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 Thanksgiving season at Covia is a time for great food, from the Support Services Nuthin’ But Sides potluck to the annual Thanksgiving meals put on by communities and Senior Resources. Two of these Thanksgiving meals, the Senior Resources San Francisco Thanksgiving dinner and the Annual Oak Center Towers’ Thanksgiving Luncheon, give a great peek into what it’s like to celebrate the holiday season at Covia.

SF Senior Resources:

On November 20th, Senior Resources San Francisco hosted its fifth annual Thanksgiving dinner – part of its monthly Senior Lunch program, usually held on the fourth Wednesday of the month in the Parish Hall of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church. With a jazz trio playing in the background, nearly 75 seniors gathered at long tables for a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, and pumpkin pie for dessert.

Sandra, who is a regular at the senior lunch, says the service she receives is what makes this meal special. “All those other places you have to stand in line, out in the cold,” she says. After having wrist surgery, she finds carrying trays difficult. “Here, you’re indoors, you’re sitting at a table like we are, there’s nice music playing in the background, and you just sit and they serve you, instead of you carrying a big heavy tray.”

Vivian, who has been attending for the past three years, had a different experience: “At first I had trouble because I’m used to potlucks with my friends, so I wanted to help. I realized I’m supposed to sit down, so that was the hardest part.”

Amy Brokering, Director of Senior Resources in San Francisco, says that the service was a deliberate choice when the program was first started six years ago to make it feel more special for those who gather. Since its inception, the lunch has grown from fewer than 20 seniors to, at its largest, around 80 participants – with volunteers, close to 100 people. “It’s a community,” she says. “They support each other.”

Volunteer Pam agrees. As she serves in her fourth Thanksgiving for the program, she says, “The memories of all the differences we were able to produce is really beautiful. We have a core group of about five or six of us and we work really well together. We have a lot of joy in being here for these people and knowing it’s a community. It just makes us feel good.”

Three additional volunteers from Lindquist CPA joined the team to help serve the Thanksgiving meal. A vendor partner with Covia, Lindquist has been helping with the Thanksgiving senior lunch for the past three years. As a surprise at the end of the meal, the team from Lindquist presented Amy Brokering with a check for the Covia Foundation for $2,000 – the largest gift this program has received.

Oak Center Towers:

Also on November 20th, Oak Center Towers, a Covia Affordable community, hosted its 18th Annual Thanksgiving Lunch. Held in the Oak Center Towers multipurpose room, the lunch invites residents to enjoy a special holiday meal in their community. 

“It’s a much loved and appreciated, long-standing tradition that residents seem to really look forward to,” says Aliona Gibson, who joined Covia this year as Activities Coordinator at Oak Center Towers. “There was buzz for weeks before the date.”

Over 100 Oak Center Towers residents and guests took part in the annual lunch, arriving early to socialize with their family and friends before the food was served. The room was a pleasant hubbub of conversation as the group shared time together along with the Thanksgiving meal.

The multipurpose room at Oak Center Towers was decorated for the occasion with fall colors, flowers, and even featured a display with the community’s initials spelled out using water bottles. A tree with residents’ thankful wishes fashioned out of paper leaves adorned one wall, a happy reminder of the nature of the season.

Oak Center Towers’ staff and volunteers from Covia Support Services worked together to plate and serve the meal, which included holiday staples like turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac and cheese and green beans as well as fried rice and steamed vegetables. For dessert, there was a choice of apple pie or ambrosia salad and each resident was able to toast the season with their own glass of sparkling cider.

“It was a pleasure and fun to work alongside the Covia family to create such a wonderful experience. I felt the love and genuine care, concern and effort put forth towards making the event memorable,” Gibson noted. “I could not have asked for a better inaugural Thanksgiving at OCT.”

September 23rd marks not only the first day of fall but also Falls Prevention Awareness Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of falls and how to prevent them.

While adults 65 and older are at an elevated risk for falls, these are not a natural part of aging and many falls can be prevented. It is especially important to prevent falls because they pose a significant threat to the health and independence of older adults, including causing serious injuries like a traumatic brain injury or hip fracture as well as being a major cause of unintentional death. Even if a fall does not cause an injury, it can trigger a fear of falling that can result in cutting down on everyday activities and becoming weaker.

The good news is that there are a lot of easy ways to prevent falls and cut down on the anxiety surrounding a fall. Joanie Bowes-Warren, Sr. Director of Quality and Care, notes that the first step to reduce falls is to “be proactive versus reactive.” Here are some tips on how to be proactive and reduce the chance of a fall.

Exercise for Balance and Fall Prevention

One easy way to prevent a fall is to improve balance. Balance exercises are easy to learn and practice at home and many are available on the Go4Life website. Practicing balance exercises not only helps reduce the possibility of a fall, it can also reduce anxiety by being proactive about any balance issues.

Another great option is to join or start a fall prevention program. These programs are dedicated to providing fall prevention information while also raising awareness.

Talk to Your Doctor

Doctors are a great resource to prevent falls. Bowes-Warren notes that “doctors and medical professionals should look over your medications regularly to make sure that they aren’t a contributing factor.” It’s important to pay particular attention to opioid painkillers, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and sedatives.

Doctors can also help by performing annual vision tests, checking for foot pain and proper footwear, and being a great source of knowledge on what other changes can prevent falls. If necessary, they can also assist in finding the correct walking aid.

Make Your Home Safe

Preventing falls in the home can be as easy as making sure that floor space is clear and rooms are well lit. A cluttered floor increases the possibility of tripping and falling, so be sure to clear the floor and arrange furniture so there is plenty of room for walking.

Railings and grab bars can ease movement up and down the stairs as well as making it easier to move in and out of a bathtub or shower. Good lighting makes navigation easier and is especially important on stairs and in hallways. Even when at home, it can be helpful to use a cane or walker to ensure stability. It is also important to put essential items where they are easy to reach since straining for something that is out of reach can easily tip one off balance.

Make Smart Choices

A number of falls can be prevented by taking the time to make smart choices. “Be cognizant that there are a lot of fall hazards and make sure to look at your surroundings and make sure that it is safe” says Bowes-Warren.

One of the easiest ways to prevent a fall is to take some time before standing to make sure that your feet are under you and that you are not light headed. Giving yourself the opportunity to make sure that you are ready before you stand up can both reduce anxiety and the likelihood of a fall.

If there are any tasks that require climbing a ladder or stepladder, ask for help. One resource is the Rotary Home Team, which schedules volunteers from local Rotary clubs to do minor home repairs such as changing lightbulbs, smoke alarm batteries, or other tasks.

Finally, be aware of how alcohol’s effect is different depending on age and steer away from drinking alcohol to excess.

Know Yourself

As Bowes-Warren notes “you have to know yourself.” Being aware of personal abilities and limitations is crucial to making the right adjustments to prevent a fall. These steps are a great starting point but it is important to consider them in respect to your personal situation to decide what is relevant and will provide the most help. 

Download a handout of tips and resources here.

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.”

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.

senior resources logoIt’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.