Annette Balter, Covia’s Director of Senior Resources for Contra Costa County, was recently named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise for her work in developing the Rotary Home Team program throughout the Bay Area.
Rotary Home Team sends teams of Rotarians into their community to provide free, basic home maintenance and repairs to older adults. It was created by Hays Englehart, a member of the Lamorinda Sunrise Rotary, who was inspired by the time spent with his own father going through the list of small repairs that needed to be done when Englehart came to visit.
“He’d sit there with a glass of wine and he’d be the supervisor. After my dad died, I kind of missed that. And I said, ‘There’s got to be other seniors out there that need this service. They don’t have a son or neighbor to be there. Let me check into that.’ Sure enough, there was a huge need.”
At a holiday dinner, Englehart shared his idea with his cousin, Terry Englehart, who worked for Covia (then called Episcopal Senior Communities) as the original creator of Well Connected. “I asked ‘What do you think?’ She said, ‘That’s a great idea! Let me put you in touch with some people.’ And that’s where it started.”
In 2010, Rotary Home Team launched in Contra Costa County. “The very first time was a cold February day. I remember it like yesterday,” says Englehart. “I was trying to guess what we would need to take with us. I took some basic hand tools and said we’d figure it out as we go. So we went, and I think we had three or four requests and the learning process started.”
Repairs can range from fixing a leaky toilet to changing smoke alarm batteries to making sure doors move freely. Annette Balter explains, “Rotary Home Team literally keeps the lights on for older adults who can’t change lightbulbs in their high ceilings! Fixing little things around the home is a unique service for people who aren’t able to do these jobs themselves any longer, and for whom the cost of hiring someone is prohibitive.”
But Englehart says, “The most interesting thing is the people, not what we’re fixing. Because half of HOME Team we’ve found is just visiting with the seniors, talking with them, learning about their friends and family and how long they’ve been there.”
From its first club, Rotary Home Team has expanded to 23 throughout California, ranging from Weaverville to Encinitas. Covia’s role is to support the 17 clubs in its service area, providing program administration, follow up, support, and outreach.
Balter has conducted outreach and made presentations to many local Rotary Clubs over the past two and a half years, expanding the program in Contra Costa County from 5 clubs to 13. But she wants to see more growth in the future. “I would love to expand the program in each of the seven Bay Area counties that Covia serves,” she says.
Balter’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by Rotary. “Our Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise presented Annette Balter our most prestigious award, a Paul Harris Fellowship, for her superior service to the Rotary Home Team cause,” says Englehart. “Annette has worked diligently with us for many years and the Home Team program has grown exponentially directly due to her efforts. The award is the highest award a Rotary Club can bestow on a Non-Rotarian and it doesn’t happen very often.”
And this growth is having a real impact. In 2017 in Contra Costa County alone, Rotary HOME Team provided 318 visits to 244 seniors. This year, with new clubs involved, Englehart says, “I’m estimating we’re visiting about 100 seniors every two months. That’s 600 a year. You do the math. That’s the kind of impact that is pretty quantifiable.”
But the impact also comes down to the individuals they serve. “Our oldest participant in the program is a 103 year old woman in Walnut Creek,” says Balter. “She calls every time we have a Rotary Home Team work day. The volunteers love visiting her!”
Englehart agrees. “I don’t tell people how to fix things. They’re supposed to know that. But here’s how we talk to our seniors. That’s why you’re going out. We want you to be able to do that. Each Rotarian that goes out there and sees that and walks away, they have that very positive feeling. We’ve done something. We didn’t just replace a battery. We really helped.”
If your Rotary club is interested in participating in Rotary Home Team, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit the Covia Rotary Home Team webpage at https://covia.org/services/rotary-home-team/ or the Rotary Home Team website at http://www.rotaryhometeam.com/.
When the summer session of Well Connected begins on Monday, July 9th, it will include a new season of virtual visits to museums throughout the United States in a series called Museums at Home.
