The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators (RSCs) help residents at affordable communities throughout California connect to vital services – work that is more important than ever during the COVID-19 crisis.

“RSCs have shown up to work each day from the start of this pandemic and have adapted to providing services to our most vulnerable population while maintaining strict physical distancing,” says Katherine Smith, Senior Director of Social Services. 

As programs and normal services have stalled, the continued work of RSCs ensure that older adults throughout the state can continue to receive the help and care that they need. Under normal circumstances, RSCs coordinate a wide variety of services, ranging from offering social and cultural programs within their communities to helping residents access benefit programs and medical care. During the shelter in place order, RSCs have continued connecting residents to essential services, which now includes getting access to food deliveries, masks, and hand sanitizer.

At Redwood Shores in Vallejo, RSC Jennifer Wright is working with Panera Bread to coordinate donations of unsold fresh food. “I am happy to report that with each donation we have been able to feed all of the residents,” Wright says.  

Wright also worked with the city to secure donations of laundry soap, hand soap, and canned goods. “I also got a donation of 5.5 gallon liquid hand sanitizer when hand sanitizer was sparse,” she says. “But I can’t take the credit for it all as my site has really come together as a community. We have residents who go to church together, that cook up to 20 hot meals each Saturday giving it to residents. Another resident made and donated 100 cloth masks for staff and residents!”

Esther Koc, RSC for Covia’s Presidio Gate Apartment in San Francisco, has solicited donations for face coverings for staff as well as residents. “All essential, onsite staff have been supplied with reusable face coverings since April.  All PGA residents were also supplied as of early May.” Esther is now working on securing reusable face coverings for residents at two other communities. “We cannot make people wear them but providing them and exhausting all our options allows us to say we did all we could.” 

There’s a lot of education that goes along with keeping people safe and healthy. “I find there continues to be confusion with residents about wearing masks when exiting their units,” says Koc. “Many accuse onsite staff of being infected due to us wearing them. But I continue to educate that protecting self also protects others.  We all need to do our part to keep our communities safe and well.”

RSCs provide residents with easy ways to prioritize their overall wellness as they shelter in place.  “Residents are following the shelter-in-place guidelines well, but as the time passes by, they were noticeably becoming weaker due to lack of exercise,” says Sara Choi, RSC at Vista Towers in Los Angeles.  “We have been following up with the residents to encourage them to at least walk in the hallway since Vista Tower has no garden or open space for residents to walk safely.  We provided them resources of YouTube senior exercise links and encouraged them to do some exercises using YouTube.  We also printed out simple exercises for those who do not have a smart phone or any kind of device.”

Wellness includes staying socially connected, which is an important part of the RSCs’ role as people are unable to gather in groups. Smith notes that ending social isolation is the #1 goal of resident service coordinators, and staying physically distant is hard for the RSCs as well as the residents. “RSCs have gotten creative though. Every resident at every site is reached out to once a week. We miss our residents but do what we must to protect them.”

Choi says, “We have been periodically contacting residents via phone to check in on them to make sure they have everything they need and socialize with them so that they won’t feel lonely and isolated. Since they know us already and have a trusted relationship built up, they were feeling more comfortable talking to us.”  

“During the shelter in place, I have gotten the chance to get closer to my residents by calling them weekly,” says Wright. “Redwood Shores has really shown me that even while social distancing, we can still come together as a community, just six feet apart.”

Happy Employee Appreciation Day! We are so excited to celebrate all of the amazing people who help Covia support older adults around the Bay Area and beyond. In honor of this holiday, we were inspired to share stories about our incredible employees from throughout the organization.

Community Services

Lizette Suarez, Well Connected Español Program Manager

Lizette came to WCE without having ever worked with older adults, but her humor, energy, dedication, passion, and skills leave me believing that she was the only person for the job.  As a one-woman team for the first year, she made our fantasy of diversifying Well Connected a robust reality and has successfully created a virtual community for nearly 100 older adults living across 5 states!

Amber Carrol, Director of Well Connected

Rita Mukhsinova, Ruth’s Table Manager

Rita implements gallery exhibits and events of incredibly high quality, which challenges preconceptions of senior living communities. A Bethany Center resident recently commented that a gallery lecture, “was so intellectual and stimulating. Sometimes people think that just because you’re older you won’t get it. The whole gallery and its programming is so intriguing.”

Katie Wade, Director of Social Call

Resident Service Coordination

Kristy Huang, Resident Wellness Director at Casa De Los Amigos

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Kristy Huang, Resident Wellness Director at Casa De Los Amigos in Redondo Beach for her hard work and dedication. Kristy went above and beyond with coordinating IWISH (Integrated Wellness in Supportive Housing) programs by herself after her partner RWD moved to another site. In spite of the difficult situation, Kristy has been doing an awesome job balancing health presentations, exercise programs, social workshops, art therapy classes and more while managing it all on her own. She kept her professionalism and still manages to serve residents with a great smile.  I am grateful and appreciate her willingness to go the extra miles.

