The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! Between September 15th and October 15th, America celebrates Hispanic heritage and all that those with Hispanic roots have contributed to our nation. Mexico’s Independence Day, paired with the anniversary of independence for multiple Latin American countries on September 15th, kicks off this month long celebration. (Mexican Independence is often mistakenly believed to be Cinco de Mayo, and not the actual date: September 16th.)

Hispanic Heritage Month is especially important as an opportunity to recognize Hispanic older adults, who currently constitute 8 percent of the older population nationwide, one-quarter of them living in California.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Covia is celebrating Well Connected Español, our community service program that supports Spanish speaking older adults. Well Connected offers phone-based and online activities for older adults anywhere in the US and with Well Connected Español, these offerings also promote Hispanic heritage and arts. Sessions like Lotería, Encuentrame en la Cocina (Find Me in the Kitchen), and Poesía de Otros Tiempos (Poetry from Other Times) allow participants to partake in games and conversations tied to their Latinx roots.

Poesía de Otros Tiempos celebrates Spanish poetry through the work of Gil Saenz while inviting participants to bring their own poems to share. As the session’s description highlights, the group is centered on poetry’s ability to heal the body and soul while also being challenging and inspiring. By choosing a Hispanic poet, the session discusses poetry that will distinctly connect to its participants’ experience.

Lotería, on the other hand, translates a popular Mexican game to a form that can connect people over the phone. Lotería, also called Mexican bingo, is similar to American Bingo except that participants mark off images on a grid instead of numbers. Like with bingo, images are called once and participants can win depending on completing a predetermined pattern on their board. An exciting aspect of Lotería is that it’s a fun game that is fully functional over the phone, making it a perfect session for Well Connected Español. Join Lotería during their next session on September 25th at 4:00pm PDT by calling (877) 400-5867 and requesting your free Lotería card.

Beyond these sessions that specifically address Hispanic heritage, the entire Well Connected Español catalog provides opportunities to connect with older adults that speak Spanish and every session is tailored to address Hispanic culture and roots.

This month provides the opportunity to not only celebrate Hispanic culture but also to reflect on its impact on our country, community, and personal lives. Michael Cueva, Well Connected Español Administrative Coordinator, notes, “As we enter Hispanic Heritage Month, I am thankful to my community for making me who I am. I thank my parents who struggled very hard, leaving their homeland to come to the U.S., where they worked very hard to give my sisters and me the life and opportunities we have today. I am proud of being Latino and of having the opportunity to give back to my community.”

Over the next 30 days, consider how you can celebrate Hispanic culture and its positive impact on all of our lives and follow along on the Well Connected Español and Covia Facebook pages for further celebrations.

A poet since she was a young child, San Francisco Towers resident Sally Love Saunders’ eyes light up when she talks about helping others get in touch with their creativity. “I’m doing it for me because I enjoy it,” she says. Sally has been a poet, poet-in-residence and teacher of poetry in a wide range of situations — with kids in schools, in senior centers, and at migrant labor camps. She was instrumental in developing poetry therapy and worked in Philadelphia mental hospitals as a Certified Poetry Therapist for many years.

Sally has six published books of poetry and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Times International, The London Times, The Denver Post, and among over 300 other anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her lesson plan for teaching poetry writing was published in The Christian Science Monitor.

She has shared poetry all her life. From her young days growing up on a farm in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to her college years on the East Coast, she would muse to herself, “What can I pass on to others?” The answer was poetry. She received many grants to take poetry into underserved areas such as Appalachia and inner-city libraries in Philadelphia, to mention a few.

Her family, like many, is far flung and she was looking for connection with others when she discovered Covia’s Well Connected program. She participates in Well Connected programs, has taught poetry to some Well Connected presenters, and has been a generous supporter of Well Connected creativity programming with a gift to the Covia Foundation.