Amber Carroll, Director of Well Connected, remembers attending a program with the Oakland Museum. “I was blown away by how amazingly descriptive, fun, and educational a virtual tour could be. The participants loved it! At that moment I started fantasizing about creating a Museums Without Walls program. When Katie [Wade, Assistant Director of Well Connected] came on board, she made my dream a reality.”
And the reality is powerful for participants. Carroll explains, “Imagine how crowded the Art Institute of Chicago was for the John Singer Sargent exhibit this past spring! Museums at Home provides the opportunity to view exhibits without travel, without crowds, without admission fees, and without sore feet. Because we additionally train docents about accessibility for low-vision and blind participants, the experience really feels like you’re there without any of the hassles.”
This session’s museum visits include exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the South Carolina State Museum, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Wade says, “Some participants remember visiting these museums with their children, or learning about an artist in school, or spending hours in a particular museum and they value the opportunity to recreate those experience in a new, more accessible way. Others have felt a shift in how they view important moments in American history. Some are newly exploring art and find it meaningful to be able to ask questions of the docent and other participants. There’s a little something for all.”
She continues, “Museums at Home reminds me that art is such a powerful tool for personal growth – it sparks new ways of thinking, innovation, and brings people together.”
Well Connected is a Covia Community Services program. To find out more about Well Connected, visit https://covia.org/services/well-connected/. You can download the current catalog here to learn more about Museums at Home and the many other programs, support groups, and educational sessions offered by Well Connected.
When the Spring Lake Village Resident Council decided to honor some of its longest serving volunteers, they saw it as another way to build community. The Volunteer Recognition program celebrates residents who have made a lasting contribution to the community’s life, many of which are unknown to newer residents.
“People who are moving in are enjoying so much being part of this community,” says Resident Council member Sharon Boschen, who moved to Spring Lake Village in 2014 and now coordinates the Volunteer Recognition program. “And of course new residents have no clue of the contributions of so many of our elders here who have helped create this community that we’re all enjoying. And so this program is an effort to build bridges between these two groups.”
So far the program had had two presentations. In February, Don Sanders, who moved to Spring Lake Village in 2005 with his wife Marilyn, was honored for his service as Resident Council president, Financial Study Group member, Fire & Disaster Committee, founder of the Conservation Committee and the Wellness Committee, and as a leader in the effort to develop the West Grove addition to Spring Lake Village. In April, Rodgers and Nancy Broomhead were recognized for their activities ranging from stocking and working at the Village Store to reading to residents in Skilled Nursing to hosting a “birthday monthly dinner orphans table” in the dining room to developing the yearly Robert Burns dinner and celebration.
“Those of us with German-Danish ancestry love being Scots for a night,” says Boschen. “It’s such a delightful presentation and just a real community builder, and you discover that you like haggis, which is a surprise.”
Honorees are nominated by the community through one of its 20-plus resident committees. “One of our suggested benchmarks is that these are people who have served in some capacity for at least ten years, someone who’s made a lasting impression on our community life.” says Resident Council president Gerry Porter, a resident since 2015. “We started out with the premise that Spring Lake Village is a community of volunteers and that we would not enjoy this wonderful place if it were not for people pitching in and doing things to make the community stronger.”
The goal of the program is to provide lasting recognition to volunteers who may no longer be as active. Similar to residents who receive a gold name tag for 20 years in the community, these recipients receive a platinum name tag that says Honored Volunteer.
“I noted when you see someone wearing that, give them thanks for helping to create this community we’re all enjoying because they have done a great thing for us,” says Boschen.
Recipients are honored during a presentation at a Resident Council meeting, each one unique to the recipient. “One of the things I noticed in the recent presentation is there is not a sound in the room when they’re going on,” says Boschen. “People are involved. They really feel good about knowing what is being offered there about these other people who may look to them just like frail elders, not shakers and movers who’ve created this beautiful community with us.”
