The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Covia has been ranked as one of the 2020 Best Workplaces for Aging Services by Great Place to Work® and FORTUNE magazine. Covia took the number 17 spot on the list, the second time it has been rated in the top 50.

Kevin Gerber, President and CEO of Covia, says, “We have always been proud of Covia’s employees for their excellence. It is our employees who make us a Great Place to Work. We want to thank them for this honor, and for being part of Covia.”

In July, Covia administered the Trust Index survey, designed to measure aspects of trust in the organization, such as respect, fairness, pride, camaraderie, and credibility. With a participation rate of 94% of employees, Covia received an overall Trust Index score of 75%, and 83% of employees said Covia is a great place to work.

“Having a response rate of 94% of employees makes this year different,” says Gerber. “We can feel confident that we have a clear picture of our strengths and opportunities as an employer of choice.”

Covia scored highest on the statements “I feel good about the ways we contribute to the community” (88%); “When you join the company, you are made to feel welcome” (87%); “I’m proud to tell others I work here” (86%); and “This is a physically safe place to work” (86%) – especially notable this year as COVID-19 has disproportionately affected senior living.

The Best Workplaces for Aging Services stand out for excelling in a competitive industry. “In addition to physical safety, the overall well-being of our employees is important to us,” says Prab Brinton, VP of Human Resources. “Along with ensuring appropriate levels of personal protective equipment (PPE), we created an Essential Support program to help with unexpected costs, adjust and accommodate time off needs, provide additional funds, and help make sure our employees were finding ways to recharge.” The program, which started in April, was developed based on feedback from more than 600 employees.

“Everyone knows the greater cause as to why we’re here and that is for the residents,” one employee commented. “Especially in the strange times that we’re all experiencing, I have witnessed how everyone pulls together to make it as comfortable and enjoyable as possible for the residents and us as employees.”

“The value of creating great workplaces for all is a clear competitive edge in the Aging Services sector,” said Michael Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work. “When organizations like Covia treat their own people with care and respect, you can expect their staff to treat your loved ones with that same care.”

“The effect of engaged employees has magnified in the aging services sector, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Jacquelyn Kung, CEO of Activated Insights, the senior care data analytics company for Great Place to Work. “We have found that organizations that have maintained or increased employee engagement during this year’s challenges have been able to be more resilient, provide enhanced care, and perform better.”

The Best Workplaces for Aging Services™ is one of a series of rankings by Great Place to Work and FORTUNE based on employee feedback from Great Place to Work-Certified™ organizations.

A 3rd generation San Franciscan, Carol DeVincenzi was hoping to stay in her home for as long as possible, but knew that when the time came for her next move, she would choose a non-profit Life Plan Community in the city that she had called home for most of her life. When she started looking and found San Francisco Towers, she knew it was the place for her. “It has the most amenities like air conditioning and ample elevators, and has such beautifully designed apartments,” Carol says.

Carol had friends who had set up charitable gift annuities, and they were very pleased with both the income and the impact of the tax deduction. She says, “With the current rates, I thought this would be a good source of income and an opportunity to support the Circle of Friends Resident Assistance Fund.”

Carol had always felt the call to help those in need, especially older people who could no longer support themselves. She remembers, “When my mother was in an Assisted Living community near the end of her life, I remember other residents that had to leave because they had run out of money. I remember feeling so terrible about it and wishing there was something I could do to help. Donating to the Circle of Friends gives me a chance to help.”

Charitable Gift Annuity: The Gift That Gives Back

A Charitable Gift Annuity can provide stable income in unstable times — and provide a legacy of support for your community or favorite program. It’s a gift that pays you back.

You can establish a Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA) with the Covia Foundation with cash or stock and create fixed, stable income for your lifetime. Because the payment rate is fixed based on your age, your income never changes. As an example, the payment rate for someone aged 81 is 6.7%. Plus, a portion of your income payment could be tax free. If you establish a gift annuity with stock you’ve held for a number of years, you can bypass the capital gains tax you would owe if you simply sold the stock. Ultimately, the remainder in your CGA will benefit the community or program you designate.

