff and Laura Olson share the distinction of being one of the few mother/daughter pairs living in the same community. Ruth worked as a dietitian in San Diego and raised her family of three daughters. One of her girls, Laura, eventually settled in San Francisco with her husband, Stephen. In 2013, Ruth, then 96, wanted to be closer to her family and live in a place with more security. She moved to San Francisco and  settled in at San Francisco Towers. Four years later, when Laura and Stephen retired,  they also chose the Towers as their home. 

Today, as she prepares to turn 102, Ruth still lives independently and remains very active in the San Francisco Towers community, serving on three committees. For Laura, living close to her mother has provided special moments and has even critical support. A few years ago, when Stephen had a bad accident and came home after three weeks in the hospital, he couldn’t be left alone. When Laura had to leave the house for critical errands, she was able to call her mom to come downstairs and be with Stephen. “It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly!” Laura said.

Originally published in Community Matters

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.

Enjoy!

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.”