The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

The Boards of Directors for Front Porch and Covia, two leading California-based not-for-profit senior living and affordable housing providers, voted on June 1 to affiliate.

The new affiliation will create one of the nation’s top not-for-profit organizations providing senior living, affordable housing and community services for more than 10,000 people. The combined organization will ensure long-term stability, achieve economic benefits, manage costs, and scale and access resources across 54 communities.

“Our affiliation with Front Porch creates a strong organization going forward that will support the changing needs of our residents,” said Vincent Forte, Chairman of the Covia Communities Board of Directors.

“Aligning our leadership, experience and expertise creates an opportunity to better meet the evolving expectations of a growing population of older adults,” said Oliver Wesson, Chairman of the Front Porch Board of Directors.

Covia CEO and President Kevin Gerber and Front Porch CEO John Woodward will remain in their positions during the transition. The boards agreed to retain the Front Porch name initially and appoint John Woodward as CEO of the combined entity. Kevin Gerber will leave upon the close of the affiliation, expected in early 2021.

“Combining with Covia strengthens our long-held goal of building strong and engaging communities, connecting people with the services and relationships they need to thrive,” Woodward said. “Under Kevin’s leadership, Covia has raised the bar for our industry and is the ideal partner to provide even greater service to all of our communities.”

“Our collective geographic footprints and service offerings will maximize Front Porch’s capacity to grow and diversify our reach and impact,” Gerber said. “I’m confident that under John’s guidance our affiliation will be a success.” 

The affiliation is subject to the receipt of regulatory approvals and is expected to close in early 2021. Front Porch and Covia will continue to operate their organizations and their respective communities separately until the affiliation is approved.

For more information, please visit our webpage at covia.org/affiliation

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.   

Over the past year, residents at Oak Center Towers have been fostering their creativity through art classes and art programs. Aliona Gibson, Activities Coordinator at Oak Center Towers, has been introducing residents to a new art project every month in addition to supporting the community’s connection with the Art with Elders program.

Art with Elders at Oak Center Towers

Art with Elders provides weekly art classes led by professional art instructors to over 450 residents in communities around the Bay Area. Their classes focus on teaching art skills such as composition and color as well as fostering community. Participants are invited to submit their artwork for the annual exhibit that showcases their hard work to the public around the Bay Area.

This year, artwork created by residents at Oak Center Towers for the Art with Elders program is featured in the 27th Annual Art with Elders Exhibit, currently on display at the Gerald Simon Auditorium at Laguna Honda Hospital through November 18th. Aliona Gibson and Oak Center Towers residents attended the exhibit’s Opening Celebration on October 27th where, Gibson notes, residents were “very proud and excited about their work being on display.”

One resident’s art was even selected to be printed onto greeting cards that could be purchased at the event. Gibson purchased one of these cards, saying that “it was invaluable to me to have such a beautiful and professional reproduction of the resident’s work.”

Beyond their work at Oak Center Towers, Art with Elders also provides classes at Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto, and Executive Director Mark Campbell and Instructor-Exhibits Manager Darcie O’Brien spoke as part of Covia’s 2019 Creative Aging Symposium, which celebrates the importance of creativity in creating a sense of self and living with purpose. The Creative Aging Symposium will return on January 29th, 2020 to explore more aspects of creative aging featuring speakers with backgrounds in eco-friendly fashion, choreography, and medicine. 

Monthly Art Projects

In addition to the Art with Elders program, Gibson has been introducing residents at Oak Center Towers to monthly art projects that allow them to try out different mediums and materials. Residents have created everything from tie-dye t-shirts and terrariums to painted flower pots and tissue flowers.

One popular event even had an edible component where residents created rainbow fruit skewers with strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupes, pineapple, green grapes, and blueberries. Gibson notes that the event was particularly popular because residents “got to take them home and some residents ate while creating.” 

Beyond the monthly art projects, there is also a weekly coloring activity where a small group of residents gather to color with gel pens, markers, and colored pencils.

Oak Center Towers’ diverse population means that not all of the residents share the same language, which can make craft projects and teaching difficult. Gibson says, “There is usually one person who speaks English who will relay what I am saying but mostly they go by pictures. I always bring examples of the craft we are doing, sometimes a prototype and sometimes pictures from the internet.” 

Between the monthly art projects, regular coloring group, and Art with Elders program, Oak Center Towers has created a number of beautiful pieces that have been displayed around the community on top of the art accepted into the Art with Elders’ exhibit.

The Art with Elders Annual Exhibit is open until November 18th at the Gerald Simon Auditorium at Laguna Honda Hospital. After November 18th, the exhibit will move to the Rincon Center in Downtown San Francisco through January 18th, 2020. Artwork from the Art with Elders exhibit is also available on their website.  

