Since the start of shelter-in-place in March 2020, Ruth’s Table has been sharing the importance of art to foster social connections and cultivate resiliency through its Enduring Inspiration initiative. Created in partnership with Creative Spark, a Covia community service, the project includes distributing art kits, hosting art classes, and supporting nonprofits and local care providers as they foster creativity in their communities. A new part of the initiative started this month with the Enduring Inspiration exhibition, which features art created through the program.
Enduring Inspiration “began as an idea to connect community members through shared experience at a time when we need to be physically distant,” notes Jessica McCracken, Creative Spark Director. “The title of the show captures the endurance we all must have during this challenging time.”
“It stands for everything Ruth’s Table believes in,” adds Rita Mukhsinova, Ruth’s Table Program Manager. “That art has the power to heal and bring communities together, that it helps challenge assumptions about age and disability, and that it should be accessible to all.”
Since March alone, Enduring Inspiration has distributed over 750 creative care kits and reached over 1,400 older people. The new exhibition highlights a selection of the incredible work created during the initiative’s first half and looks to what is coming next. Art included in the exhibition includes collages, embroidery, drawing, weaving, and more.
Ruth’s Table kicked off the Enduring Inspiration exhibit with a live virtual event on Thursday, February 4th. Participants and Covia team members joined to share the inspiration and stories behind their art and how the program has impacted them over the past year.
“Creative projects helped me to feel like I belong to something and fulfilled my need to connect with others while expanding my creativity,” noted Margie, a Bethany Center resident whose iris fold artwork is featured in the exhibition. Margie’s essential worker’s collage that she created for the initiative was also featured on a LeadingAge postcard sent out to advertise their annual gathering.
Covia Market Day Associate Director Teresa Abney, shared how her program has been utilizing Enduring Inspiration to connect with participants. Though in-person markets cannot currently be held, Abney distributes Creative Spark worksheets to participants to keep them engaged. She noted that participants like the idea of being creative and share their completed worksheets with neighbors to compare their unique approaches to the same prompt.
The full Enduring Inspiration exhibit is available online here and a recording of the opening event will be available soon.
This is just the beginning for the Enduring Inspiration initiative. “I am most excited about the next round,” says McCracken. “Creative Spark and Ruth’s Table will be hosting more classes, creating more partnerships, and putting together more kits and worksheets to showcase in future installments.”
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
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.”
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.
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.”
Maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging, but Covia is making it easier for over 1,500 seniors each week across the Bay Area. Through the Market Day program, Covia Community Services provides 19 produce markets from Sonoma County to Monterey that provide seniors with fresh fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices. The markets, run primarily by senior volunteers, also offer a convivial gathering, often incorporating information, tastings and music.
Nearly 25,000 pounds of produce pass through the markets each year, 20% of it donated by local businesses and growers. More than just providing nutritious food at a reasonable price, these markets foster community by giving seniors a great reason to get together with friends. Volunteers and shoppers share conversation, enjoy coffee and pastries, and listen to music at locations ranging from senior housing communities (including Covia Affordable Communities) to senior centers and churches.
A new Market Day is opening on Thursday, May 23 at the Yu-Ai-Kai Japanese-American Community Senior Service Center, located in San Jose’s historic Japantown. The market will be open from 10:30 – 11:30 am, and will be hosted on the 4th Friday of each month.
Market Day is one of Covia’s fastest growing Community Services programs. Two new markets opened in 2018, one at Stevenson House in Palo Alto and one at the Walnut Creek Senior Center. Two more new sites are planned in 2019: Emerson Village in Pomona (the first Market Day site in Southern California), and Shires Memorial, which became a Covia Affordable Community in 2018. New sites are also being explored in Marin, Sonoma and Los Angeles counties.
In Marin, the Community Services team is piloting a program at Market Day in Novato, helping low-income seniors sign up for and use Cal Fresh, a benefit that helps stretch grocery dollars. Covia Community Services is exploring plans to expand this service to other locations.
Each Market Day is unique, operated by local volunteers and offering a variety of services or activities. Some offer recipes while highlighting the health benefits of certain vegetables. Others provide music from local musicians, seasonal produce tastings or an informal lunch.
Stoneman Village, an affordable senior housing community in Pittsburg, wanted to provide fresh produce to all its residents, including those who are homebound. All it took was a plan and Gail Kellough, an outstanding volunteer. Volunteers shop for and deliver bags of produce from Market Day to their neighbors who are unable to get out and shop on their own.
Says Colleen Chavez, Covia Market Day Program Director:“I never tire of seeing the positive effect of each Market Day: the joy of seniors coming together, helping one another, having access to such great produce, and being part of the community.”
This story was originally printed in Community Matters.
The 8th Annual Celtic Cup Golf Tournament and Gala Reception brought together more than 220 guests to raise a quarter of a million dollars to support services for seniors in need. Thanks to our many sponsors, golfers and community friends who joined us at Berkeley Country Club and made this year’s tournament the best yet!
“The energy of the day was truly remarkable,” says Katharine Miller, Executive Director of the Covia Foundation. “We couldn’t do this without the enthusiasm and involvement of the many people who partner with Covia to promote life-changing services for seniors.”
Over 200 corporate and individual participants, including our title sponsor City Building, Inc., supported the event. The sold-out golf tournament on the cool and sunny course provided scenic bay views throughout the day. Mike Acosta, Vince Baldwin, Steve Baldwin, and Bob Giarusso won the tournament in a playoff against Barry Johnson, Jenny Noymany, Mark Marshall, and John Durham.
