In 2019, Well Connected, Covia’s lifelong learning and engagement program, launched a sister program, Well Connected Español (WCE). WCE is the first program of its kind, designed specifically to engage Spanish-speaking older adults living throughout the United States with virtual classes and activities accessible by phone or online. It provides intellectual stimulation and meaningful human connection and mitigates the escalating crisis of social isolation and loneliness among older adults, a critical issue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. WCE specifically targets those who are hardest to reach due to barriers such as language, health, economic, and social factors. The program is designed to adapt to participants’ needs and be accessible to those with impairments related to mobility, vision, memory, and literacy.
WCE engages the community to shape its curriculum, with over 80% designed and 50% led by participants. “Facilitating WCE groups is very satisfying for me,” says Ana, a WCE facilitator and participant. “Connecting with other people who I do not personally know and to be able to cultivate a friendship and a strong affinity towards them is a great pleasure.”
Participation in WCE has more than tripled since its launch. More than 76 group conversation offerings include topics such as fitness, popular culture, games, and travel. With the onset of the pandemic, WCE responded to urgent demand for programming to reduce COVID-associated anxieties and included offerings related to stress management, gratitude, health, and wellness. As members of the Covia community, WCE participants also have direct access to a wide continuum of programs, including information and referral services. “I joined WCE out of curiosity. It has helped me so much and keeps me happy. In the group we all get along really well as if we were old friends,” says Ruben, a WCE facilitator and participant.
WCE has also been able to partner with other Spanish-speaking organizations to host virtual resource and learning events. Well Connected Español hosted Envejeciendo con Propósito (Aging with Purpose) for Spanish-speaking Older Adults in October as part the Binational California-Mexico Health Initiative. The event was hosted in collaboration with Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, Alzheimer’s Association-Northern California, San Francisco AIDS Foundation – Latino Programs, ON LOK Lifeways, Mexico’s General Consulate and Health Initiative of the Americas. WCE also offered the Mente Sana Cuerpo Sano (Healthy Mind, Healthy Body) series in collaboration with Psicologia & Educacion Global. This four-week series focused on sharing ideas and advice on mental health that help to achieve well-being. Topics ranged from How to Keep Memory Active to strategies for dealing with Worry and Anxiousness, Sadness and Depression, and Loneliness and Isolation.
“We are grateful to all the new partnerships and collaborations we have been able to build during this last year and we hope they will continue to grow and flourish. We look forward to what the future holds for our Well Connected Español community,” says Lizette Suarez, WCE director.
“Ice cream has always been a big deal at Canterbury Woods,” says Robert Kershner, Director of Dining Services at Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove. In 2019, Kershner reports that Canterbury Woods bought over 1200 gallons of ice cream – serving about 5 gallons daily.
“When we were restricted to our homes during the first stages of Shelter-in-Place, it was a natural choice to turn to ice cream to try to ease the stress and concerns on campus,” Kershner says. Since residents were no longer able to get their favorite flavors in the dining room, Kershner and his team turned to favorites like Dove Bars, Good Humor Cones, and It’s Its (ice cream sandwiches from San Francisco) to bring back comforting memories of years ago.
Each Thursday, two teams wearing masks and gloves “walk throughout the campus, knocking on every door to offer some edible comfort,” Kershner explains. Pushing a cart with a cooler attached and ringing a bell as they go through the 6 acre community, the ice cream delivery teams have become an important part of the week for many folks who now refer to Thursdays as “Ice Cream Day”.
Now, the “Good Humor Crew” has become highly popular as they make their rounds. Kershner says that people want to hear the full list of choices, and then sometimes ask for two. “One of our happy customers said it makes everyone feel like a kid again!” shared Mary Lou Kelpe, Life Enrichment Coordinator.
Ice cream has also become an important part of keeping the Webster House community connected. “I thought this would be a nice diversion for the residents to be outside eating a cold ice cream on a summer day,” explains Executive Director Linda Hibbs. “This is the first community social activity for our residents that have been sheltered in place.”
Each Wednesday at 2:00, about one-third of the residents meet outside for ice cream sandwiches, ice pops, or sorbet and an opportunity to meet and catch up while staying a safe distance apart. “The residents have the ability to socialize with their friends which I feel is best for their overall well-being,” says Hibbs. The ice cream is really just the cherry on top.
At Canterbury Woods, Kershner says it’s difficult to find words to describe what made these visits special. “When people open their doors and see who we are, the looks on their faces are very rewarding,” he says. “These folks were missing interaction, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
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!
When Pat Lau, Activities Coordinator for Webster House in Palo Alto, first created the Healthy Connections program in 2016, she had no idea the kind of impact it would eventually have.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just have a little volunteer program. They can work with the residents, meet them, talk to them,’” she says. “But it evolved into so much more.”
Now in its third year, Healthy Connections partners with Stanford University’s Office of Undergraduate Advising to provide pre-med students with a setting to gain clinical experience as well as giving residents in the Health Center the personal connections that studies continue to show are beneficial to people’s health and well-being.
Webster House and its affiliated Health Center are located just a mile away from Stanford University. With physicians from Stanford and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation making rounds at the Health Center daily, the program offers valuable experience for students interested in exploring the medical field.
In addition, the program exposes pre-med students to the need for, and importance of, geriatrics as a medical specialty. According to the American Geriatric Society, 20,000 geriatricians are required to keep up with the need right now, and that need will only grow as the population ages. There are currently fewer than 7,300 certified geriatricians practicing nationwide.
Volunteers for the Healthy Connection program must spend a minimum of three hours each week with the residents and at least 100 clinical hours at the Health Center. “Most of the students, though, work well beyond the hundred hours and some have gone on to two hundred hours,” according to Lau.
Students must be 18 years old, pass a criminal background check, be screened for tuberculosis, and attend an in-depth orientation. “There’s a number of regulations and things they need to know about if they’re going to be in a health care setting and working with a vulnerable population such as older adults,” Lau explains, including the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), patient rights, elder abuse, infection control, and safety procedures.
So far, 12 students have participated in the program. Four of the 12 students who have been through the program have been accepted to medical school.
“Everyone seemed to benefit,” Lau says. “The student was exposed to a clinical environment, but most of all, there was a very strong, caring, and reliable relationship.”
Healthy Connections recently received a Sereno Group 1% For Good grant from the Palo Alto office. 1% for Good provides grants to local organizations that are active in improving our communities. Sereno Group Palo Alto will be supporting Healthy Connections from July through September 2018.
Brian Chancellor from the Sereno Group says, ““We were intrigued and touched by the inter-generational experience between the students and the residents. It’s exciting to support them all in their care and cultivation of such a relationship when it is so greatly needed and appreciated.”
As the new school year begins at Stanford, students can anticipate another benefit of participating in the Healthy Connections program: Dr. Peter Pompei, a professor at the Stanford Medical School, general internist and geriatrician with 20 years of clinical experience, will serve as the program’s medical director, providing mentorship and support for the students.
But it’s the relationships built between the residents and students that most impresses Lau. “These students really help support these older adults. They improve the quality of their lives. And for me, I can’t tell you what I feel when I see some of these individuals smile.”
For more information on the Healthy Connections program, please contact Pat Lau at firstname.lastname@example.org.