This essay by Webster House resident Jim Lyons originally appeared in the December 2018 Webster House Newsletter.
It is money grubbing time again. Buy, buy, buy, and then buy more. For those of us who stress about what to buy, discombobulation can smash our frames of mind. Mettle is challenged. Yet it need not be that way. Here are some ways of giving that are guaranteed to please and leave your purse or wallet untouched. Rank and randy commercialism be damned! Embrace the wonders of giving simply. Curiously they are worth more than money could ever buy. They are fun for you too.
First. Make two phone calls per day to friends or family that you have not spoken with for a long time. This is personal and profound. It is not a mass-produced card. The personal touch is rarely practiced in this era of electronic babble. You too will be enveloped in the warmth and surprise of the call. If you don’t know the person’s phone number, it is easy to find and free. Ask me and I’ll teach you how to do it.
Second. Write three short hand-written notes daily for 30 days. The message need not be long. Just one sentence or phrase – just like on the $2 cards. Example: “I appreciate hearing your cheerful voice when I call. Thanks.” It’s the personal touch that does the trick. Such touches are scarce these days. A written note takes a minute or so to write. By the end of 30 days you will have brought some warmth into the lives of nearly 100 people! That’s a quiet antidote to the current climate where insults, blame saying, arrogance, and egotism seem to flourish unchallenged.
Third. Here’s some gifts for close friends and family. Write a simple story about an earlier experience, perhaps shared or perhaps not. Each of our apartments is full of things with stories. I’ve given some in my family treasured seasonal decorations along with stories about what our family was like when we used the decoration. I described some of the traditions and the circumstances of that earlier time. Scooter wrote a story about her family and the world during the year before each of her kids was born. Whew! What a treasure.
Think simple giving. That may just be our way to put the human spirit back into the holidays and to penetrate those thick bastions of religious traditions and beliefs.
This is a season when many faiths celebrate the good in us all. A leader of the Hasidic Jews observed: “Everyday life is hallowed, and each of us is responsible for the bit of existence that has been entrusted to our care.” Let’s keep the traditions of giving centered on people.
On Thursday, October 18th, residents and staff throughout Covia participated in the Great ShakeOut, an earthquake safety drill. From Santa Rosa to Southern California, Covia took time to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” and then gathered to review and reflect.
“An earthquake drill like the Great ShakeOut is an example of staff and residents increasing their safety awareness by practicing what they have learned,” says Grant Edelstone, Senior Director of Risk Management. “When a person drops, covers and holds on and then responds to a simulated fire or burst pipe or power outage, they increase their readiness for an actual earthquake.”
Even before the event, people were getting prepared. Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators working in Senior Affordable Housing communities throughout California assisted Housing Administrators with a pre-drill information meeting. Topics discussed included an explanation of the Great Shakeout and what was to be expected as well as evacuation options and routes. San Francisco Towers offered an Emergency Preparedness Department Update in advance of the drill and invited residents to prepare in advance by scouting out the safest place to be in their apartment in case of an earthquake.
San Francisco Towers, which was built after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, has participated in the drill for years. Executive Director Christina Spence says, “We participate so residents and staff are prepared for the likely event of an earthquake that impacts our community.” The drill at the Towers involved more than Covia staff and residents, Spence reports. “Our California Department of Public Health Life Safety surveyor showed up right at 10:18. She ‘dropped, covered and held’ right along with us!”
Sadie Bracy, Housing Administrator at Jennings Court in Santa Rosa says, “We made noise with pots and pans and flickered the lights to simulate an earthquake. Two residents actually got on the floor under the table! Then we talked about the potential impacts of an earthquake afterword. We also talked about the safety of the building and installing the seismic gas shut off valve for more safety of Jennings Court.”
At Support Services, Covia’s administrative offices in Walnut Creek, an announcement over the PA alerted everyone in the building to the start of the drill. Afterwards, staff received a demo on go-bags and the locations of safety equipment and exits. “Last year during the fire [in Santa Rosa], I heard more than one resident say they’d been told to prepare a go-bag, but they didn’t think they’d actually need it,” says Laura Darling, a member of the Covia Safety Committee. “You don’t know you’ll need it until you do.”
