The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Our residents and staff give back to the greater community all year round, but in this season of sharing, this generosity takes on special meaning.

St. Paul’s Towers started off the season by surprising Oakland’s First Responders with baked goods and treats for Thanksgiving as well as personalized notes thanking them for their work. “It’s important to remember those who cannot spend the holidays with their loved ones which is why we always look forward to doing something special for our first responders,” says Life Enrichment Director Connie Yuen. “Residents really enjoy decorating cookies or writing notes to be given away and our staff enjoy personally thanking those who put their lives on the line for our community.”

Also in Oakland, Carolyn Bolton, Covia’s Director of Senior Resources for Alameda County, organized a fabulous Thanksgiving meal delivery for 200 older adults from Oakland to San Francisco! Staff members from  Covia Well Connected, Covia Home Match, and the Covia Foundation were there to help stuff all the goodie bags. They even got to say hello to one of our newest Home Match San Francisco participants, Nora, who volunteered for the event. Carolyn and her team, including Katharine Miller, Executive Director of the Covia Foundation, returned at Christmas to deliver 210 dinners to isolated seniors.

In Palo Alto, Webster House hosts an annual bake sale with the proceeds going to a community cause. This year, the funds went to Pets in Need, a local non-profit organization that runs two no-kill shelters in Santa Clara County. “In addition to the bakery items, the senior residents donated their hand-made jewelry, and one talented staff member baked fancy dog biscuits for the pets,” according to Pat Lau, Webster House Activity Coordinator. The bake sale raised $700 for Pets In Need.

For the past 15 years, Spring Lake Village staff members have taken on the role of Santa for children in Sonoma County through an annual toy drive. “It is something very special to our community,” says Liz Green, Director of Programs & Transportation. “This truly shows the character of our staff. Many buy not just one toy per child, but often times two or three. We used to do 25 tags, but have increased it to 35 in recent years because of the popularity. All 35 requests have been met by our staff!”

Our communities are always looking for new ways to give back. San Francisco Towers hosted its first ever blood drive just two days before Christmas. Coordinated by San Francisco Towers Life Enrichment Director, Megan Sullivan, the Vitalant Bloodmobile arrived at SFT at 10am on December 23rd. During the blood drive, which ran from 10am to 2pm, they collected 12 pints of blood with donations from staff and residents, including night shift nurse Jessa Chatto who came in just for the occasion!

“Having been a regular blood donor for 30 years, it was important to me to bring this opportunity to our residents,” says Sullivan. “Giving blood is one of the greatest gifts we can share with others, but it also gives us feelings of accomplishment, value and meaning. Our residents were grateful for the opportunity to be needed and have purpose. And they’re already signing up for the next one!”

All of us at Covia know that feeling of accomplishment, value, and meaning that comes from paying it forward and giving to others. We’re glad to know we have been able to make a difference in many lives, and we look forward to bringing more joy to the world around us in 2020!

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.   

Twenty people from Covia attended the 2019 LeadingAge Annual Meeting and Expo, held October 27-30 in San Diego California. Representing Covia’s Communities, Affordable Housing, Community Services, Support Services, and Foundation, they were informed and inspired by lectures, sessions, exhibits, demonstrations, as well their colleagues from non-profit aging service providers from around the country.

In total, over 8,000 people attended the 2019 conference, which offered 179 educational programs as well as an exhibit hall showcasing products and services for seniors and senior living ranging from architects to in-home health care products to wellness programs and equipment.

Christina Spence, Executive Director of San Francisco Towers, was particularly impressed by keynote speakers Marcus Buckingham and Dan Heath. Speaking at the opening session, Buckingham addressed Nine Lies About Work, encouraging listeners to “replay what works” while on Tuesday, Heath emphasized creating “peak moments.” Spence was impressed by “the statistically-proven impact certain ‘peak’ moments such as first-day and transitions can have on residents and staff at our communities. This is a powerful opportunity for us to create great experiences!”