The evening auction, hosted by Liam Meyclem from KCBS’ Eye on the Bay, provided its own entertainment as participants tried to outbid each other for a Farm to City Private Dinner at San Francisco Towers or an evening with Covia CEO Kevin Gerber. The auction raised more than $80,000, with almost half coming from fund-a-need bidding to support Covia Community Services and Covia Affordable Communities as attendees learned the stories of seniors whose lives have been touched by Covia through a video created for the event.
For going above and beyond in their service to seniors and senior living, and their generous support to Covia over the years, the team from Morrison Community Living was the recipient of this year’s Celtic Cup.
“It was a successful event,” says Miller. “But more importantly, the funds we raised make a difference, ensuring that seniors have a safe home and remain connected with the greater community. We’re grateful for the generosity of all who attended.”
You can see photos of the event in an album on our Facebook page.
Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto offers something almost unheard of in senior affordable housing: an Assisted Living option. Openings are currently available for seniors age 62 and older who meet certain financial eligibility requirements.
Housing Administrator Doris Lee says, “Affordable Housing usually only has independent living, so to have the assisted living and the nursing home on the same campus is truly unique.”
“Many people know about Lytton Gardens independent living and Webster House Healthcare Center. The assisted living is not as widely recognized. Our assisted living is more affordable than others in the area, and we want to spread the word out that we have affordable assisted living,” adds Lee.
Assisted Living allows residents to remain independent in many areas while provide support for activities of daily living, such as dressing or bathing, that may require additional support. A typical Assisted Living community can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 per month or more, far out of reach for many seniors.
At Lytton Gardens, however, the cost is far less. In fact, the maximum allowable income to qualify as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is currently set at $66,150 for a single person or $75,600 for a couple. Once income-qualified, residents at Lytton Gardens Assisted Living pay 30% or less of their monthly income for rent, a meal fee of $642.60, and a personal care fee of $1350. For this, residents receive three meals a day, housekeeping and laundry services, and 24-hour staff assistance. The rest of the resident’s rent is subsidized by HUD.
Located only blocks away from downtown Palo Alto, Lytton Gardens offers not just a place to live, but a community, with many activities and special events as well as a weekly Market Day. “Having the different levels of care on one campus allows the resident to still live amongst the friends they have cultivated and in the place they have called home for so long,” says Lee. “Although the resident needs to move to a different apartment, they are still part of the Lytton Gardens community. Also having the nursing home on site has given some residents the extra motivation to be able to look out their window and see their apartment and work extra hard to be able to return to their apartment safely.”
One resident who has been living in Lytton’s Assisted Living for three years says, “I love the central location of the community, so close to all the shops and restaurants on University Ave. I love my apartment. Having maintenance crew on site is a plus. All the caregivers are great and they personalize the care.”
Lytton Gardens Assisted Living is currently accepting applications. Please contact Lytton Gardens to schedule a tour or call (650) 617-7338 to speak with the Assisted Living Manager, Anahi McKane.
Residents and staff from Covia Affordable Communities recently attended LeadingAge California’s annual Affordable Senior Housing Resident Advocacy Day in Sacramento. One of our staff members reported that one resident left an impact on his Assemblyman when he introduced himself saying, “My name is Dean and I was homeless for four years before I got a studio in an affordable HUD building.” We’ve asked Dean to share his story.
If you have ever experienced a trauma (and most of us have), you may not want to talk about it. That’s the way it was with me, but my friends at Covia convinced me that other people might be helped by my “confession.” So, here goes.
The trouble began in early 2012. Having been unemployed for 2 years (a direct result of the 2008 recession), my money completely ran out and I was faced with eviction from my Oakland apartment of 16 years. When you can’t pay the rent, the sheriff simply changes the locks and you don’t get in.
A friend (call him J.R.) saved me from life in the street by offering to let me sleep in his van. This is not an ordeal I would wish on anyone. Though not too uncomfortable physically (just make sure you have lots of blankets in cold weather), you are constantly in fear of police and hostile “neighbors.”
After 3 ½ years in this situation, I returned to the van one afternoon to find that it was no longer there. A police woman parked nearby informed me that the van had been towed only an hour before. All my possessions (books, CDs, clothing and a guitar) were gone. Although I’d been careful not to park it in front of anyone’s house (it had been near an empty lot), I guess the old Dodge Ram was an eyesore to some “upstanding citizens.” So I experienced two disasters in less than 4 years.
At this point, I walked to J.R.’s house and told him what had happened. He somewhat shamefacedly admitted that he had neglected to pay some old parking tickets as well as vehicle registration, but then offered to let me sleep in a tent in his back yard.
One afternoon soon after this, I received a phone call from Oak Center Towers. I had applied for residency there over a year before, and they now had a vacant studio apartment. This was the first cheerful note in my life since 2010! On arriving at my first interview, I met Julia Bergue, a sweet and flexible person who did all the necessary paperwork.
Finally, on August 17, 2016, I spent the first night in my new home. Somewhat dazedly, I realized there was a solid, legitimate, leak-proof roof over my head.
So take it from me: when you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way is up. Keep a-going’!!
Dean, age 66, earned his Master’s degree and worked as a paralegal for 20 years before losing his job during the great recession.