For information or assistance on establishing a CGA, contact Katharine Miller, Covia Foundation Executive Director, at 925.956.7414 or kmiller@covia.org

*This article was originally posted in the Fall 2020 edition of Community Matters 

As Covia communities and programs navigate the rapidly changing conditions and restrictions this year, we are grateful that we have resilient residents, participants, staff, and leadership that keep our communities moving forward. Challenging circumstances have brought people from across the organization together in new ways, encouraging teamwork and a sense that we truly are all in this together.

The Life Enrichment Directors across Covia Communities have been meeting monthly to share their upcoming plans and find ways to collaborate and share their virtual activities with residents of other communities. Alex Gerasimov, Covia’s Project Manager for resident experience, says, “In this time, our Life Enrichment teams united to support one another and to learn about each other’s best practices on keeping residents and staff engaged and involved in meaningful programs that enhance their health and wellness.”

Residents of Canterbury Woods and Webster House meet together on Zoom for weekly lectures and discussion groups on current events and world travel. Ania Spiering, Life Enrichment Director at Webster House, shares, “Both programs engage residents in conversation, which keeps it lively and interesting. It is wonderful to see people coming together and utilizing the possibilities that technology provides.” The two communities also share musical programs with each other. Every week, a Canterbury Woods resident shares a recorded concert, and in return, Lily Godsoe, the Webster House chaplain, offers a flute and meditation session.

Other communities have taken advantage of the virtual space to invite residents from all communities to join their ongoing events, creating more enrichment opportunities.  St. Paul’s Towers invited residents of the other Covia communities to join its sponsored webinar about water issues facing Northern California, offered as part of the UC Retiree Learning Series.  San Francisco Towers is also opening up its weekly lecture series to all communities. In September, the guest lecturer was Dr. Tammy Duong on dealing with loneliness and depression during the isolation of the pandemic. Spring Lake Village, known for its award-winning active wellness and fitness programs, shared all of its fitness videos with the other Covia communities so all residents can stay active in the comfort of their homes.

*This article was originally posted in the Fall 2020 edition of Community Matters

When Mia Lang first started looking at Life Plan Communities, she knew it was just exploration, and she wasn’t ready to make a transition. After all, she had a full life with friends and social activities and still worked part time as a hemodialysis nurse at UCSF at age 78 after retiring from a full time nursing career at the UCSF Medical Center at age 60. And then she looked at Spring Lake Village.

“As soon as I visited Spring Lake Village, I knew that was it,” she said. “I could not have chosen a better place to spend this chapter of my life. Living here is fulfilling, it’s community, there is nothing lacking. We all go through whatever we’re facing together; there’s so much support.”

Her childhood was marked by the war years on the border between the former Czechoslovakia and Austria. After fleeing to a refugee camp in Austria, her family moved to Germany as the war ended. She went into nursing because “you chose something that was practical that you could make a living at” and set out to travel the world. She worked as a nurse in Germany, Switzerland, England, and, eventually, the United States.

An interesting community with a wide variety of people has always been of interest to her. “When I first came to New York, I found an apartment in what was then Spanish Harlem,” she said. “It was only $60 a month but I loved the variety of cultures. I was so curious because I came from a background where everyone was the same.”

She was eventually drawn to the Bay Area because of her love of San Francisco, its variety of cultures, and its proximity to nature. The natural surroundings of Sonoma County and the regional parks were part of what drew her to Spring Lake Village.

“The people at Spring Lake Village are a real community,” she says. “My friends from the Bay Area who visit are very impressed and envy me for the quality of my life here. There are pockets of friendship here for so many different interests and activities — and people are warm and welcoming.”

It is that sense of community that was at the heart of Mia’s recent decision to update her estate plan and leave a gift to the Covia Foundation. “My nieces and nephews are all doing fine, and I’ve loved living at Spring Lake Village,” she reflected. “I want to leave my estate to the Covia Foundation to benefit this wonderful community.”

So after a lifetime of caring for others in nursing, Mia’s legacy gift will be able to continue caring for the community of people that makes Spring Lake Village such a special place.