Both Lizette Suarez, Director of Well Connected Español, and Rod Moshiri, Executive Director of Webster House, each attending their first LeadingAge conference, learned something worthwhile in the sessions they attended.  Suarez says she learned tips on bridging the generation gap while Moshiri got to explore the differences between operations for for-profit and non-profit senior living organizations. But you didn’t need to be a first-time attendee to learn something new. Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer, attending her 33rd LeadingAge conference, participated in a session that taught her about a better approach to risk management of resident agreements.

Covia also provided educational information for attendees. Amber Carroll, Director of Well Connected, and Katie Wade, Director of Social Call, presented a workshop on Building Connections, One Call at a Time, demonstrating how a gracious presence, creativity, and connection provide outcomes of health – and joy. As she experienced her first LeadingAge conference, Carroll reported, “I like the diversity of the educational sessions and find myself interested in other arenas of the senior living space.” Though she was presenting, she learned from those who attended the session as well. “LeadingAge is a different demographic from most of the aging conferences we attend.  I’m always trying to understand how to break our cool community services into housing communities and got some good feedback from session attendees.  Based on this, Well Connected has prioritized the strategy process around monetizing our programs in senior communities.”

Educational sessions were not the only benefit from attending the conference. Chris Dana, Covia’s VP of Information Technology, reports that “time spent with colleagues and vendors” was the best part of the event. With “a ton of new technology start-ups ‘invading’ senior living,” he expects that in future he will “spend more time on the expo floor and less time in the educational sessions.”

Covia also played a role in the social events around the meeting. As an experience sponsor for the annual LeadingAge Inclusion Reception, Covia co-hosted what LeadingAge described as “an unparalleled nightlight experience” at PARQ in the Gaslamp district. As the LeadingAge website explains, “This event pays tribute to those who have paved the way for diversity and inclusion in aging services and celebrates the work our members do every day providing high-quality supports and services for all.” Jessica McCracken, Director of Ruth’s Table, was one of the M.C.s of the Monday night event, which ran from 9:00 until midnight.

Mary Linde, Executive Director of St. Paul’s Towers, sums up the experience: “I’ve been attending LeadingAge conferences for over 20 years.  My favorite part of the conference is always seeing old colleagues and making new connections. The classes are good, but the networking is the best.  At this year’s conference I learned about new technology – an app to connect staff to their departments – that I thought may be useful to explore.  I also was extremely proud to be part of Covia as a host of the LGBT Inclusion party…what an event, what a great company to bring people together like this.  Such a celebration of life!”

If you are considering moving to a Senior Living Community – but not just yet – there’s another option available to you: joining a waiting list.

Too often, people start looking for senior living options after a need arises, leaving them scrambling for the first available option, even if it isn’t what they truly want. You may be thinking that a move to a Life Plan Community is something that will happen 2, 3, 5 or more years down the line. It’s still worth taking steps now so that when the time comes, you’ll get what you want.

Of course visiting in person is an important part of the process. Each community has a different personality. Getting to know a community, asking your questions, and meeting other residents makes it more likely you will choose a place that feels like home.

But if you’ve come to the event, taken the tour, and still think it’s not the right time to move, joining the community’s waiting list gives you the chance to consider the pros and cons while reserving your place for the residence you want.

“A waiting list is a terrific opportunity to secure your future plans without a large commitment of time or money,” says Linda McMenamin, Covia’s Senior Director of Sales and Marketing. “Often people will join wait lists at multiple communities to ensure they have options in the event their needs change and they are ready to make a move.”

Joining a waiting list at the community – or communities – of your choice has other benefits as well.

If you do decide to put down a deposit, be sure to ask how long the waiting list is for the home style you’d like, and what the expected waiting time is. Many times, larger homes have longer waiting lists, which may affect your plans. Talk with your senior living counselor about your plans and timeline and they will do their best to accommodate you.

Some communities may have a limit on the number of times you can turn down an apartment offered to you without losing your place on the waiting list. Although you are not obligated to accept a home presented to you, this may mean that eventually you won’t be the first person called.

