The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Over a decade ago, long before COVID-19 would drastically alter our world, Covia developed a resource to promote social engagement among older adults and combat loneliness and social isolation. That program, Well Connected, is now a nationwide social connection and lifelong learning program that is free and open to all older adults — not just Covia residents or its affiliates.

“The program was initially designed for low-income, extremely isolated, frail older adults who needed more engagement,” says Tracy Powell, Covia’s Vice President of Community Services. “It was a lovely but small support system rooted in engagement and volunteerism,” she notes, initially offering 10 free one-hour classes per week. Over the last few years, the programming has grown “in sophistication and audience.” Participants, who currently come from 46 states, can now choose from over 80 classes and groups that are offered every single week. The programs vary from support groups to topical discussions to interactive courses, all available by phone or online.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Well Connected participation has skyrocketed. Prior to the social distancing and quarantining requirements brought about by the crisis, Well Connected had about 2,000 participants. Then, in the first two weeks of April alone, 200 new participants joined — a 10 percent increase in just two weeks after 10 years of operation. Since the onset of COVID-19, Well Connected has had a total of 685 new participants. Now staff are getting calls from other senior living operators interested in enrolling their residents.

“There has been a huge increase in terms of enrollment and interest,” Powell says. “There have been 50 to 75 organizations so far just through the end of May that have contacted us and asked if they can join and find out more about what’s involved in virtual programming.”

Social Call, another Covia Community Services program, matches individuals for one-on-one social connections. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, many of these friendly visits were conducted in person based on shared interests and geographic proximity. Now, Social Call happens entirely by phone, lifting the geographic limitations and significantly expanding the possibilities for connections based on interests and compatibility — especially since the program has seen a huge increase in volunteers as well as participants.

Another project that Covia has spearheaded in response to COVID-19 is “Enduring Inspiration,” a worldwide call for art made by older adults. The program was developed in partnership with Ruth’s Table, an arts center named in honor of the internationally-known artist Ruth Asawa that is a part of Covia’s Bethany Center affordable housing community in San Francisco.

Seniors around the world are encouraged to make any kind of art and send it in — a recipe, a collage, a painting, a drawing, or anything else that can be easily mailed — for a juried exhibit that will be held at the freestanding gallery space at Bethany Center once it is safe to do so. Covia is also developing art packets and embroidery kits to send out to seniors in their communities so they can create their own art.

“At the heart of it, this is all very central to our mission as an organization: building community wherever people are,” says Ron Schaefer, Covia’s Chief Operating Officer. “These programs help bring people together and create connections.”

*This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of Community Matters