The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

It was through a student internship that Katherine Smith, Covia’s Director of Social Services, became interested in working with older adults. As she worked towards her Bachelor’s of Social Work degree at Cal State Los Angeles, “when it came time to pick an internship and where we’re going to be going, my first choice was to work with kids.” She didn’t get her first choice. Instead, she ended up in a gerontology internship. “I’m like, what is gerontology? But then I fell in love with it.”

So it made sense to her to promote an internship program partnering with Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators to encourage a new generation of social workers.

Covia has been offering internships for the past 5 years, associated with USC’s Davis School of Gerontology and CSULA; this fall, they have launched a new partnership with the Social Work department at San Jose State University.

“Before we have an intern at our sites, we want to make sure we’re going to be a good fit for them and they’ll be a good fit for us,” says Shannon Wetters, Lead Resident Service Coordinator at Emerson Village in Pomona. “Are they looking for administrative work? Are they looking for management research? Or are they interested in actually working one on one with older adults? If their goal is to work with older adults, if that’s their true passion, then here at Emerson, they are a perfect fit.”

Interns spend 20 to 24 hours per week working with residents. Due to COVID-19, some of the work is now done remotely, but the Covia team ensures that the interns still get the experience they’re looking for. At Emerson Village, the intern is setting up phone visits with residents, or meet at an appropriate distance from residents in Wetters’ large office while she listens to the interaction, sitting in the hallway.

Pamela Ogawa-Boon, Lead Resident Service Coordinator at Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto, is supervising her first intern this fall. A Masters of Social Work student at San Jose State working toward her certificate in gerontology, Alanah Rosembloom will spend 24 hours per week assisting residents at Lytton Gardens as well as at Shires Memorial Center in San Jose. As a first time mentor, Ogawa-Boon is looking forward to bouncing ideas back and forth with someone eager to be part of the process of serving seniors. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” she says.

The influence of the internship program has reached far beyond Covia’s communities. In addition to the work these interns have done in communities where Covia has Resident Service Coordinator contracts, they have taken what they’ve learned to the communities – and countries – they call home.

Wetters has mentored interns from all over the world, providing experience for students from China, Mexico, and currently South Korea. Wetters shares that her current intern Seungjae Lee, whose family owns a nursing home, “wants to be able to take a lot of the knowledge he’s getting here and take it back to his family. Additionally, he wants to start educating the younger population, teaching them how to prepare their loved ones for the aging process.”

“They’re learning a lot here and they want to take it back there and start something new that they don’t have in their country right now,” says Wetters. She shares that her intern from Mexico five years previously “had no idea if she’d even want to work with older adults but it turned out she really found a passion for it.” As a result, “she was hoping to take this information that she gleaned and take it back to Mexico and start teaching family and friends and then hopefully develop a business from that.”

“A lot of people don’t know about service coordination,” Wetters continues. “I didn’t know about it until I went to the University of La Verne, and there was an informational meeting and I thought, I want to do that.”

As a result of Covia’s internship program, still more people are discovering or deepening their passion and skill for working with older adults.