But when you do get the call for the home you want, at the time you want it, you can feel comfort and confidence knowing the plan you’ve put in place is working as you hoped.

A poet since she was a young child, San Francisco Towers resident Sally Love Saunders’ eyes light up when she talks about helping others get in touch with their creativity. “I’m doing it for me because I enjoy it,” she says. Sally has been a poet, poet-in-residence and teacher of poetry in a wide range of situations — with kids in schools, in senior centers, and at migrant labor camps. She was instrumental in developing poetry therapy and worked in Philadelphia mental hospitals as a Certified Poetry Therapist for many years.

Sally has six published books of poetry and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Times International, The London Times, The Denver Post, and among over 300 other anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her lesson plan for teaching poetry writing was published in The Christian Science Monitor.

She has shared poetry all her life. From her young days growing up on a farm in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to her college years on the East Coast, she would muse to herself, “What can I pass on to others?” The answer was poetry. She received many grants to take poetry into underserved areas such as Appalachia and inner-city libraries in Philadelphia, to mention a few.

Her family, like many, is far flung and she was looking for connection with others when she discovered Covia’s Well Connected program. She participates in Well Connected programs, has taught poetry to some Well Connected presenters, and has been a generous supporter of Well Connected creativity programming with a gift to the Covia Foundation.

She has also shared her poetry presentations throughout other Covia communities — visiting Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa, Webster House in Palo Alto, St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, and Presidio Gate Apartments in San Francisco. She looks forward to presenting again at San Francisco Towers this Fall and working with Bethany Center residents in San Francisco soon. She does this all as a volunteer.

It is serendipitous that she relocated to the West Coast. After college, as she was traveling to Japan to study haiku, she had a layover in San Francisco. “As soon as I stepped out of the plane and enjoyed the coastal air, I knew I wanted to live here,” she says.

For many years, she lived a few blocks from San Francisco Towers and saw it under construction as it rose to its current place overlooking the City skyline. Over the years, she got to know people and staff from the Towers from poetry workshops. Now, as a resident, “I am a very happy camper.”

*This article was previously published in the Summer 2019 edition of Community Matters

Inclusion logoHonoring its core values of welcome, inclusion, social justice and grace, Covia is celebrating Pride not only through events this month, but through an ongoing commitment to make its communities and programs welcoming to all.

Covia is an Endorsing Organization of the Long-Term Care Equality Index (LEI) – the  first organization to do so on the West Coast. LEI, a joint initiative of SAGE and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, is a three-year project to “assess, benchmark, and ultimately improve the policies and practices of long-term care residential settings (nursing homes, assisted living, continuing care retirement communities, and more) regarding their LGBT-inclusiveness.” Jerry Brown, Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, is a member of the LEI Advisory Council.

As part of the LEI, communities and organizations are encouraged to sign the Commitment to Caring Pledge as an indication of their intention to engage in LGBT inclusive policies and practices. Kevin Gerber, President and CEO, says, “Covia has long supported the inclusion of LGBTQ+ seniors and staff in our communities. We are glad to support the work of SAGE and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in ensuring that senior communities throughout the country are safe and welcoming for everyone.”

In the greater community, Jen Arent, Director of Senior Resources for Sonoma County, created a display at Sonoma County Pride that won the “Year of Love” decorating contest as she asked those who stopped by to join Covia’s “Wall of Love.”

Arent asked everyone who came to the booth to take a multicolored paper heart and write down what they feel about love – “who they love, why they love, what they love, et cetera.” Then Arent would pin them up on the multicolored fabric panels used to decorate the booth. “It was an amazing success!” Arent says. “By the end of the day we had nearly 200 paper hearts with positive, kind, thoughtful messages of love from people of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs. It was truly inspiring.”   

