Honoring 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.”
Throughout the country, National Night Out on the first Tuesday in August is a chance for neighbors to meet one another and to connect with local emergency responders. At St. Paul’s Towers, National Night Out does that and more.
With food, music, face painting, balloon hats, games, fresh produce, and information tables, the National Night Out event co-sponsored by Covia Senior Resources, St. Paul’s Towers, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is a block party like no other.
“About 7 years ago, [Alameda County Senior Resource Director] Carolyn Bolton presented the idea,” says Connie Yuen, Life Enrichment Director at St. Paul’s Towers. “The idea was for St. Paul’s Towers, St. Paul’s Church, Oak Center Towers and Market Day to come together and throw a block party for our neighborhood. Every year we invite local businesses to participate by setting up informational tables and sharing their resources with guests. Each year our National Night Out party has gotten better and better with the attendance rapidly growing.”
“National Night Out is also a great way for us to meet and personally thank our local law enforcement and first responders,” says Yuen.
“It’s a way to bring community,” says Carolyn Bolton. As a high rise senior living building, St. Paul’s Towers can appear cut off from the rest of the neighborhood. The National Night Out block party helps neighbors see that “they don’t need to think the people living there are snob-nosed. It gets everybody on the same page.”
St. Paul’s Towers Executive Director Mary Linde says, “For St. Paul’s Towers, it allows us to serve our neighbors and get to know our community outside our walls. It’s about being kindness, love, and community to our neighbors.”
Yuen says, “We look forward to National Night Out every year because it’s our way of giving back and showing love to our greater community. I love seeing our residents bonding and laughing with neighbors they are meeting for the very first time.”
And the connections don’t end with meeting for the first time. Yuen says, “It’s a great feeling to see familiar faces and the same families come each year and seeing the children grow!”
“We’ve been told that many times that we host the biggest block party in Oakland. It’s truly a great place to be so I hope to see many new faces this year,” Yuen says. Linde adds, “Anyone may come. It’s really fun!”
National Night Out 2018 takes place on Tuesday, August 7. The event in front of St. Paul’s Towers, 100 Bay Place in Oakland, takes place from 6:00-8:00 pm.
Many Covia community services programs would never take place without the dedication of hundreds of volunteers. Whether they are connecting with people by phone or in person, delivering food or doing art work, volunteers are the backbone of the services we provide people in the greater community.
Market Day, our senior produce market program, is almost entirely volunteer-led. More than 300 volunteers in 20 locations put the produce out in baskets when it arrives or help with overall set up of the market, greet shoppers at the door, check people out at the cashiers table, help shoppers during the market when they are picking produce, or just chat with people. Others bring their musical instruments, such as the Fountain of Ukes which performs for the Market Day at Margaret Todd Senior Center in Novato.
Volunteers are mostly seniors, many of them residents in the senior affordable housing communities where the markets take place. Market Day director Teresa Abney says, “I wish more people knew about the dedication of our volunteers. They love helping at Market Day and are dedicated and committed to their duties each week.”
Ruth’s Table at Bethany Center provides a wide range of volunteer-led arts programs and workshops, often led by residents. “One volunteer at Ruth’s Table is Bethany Center’s resident Margie A. Ramirez,” says Ruth’s Table director Jessica McCracken. “Margie has been an active volunteer for Ruth’s Table programs from the moment she moved in. Not only does Margie actively participate as volunteer support but she has brought her granddaughter, Talia, along the way who literally has grown up at Ruth’s Table. Now a young woman in her early teens, Talia takes an active role in Ruth’s Table programs teaching and setting up alongside her grandma.”
Participant volunteers are also an important part of Well Connected. Katie Wade, Assistant Director, shares “A little secret about our volunteers – many of them have chosen not to list their credentials or life experience in an effort to enhance the peer-to-peer aspect of the program. Each call holds such potential as you continuously uncover a variety of treasures hidden in each person’s life story. You could encounter an activist, attorney, world-traveler, mother, band member, first generation immigrant, dairy farmer, and so much more.”
Along with programs out in the community, volunteers who have been trained and gone through a background check may provide services directly in people’s homes, such as the Home Delivered Grocery Program in Novato. “Every Tuesday morning 18 volunteers shop for and deliver groceries to homebound elderly Novato residents who are unable to shop for themselves,” explains Carol Ann Moore, Director of Senior Resources for Marin County. “This is a 23 year old program and we still have one of the original shoppers! Clients not only receive groceries but a friendly visit. Volunteers are trained to notice and report concerns to the Director. We follow up by connecting them to other services they need or reporting health concerns to their contact person.”
Regular friendly visits are also the goal of Social Call with volunteers either providing a phone call or an in-home visit at least twice a month. “We couldn’t do this without volunteers, as simple as that,” says Brian Stannard, Director of Social Call for San Francisco and Alameda County. “They are the engine. The volunteers bring all kinds of skills: languages beyond English, computer skills, companionship, empathy.”
Volunteers include people of all ages. Stannard says, “Many of our new volunteers fall under the millennial category, a group that sometimes generates negative public opinion. In my observations, their passion and commitment to serving undermines any millennial prejudices people might harbor.” And Moore adds, “Volunteers say that volunteering gives them something to do with their time after they retire. It helps them feel connected and sense of worth. One volunteer said it provides him immense joy just knowing he is making life a little better for an older person.”
To find out opportunities to volunteer with Covia Community Services, please visit our VolunteerMatch site.
Senior Resources in Marin is hosting its third annual Health Services Day on Wednesday, February 21st. From 9:30 to noon, people age 60 and over can stop by the Margaret Todd Senior Center in Novato to receive a range of free services, including screenings for skin cancer, glucose testing, and fall prevention tips, as well as non-traditional treatments, such as acupuncture and trigger point massage.
It’s these non-traditional treatments that set this event apart, according to Carol Ann Moore, Senior Resources Director for Marin County. “You can try out new alternatives and see if they work for you,” she says. The event also provides support for screenings and services often not covered by insurance, such as dental and vision evaluations, thanks to a wide range of community partners.
Last year, more than 150 people came to the event. Moore reports that in 2017, seniors received 225 health screenings in the course of 2 ½ hours.
“This event provides an opportunity for seniors to come to a place where they are comfortable and receive free health services,” says Moore. “The senior center is both safe and convenient.”
And the free services makes a difference. Moore reports that last year’s screenings identified several skin cancers and one melanoma. The screener was able to refer these seniors to their health care providers to follow up and receive the treatment they need.
Episcopal Senior Communities’ Senior Resources provides a variety of other programs at Margaret Todd Senior Center, including the Senior Produce Market which will also take place on February 21 from 10:00-11:00. ESC oversees more than 20 Senior Produce Markets throughout Northern California where seniors can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at cost and in reasonable quantities. The Produce Market in Novato also accepts CalFresh.
Both the Health Services Day and the Senior Produce Market are open to all people age 60 and older. The Margaret Todd Senior Center is located at 1560 Hill Road in Novato. For more information, contact Senior Resources Marin at 415-899-8290.