The Social Call program connects older adults with volunteers for one on one visits in person or over the phone. Due to social distancing and shelter in place orders, the program is holding all visits over the phone and has added a new card writing component where volunteers write cards that are sent to Covia Community Services participants, Covia communities, and other senior living communities. They’ve sent 4,100 cards so far. During this time, opening the mailbox to a personalized card can go a long way to brighten spirits and help someone who is isolated feel connected to the wider world.
Social Call is actively seeking volunteers to write cards. There has been a great turnout from existing Social Call volunteers who are also visiting with participants one on one over the phone, new volunteers who signed up specifically to write cards, and employees from throughout Covia.
Covia Foundation Development Associate Michelle Haines was excited to participate. Haines says “I love putting smiles on people’s faces. This is a challenging time for humanity, and it’s important that people know that we’re all in this together and that no one is alone. Lonely maybe, but definitely not alone.”
Volunteers are “giving someone a little visit and hug via mail” says Social Call Program Manager Amber Dean. The program has been providing volunteers with suggestions on how to reach out in meaningful ways from sharing what they are grateful for to discussing what they have been doing while sheltering in place. Haines suggests “Use as much sunshine and color as you possibly can! It may be the only ray of sunshine and color the recipient receives that particular day when they open your letter.”
The Social Call team has been receiving positive notes and messages from participants who have received a card. One participant reached out to the program with the message “I want to say thank you for the beautiful card I received… a lovely note expressing their concern for me and wishing me all the best. I truly, truly appreciate that so much, you have no idea.” Another recipient noted “I was really feeling down and then a card came in the mail and it meant so much. Printed so very nicely and it said warm hugs, that was so nice. I’m keeping this card. I would never part with something like that. It’s just wonderful. It really made my day, today is a better day.”
The card writing campaign also has a positive impact on the volunteers who are creating the cards. Haines notes that what she enjoys most about the project is “knowing that I made a difference in the life of a beautiful stranger and that the world is a better place for having done so. Love wins!” At a time when normal life has been transformed, the act of reaching out to make a personal connection has the possibility to positively impact those on both ends of the interaction.
Volunteers have even been expressing their creativity by making their own cards. Pieces submitted for the program have included homemade cards utilizing stamps, scrapbooking paper, and stickers. One volunteer even created a whole selection of cards utilizing different images of birds. Volunteering has become a family affair for some with kids creating drawings to be sent with the cards or turned into cards themselves. No matter what materials are on hand, they can be utilized to brighten a participant’s day.
The call for card writing volunteers is ongoing. If you are interested or would like to learn more, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is a simple and safe volunteering opportunity during this time that can make a difference for you and an isolated older adult.
During one of his daily briefings, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York told listeners to be “socially distanced but spiritually connected.” Covia’s Spiritual Care team is responding to the challenge of the COVID-19 stay at home orders with creative solutions to keep residents spiritually connected during holy days and every day.
Since gathering in person is not a possibility, the chaplains have found new ways to offer Holy Week and Passover services for their communities.
At Spring Lake Village, Chaplains Jacquie Robb and Jeanne Forte have worked with a member of the Wellness staff to record services for Palm Sunday and Easter that are broadcast on the community’s internal TV channel. Bulletins are distributed to interested residents so that all can participate, including singing along with favorite hymns.
For Passover, Chaplain Meredith Cahn worked with Well Connected to develop a virtual Seder that will be offered live on Zoom on Thursday, April 9. Residents from all Covia communities as well as seniors living elsewhere can register to join by calling Well Connected at 877-797-7299 or emailing email@example.com. Cahn also created a coronavirus-related haggadah, available for all participants. The St. Paul’s Towers community in Oakland, where Cahn serves as chaplain, is creating individual Seder plates that will be delivered to the apartments of residents who wish to participate.
At San Francisco Towers, Chaplain Hans Hoch is assisting the community’s Passover celebration with Congregation Emanu-El via Zoom and offering opening remarks and welcome. He is also broadcasting Sunday services through the community’s CCTV.
