Aliona Gibson, Activities Coordinator at Oak Center Towers (OCT), found her world turned upside down last year when pandemic shelter-in-place orders began. She went from having close and personal interactions with the residents at her community and being able to organize interesting outings to having to greet people from a distance and a severely curtailed activity calendar, with all contact masked and distanced. Fortunately, Aliona was able to adapt quickly and continue to provide engagement activities and helpful resources for residents of the West Oakland community.
“Since March of last year, I have been creating monthly packets for our residents to give them something to do while they are safe at home. The packets includes a variety of puzzles and brain teasers, easy recipes, and a letter with helpful information about Coronavirus from the CDC, all translated into the different languages spoken by our residents.”
“Some residents will complete the entire packet and return it to me, a sign that they are engaged and enjoying the handouts,” Aliona says. “We have been able to do some group activities outside. Even though it’s sometimes cold, our residents show up for socially-distanced bingo! On holiday crafts day, residents still came out to make holiday cards and cookie ornaments even though it was a bit windy.”
Aliona’s favorite part of her role at Oak Center Towers is getting to know the residents. “Despite some language barriers, I feel connected and appreciated. I love the chuckles when I say ‘good morning’ or ‘thank you’ in Cantonese, Korean, or Tigrinya. It’s challenging not to be able to verbally communicate extensively with everyone, but they are still able to let me know they enjoyed an activity I organized, which makes me feel good about my work,” Aliona says. “I especially enjoyed being able to deliver handmade cards created by volunteers from Creative Spark, Covia’s creative aging program. It was during a time when I felt like a small thing like a card with an inspirational message could brighten someone’s day! Shout out to the Creative Spark team!”
It was through a student internship that Katherine Smith, Covia’s Director of Social Services, became interested in working with older adults. As she worked towards her Bachelor’s of Social Work degree at Cal State Los Angeles, “when it came time to pick an internship and where we’re going to be going, my first choice was to work with kids.” She didn’t get her first choice. Instead, she ended up in a gerontology internship. “I’m like, what is gerontology? But then I fell in love with it.”
So it made sense to her to promote an internship program partnering with Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators to encourage a new generation of social workers.
Covia has been offering internships for the past 5 years, associated with USC’s Davis School of Gerontology and CSULA; this fall, they have launched a new partnership with the Social Work department at San Jose State University.
“Before we have an intern at our sites, we want to make sure we’re going to be a good fit for them and they’ll be a good fit for us,” says Shannon Wetters, Lead Resident Service Coordinator at Emerson Village in Pomona. “Are they looking for administrative work? Are they looking for management research? Or are they interested in actually working one on one with older adults? If their goal is to work with older adults, if that’s their true passion, then here at Emerson, they are a perfect fit.”
Interns spend 20 to 24 hours per week working with residents. Due to COVID-19, some of the work is now done remotely, but the Covia team ensures that the interns still get the experience they’re looking for. At Emerson Village, the intern is setting up phone visits with residents, or meet at an appropriate distance from residents in Wetters’ large office while she listens to the interaction, sitting in the hallway.
Pamela Ogawa-Boon, Lead Resident Service Coordinator at Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto, is supervising her first intern this fall. A Masters of Social Work student at San Jose State working toward her certificate in gerontology, Alanah Rosembloom will spend 24 hours per week assisting residents at Lytton Gardens as well as at Shires Memorial Center in San Jose. As a first time mentor, Ogawa-Boon is looking forward to bouncing ideas back and forth with someone eager to be part of the process of serving seniors. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” she says.
The influence of the internship program has reached far beyond Covia’s communities. In addition to the work these interns have done in communities where Covia has Resident Service Coordinator contracts, they have taken what they’ve learned to the communities – and countries – they call home.
Wetters has mentored interns from all over the world, providing experience for students from China, Mexico, and currently South Korea. Wetters shares that her current intern Seungjae Lee, whose family owns a nursing home, “wants to be able to take a lot of the knowledge he’s getting here and take it back to his family. Additionally, he wants to start educating the younger population, teaching them how to prepare their loved ones for the aging process.”