Covia also prepared for the safety of seniors who would be unable to move themselves in the case of an emergency. At Webster House Health Center in Palo Alto, everyone participated in the drill. “All 3 floors participated along with vendors and home health agencies in the community during the drill. We had families and volunteers participating too,” says Assistant Executive Director Linda Hibbs. “I was stationed on 4th floor and the staff actively participated and moved the residents to a safe location.”
Hibbs continues, “After the drill was over we discussed why we have drills, what to do in a drill and how did the staff and residents think the drill had gone. The residents said thank you to the staff for practicing the drill and including them too. A few residents said they were happy that Webster House cared enough about them to practice if an earthquake happened and included residents in the drill.”
These drills are valuable preparation, Edelstone explains. “When there is a real earthquake, staff may react faster without thinking because of their practice. It can help them whether at home, work or traveling. Similarly, regular fire, disaster, active shooter and other drills increase safety readiness.”
And drills are just one part of building a culture of safety at Covia. “Covia has a commitment to safety in all levels of the organization,” says Edelstone. “Covia promotes a safety culture. This culture of safety’s goal is to achieve consistently safe operations that minimized adverse events. It represents a blame-free environment where everyone is able to report mistakes or errors or near misses or safety hazards, without fear of reprimand or punishment. A culture of safety encourages staff collaboration to solve safety problems. It strives to prevent or reduce errors and improve overall quality.”
Sadie Bracy at Jennings Court says, “A culture of safety means we anticipate that there will be an emergency at one point and we prepare ahead of time for it. That we take keeping our residents safe very seriously. And that we are constantly trying to improve our emergency responses.”
October 9 is the anniversary of the devastating fires that swept through Santa Rosa in 2017. Residents from both Spring Lake Village and Jennings Court were evacuated and twelve of Covia’s staff lost their home in the fires.
Here are a few of the stories from our residents and staff. If you have a memory you wish to share, please email it to Laura Darling at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fred Jennings Court resident
I was almost caught in the fire itself. I was housesitting up on the very top of Fountain Grove and taking care of a little dog who was recovering from a broken back surgery. And banging on the door, I ran to the front door, it was 1:00 in the morning, a man was yelling, “We have to leave! We have to leave! Everything is on fire!” I could see the blazes coming up across the street. So the dog and I and everything left there within 12 minutes. Toby is the dog’s name, was so cool, he let me glide him in and glide him out and out we went. And then it was very slow because of all of the traffic coming all the way down. I got home here, and the very next day all our electricity went out. So I carried Toby up and down the stairs for that time when it was out. And here the dog was healing from back injury. Well, his owner has been so kind to me! And I think he would have if we got to know each other, but this was the first time I house sat for him. He always introduces me, “This is Fred who saved Toby.”
Patricia Burke Skilled Nursing Housekeeping, Spring Lake Village
The morning of the fires was chaotic. Our neighbor came and knocked on doors and said we had to get out because the fire was coming. We grabbed the dog and put him in the neighbor’s car and drove off. We didn’t grab anything else because we didn’t ever think we’d lose everything.
We drove away and tried to notify other neighbors by banging on their doors and trying to help with evacuations. Everything was burned the next day when we went back home. I called my supervisor and let her know my house was gone and I wouldn’t be reporting to work. She assured me my job was secure and told me to take my time coming back into work. I was paid for the time I was off, that helped immensely.
After only a few days off, I returned to work, mostly because I needed something to keep my mind off the loss. The entire staff and residents were very compassionate and gave continued hugs (they still do when they see me). There were donations from all areas – LeadingAge California, LeadingAge National, Covia, credit unions, residents, architects, local communities and even co-workers all donated to us. The compassion from executive staff was strong and the ongoing continued support has been paramount to my emotional healing. You don’t ever really get over such devastation, and having co-workers and residents still ask how I’m doing feels really good.
Covia has done a great job of supporting continued communications with co-workers, who were also greatly affected by the fires and we’ve created an internal support group to help each other through the rough times.
We were offered outside counseling and it was important to know, even though I relied on friends and family for support, that the option was available to me.
Renee Hayward Spring Lake Village, Director of Social Services
I remember waking up in the night and running from the fire. The first thing I grabbed was my work clothes because I knew I had to go to work on Monday.