For information on making a legacy gift in your will or estate plans, contact Katharine Miller, Covia Foundation Executive Director, at kmiller@covia.org or 925.956.7414

Covia Foundation Heritage Society

The Covia Foundation Honor Roll of Giving at each Life Plan Community celebrates those who support Covia communities and programs with charitable gifts. The Heritage Society section of the Honor Roll celebrates those who plan a legacy gift by including the Foundation in their planned gifts, estate plans or wills.

If you have made such a provision, please let us know so that we may add your name to the Heritage Society of the Covia Foundation Honor Roll. Contact Julie Hoerl, Covia Foundation Development Manager, at jhoerl@covia.org or 925.956.7393.

*This article was originally posted in the Fall 2020 edition of Community Matters

Residents from St. Paul’s Towers, San Francisco Towers, and Spring Lake Village gathered with the Covia Foundation in August via Zoom to celebrate and raise awareness for the Circle of Friends Resident Assistance Fund. With hors d’oeuvres and special beverages sponsored by Morrison Community Living, friends and neighbors raised a glass to their vibrant communities and the supporters of this important cause. Mary Sharman, a resident at St. Paul’s Towers, says, “The party and delicious treats were an uplifting event. I’m pleased so many residents could join our party and learn about this important fund. I am grateful that our community supports this cause.”

Those being helped by the Circle of Friends fund have an average age of over 90 years, with 40% living with a higher level of care. They have been part of their communities on average for more than 16 years.

“The Circle of Friends is so close to the hearts of our residents,” said Covia Foundation Executive Director Katharine Miller. “We are so grateful for the support of this fund that provides assistance for those in our Life Plan Communities who outlive their resources.”

Covia Foundation rounded out the day’s celebration with a prize drawing. Prizes included personalized dinners from the Executive Chefs, themed gift baskets, and a Google Nest Max Hub, a video smart speaker.

The event immediately showed the effect of its success, with our prize winners reaching out with excitement and gratitude, and many residents making donations online or reaching out to the Foundation with questions about planned gifts and estate gifts. Said one supporter: “This is a great cause for us to get behind because this could happen to any of us.”

*This article was originally posted in the Fall 2020 edition of Community Matters

During a recent webinar, Covia leadership gathered with prospective residents to give insight into management and operations at Covia. The webinar panel included Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer; Diana Jamison, Chief Financial Officer; Ron Schaefer, Chief Operating Officer; and Mary Linde, St. Paul’s Towers Executive Director. Katharine Miller of the Covia Foundation moderated the discussion.

The webinar offered prospective residents the opportunity to ask questions about Covia from a leadership perspective, including COVID-19 preparation, the upcoming affiliation, and adapting to socially distanced activities. Part 1 about Covia’s response to COVID-19 is available here and Part 2 about the upcoming affiliation can be found below.

Front Porch Affiliation

In the second half of the webinar, the Covia leadership team provided more information on Covia’s upcoming affiliation with Front Porch, a nonprofit senior living provider headquartered in Glendale, California. This affiliation, which is currently on schedule to close in early 2021, will create one of the nation’s top nonprofit organizations providing senior living, affordable housing, and community services for more than 10,000 individuals.  

Ron Schaefer, Chief Operating Officer, started the discussion of the affiliation by noting that both organizations “have a strong mission-driven nonprofit commitment of trying to bring excellence to all that we do. We have very similar guiding principles and core values as organizations.” The affiliation will allow for further “opportunities to serve our residents effectively and efficiently, bring best practices to what we do, and to enjoy the benefits of having a larger family across the whole state of California and a little bit beyond.”

Diana Jamison, Chief Financial Officer, shared that, from a financial perspective, both organizations are “coming from a position of strength.” Says Jamison, “We have strong operations, we have strong balance sheets, and we have great net assets. Both of our organizations are rated by Fitch and Front Porch is rated A and Covia is rated A-, which means that we’re both very strong and considered investment grade.” 

Jamison clarified the difference between an affiliation and a merger. With an affiliation, “You’re still your own separate organization. You come under control of common governance and common leadership, which is where you see the changes but there won’t be many changes with respect to your experience at any of our communities.”