Sarah Choi, Lead Resident Service Coordinator

Covia Communities

Elvyra Abare, Canterbury Woods Executive Director, and Wei Chang, Canterbury Woods Transportation Manager

The incident/accident I experienced on January 21st on the way to a Covia meeting in Walnut Creek re-affirmed the correct decision I made about entering the Canterbury Woods community. Elvyra, the CW Director, finding me bleeding profusely, took charge and her calm voice and clear directions soothed my state of mind and prevented me from over-reacting. She treated me like I was her mother and that had a profound effect on my perspective of the situation. Where could I find such support in a moment of distress? Canterbury Woods of course…

And Wei, the transportation manager, who had to revise his driving plans because I did not heed to his rules about getting in the limousine, and who understands so well the flaws of human nature. Wei is a master at decision-making, is a compassionate human being and surprised me when I came out of E.R. Wei was there waiting for me and worried about my nutritional needs. Wei easily combined his responsibilities with the CW group he was driving to the Covia meeting and giving me his caring attention. Wei is a multi-tasking man with a heart. Thank you both, Elvyra and Wei.

Canterbury Woods Resident

San Francisco Towers Staff

Thank you! We have just been through an ordeal that I would have had difficulty managing if not for our staff at the SFTowers.

One morning, I heard my husband calling for me. I found him lying in a pool of blood in our hallway near the front door. I called Security and when someone arrived he wisely called our 2nd floor. Two Skilled Nursing staff took my husband’s vitals and called for an ambulance. At the hospital, we found he had dislocated his shoulder.

When we arrived back at SFT, our front desk called for a wheelchair to get us to our apartment. Almost immediately Grace Tom from Resident Health Services, an angel, arrived and took over. She organized everything, meals delivered that day, assistance, doctors orders to the PT people, and for our new doctor to make a house call. Dr. Aissatou Haman came to our apartment and scheduled my husband to see an orthopedic doc and have x-rays done.

While the above was happening, Troy Stewart, Housekeeping Manager, sent someone up to clean up the blood residue I had missed on the floor and the walls. Thank you to our staff for everything. We are most grateful for the care and attention we received in our hour of need. Everyone here knew what to do and did it.

San Francisco Towers Resident

Support Services

Accounts Payable Team

In our Finance Department, Accounts Payable is responsible for making sure that every invoice gets paid, and Deanna Garcia and Stephanie Canady are an amazing team. Every once in a while you get lucky and find an employee that is a quiet constant, always comes to work on time, hardly every misses a day of work and is dedicated to doing a great job.  Deanna is that person! Stephanie is one of those people that is dedicated to not only doing her job well, but she also makes work fun!  I really appreciate her quick witted humor!  She makes me laugh and smile no matter what problem we are trying to solve.

Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources

Grant Edelstone, Senior Director of Risk Management, Compliance & Risk

Grant is one of those people that you can always count on.  He always gives solid, well thought-out advice and is never too busy to lend a hand. I appreciate his calm, professional approach.

Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources

The stories mentioned display only a fraction of the hard work and dedication that Covia employees bring to their job every single day. Thank you to everyone who supports our organization. You are a valued part of our team! 

* Some of these stories have been edited to protect resident’s privacy.

The holidays are in full swing at Covia! Each community and program have their unique way of celebrating the season, from fun decorations and holiday parties to annual traditions and special events.

Webster House & Webster House Health Center

At Webster House Health Center, the lobby is always decked out in a particular theme for the holiday season. Last year, it was Grinchmas and this year the lobby is filled with Santa’s Workshop and gingerbread buildings. A large tree with swooping red ribbons and stocked with elegantly wrapped presents finishes off the festive display.

Elsewhere in the center, residents and staff have been practicing their Christmas carols, preparing for the holiday concerts that will take place on the different floors. Webster House chaplain, Lily Godsoe notes “this is a long standing tradition at the Health Center and the residents in particular are excited about it.”

Webster House Independent Living has been adding in new traditions along with established favorites. A Christmas tree and menorah dedication led by the chaplain was a new way to ring in the season, with residents gathering in the lobby to admire the elegant display that features an angel topper and poinsettia accents.

Over the December months, the tree has been looking over a growing pile of toys, collected for the San Francisco 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto. December is a giving time at Webster House from the toy drive to the annual bake sale put on by Webster House, Webster House Health Center, and Lytton Gardens. Treats are baked by residents and staff as well as donated by local restaurants. Each year, the bake sale proceeds are donated to a local charity. This year’s charity is Pets in Need, a local rescue that also brings dogs to the Webster House Health Center and Lytton Garden communities to meet with the residents.

Resident Service Coordinators

Covia Resident Service Coordinators connect residents to vital services at affordable communities throughout the Bay Area and Southern California. Traditions at many of these communities center on potlucks and parties where residents can socialize and share in the festive season.  RSC Jennifer Wright at Redwood Shores will be celebrating with a Black and White themed party. She notes “we want to continue the tradition of doing a theme party as it gives residents a chance to dress up.”