She has also shared her poetry presentations throughout other Covia communities — visiting Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa, Webster House in Palo Alto, St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, and Presidio Gate Apartments in San Francisco. She looks forward to presenting again at San Francisco Towers this Fall and working with Bethany Center residents in San Francisco soon. She does this all as a volunteer.

It is serendipitous that she relocated to the West Coast. After college, as she was traveling to Japan to study haiku, she had a layover in San Francisco. “As soon as I stepped out of the plane and enjoyed the coastal air, I knew I wanted to live here,” she says.

For many years, she lived a few blocks from San Francisco Towers and saw it under construction as it rose to its current place overlooking the City skyline. Over the years, she got to know people and staff from the Towers from poetry workshops. Now, as a resident, “I am a very happy camper.”

*This article was previously published in the Summer 2019 edition of Community Matters

On August 3rd, over 170 residents from Covia Communities gathered at Spring Lake Village for the fourth annual Circle of Friends luncheon. This summer luncheon raises awareness for and supports the Circle of Friends Fund, which provides assistance to Covia life plan community residents who have outlived their resources.

This year’s luncheon pulled from the theme of the Golden State of California for food and decoration inspiration. Executive chefs and their staff from St. Paul’s Towers, San Francisco Towers, and Spring Lake Village prepared a four course meal that spanned everything from heirloom tomatoes with burrata and aged balsamic to a princess cake paired with coffee and tea. Beyond the luncheon, attendees participated in a raffle and wine pull with wine donated from Covia executive staff, the Circle of Friends planning committee, and Kendall Jackson Wineries.

The Circle of Friends luncheon wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of the planning committee, which is made up of Covia Communities residents, members of the Covia Foundation and partners from Morrison Community Living. Committee members are brought together by their desire to raise awareness for the Circle of Friends Fund.

Committee member and Spring Lake Village resident Patricia Wilson notes, “when we signed up to help out on organizing the first Circle of Friends luncheon in 2016, it was simply the contagious enthusiasm of creating an event to enlarge the Circle — the Circle of Friends. Then each successive year, it has been the creative challenge to increase the participation in the Circle. It has gone from ‘creating an event’ to ‘how can we increase the awareness of what the Circle of Friends means and does.’ The best part, we are always thinking, ‘what can we do better?’”

The Circle of Friends Fund helps Life Plan residents who have outlived their resources to pay their residential fees. Residents who receive support are on average in their 90s, have lived in a Covia community for over 16 years and are primarily single, having outlived their partners. Part of Covia’s promise is that residents will be provided with support whenever they need it, and the Circle of Friends Fund is one way Covia helps fulfill this promise within the communities.

In attendance at the event was Van Moller, an acclaimed pianist and long-time resident of Spring Lake Village, who delights the community with weekly performances. Moller, who says, “moving to Spring Lake Village in 2004 gave me the opportunity to play and sing more than at any other time in my life”, has created a DVD of his piano performances, now available as a thank you gift for those who donate to the Circle of Friends Fund. This gift is an extension of Moller’s enjoyment of “sharing his love of music with neighbors and friends at Spring Lake Village.”

This year’s Circle of Friends luncheon was a rousing success from the participation by the communities to the delicious meal crafted by Morrison Community Living chefs. If you are interested in giving to the Circle of Friends Fund, please visit www.covia.org/giving.

Earlier this year, Covia was certified for a second year as a Great Place to Work. This certification, based on a Trust Index that includes over 60 evaluated elements, considers not only organizational culture but also each team member’s experience.

“We like to get feedback from the organization to see how we’re doing,” says Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources. “Are we meeting our objectives? Is everybody engaged with their current roles? And, most importantly, are there areas to improve? At the end of the day, we want to build a strong culture and the only way that we can do that is by getting employee feedback.”

The Great Place to Work survey revealed a lot of exciting insights about Covia. One of the things that was made clear in these results is that employees are proud of their work. 89% of respondents indicated that they “feel good about the ways that Covia contributes to the community” while 87% feel a sense of pride about what they have accomplished. The people stand out at the top as one of the main reasons employees enjoy their work, especially in their interactions with staff and residents.