Covia has 13 senior living communities located in the Bay Area: 5 market rate communities and 8 affordable communities. Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer, emphasized that the experience of living in a Covia community will be largely unchanged after the affiliation. “Our communities reflect their neighborhood, their location, the personality of their residents, and the voice of the residents. We do not see that changing because that’s really the lifeblood of this organization,” says McMullin. “Where I see the difference will be different teams up at Support Services. I don’t see changes ahead that are going to affect our quality, our dining options, how we manage activities and resident experience. I really see the difference as being more on the support side.”         

McMullin went on to highlight the positive differences that will result from this affiliation. “Some of the differences could be in access to resources as being part of a larger organization, which allows us to scale,” she says. Each organization also brings its own strengths to the affiliation. “Front Porch has resources that are different from ours,” says McMullin. “We have a robust community services division. Front Porch has the Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, which is focused on technology and innovation. Bringing these different strengths together, in addition to the financial strength, sets us up for a really successful future.”

McMullin also emphasized that “for residents who sign an agreement with us, the terms of that agreement stay in place throughout any transition.” Covia’s commitment to helping residents live well and age well remains a top priority. “Two not for profits coming together that are financially strong, with similar missions and similar focus, means that the terms of the agreements that residents sign with us are fulfilled, including that focus on the future,” says McMullin.

For the latest updates on the affiliation, please visit the respective affiliation sections of the Covia and Front Porch websites.

When the St. Paul’s Towers Resident Council met at the beginning of 2020, Council President Laura Galvin presented the idea of developing resident liaisons to promote connection across different levels of care within the community. This idea kicked off the creation of the Three Levels of Care (TLC) program, which seeks to create well-meaning relationships, increase socialization, and decrease isolation by connecting residents in Independent and Assisted Living.

SPT resident Irene Olson realized that as an Independent Living (IL) resident she didn’t know a great deal about Assisted Living (AL). She found herself asking, “What happens when we move to Assisted Living one day?” Olson was inspired to get involved, developing initiatives such as shared lunches and apartment visits so that IL residents could create lasting relationships with residents in AL.

“TLC is a way to break down silos between the continuum and live together as equals,” notes Connie Yuen, St. Paul’s Towers Assistant Health Care Administrator. “I am so proud of Ms. Olson and the residents who set up such a fantastic program that focuses on inclusion and community building.”

The TLC program is currently paused while sheltering in place but Olson is excited to continue growing the program once shelter in place is done. There are discussions about making the TLC program a permanent committee at St. Paul’s and after working on connecting IL and AL residents, the plan is to “expand to SNF (skilled nursing),” says Olson.

The TLC program shows great promise. Resident volunteers partnered with the Assisted Living Activities Coordinator to get more AL residents involved in community events and to develop relationships one on one.  These volunteers, including Olson, help bring AL residents to dinner, happy hour, concerts, classes, and activities. They even developed a wheelchair brigade, which Olson says was created “to increase participation and socialization.”

Resident volunteers work hard to make sure that the experience is not only fun but also meaningful. Volunteers check in with AL residents, asking what would make the experience meaningful for them and tailoring the program to their needs.  

For Joe, one of the AL residents that Olson worked with at the TLC program’s inception, the focus was on maintaining old friendships and getting to know new residents. Olson set out to make this happen for Joe by bringing him to the main dining room for meals and art classes to see his friends. All of this work helped them “develop such a strong bond over a short time,” notes Olson.

Though the TLC program is currently only at St. Paul’s Towers, Olson hopes that it will inspire “all Covia communities to get more involved at the AL level.” She notes, “It’s so easy to spend time with the resident in their room, play a game together, and find out what they need and how we can achieve something meaningful together. TLC is so easy at SPT. Everything is an elevator ride away so go see someone who is looking forward to spending time with you.”

Throughout the recent challenging times, the strength of resilient community and caring connections with one another have never been more apparent. For more than 50 years, members of the Covia Foundation Heritage Society have helped to build the foundation of that resiliency. Heritage Society members pledge a future gift to Covia Foundation to help support their community, the Circle of Friends Assistance Fund, or a cherished Covia program. These legacy gifts throughout the years have buoyed the resilience, quality, and strength of Covia communities and services.