Sunny View West in Cupertino will join in a potluck with the neighboring Sunny View Manor community where residents and their families can get together and celebrate the season. They’ll sing hymns together and participate in festive activities on top of sharing a delicious meal.

San Francisco Towers

San Francisco Towers’ lobby has become a central point of the holiday celebrations with the beloved tradition of the Christmas Circus Wagon and this year, the addition of the holiday house. 

The Christmas Circus Wagon was inspired by a resident’s ornament and the hard work of a couple of residents that brought the ornament to life but full size. The wagon hosts miniature amusement park rides, buildings, a moving train, and miniature people and trees enjoying the scene. It’s a welcome sight in the SFT lobby and if you’d like more information on its construction and inspiration, please read our blog post from last year dedicated to its history.

The holiday house is a new addition to the decorations this year. A homemade dollhouse, lovingly created for Olivia Guthrie by her father, the holiday house is decorated for the season. Its doors stand open so that visitors can look through each room of the house and even watch Santa and his reindeer up on the rooftop.

Restored and refinished, the furniture and a majority of the miniatures are from the period the dollhouse was created: 1938. The house resembles Colonials in the suburbs of Chicago, even including an Illinois flagstone around the front. It features festive decorations inside and out as the holiday house residents celebrate right alongside the residents of San Francisco Towers.

Olivia Guthrie hopes that the house will bring back “pleasant memories of holidays past.”

Support Services

The holidays are the sweetest time of year at Support Services. The annual cookie exchange was a hit with treats ranging from brownies and eggnog cookies to lemon cheesecake bars and chocolate crinkles. Participants got to take home a full Tupperware of the delicious sweets to share with family and friends.

The culmination of holiday celebrations at Support Services is the potluck, white elephant gift exchange, and ugly Christmas sweater contest. A full spread of appetizers, main dishes, and desserts are enjoyed by staff decked out in their most eccentric holiday attire. The celebration culminates with the white elephant gift exchange. This year saw incredible participation with 37 wrapped gifts that ranged from blankets and candles to an elegant bread slicer, board games, and chocolates. Everyone went home with a smile on their face and a new trinket or treat.

St. Paul’s Towers

At St. Paul’s Towers, a full array of holiday décor, programs, and services make the community feel particularly festive. For the four weeks leading up to Christmas, visiting clergy from different denominations of Christianity perform a weekly Advent service full of hymns and celebrations of the Advent season.

Resident and staff led Christmas tree decorating gives everyone the chance to deck the halls, while later in the month, cookie decorating celebrates the sweeter side of the season.

During the eight nights of Chanukah, St. Paul’s Towers chaplain, Rabbi Meredith Cahn, and residents hold a nightly Chanukiah lighting, sing, share memories and blessings, and tell stories to celebrate the holiday. On one evening, they will share “latkes and other treats to remember the food.”

St. Paul’s Tower’s Program Coordinator, Connie Yuen, says, “We always have a great energy at SPT, but during the holidays, the feeling is extra special. From the way we greet one another to the exchange of hugs and high fives, there is a lot of love in the building.”

During this jolly time of year, full of festivities and traditions, all of us at Covia would like to wish you and yours a bright and merry holiday season.   

On Tuesday, December 3rd, Covia Resident Service Coordinators Sara Choi and Chan Park were honored by the County of Los Angeles for their work in promoting and supporting falls prevention in Los Angeles County.

Choi, a Lead Resident Service Coordinator and Wellness Coordinator at Vista Towers in Los Angeles, and Park, a Resident Service Coordinator at Long Beach Lutheran Tower, were nominated by the Los Angeles Falls Prevention Coalition, an organization dedicated to reducing fall risk for older adults through education, advocacy, planning, and community action across Los Angeles County.

This year, Choi translated fall prevention training materials into Korean as well as developing informational flyers. And Park completed his training to become a Matter of Balance Facilitator, allowing him to teach the program to Korean-speaking residents at Pilgrim Towers in Los Angeles.

Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators encourage one another to get more involved in fall prevention programs as part of their role in ensuring residents remain independent and safe in their homes as long as possible. Katherine Smith, Senior Director of Social Services, first introduced Choi to the Coalition by inviting her to attend a meeting, and she’s been involved ever since. And in her turn, Choi invited Park to be trained as a Matter of Balance Facilitator.

“Falls are not part of the aging process,” says Park. Instead, people “need to be educated, take preventive measures and initiate intervention actions!” The Matter of Balance class helps seniors prevent falls before they happen, promoting a better quality of life. Through Choi and Park, Korean-speaking seniors can now participate in the program in their first language.

This recognition from Los Angeles is simply motivation to keep going, Choi and Park explain. “Being recognized was important to me because it opened another door for me as a Coalition member and as an RSC to rethink more ways to prevent falls,” says Choi. Park says, “I look forward to teaching Matter of Balance to many more Korean speaking residents next year!”

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.”