When Webster House resident Chet Frankenfield was growing up on the East Coast, he never dreamed that he would travel to Antarctica. His adventure started in 1956 when he was attending Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island and his commanding officer asked him if he would be interested in studying Aerology at the Postgraduate School in Monterey California. “All I heard was Monterey,” Frankenfield says; he didn’t even know what aerology was, but he jumped at the chance to go to California. He learned later that “it’s the Navy term for Meteorology” and when he got to Monterey he would be trained as a flight forecaster.
After he completed his yearlong training, Frankenfield moved back to the East Coast, where he was stationed in Patuxent River, Maryland. After a year in Maryland, a call went out for the next season in Antarctica. Frankenfield’s interest in Antarctica had been growing ever since he learned about the International Geophysical Year. As he notes, “it was one of the last places left on Earth that was not totally destroyed by tourists and was unexplored” and so he jumped at the chance.
The International Geophysical Year was a year and a half long worldwide study of the Earth that took place from July 1957 to December 1958. Most nations participated, building stations around the world, including in Antarctica. As Frankenfield notes, “this was the first time that they really included and had an extensive study of Antarctica,” including the effects of the massive ice cap on the rest of the world. His interest in Antarctica paid off and he was selected for the next season.
In Antarctica, Frankenfield had the opportunity to put his training to practical use, forecasting for flights between Christchurch, New Zealand and McMurdo station. Flight forecasting in Antarctica consisted of informing pilots of weather conditions, including wind speed and visibility, and telling them to turn back if conditions worsened. During the summer months, forecasts were also made for the helicopters and ski-equipped aircraft ferrying scientists, support personnel and supplies to research sites and outlying Antarctic stations.
After the runway, built on a frozen section of ice on McMurdo Sound, melted in early February, flights were discontinued. By mid-March, the last ship with the last of the summer personnel left; and the remaining 120 men began their seven months of isolation. Four of the months were in darkness, and the only personal communication with the rest of the world was by ham-radio.
Frankenfield maintained the McMurdo weather station 24 hours a day. He and his four-man wintering-over crew took weather readings and sent up weather balloons, which was quite an undertaking as it included blowing up the large balloon and tracking it so they could take hourly upper atmospheric readings.
He and his men decided on a strict twelve hours on, thirty-six hours off schedule, which Frankenfield says his men were not happy about at first but really appreciated by the end of the winter. Where other crews, such as some of the construction personnel who were tasked with rebuilding the runway come summer, had little to do over the winter, Frankenfield’s team’s steady schedule kept their minds working steadily with no time for boredom to set in.
Frankenfield worked the normal ten-hour seven day a week schedule. When he wasn’t working, he stayed busy by taking up a number of different hobbies from reading and playing chess to teaching math and learning oil painting. He even completed some, as he puts it, “fairly decent penguin pictures” though he gave them away to his fellow officers who wanted them for their kids.
McMurdo Station was only one mile from the abandoned hut of Robert Falcon Scott, the first British explorer to reach the pole, so Frankenfield explored the debris around the structure as the hut itself was filled with snow. He would look for any items from Scott’s stay and on one excursion, Frankenfield found two salt jars, which he kept as a souvenir for his sister. Years later when he visited the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch with his wife, he was surprised to find some of his salt jars on display.
But that wasn’t the biggest surprise from Frankenfield’s trip to Antarctica. About ten years ago, when he got a new iPad and tried Googling himself, he was surprised to learn that a glacier had been named after him without his knowledge. He wrote to the US Geological Survey and they confirmed that it was true, the Frankenfield Glacier was indeed named after him.
After his year in Antarctica and a short stint in New Zealand, Frankenfield had spent time aboard an icebreaker that was trying to penetrate the Bellingshausen Sea to reach a point of land that no ship had ever previously reached. Though the ship abandoned its goal when they received a distress signal from a Danish ship, they got close enough that Frankenfield and a couple of the crew were able to fly in and land. They set up a tiny weather station, which would inspire the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names to name the glacier after him.
After returning from Antarctica, Frankenfield got a job in computer programming. He was just out of the military and had no experience in the computer industry but during his interview at a company in Sunnyvale, he noticed a book about Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton on his interviewer’s desk. “We sat there and talked about Antarctica for an hour,” Frankenfield says “and I left and I knew I had the job.” He pursued work in computers for the next thirty years until he retired in the 1990s.
The biggest lesson that Frankenfield took away from his time in Antarctica was how to live with himself and to keep himself entertained. He was told by a psychiatrist during a pre-expedition interview that he was “going to be bored as hell” and so he became determined to keep busy. Along with the hobbies that he took up over the year, he learned how to be comfortable with himself and to be content in any setting. It’s a skill that he holds onto to this day along with all of the memories of his year in Antarctica.
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.”
As a nonprofit organization with values rooted in service, Covia is committed to supporting the communities we serve. We find new ways to help people, especially those at risk, live well and age well, anywhere they call home.
To fulfill this commitment, we raise more than $2 million annually through the Covia Foundation and pledge 2% of Covia Communities’ annual gross revenue towards our charitable activities. Most importantly, we strive to live out our values in everything we do. We couldn’t be more proud of the work our staff, our residents, our donors, and our organization do all year round.
Our Calendars are Always Full
We have a multitude of programs and services dedicated to supporting our residents, our communities, and seniors who live in and around the areas we serve. This year’s Social Accountability Report looks at a year in the life, so you can see a sampling of the ways we help seniors every day. The report highlights the impact our work is having in the communities we serve.
Click here to download a copy of Covia’s 2018 Social Accountability Report.
Leaders in senior affordable housing will share the story of the Openhouse Community, the Bay Area’s first LGBT-welcoming senior affordable housing project, in a free event on June 1 at 3:00 at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Pre-registration is requested.
LGBT Housing – A Community Conversation About Lessons Learned and Future Directions will be moderated by Karim Sultan, VP of Affordable Housing for Covia. The panel will include: Marcy Adelman, co-founder Openhouse, a San Francisco non-profit exclusively focused on health and well-being of LGBTQI elders; Karyn Skultety, Executive Director of Openhouse; and Ileah Lavora, Housing Developer at Mercy Housing.
“Hopefully, the panel will motivate like-minded parties, whether it be in San Francisco or in the greater Bay Area, to build more LGBT housing,” says Sultan. “Obviously, there would be a lot of work between this initial conversation and a building going up, but we would like to start a larger conversation.”
After the panel, participants are invited to take a tour of the housing community at 55 Laguna, which provides Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender-welcoming housing for seniors age 55 and older. Though open to people of all sexual orientations or gender identity, 68% of the residents identify as LGBT.
The LGBT Community Center is located at 1800 Market Street. To register for this event, please visit this eventbrite site.