Chaplains have been turning to phone calls and other ways of reaching out and staying connected. Chaplain Cahn from St. Paul’s Towers says, “I provide one-on-one support over every remote medium I can.” Chaplain Kevin Philips from Canterbury Woods says, “I make several calls each day and so far have reached over 80% of the community in meaningful conversations.” “People need connection; they are so appreciative of calls,” says Chaplain Robb at Spring Lake Village.
The chaplains have also adapted to using Zoom as a way to offer services and keep connected – including helping residents learn the new system. Chaplain Cahn, who had surgery in early March, says, “Since I was expecting to be on medical leave convalescing from surgery, this has happened at a perfect time to work remotely. As soon as the shelter in place orders came, I was able to start working with our amazing IT staff member, Eric Powell, to introduce residents to Zoom.”
Using Zoom provides opportunities for residents to meet for services and spiritual practices. Chaplain Forte, drawing from her Episcopal tradition, is offering an evening Compline service daily by Zoom for residents at Spring Lake Village while Chaplain Robb is offering a weekly meditation class through the Zoom application. “Fourteen people came to our first meeting!” Robb reports.
Along with providing spiritual care for residents, the chaplains are a resource for Covia’s employees as well. Many of the chaplains are providing daily emails with reflections, spiritual practices, and other resources for their colleagues. Chaplain Philips from Canterbury Woods shared his own poem, Strange Days, to emphasize that “There is nothing that can keep our hearts apart.” Another day, Lily Godsoe, chaplain at Webster House, shared a simple breathing meditation practice to help reduce stress.
Laura Darling, VP of Spiritual Care for Covia, sends a daily email to staff at Support Services (Covia’s administrative offices in Walnut Creek – now all working remotely), Community Services, and Covia’s Affordable Communities. “One of the things I hope to do with these spiritual care emails is provide a real range of ways to connect with your spirit,” she said in one of her emails, which included a link to a 10-minute meditation video, a downloadable sheet for coloring, and the link to a blog post providing support and encouragement. “These emails are meant to provide support for people who come from a wide range of religious backgrounds, including those with no religious background at all,” Darling says. “This pandemic is affecting all of us, and we need to support one another in all kinds of ways.”
Advice from the Chaplains
When asked what they would say to help those who are socially distancing take care of their spirit, the chaplains had this advice:
Chaplain Jacquie Robb, Spring Lake Village: Give yourself plenty of rest and good food; don’t worry so much about getting things accomplished but give yourself time to BE with yourself and connect with others.
Try to Zoom with each other and do things together online. For instance, I’m watching a play that is offered online with a friend from Maine. Find a routine. Keep moving your body. Pray/meditate. Ask God the hard questions (Where are you in all this?) and listen for a response.
Chaplain Jeanne Forte, Spring Lake Village: Be gentle with yourself. There will be time, when this pandemic is over, for ‘amendment of life’ things. Now is not the time to launch into demanding life changes. Keep things simple. Keep things kind. Be generous with yourself.
Chaplain Meredith Cahn, St. Paul’s Towers: Be in regular contact with loved ones – daily, or even more often, using every medium possible. Help your parent/grandparent/whoever get on Zoom or Skype or Facetime. Exercise, eat healthy, limit news intake. Laugh when you can find it. Dance. Recognize and name your fears, and see if you can let them go.
Chaplain Kevin Philips, Canterbury Woods: Food for the spirit comes in so many forms and by so many conduits. For those I know who have faith in something, I will encourage tapping in to that. For those who are able, I encourage walks or just sitting on a bench somewhere on our beautiful campus. For those with only a phone, I suggest calling up old friends. For those with Zoom, I pass on information about how to connect with others. For those without Zoom who have a computer, I encourage them to download it and give them the information they need to do that.