Covia will cap off the month by participating in San Francisco’s Pride parade, cosponsoring a contingent of LGBTQ+ seniors that will include residents and staff from Bethany Center, Presidio Gate Apartments, San Francisco Towers, and St. Paul’s Towers. The theme of this year’s parade, Generations of Resistance, is “an opportunity to put seniors at the center of the celebration and the march towards social justice,” according to Openhouse, which is coordinating the parade contingent.

LGBTQ+ inclusion at Covia doesn’t end with the month of June. A new session of Well Connected, beginning on July 8, offers a weekly LBGTQ Chat group. Open to all LGBTQ older adults, the group “will create an inclusive place to share our stories with each other and build a sense of community.” Participants can register for this or any other Well Connected group by calling 877-797-7299.

Throughout Covia, “we continually work to build the value of inclusion in all we do,” says Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer. “It’s important to us that the moment people walk into one of our communities, they know that they are welcome, just as they are.”

Ruth Reznikoff and Laura Olson share the distinction of being one of the few mother/daughter pairs living in the same community. Ruth worked as a dietitian in San Diego and raised her family of three daughters. One of her girls, Laura, eventually settled in San Francisco with her husband, Stephen. In 2013, Ruth, then 96, wanted to be closer to her family and live in a place with more security. She moved to San Francisco and  settled in at San Francisco Towers. Four years later, when Laura and Stephen retired,  they also chose the Towers as their home. 

Today, as she prepares to turn 102, Ruth still lives independently and remains very active in the San Francisco Towers community, serving on three committees. For Laura, living close to her mother has provided special moments and has even critical support. A few years ago, when Stephen had a bad accident and came home after three weeks in the hospital, he couldn’t be left alone. When Laura had to leave the house for critical errands, she was able to call her mom to come downstairs and be with Stephen. “It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly!” Laura said.

Originally published in Community Matters

Every Christmas residents at San Francisco Towers enjoy a beautiful Christmas Circus Wagon, on display in the Lounge during December. This is the story of how SFT residents brought the wagon into existence.

In Bill and Martha Steen’s Christmas tree ornament collection was a circus wagon ornament. Bill decided it would be a special treat to build such a wagon as a Christmas decoration for The Towers. Bill approached Dick Brain with his idea, along with a sketch for a table to implement his project. Dick made a mockup showing Bill how he proposed fabricating the table and its accessories. With Bill’s approval of the mockup Dick proceeded with precise drawings and wiring diagrams for the wagon. Fabrication started in September 2005, with the wagon completed and installed in the main Lounge just before Thanksgiving.

The wagon was fabricated from a 8’ x 4’ plywood sheet, metal folding legs and dimensional lumber and moldings. Finishing items were the wheels, finials, side curtains, acrylic widows and electrical service equipment and wiring. The miniature amusement park rides were purchased from Gump’s. The wheels were based on those shown in an old photograph of a cart. The wheels and finials were made by a specialty cabinet shop in Windsor.

Dick Brain and Roger Cutler fabricated the wagon and painted the table. Marcia Cutler painted the columns, wheels, finials and moldings. In addition, she and Roger glued small human figures to their poker chip bases and then painted the chips to match the table. Hope Streeter made the side curtains, which are held to the table molding with Velcro strips.

Custom storage boxes for the figures, trees, vehicles, buildings, etc. were fabricated from cardboard paper boxes. Storage containers for the rides and the various wagon parts were fabricated from plywood and dimension lumber, with casters for transport. It was mandatory that all these rolling storage containers had to fit through regular and elevator doors in the building. Dick prepared assembly and dis-assembly instructions for setting up and removal of the wagon.

The Christmas Circus Wagon display includes amusement park rides with moving parts, houses and other buildings, vehicles, people, trees, animals, a moving train, lights and music. You can see a video of the Christmas Circus Wagon on San Francisco Towers Facebook page.

The wagon was ready for viewing Christmas 2005, and has since been enjoyed every holiday season by the residents, families and other visitors to The Towers. The 2018 Circus Wagon is dedicated to Dick Brain, a tribute to his many years of dedicated service to so many San Francisco Towers activities. 

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.”