Porter says, “It’s still an emerging program because we’ve only done two of them so far. The community here is very strong but it’s always changing with people leaving and people coming in. Trying to get people engaged in the community I’d say is one of the primary goals, as well as to recognize the people who have served so faithfully for so many years.”
“I think it’s an inspiration to us all when you see what these residents have accomplished and you know that you’re a part of this and you have a role to play here too,” says Boschen. “The audience is quiet and almost reverent as they listen to what these people have done. So they are inspirations to us. This whole process has brought an appreciation and a joy to the community.”
It’s easy to see the communities that Covia creates through its housing. What’s less known is the community created through its services. Covia provides Resident Service Coordination to 21 senior affordable housing communities throughout California, a service that’s largely invisible despite its impact on people’s lives.
Service coordination is about connecting residents with the public benefits, services and programs that can improve their lives and makes it more likely they will be able to stay longer in their homes.
“A lot of seniors have a lack of resources so we bring them community resources. We play the role of a bridge, connecting our seniors to local community resources,” says Bonnie Chang, Resident Services Coordinator for Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto. These can range from help with insurance or other paperwork to finding a way to pay for an electric scooter to registering residents with a local PACE [Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly], and much more.
Service Coordinators are also on-site resident advocates, says Ericka Battaglia, Lead Resident Services Coordinator at Good Shepherd Homes in Inglewood. “When I say advocate, I mean we support them through whatever they’re going through whether it’s physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual. If we see a resident is not doing well, we provide resources for them so that they’re able to get better and age in place successfully.”
Katherine Smith, Senior Director of Social Services, explains that one of the most important things RSCs do is provide wellness education programs on site. Giving residents information on managing chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or providing fall prevention programs makes it more likely that residents will be able to live at home as long as possible, and prevent the need for invasive and costly medical interventions.
Service Coordinators come from a range of backgrounds, though many have degrees in gerontology and social work; most have Masters Degrees. Most of the Covia RSCs are bilingual or trilingual; among them, they can offer services in Korean, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and ASL and help to bridge the gap between cultural and language barriers.
The advanced degrees in social work also help Service Coordinators speak the same language as community service providers, says Battaglia. “If you’re finding a resource for behavioral health, the process moves a lot swifter if you speak the same professional language.”
Battaglia explains that she works as a liaison between building managers and residents. While the property manager’s job is to maintain the facility and fulfill HUD guidelines, the RSC’s job is to see that the resident is doing well. “For instance,” she says, “my property manager will come to me and say, ‘We have a resident that is not going to pass this inspection because they’re hoarding.’ “Instead of just going to residents with paperwork, notices and warnings, I can go and say, ‘Let’s figure this out together.’” It’s a win-win situation.
Residents win when they receive the services they need. Mary Avina, Resident Service Coordinator at Jennings Court in Santa Rosa, tells the story of a resident who needed significant dental work but couldn’t afford it. “He also desperately needed other medical procedures, but due to the infection in his mouth, he wasn’t able to get the other medical procedures done,” Avina explains. “So I assisted him in find the resources to be able to finance his most needed dental work to be done, and he was able to get that done and then able to get the medical procedure that he desperately needed. He’s very happy now and doing a lot better.”
“A lot of these seniors are – you know, they’re new to aging,” says Battaglia. “We’re trained to make sure their living experience isn’t another hassle for them, isn’t another barrier they have to overcome. We chose this because this is what we love to do, and this is the population that we want to serve.”
The following is a summary of the workshop presented at the Aging in America conference by Amber Carroll and Katie Wade. Amber Carroll is Director and Katie Wade is Associate Director of Well Connected (formerly known as Senior Center Without Walls).
Setting the stage for their presentation, Well Connected Associate Director Katie Wade asked workshop participants to close their eyes and imagine someone they have a strong connection with. Around the room, she saw faces light up as people reflected on the warmth and happiness that comes from those relationships.