We left and later learned our home and entire neighborhood burned to the ground. When I went back to work on Tuesday, I didn’t know the extent of the fire and didn’t realize until I showed up to Spring Lake Village that we were going to have to evacuate due to smoke damage. As a social worker, I had experience working in these sensitive situations and knew I had to find permanent places, call families, and mostly ensure the sound emotional and medical states of our residents. I was operating in survival mode at that point and just keeping my mind off my own devastation and loss the day prior.
Two days after the fires, we all went to Casa Grande gym to support our memory and skilled nursing residents. Our residents did really well and one said to me, “I used to work at Red Cross and set up for war…this is nothing compared to that.” I called families and helped residents get placed and transferred to other communities as soon as possible. There were 11 of us who lost our homes here and just talking with other staff was very valuable.
Once I knew all the residents were evacuated and settled, I finally took some time off to provide the emotional support to my family. Just driving was tough after the fires as my husband and I were in a fog. During the whole event, I really learned that everyone rallies the few months of the emergency and it was very valuable to have that ongoing support. The hardest part of the whole ordeal is that people who haven’t gone through that kind of total loss don’t understand the timeline. First you battle with insurance and then you are just in basic survival mode. Anything out of the normal, even a simple flat tire, is devastating. You look for things you ”had” and people don’t understand that feeling. Your body is in transition and you feel like you’re on vacation. In addition, you forget your things are gone. The entire situation was tough but it helped me better understand what residents are going through. I now have a greater level of personal empathy for their situations.
I would offer communities that should your staff go through a crisis, don’t be afraid to ask, “how’s it going?” It’s okay to say “I’m sorry” and it’s important to have a staff and a resident meeting that provides updates on all individuals involved. Covia was great at respecting our right to privacy and letting us “tell our story” as we were comfortable.
[Originally printed in LeadingAge California’s Engage Magazine]
Madeleine Jennings Court resident
During the fire, it was terrifying. I don’t know any other way to describe it. We were without power, I think maybe it was only 24 hours, it might have been a little longer. Someone came over to check on me and took me and another friend to her house to recharge our phones because we were without power to recharge phones.
Just knowing that so many people were impacted – and still are. It’s a beautiful community, though, for the fact that those of us who live here are low income and we gave. It wasn’t, “Well, we don’t have enough to give.” When it’s in a situation when you know others need something, everyone pulled together. I would say, “This person’s daughter lost everything and her husband’s a musician.” I had friends give me a banjo, I had guitar music given to me. Just those kind of things mean so much, and I was amazed myself at the things I was willing to part with in order to assist others. So that’s the beauty of it, and it’s something that will live with us for a long, long time.
Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa is hosting its 4th annual Wellness Games the week of September 24-28.
Held during International Active Aging Week, the Wellness Games celebrate all dimensions of wellness, including social, emotional, intellectual, physical, occupational, environmental, spiritual, and financial wellness.
According to Spring Lake Village Director of Wellness Diane Waltz, “Wellness is an expanded idea of health and means more than the absence of disease. It is much more than being in good physical health, exercising regularly, and eating right. True wellness is determined by the decisions one makes about how to live life with vitality and meaning.”
Each year’s Wellness Games include a wide array of activities such as a walk-a-thon, treasure hunt, table tennis tournament, sing-a-long, bird walk, brain fitness challenges, poetry readings, and the ever-popular SLV’s Got Talent Show. Participants can win points for an activity in any of the eight dimensions of wellness. For example, they can get physical wellness points for going for a walk; earn emotional wellness points by smiling five times a day; collect intellectual wellness points by reading the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle; gain social wellness points by playing bridge with a friend; or add environmental points by recycling.
The games are open to residents and staff across the community. Residents and staff are randomly assigned to one of six color teams. Participants are notified of their color team assignment the week before the games begin and given a team color button or bracelet to wear throughout the week. The team getting the most points receives a team photo and color team recognition on the Wellness Games Plaque displayed in the Montgomery Center for a year.
But everyone benefits from Wellness Week as it builds relationships and community throughout Spring Lake Village. And it’s fun. Waltz says, “I love that it brings residents across all levels of care and employees across all departments together for a week of fun activities that promote all dimensions of wellness.”