“The work that we do truly makes a positive impact in people’s lives,” says Lizette Suarez, Well Connected Español Program Manager. “I am surrounded by a great team who is dedicated and committed to making a difference in the world.”

The Great Place to Work survey not only highlights successes but also serves as a great tool to pinpoint areas of improvement within the company. Based off of the results of the survey, each community has identified specific goals that will be their focus over the next year. These goals range from managers more readily including employees in important decisions to working quicker to adapt to changes.

Beyond these individual goals, there is one company-wide goal, which is centered on creating a great culture. Over the next year, Covia will focus on developing a hiring culture that is both fun and effective with the goal of bringing in more candidates that are a great fit. This will include becoming more transparent and creating a New Hire Orientation and Onboarding process that does a better job of orienting new hires within their particular community as well as with the company as a whole.

These goals will be evaluated through pulse surveys sent out to employees periodically. Based on these surveys, the entire company as well as each community will be able to determine if they are moving forward or if more work is needed to reach their designated goal.

 “All of the work that has gone into identifying these goals and tailoring them to each community is intended to better the experience of every employee,” says Brinton. “There are always places to improve and the Great Place to Work survey has provided a great jumping off point from which to evaluate and enhance Covia’s employee experience.”  

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.

On July 2nd, Fitch Ratings affirmed the A- rating on Covia’s revenue bonds, with a rating outlook of “Stable.” Covia first received an A- rating in 2017.

“Covia benefits from its size and scale with five full service retirement communities located in desirable locations throughout Northern California, with a total operating revenue base of nearly $150 million,” Fitch reports. “Along with a sophisticated and centralized management structure, Covia’s revenue diversity offsets credit risks relating to operating volatility, competitive pressures and actuarial risk.”

After the February decision by the Covia Communities Board to proceed with the closure of Los Gatos Meadows,  Diana Jamison, Covia’s Chief Financial Officer, immediately reached out to Fitch to provide them with details. “They appreciated our transparency and proactive response and requested specific information. Fitch then scheduled a formal surveillance process to review our rating given the impact of the closure,” reports Kevin Gerber, CEO.

During the surveillance meeting, which takes place every two years, “We demonstrated that we are a strong, healthy organization, even given this temporary closure of Los Gatos Meadows,” says Jamison. The Fitch report demonstrates that “they had faith in management and had faith in the strength of our financial performance.”

“Fitch understands our industry better than any other rating agency,” says Jamison. To be able to maintain Covia’s A- rating feels “Awesome. I don’t even know how to explain it any other way.”

“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to maintain our financial strength. It says a lot about the organization.”

Inclusion logoHonoring its core values of welcome, inclusion, social justice and grace, Covia is celebrating Pride not only through events this month, but through an ongoing commitment to make its communities and programs welcoming to all.

Covia is an Endorsing Organization of the Long-Term Care Equality Index (LEI) – the  first organization to do so on the West Coast. LEI, a joint initiative of SAGE and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, is a three-year project to “assess, benchmark, and ultimately improve the policies and practices of long-term care residential settings (nursing homes, assisted living, continuing care retirement communities, and more) regarding their LGBT-inclusiveness.” Jerry Brown, Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, is a member of the LEI Advisory Council.

As part of the LEI, communities and organizations are encouraged to sign the Commitment to Caring Pledge as an indication of their intention to engage in LGBT inclusive policies and practices. Kevin Gerber, President and CEO, says, “Covia has long supported the inclusion of LGBTQ+ seniors and staff in our communities. We are glad to support the work of SAGE and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in ensuring that senior communities throughout the country are safe and welcoming for everyone.”

In the greater community, Jen Arent, Director of Senior Resources for Sonoma County, created a display at Sonoma County Pride that won the “Year of Love” decorating contest as she asked those who stopped by to join Covia’s “Wall of Love.”