You don’t have to be wealthy to make a difference. You just have to plant a gift in your estate plans. Your wishes will grow from there, enriching the community of caring and services for seniors.

What types of gifts can I leave to the Covia Foundation in my will?
You may leave items such as cash, property, land, securities or real estate. Every gift, no matter how small or large, can make a difference in the lives of seniors.

Can I support a specific program in my community with my gift?
Yes, you may support a specific community or program. You may also designate your gift be used where the need is greatest. These unrestricted gifts are especially valuable, as they provide flexibility to respond to changing needs and priorities.

Is a gift through my will tax deductible?
The Covia Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization. Charitable gifts are deductible to the full extent of the law. However, we suggest you seek advice from your tax advisor. Administrative charges are not deducted from gifts.

I already have a will — can I still leave a gift to the Covia Foundation?
Yes. Simply specify the Covia Foundation as a beneficiary of a particular account (such as a savings account or a retirement account). You can also amend your will with simple language (referred to as a codicil) to include a gift to the Covia Foundation.

How do I get started?
Please contact Katharine Miller, Covia Foundation Executive Director (925.956.7414 or kmiller@covia.org), to discuss your priorities and options. The Covia Foundation receives and administers all charitable gifts made to support Covia Communities, Covia Affordable Communities, and Covia Community Services.

Please notify us of your intentions to provide a bequest gift so that we may include your name as a member of the Heritage Society on the Honor Roll of Donors.

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

As we continue to shelter-in-place, Covia Community Service programs have found new ways to support their participants’ safety and well-being. For the Home Match program, staff have created new safety-informed initiatives and resource guides to support participants, sent care packages to ongoing matches, and developed digital initiatives to better reach people online.

For ongoing matches, Home Match staff have been facilitating conversations around safely sharing a home during COVID-19. “We put together a home-sharing specific questionnaire to guide productive conversations around maintaining health and safety in a shared-home, and for proactively planning for the event that a homemate becomes ill,” says Tori Shepard, Home Match Program Manager in San Francisco. “We also mediated a number of these conversations virtually, which received very positive feedback, particularly in homes where some homemates are at higher risk of severe illness.”

The Home Match team also boosted the spirits of ongoing matches by sending staff-curated care packages. These Happiness Packages consisted of fun activities that matches can participate in together as well as self-care items for relaxing while staying at home. Items included pancake mix, green tea, Rubik’s cubes, homemade soap, and puzzle books.

“We’ve received back a lot of gratitude from matches,” says Shepard. One participant wrote to say “We were truly delighted after receiving our package. In this new normal, for a couple of minutes, we felt the love of our friends and family.” 

Many participants have “also noted their gratitude for each other, as shelter-in-place buddies,” Shepard notes. “One of our matches shared that she’s grateful to be sharing her home, during these uncertain times. Since she’s at higher risk for severe illness, her homemate does all the shopping to make sure they have what they need – she’s even planted a food garden. She says it’s wonderful having someone to laugh with and talk to.”

The Home Match team has also been sharing helpful information with participants and adapting their program operations. For participants who have not yet been matched, the Home Match team provided local resource guides related to food, unemployment, and mental health. Following guidelines from local health orders and the CDC, Home Match has also adapted overall program operations to safely support participants and new matches while taking in the reality of the current situation.

“We’ve transitioned to 100% virtual operations and developed new safety procedures, in adherence with shelter-in-place orders,” notes Shepard. “All our participant interactions—including appointments, home visits, outreach activities, and Living Together Agreements—are now offered by phone or video call.

“Operating remotely has also created an opportunity to focus on the program’s online tools and presence,” says Shepard, while noting that “we are taking extra care to still reach those who do not have a computer or internet access.” Part of this focus is a new Home Match website, which debuted the week of July 24th. The new website includes expanded information for interested home-sharers, as well as testimonials from ongoing matches.

“We love the new website,” notes Shepard. “It has a much more open and content-rich layout, which gives us more room to tell our story. New features like our inquiry form and staff profiles give us more avenues to get to know our prospective participants and vice versa.”

The new Home Match website is available here and is a great jumping off point to learn more about the program and how they support the community.