*Image of Oak Center Towers group courtesy of Art with Elders

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.

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

Los Gatos Meadows announced today that, after reviewing the findings of a rigorous facilities assessment, it will begin the process of closing the senior living community, concluding that continuing operations in their present form is too great a safety risk for residents and employees.

“Providing quality care and a safe and pleasant community is our core commitment to our residents,” said Chris Ichien, Executive Director of Los Gatos Meadows. “Because of risk factors uncovered during a recent independent facilities assessment of Los Gatos Meadows – particularly the increased likelihood of a fire disaster that we cannot mitigate – we have concluded that we must begin the closure process immediately.”

In 2018, Los Gatos Meadows’ parent company, Covia, retained an independent firm to assess Los Gatos Meadows’ facilities and what would be required to keep the buildings safe and operational. Covia believed the findings would help them determine what improvements would be required to ensure both the safety of residents and employees and that residents could continue receiving excellent services and care.

“Through the facilities assessment, we learned the now outdated safety standards used in Los Gatos Meadows’ construction almost 50 years ago pose a high risk today,” said Kevin Gerber, President and CEO of Covia. “The risks this assessment uncovered, while not imminent, when taken all together are so significant that we concluded that we must close Los Gatos Meadows.”

Of the numerous categories reviewed during the assessment, more than a quarter were found to pose a significant risk, including some that materially impact the operations of the community, and even more that pose a high risk of injury to residents. Those of most concern involve fire safety, and particularly the elevated risk of fire starting within existing structures, accompanied by compromised accessibility for fire response services.

The closure date is not yet final, but Covia has tentatively proposed the complete closure to occur September 30, 2019. California law requires a minimum 120-day notice for the closure of any senior living property. Covia is working on plans that would extend that timeframe to give its residents additional time to secure new accommodations with comparable services and care.

“We know this decision will have significant impacts on our residents, their families, our employees and our community,” Ichien said. “We will do everything in our power to ensure the transition is thoughtful and as smooth as possible.”

Covia has pledged to work with each resident and their family on an individual basis to develop a transition plan tailored to the resident’s needs. Covia is committed to finding an alternative residence within another Covia community or with a community that can provide residents with comparable services and care and is working to address the financial impact to residents caused by the move.

Covia is also committed to supporting employees to ensure their transition from Los Gatos Meadows is as easy as possible, including providing severance packages and job search assistance. Covia will continue to operate El Sombroso Oaks in Los Gatos.

“We care for each and every one of our residents and employees and understand the concern and anxiety this news may cause them,” Ichien said. “Please be assured that we are doing, and will do, everything we can to take care of them during this transition as our commitment to them has not wavered.”

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. 

For 30 years, Great Place to Work (GPTW) has been recognizing outstanding workplace cultures and producing the annual FORTUNE “100 Best Companies to Work For®” and FORTUNE Best Workplaces lists. This year, Covia has been recognized by GPTW and was recently certified as a Great Place to Work.

Previously, Covia had been recognized as a Best Place to Work in the Bay Area. With the Great Place to Work certification, Covia is being recognized on a national level for its workplace culture.

“Covia is filled with passionate people, and is a fun, open, energetic and inclusive environment,” says Prab Brinton, VP of Human Resources. “The company has strong values and guiding principles – everyone from the top down is committed to making a difference in the lives of seniors.”

Along with market rate and affordable senior housing, Covia offers community services programs such as Well Connected, offering activities and support groups by phone or online nationwide, and Market Day, making fresh fruit and produce available in locations that are more accessible to seniors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Covia is now eligible to appear on the Best Workplaces lists, including Best Workplaces in Aging Services.

This is the first time GPTW has offered a survey and assessment specifically for the Senior Care/Aging Services industry.  According to Alana Perriello from Great Place to Work’s senior care affiliate Activated Insights, “Every organization right now is moving towards and trying to be a purpose-driven organization. What Great Places to Work and Fortune really like about us [in Aging Services] is that’s innately what we do. We help seniors live their best life possible. It’s not something we have to construct.”

Over 650 Covia staff responded to the Great Place to Work survey which asked questions based on five dimensions of employee trust: respect, fairness, credibility, pride, and camaraderie. The results: 81 percent of Covia employees say their workplace is great with 88 percent saying “I feel good about the ways we contribute to the community.”

Covia’s profile describes not only the results of the survey, but some of Covia’s unique perks and programs that support its employees, such as Success Sharing, Education Assistance, and free CEUs.

Brinton says, “If you are looking for a job where the work is meaningful and rewarding – work here!  Your day to day work brings great joy, care and kindness to the seniors that live in our communities and in the places we serve.”

The list of Best Workplaces in Aging Services will be published in Fortune on September 27, 2018.