This simple exercise illustrated the importance of connection in people’s lives that Katie Wade and Director Amber Carroll have both seen in their work with Well Connected (formerly known as Senior Center Without Walls). “This week, would it be an exaggeration to say that you’ve heard the word ‘loneliness’ and ‘social isolation’ like a billion times?” Carroll noted. “Loneliness and social isolation have been going on since the beginning of time, but folks are starting to talk about it.”
Studies have only recently begun to calculate the health impact of loneliness and social isolation. Some studies have found that loneliness has the same negative effect on health as smoking 15 cigarettes or drinking 6 alcoholic beverages a day. Wade points out, “When I go to my yearly physical, I’m asked to fill out something about how often I drink or if I’ve ever been a smoker. But very rarely am I asked if I’m feeling lonely or if I’m feeling connected. But we know it has the same physical impact.”
Carroll notes, “This is why everyone is talking about it now. We’re seeing these real health connections to loneliness, and realizing that loneliness costs buckets of money.”
Well Connected addresses the issue of loneliness through the mutual support and reciprocal relationships provided by participants, many of whom also become group facilitators. Rather than trying to fix the problem for others, Well Connected emphasizes that participants are able to help one another. “The model of giving and receiving is what makes our program unique,” says Wade.
As an example, Wade spoke of Lynnie, whose photo is featured above. Lynnie has been a participant and facilitator for Well Connected for over a decade, facilitating at least 100 groups. After Lynnie’s recent diagnosis, she decided to facilitate a group called “Living Through Dying” for the upcoming Well Connected session, which begins April 9.
As a phone based program, Well Connected also is very accessible for people with vision loss. Along with large-print catalogs, information is available in braille and in audio form. This year, Well Connected is hosting the second National Conversation on Aging and Vision Loss, presented by the American Foundation for the Blind, on May 4th.
Well Connected helps break down barriers and bring together diverse populations. Carroll explains, “There can be somebody who’s in their SRO in the Tenderloin here in San Francisco participating with someone in New York who’s in their penthouse Central Park home, connecting around a central interest in a topic. You just don’t see that in a senior center that’s geographically bound in a particular neighborhood.”
Wade adds, “When I came to the program, it really challenged some of the biases that I had. For example, I knew Gloria, a participant, maybe for three months on the phone before she mentioned she was in a wheelchair. I had pictured her as this 20-year-old blonde. It really challenged the stereotypes that I hold.”
Unlike many other senior programs or communities, Well Connected groups take place seven days a week, giving seniors activities to participate in over the weekend. One of its long-running groups, Gratitude, has just celebrated its 10th anniversary, meeting every day at 9:00 am and expanding to a second group at noon. Wade shares, “We have developed a culture of gratitude in part because we do this every day, twice a day, seven days a week.”
“This has been an amazing job,” Wade adds. “I often think, ‘Am I getting to do this and being paid for this?’ To join the calls, to work with the volunteers, to plan the programs. But also, I don’t think a day goes by where we don’t get a positive report from someone saying, ‘Here’s how this has impacted me.’ And some of the ones that really stick with me are people who were feeling pretty serious depression and thoughts of suicide when they came to us. We’re not here as a therapeutic intervention but we know that social connection does address those issues. We’ve had people say, ‘I’d do anything for Well Connected because this program saved my life.’”
To download the most recent Well Connected catalog, click here. To register for the Spring session, which runs from April 9-July 8, call Well Connected at 877-797-7299. You can also visit their page on the Covia site.
Welcome to our blog. We know that company blogs are everywhere, and some may think them passé, but we are excited to get started.
We wanted a place to share information about the programs, activities, resources, and events we have to offer. We wanted a place to share the wisdom of so many people who work, live, and volunteer with us. And we wanted a place where we could comment on the areas that impact seniors wherever they live.
This space will provide a channel to express in the moment on what’s important to us, to reflect on our history and heritage, and to look forward to the good things we believe are to come.
We hope you’ll join in and that this blog will give you resources you can use as you navigate your own path into healthy and successful aging.