I hear myself say to people who are angry or having some other ego dystonic feeling: “Don’t judge your feelings. That will only make it worse. Feelings are feelings and don’t have to be rational. Just accept that you are feeling that way and let it pass through you.”
Image: Chaplains at a weekly Zoom meeting.
The shelter-in-place order means that many of us are adapting to new schedules and finding new ways to keep ourselves busy. Webster House residents, including one feline resident, are sharing their new routines and how they have adapted.
My two-room cave with balcony has several activity centers.
Dining Table: Read morning NY Times (2 hrs.) and magazines, open and discard mail, seating area for TV, eating.
Balcony: Portable camping barbecue, occasional steaks or salmon.
Computer Desk: Check email, compose responses, delete spam, read Microsoft News, look at cartoons, open abstracts more detail, review financial data, color edit old travel slides (default activity).
Garden Room (low bench at bay window): Some 22 miniature orchids live in a vivarium (plastic storage box), grow-lights above and algae sludge swamp pond below. A daily mist spray and checking for flowers takes about ten minutes a day. On the bench, in room conditions, is an African vine with a new 8-inch growth tendril, seeking a twig to wind around. Before it finds its twig, a hair clip will attach it to a circular frame – a very occasional event for this.
Quiet. Staying at home is peaceful, with time to think, to meditate even. No need to be sociable, or to go to meetings. No need to dress appropriately. But visiting my little balcony is no substitute for walking freely outside. I miss our exercise classes, and swimming.
By the time we are released from sheltering-in-place, I will most likely have had more than enough of this nice quiet. For now, I am enjoying rereading the first two of Hilary Mantel’s books on Thomas Cromwell and looking forward to starting her recently published final volume.
Judy & Dave C.
We’re reading posts from our grand dog.
I am doing fine and determined not to get depressed. Rainstorm was needed and welcome, and now the sunshine is pouring in my window and I’m listening to my jazz station. A good lunch in the apartment, thanks to our great cooks and servers.
The view from our apartments is a huge help in combatting “I’m trapped” syndrome – trees and sky in an ever-changing panorama. I loved last night’s rolling bar.
Also, I’ve been walking. One Palo Alto walk near Webster House is:
San Francisquito Creek
San Francisquito Creek is the dividing line between Palo Alto and Menlo Park – a placid little trickle of water until it occasionally goes wild and inundates whole neighborhoods, causing a great deal of property damage. Walking up Palo Alto Avenue you will find several small grassy clearings where you can peer through the undergrowth and see the creek meandering over rocks between sandbagged banks. Where Palo Alto Ave. joins Alma Street at the rail crossing there is a small park with a footpath that leads to a pedestrian bridge over the creek and into Menlo Park. Follow the path to read signage about the history and ecology of the creek, the wildlife that is being restored, the people who lived here before us and El Palo Alto, the redwood tree that our city is named for. Crossing over the creek, you can turn right onto East Creek Drive and walk back along the creek through a neighborhood of older ranch homes with pretty gardens and whimsical sculptures. Continue right onto Willow Road toward Middlefield. Look for the signs for the pedestrian bridge that will take you back across the creek close to Waverley Street. Don’t miss the owl box suspended over the bridge, and the pig sculpture at the corner of Waverley and Ruthven! Turn right on Cowper and you will find yourself in front of Colette. At this writing they are still doing take-out.
Magnus the Magnificat graciously agreed to record his impressions of containment:
“Life for me is pretty good. My human has to stay home so there are many opportunities for pets, cuddles, scritches, and lots of snacks. I need yowl but once to prompt my lowly handmaiden to hop up and accede to my every whim. I still get to go outside on my patio any time I care to. Finally, I am getting my due.”
During this time as we shelter-in-place, it can be helpful to remember all of the things we can be thankful for and the positives that surround us. Sunshine coming in the windows. Rain that is nourishing the spring flowers. A good book. Technology that allows us to connect to loved ones even as we stay home. What small things are brightening your day and bringing you joy?