“They’re learning a lot here and they want to take it back there and start something new that they don’t have in their country right now,” says Wetters. She shares that her intern from Mexico five years previously “had no idea if she’d even want to work with older adults but it turned out she really found a passion for it.” As a result, “she was hoping to take this information that she gleaned and take it back to Mexico and start teaching family and friends and then hopefully develop a business from that.”
“A lot of people don’t know about service coordination,” Wetters continues. “I didn’t know about it until I went to the University of La Verne, and there was an informational meeting and I thought, I want to do that.”
As a result of Covia’s internship program, still more people are discovering or deepening their passion and skill for working with older adults.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Covia’s Market Day has stepped in to provide fresh produce and staples to almost 1,600 seniors.
Market Day, a Covia Community Services program designed to offer pop-up produce markets in accessible locations such as senior communities, senior centers, and churches, made the difficult decision to temporarily close its events starting in mid-March in light of the risk they might present to seniors and volunteers alike. But the team is working behind the scenes to provide new, creative ways to get fresh produce to seniors without exposing them to risk of infection.
“Covia knows that our clients, residents, and neighbors are all dealing with a lot of challenges during this pandemic,” Market Day posted on its Facebook page. As a result, “During the month of April, Covia offered produce delivery for free to older adults and community members.”
In April, Covia employees and volunteers wearing masks delivered bags of produce to 1,593 seniors living in twelve locations that normally host Market Day, ranging in location from Santa Rosa in Sonoma County to Pomona in Southern California. Each delivery contained a variety of fresh produce, from blueberries to broccoli, pears to zucchini, along with a pound of rice.
“The gesture alone helped my spirits,” said a resident of Presidio Gate Apartments, a Covia Affordable Community in San Francisco. “The bananas and berries were most appreciated and the sweet potatoes were good mashed.”
“I can’t tell you how much the groceries will be appreciated by my residents,” said a staff person at Cottonwood Place in Fremont. “I’ve seen the need for food increasing. This is so generous of Covia and it is definitely needed…We will get through this all together.”
As for the Market Day team, “We can’t wait to celebrate all our volunteers when our Markets open again soon!”
Market Day is a program of Covia Community Services. Find more information about Market Day or make a donation to support this vital program here.
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!”
On July 11th, Ruth’s Table, a program of Bethany Center Senior Housing, is celebrating its grand re-opening at a new dedicated gallery space located at 3160 21st Street, San Francisco. The opening reception from 6:00-9:00 pm launches a year-long exploration of Bauhaus through a series of exhibits.
Founded in 2009 with the support of artist Ruth Asawa, Ruth’s Table began as an arts initiative integrated into Bethany Center, an affordable senior housing community. The new building will serve as a gallery and creative learning space where people of all ages can come together to learn, connect, and create.
Jessica McCracken, Director of Ruth’s Table, says, “Ruth’s Table provides a safe, inclusive and welcoming space for the community to engage with arts, build meaningful connections and feel the uplifting joy of community. Our programs encourage personal growth and promote lifelong learning, while strengthening creativity, health, and independence to greatly enhance one’s quality of life.”
The first exhibit in the new space, Beyond the Warp and Weft, launches a year-long inaugural program of contemporary exhibitions celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus. The exhibit brings together 14 artists to illuminate the diversity of contemporary ideas of weaving and textile, highlight innovative craft thinking, and chart the future trajectory of the practice. The exhibition presents a stylistically diverse selection of works that combine hand weaving, sound, science, sculpture and site-specific installation.
Throughout the year, four exhibitions will examine the enduring impact of Bauhaus ideas on weaving and textile design, color interaction and theory, photography, and activism in the arts, with a particular emphasis on the way contemporary art practices have evolved with the innovations in materials and technology.
For more information, please visit https://www.ruthstable.org/.