Arent asked everyone who came to the booth to take a multicolored paper heart and write down what they feel about love – “who they love, why they love, what they love, et cetera.” Then Arent would pin them up on the multicolored fabric panels used to decorate the booth. “It was an amazing success!” Arent says. “By the end of the day we had nearly 200 paper hearts with positive, kind, thoughtful messages of love from people of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs. It was truly inspiring.”   

Covia will cap off the month by participating in San Francisco’s Pride parade, cosponsoring a contingent of LGBTQ+ seniors that will include residents and staff from Bethany Center, Presidio Gate Apartments, San Francisco Towers, and St. Paul’s Towers. The theme of this year’s parade, Generations of Resistance, is “an opportunity to put seniors at the center of the celebration and the march towards social justice,” according to Openhouse, which is coordinating the parade contingent.

LGBTQ+ inclusion at Covia doesn’t end with the month of June. A new session of Well Connected, beginning on July 8, offers a weekly LBGTQ Chat group. Open to all LGBTQ older adults, the group “will create an inclusive place to share our stories with each other and build a sense of community.” Participants can register for this or any other Well Connected group by calling 877-797-7299.

Throughout Covia, “we continually work to build the value of inclusion in all we do,” says Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer. “It’s important to us that the moment people walk into one of our communities, they know that they are welcome, just as they are.”

2019 Village People

The Village People, Spring Lake Village’s entrant in the Sonoma County Wine Country Games (commonly known as the Senior Games), won their first medal on May 31, 2019, taking third place in the bocce tournament. The team included Capt. Sue Guerra, Don Allison, Brenda and Butch Dippel, Pete Guerra, and Barbara Ware, all residents of Spring Lake Village, a Covia Life Plan Community in Santa Rosa.

The Sonoma County Wine Country Games, a program benefiting the Council on Aging, encourages healthy activity and social engagement for anyone 50+ through education, connections, and the spirited competition of sport, inspiring all to take an active role in determining the quality of their aging experience. Along with bocce, events include basketball, cycling, pickleball, tennis, volleyball and more.

In the bocce tournament, teams competed with each team playing three 50-minute games.  If teams did not finish in 50 minutes, the existing score at the time was used. At the end of the three games, four teams were eliminated from competition based on number of games won and point count.  The two remaining teams with the highest point count played each other for first and second place.  The two other remaining teams played for third place.

In the first round, The Village People beat a team from Oakmont called Varenna #2, lost to Fountaingrove (another Oakmont Team), and beat the Collectiballs, a Santa Rosa league team, giving them enough points and wins to progress to the second round. After defeating Varenna #2 a second time, the Village People squared off against the Go Getters for their chance to win the bronze medal. 

Congratulations to the Village People for their third place win!

GPTW CertifiedFor the second consecutive year, Covia has been certified a Great Place to Work.

Great Place to Work™, an independent research and consulting firm, evaluates an organizational culture brief as well as more than 60 elements of team members’ experience on the job. These elements include pride in the organization’s community impact, employees’ belief that their work makes a difference, and a sense of respect, fairness, credibility, and camaraderie. Together, these items are called the Trust Index.

The certification process at Covia considered almost 700 employee surveys from across all of Covia’s California communities and locations. To be certified, an organization needs a participation rate of over 50%, and a Trust Index score of 75% or greater. Overall, 66% of Covia’s employees participated in the survey with a Trust Index score of 77%.

Being certified makes Covia eligible to be considered for the Fortune Great Places to Work list, including Great Places to Work in Aging Services. Last year, Covia ranked 29th on the list. The 2019 results will be published late this summer.

Survey results will be used to create action items to improve the employee experience. After reviewing the results, Covia will determine an action item that will be applied to the organization overall, and each community will also develop an action item that is specific for that location.

“The Great Place to Work certification is a testament both to the quality of our workplaces and of our employees,” says Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources. “We want to take this moment to celebrate this achievement as we strive to become the best workplace we can.”

The company overview is available online at the Great Place to Work website.