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.”
For the 5th year in a row, Spring Lake Village has been named Best of Sonoma County by the readers of the Press Democrat. Along with this honor, this year Spring Lake Village also received the 2018 NuStep Gold Pinnacle Award® for excellence in wellness programming.
A Covia Life Plan Community in Santa Rosa, California, Spring Lake Village provides homes and services for over 450 seniors. It is the only senior living community in Sonoma County that offers the full continuum of care: Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, and a 5-star Medicare rated 70-bed skilled nursing and rehab center.
Built on 31 acres, the community is located on Santa Rosa Creek and next to Trione-Annadel State Park and Spring Lake Regional Park. Its amenities include fine and casual dining options, a pool and fitness center, on-site resident health services, spiritual care, a full activity calendar, as well as resident-led programs.
“These sparkling residents are committed to the community with the Committees they organize and run to make this campus their own. Every voice is welcomed here and heard,” says Judy Haley, Director of Sales and Marketing.
Find out more about Spring Lake Village on their website.
As Jennings Court, a Covia Affordable Community in Santa Rosa, celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer, its first residents are reflecting on their initial impressions.
“I was one of the first 8 people to move in,” says Fred Campbell. “And the day I walked into the facility, I fell in love with the structure, the ambiance.” Campbell, who had lost his business as a hairdresser in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, had been cleaning houses in Southern California when he learned that Jennings Court was being built. “I always thought [low income housing] was bad stuff because that’s how the movies always show it,” he said. Instead, “On a scale of 1-10, I’d say my first impression was an 11.”
“It was a rural setting then,” when Jennings Court opened in 2008, says Penni Colley. “Across the street were horses grazing around a barn. Of course, that’s not there any more, but it was so beautiful.”
Colley had been surprised there was still room in the new building when she received a letter saying there was an apartment available for her. “At my age and being low income, I didn’t think I would ever have a new apartment. You just kind of have to forget that because the chances of me having a brand new apartment were slim. When I saw how beautiful these were, I just couldn’t get over it.”
Colley explains that the apartments hadn’t filled due to the strict qualification requirements. Residents must be 62 or older and “very, very, very – three veries – low income,” she says.
“They were offering me such a sweet deal on the rent that I figured it would be a dump. And I was very pleasantly surprised to find how nice it is,” says Roger Hanelt, who had been homeless before moving into Jennings Court. “It’s been a very healing environment for me. Because I’ve gone through highs and lows and this place was definitely a rescue.”
Campbell remembers, “The day we got in, I stayed most of the time looking at the courtyard, so beautiful. Now I watch the seasons change with all of these trees outside my front door.”
Jennings Court has 54 apartments that look out on a central courtyard that contains a garden tended by the residents and a fountain donated by Spring Lake Village, another Covia community in Santa Rosa. It was built through a partnership between Covia and Burbank Housing with funding from HUD and the city of Santa Rosa. Along with housing, Jennings Court provides service coordination and programs such as a weekly Market Day and monthly visit from the Bookmobile.
Colley remembers “When we had our very first welcome party out in the patio out there, I just ran around to anyone who looked like they were a suit and said, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’
Before she moved in, “I remember thinking, ‘oh, well, I’ll have to let that thought go. I’m never going to have my own new place. And then God blessed me with this. And I just have a wonderful new apartment. Everything in it was new. It smelled new. There were no residual crumbs in the drawers that anybody had missed. So. Gratitude.”
“I kept telling myself how fortunate I was. I’m still poor as a church mouse but I’m not unhappy,” says Campbell. “Every time I think about Jennings Court when I’m away from it, it’s home.”
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.”