Residents and staff from Covia Affordable Communities recently attended LeadingAge California’s annual Affordable Senior Housing Resident Advocacy Day in Sacramento. One of our staff members reported that one resident left an impact on his Assemblyman when he introduced himself saying, “My name is Dean and I was homeless for four years before I got a studio in an affordable HUD building.” We’ve asked Dean to share his story.
If you have ever experienced a trauma (and most of us have), you may not want to talk about it. That’s the way it was with me, but my friends at Covia convinced me that other people might be helped by my “confession.” So, here goes.
The trouble began in early 2012. Having been unemployed for 2 years (a direct result of the 2008 recession), my money completely ran out and I was faced with eviction from my Oakland apartment of 16 years. When you can’t pay the rent, the sheriff simply changes the locks and you don’t get in.
A friend (call him J.R.) saved me from life in the street by offering to let me sleep in his van. This is not an ordeal I would wish on anyone. Though not too uncomfortable physically (just make sure you have lots of blankets in cold weather), you are constantly in fear of police and hostile “neighbors.”
After 3 ½ years in this situation, I returned to the van one afternoon to find that it was no longer there. A police woman parked nearby informed me that the van had been towed only an hour before. All my possessions (books, CDs, clothing and a guitar) were gone. Although I’d been careful not to park it in front of anyone’s house (it had been near an empty lot), I guess the old Dodge Ram was an eyesore to some “upstanding citizens.” So I experienced two disasters in less than 4 years.
At this point, I walked to J.R.’s house and told him what had happened. He somewhat shamefacedly admitted that he had neglected to pay some old parking tickets as well as vehicle registration, but then offered to let me sleep in a tent in his back yard.
One afternoon soon after this, I received a phone call from Oak Center Towers. I had applied for residency there over a year before, and they now had a vacant studio apartment. This was the first cheerful note in my life since 2010! On arriving at my first interview, I met Julia Bergue, a sweet and flexible person who did all the necessary paperwork.
Finally, on August 17, 2016, I spent the first night in my new home. Somewhat dazedly, I realized there was a solid, legitimate, leak-proof roof over my head.
So take it from me: when you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way is up. Keep a-going’!!
Dean, age 66, earned his Master’s degree and worked as a paralegal for 20 years before losing his job during the great recession.
Originally published in Community News, San Francisco Towers’ resident newsletter.
Part of the charm of San Francisco Towers are the exquisite floral displays in the public areas of the building, created by the Flower Committee.
Of its thirty members, the Flower Committee has four members (plus a weekly flower carrier) who specialize in purchasing and arranging the flowers: Joan Tayler, Marilyn Jacobson, Sophie Lee, and Fukan Yen.
Joan and Marilyn spend Thursday mornings at the San Francisco Flower Mart, which was founded by Japanese flower-grower immigrants around the turn of the century. It is one of the oldest and most successful Japanese-American corporations in the U.S. There are more than 60 vendors using Mart space. The flowers used to be strictly local but now include imports from as far away as Israel.
The Flower Committee shoppers wander down the aisles of flowers displayed in giant buckets, fishing out a stem that looks interesting: a branch with berries, a particularly beautiful rose, or some palm leaves that would make a good background. Usually five or six stems are tied together and priced as a group, anywhere from $6.50 to over $32.
Joan and Marilyn base their selections on what will go well with what is still usable from the previous week, and any upcoming holiday. Independence Day next month? Their choices will be red, white, and blue. The total Towers bill can be as much as $150, which the Towers staff will later pay.
A grocery cart in the garage awaits the returning buyers. It is loaded with the bunches and taken to Craft Room 3, where Fukan and Sophie unwrap the flowers. They set aside the pieces they want for the arrangements that are developing in their heads. Fukan says she has to see the flowers before she can decide what she will design, and Sophie agrees. They begin work on their signature still-life arrangements and soon are joined by Joan and Marilyn, who seem to specialize in large bouquets for the lobby and other public spaces. Although questions are freely answered, the room is largely silent as the women focus on what they are doing with the flowers.
Flower arrangers have the showiest jobs, but a lot of Flower Committee work goes on behind the scenes. There are the carriers and the vase washers and someone who arranges the memorials to departed residents.
