The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Each year, Covia sends candidates to LeadingAge California’s EMERGE program to build and develop their capacity for leadership and to help them network with other leaders in the Aging Services field. This May, Rosa Torres, Human Resources Manager for Los Gatos Meadows, and Cammille Lo-Li, Regional Social Services Manager for Covia Affordable Communities, are graduating as members of the class of 2019, and Maggie Youssef, Health Care Administrator at St. Paul’s Towers, will join the class of 2020.

“EMERGE is a year-long program to help candidates reach their potential in their organization to successfully lead innovative programming within their organizations,” explains Jerry Brown, Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, who helped establish the statewide program and has served as a coach for the past four years.

Brown explains that EMERGE fellows “can be any level of employee. It doesn’t have to be a CEO. It can be a maintenance person or a nurse, which I think is the wonderful thing about it. The supervisor sees the value that you have as a leader – that you can be a leader, not necessarily in the current job you have, but for the organization in some way.”

Lo-li first heard about the program while working at another organization in 2011. “I got that opportunity back then when I was first on the job as a Resident Service Coordinator. But I put it on hold and things kept holding me back [from participating]. So I’m glad that as soon as I was employed by Covia, I got a call saying, ‘Hey, Cammille, we want you to participate.’”

Youssef explains, “I applied for the EMERGE program so that I can professionally grow as a leader, build long lasting professional relationships with other leaders from other organizations and network with other fellow EMERGE members.” For Youssef, “Although I’ve worked in the Long term Care industry the last 25 years, I believe that there is so much more to learn. It is an ever evolving industry. The EMERGE program can help me improve on the skills I already possess and develop other skills I need to become a better leader in the industry.”

Participants in the program meet in person four times a year, participating in site visits at LeadingAge California member communities. They read and discuss four books on leadership development, and participate in monthly team calls between sessions. Each participant also creates an Action Learning Plan, or ALP, to apply what they have learned and bring it back to their workplace.

“It’s a training to help you lead, but it’s not only that,” says Torres. “I feel that this year has helped me to understand people in all their diversity, how to deal with them, how to communicate, how to address employees properly.”

Torres’ ALP involved building a more inclusive culture in her community. “The first thing I did was instead of saying ‘Staff Meeting,’ I changed it to ‘Team Meeting.’ And you know, believe it or not, that Team word made a big difference for some employees. I had people from the Environmental Services department tell me that this was the first time that somebody saw them as part of a team.”

Lo-li is developing a social work mentorship program “by shadowing current employees in different positions, getting their interest in the aging services field.”

The ALPs are not just theoretical projects, but actually get carried out and have an impact on the participants’ organizations. A previous EMERGE fellow implemented Covia’s comprehensive, organization-wide online Accounts Payable system as her ALP.

In addition to what participants bring back to their organizations, “I got really good friends and I appreciate the training because of that,” says Torres. “You learn a lot of things about yourself, about your job, about the people around you.”

As a coach, Brown says, “I like hearing everybody’s personal stories. I like seeing the best practices when we go visit sites. There’s some really wonderful programs out there, innovative things. Covia has some of the most innovative programs within the whole membership of LeadingAge California. We should be very proud of that.”

“I’m really glad that Covia continues to support the program and that Cammille and Rosa both were able to get through the program this year and graduate, and I hope that they encourage others to do so too,” says Brown. “We have to remember that it’s not a cheap program. You are getting the support of your supervisor because you’re not at work. Other people have to fill in for you while you’re away. And so Covia’s really making an investment in your leadership, allowing this education. You’re being honored, I would say.”

“I wish that every employee, every colleague would get to attend, just to get the experience of it,” says Lo-li. “It’s an adventure ride.”

After graduating from high school in Vallejo, Jasphere “Phey” Abuan wanted to be a biochemist. “I was actually in a biochem program back in the day,” she says, “and then life happens.” In 2000, she left an abusive relationship, took her 8-month-old daughter and the $30 she had in her pocket and moved home to live with her mother. Now, with the support of Covia’s employee Educational Assistance program, she is preparing to enter a graduate program for a Master’s Degree in Physician’s Assistant Studies.

After returning to Vallejo, Phey joined a temp agency that assigned her to construction companies. “I did subcontracting, I did liens, I did accounts payable stuff. I picked it up really quick. And I picked up the 10 key really fast too. That’s when I decided, ‘I have this kid. I need to do something. And I can’t do anything without a degree.’” While working, she got her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and a minor in accounting in 2009. But she still hoped to work for a health-related organization.

Married and with a second child, Phey got laid off from her job with the construction company in 2010. “I got into another temp job I didn’t like so much. It was still construction but more, like, pipes. It paid the bills. I was still looking for something and then [in 2012] I got an opportunity for another temp to hire job here. They told me it’s a senior living community management type company and I’m like, ‘Yes! This is what I want.’ So I finally got in here, got my foot in the door.”

Her work with Covia took her to visit Webster House Health Center. “I would go there and I would see the facility and it intrigued me.” Observing the Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), nurses, and others made Phey revisit her dream to enter the medical field – a dream that was also part of her family history. Her father had studied to be a doctor in the Philippines, but the death of his father had interrupted his studies. Instead, after immigrating to the US with Phey and her two siblings, he had had to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet for his family.

At Covia, “my manager  pushed us to look into the Educational Assistance program at every finance meeting we had,” Phey says. However, she didn’t think she qualified since the program is for training directly related to a person’s job or career path at Covia. “I thought, it can’t be applied to me, because I want to be a PA [Physician’s Assistant] and I don’t think there’s a lot of PAs employed directly here. So I talked to Prab [Brinton, VP of HR] and Prab said, ‘It’s still a medical line. You can totally do that.’”

Phey began her studies in 2016. “Every new fiscal year, I applied to complete one grueling class. In 2016, I completed my Chemistry class. In 2017, I completed my Anatomy & Physiology class, and in 2018, I have completed my Biochemistry class using the Educational Assistance program here at Covia. I coordinated the most expensive courses first and paid out of pocket with my other courses. I also took advantage in borrowing from my Covia 403b to pay for other classes.” Her final class this semester is Human Biology at Diablo Valley College. “We get to dissect a pig. I’m so excited!”

In January, Phey plans to get her certificate to be a CNA. While continuing in her full-time position as Payroll Specialist at Support Services, she will also work on getting at least 2,000 direct care hours as a CNA at Covia Communities before applying for Physician’s Assistant programs.

“One thing led to another for me and it was kind of – I don’t know, it was just magical. If you asked me when I was hired here, I had no clue. But one question I had that I actually asked opened up doors for other opportunities that can advance my career. And that I did not expect,” Phey says.

Her biggest advice for Covia employees who wonder if this benefit applies to them is simply to ask. “There’s so much opportunity that we as Covia Communities give our employees. If you’re interested, get the information. There are so many benefits out there – not just medical benefits. Our HR group has a lot of information that can guide you through these things. So if you’re interested in any – even if you don’t know if there are benefits out there, ask. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”