Bethany Center, a Covia Affordable Community, celebrated 50 years of housing and services for seniors with a range of activities, including a gala event entitled The Art of Growing Older and the unveiling of the newly renovated Salud! mural. The celebrations also mark the completion of a two-year rehabilitation and modernization project of Bethany Center and Ruth’s Table, a gallery and community arts space.
“We honor 50 years of supportive housing and wellness programming for seniors,” says Jerry W. Brown, Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities. “We recognize the invaluable contributions of the board and staff, community partners, artists, volunteers, and residents who have breathed life into these walls.”
Located in the heart of the Mission District, Bethany Center provides housing and services for almost 200 low-income seniors. In addition, Ruth’s Table offers artist-run workshops, after-hour events, and rotating art exhibitions open to people of all ages and abilities.
At the October 18th gala, attended by more than 400 people, California State Assemblymember David Chu presented the community with a Certificate of Recognition which read, “The California Legislature applauds your half-century of work providing affordable, compassionate housing for San Francisco Seniors, supporting them in their individual needs, and commends you in the inauguration of your new Ruth’s Table creative arts building.” The community also received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for the office of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Tom Azumbrado , Regional Director for Mulitfamily West Region of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was also in attendance.
“Bethany Center empowers our residents every day through supportive, innovative programs,” says Benson Lee, Bethany Center’s Housing Administrator. “We all share a commitment to excellence – and we’re ready to meet the challenges of our next 50 years.”
For more than 20 years, muralist Dan Fontes has helped share the story of Bethany Center Senior Housing in the Mission District of San Francisco. Fontes first created the “Salud!” mural that covers the 9-story building at 21st and Capp Street in 1997 with only one assistant. Now, he is in the midst of a full restoration, working with five other skilled artists to bring even more life to his original vision.
The idea behind the mural was to bring the inside of Bethany outside by sharing true-to-life images of some of the residents. “Unfortunately at the time I had to wrap it up a little too soon,” he says. “So this time I’ve been able to develop the characters more fully as I originally intended. Probably a lot of the neighbors won’t even be able to notice, but I would notice. There’s a few color changes here and there. We’ve brightened up their clothing so they’re not so gray. They’re just more lively, which is what I always intended: to have the seniors look lively and happy and activated and just living their fullest lives.”
Starting at 7:00 each morning, Fontes and his team – Desi Mundo, Kristi Holohan, Antoinette Johnson, Gwen Renee, and Haley Summerfield – use brushes as small as ¼ inch to apply acrylic paint over every inch of the 98 foot tall building, followed by three coats of heavy-duty anti-graffiti varnish.
“I have the dream team. These people have it all. They’re talented. They’re full of courage because you have to have courage to step out over that 9th floor at 98 to 100 feet,” says Fontes.
“We’ve gone through a lot of brushes and a lot of the human figures have now been triple-coated with new paint, so it’s as if you’re painting an entirely new mural on top of the one that’s here. I think it’s going to show.”
“People ask if that’s me in the mural,” says Elizabeth Dunlap who has lived at Bethany since before the mural was first developed. “I think they are surprised that it shows actual people that live here at Bethany.”
The mural also includes a silhouette of the steeple of the Methodist Church formerly located on the site. Bethany Center, a Covia Affordable Community, was established in the late 1960’s as a ministry of the United Methodist Church in San Francisco to provide affordable housing for low income seniors. In addition to 133 apartments, Bethany offers programs, activities, and special events through Ruth’s Table, an art and wellness space named for renowned San Francisco artist Ruth Asawa.
For former Bethany Center CEO Jerry Brown, now Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, the mural represents a connection to the Mission and the greater San Francisco community and illustrates the “empowerment of people of diverse backgrounds aging well with vitality in a place they call home.”
“To me that’s a really critical message: that people understand this is a senior center, these are beautiful people who live here, that it’s a diverse community that’s shared by multiple races and people from different countries and areas,” says Fontes. “It’s a positive place, it’s a beautiful place, it’s a gathering of souls. In a way, it’s a work of art.”
Bethany Center Senior Housing will unveil the completely restored mural in mid-October as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
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.”