There is also a small team that works on Wednesday night after dinner collecting all the arrangements from the first floor, and the small vases from dining tables in Assisted Living and the Staff Lounge. They bring these to Craft Room #3, where the vases are washed and the flowers edited (“This daisy looks like it will survive another week, but throw away that tulip”). There are carriers who take weekly turns driving the buyers to the SF Flower Mart, helping carry the selected flower bunches, and delivering arrangements to their spots.
Flower Committee Chair Joan Tayler says she is not worried about the relocation in a few months of the Flower Mart to temporary space on Potrero Hill, while a multistory office and condo building is being erected on the longtime Brannan Street site. The Flower Mart is guaranteed a space in the new building. At present, it can take as much as 45 minutes to drive from San Francisco Towers to 540 Brannan; Joan thinks getting to Potrero Hill won’t be any harder.
Back in the old days, flowers were arranged and delivered from Whole Foods, which cost something like $48,000 to $60,000 a year. When Flower Committee volunteers took charge, the cost went down to $10,000 to $12,000 a year. This is one of the many reasons why we should be grateful to the Flower Committee.
Sophie seemed to sum up the spirit of the Flower Committee members: She does the work because she always has loved flowers and always will. All Towers residents owe the Flower Committee a giant thank you for making our home so beautiful.
written by Anne Turner
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.”
Artist Madeline Behrens-Brigham’s solo show A New Nest, a New Chapter is currently on display at Finley Senior Center in Santa Rosa. After 30 years as an artist and activist in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, Behrens-Brigham has found a new home at Jennings Court, a Covia Affordable Housing community.
Behrens-Brigham helped to shape the Hayes Valley neighborhood of shops and restaurants that we know today. She opened her mid-century furniture and art store, Modernology, on Hayes Street in 1990, shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake which damaged the freeway running through that part of town. She was part of the committee that went to CalTrans to lobby for the freeway running to be torn down – a change that led to the revitalization of the entire neighborhood.
“At one point I had keys to all the stores,” says Behrens-Brigham. “If the owner would get sick, they’d call and ask me to open the stores.”
Behrens-Brigham also organized block parties, co-founded the Hayes Valley Art Coalition, and also served as a community board member of Legal Assistance for the Elderly, as a result of her own painful experience.
“For ten years I was pressured to leave my apartment in San Francisco, the landlords doing everything to get me out of the place,” Behrens-Brigham explains. “I was in a rent controlled apartment, but I’d come home and the manager of the building would invite the sheriff over. My landlord was a church, and for all the words on their letter head, they didn’t seem to care about me.”
With an annual income of $11,000, Behrens-Brigham found herself priced out of even many low-income apartments. She signed up for waiting lists and waited. She got to number 26 on the list for housing in San Francisco. When she asked how long it would be before she got to the top of the list, they told her it would be 11 years.
When the call came from Jennings Court, she and a friend drove up so she could see it for the first time. Though she hadn’t wanted to leave San Francisco, she knew this was her opportunity and took the apartment.
“When she first came here she had dyed blue hair and people were taken aback by that,” says Housing Administrator Sadie Bracy. “It was the talk of the town.”
“Now I have bright pink hair,” Behrens-Brigham notes. “It’s not so much that I wanted bright hair, but [the stylist] needed to teach others in the salon.”
“She’s constantly going places, inviting residents to do things, trying to draw people out and make friends,” says Bracy. “I’m always encouraged to see people move here and continue to have a good life.”
Behrens-Brigham currently serves as the Jennings Court Resident Council president. “My friends in San Francisco, knowing how involved I was politically, are laughing saying, of course we knew you’d become president.”
Getting a one-woman show “was a little bit serendipitous. I didn’t put my name forward. I didn’t believe I would qualify.” Though she offered to share the show with others, Finley Senior Center encouraged her to do a solo show.
Her art show illustrates through mixed media the new life she is building in Santa Rosa. “I went through a period of grieving to have left after 30 years. But now, I can honestly say, things are changing so much in San Francisco it’s not my town any more. The coffee shop is now a caviar bar.
“I’m making a new nest here and new chapter. I truly have done quite a few things in my life that other people consider unusual. I was a personal chef. I’ve done a number of interesting things. Some people have said, ‘When are you going to write a book?’ Well, I can’t write a book; I’m still writing new chapters.”
A New Nest, A New Chapter is on exhibit through February 22, 2018 at Finley Senior Center, located at 2060 W College Avenue in Santa Rosa.