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 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.
Twenty people from Covia attended the 2019 LeadingAge Annual Meeting and Expo, held October 27-30 in San Diego California. Representing Covia’s Communities, Affordable Housing, Community Services, Support Services, and Foundation, they were informed and inspired by lectures, sessions, exhibits, demonstrations, as well their colleagues from non-profit aging service providers from around the country.
In total, over 8,000 people attended the 2019 conference, which offered 179 educational programs as well as an exhibit hall showcasing products and services for seniors and senior living ranging from architects to in-home health care products to wellness programs and equipment.
Christina Spence, Executive Director of San Francisco Towers, was particularly impressed by keynote speakers Marcus Buckingham and Dan Heath. Speaking at the opening session, Buckingham addressed Nine Lies About Work, encouraging listeners to “replay what works” while on Tuesday, Heath emphasized creating “peak moments.” Spence was impressed by “the statistically-proven impact certain ‘peak’ moments such as first-day and transitions can have on residents and staff at our communities. This is a powerful opportunity for us to create great experiences!”
Both Lizette Suarez, Director of Well Connected Español, and Rod Moshiri, Executive Director of Webster House, each attending their first LeadingAge conference, learned something worthwhile in the sessions they attended. Suarez says she learned tips on bridging the generation gap while Moshiri got to explore the differences between operations for for-profit and non-profit senior living organizations. But you didn’t need to be a first-time attendee to learn something new. Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer, attending her 33rd LeadingAge conference, participated in a session that taught her about a better approach to risk management of resident agreements.
Covia also provided educational information for attendees. Amber Carroll, Director of Well Connected, and Katie Wade, Director of Social Call, presented a workshop on Building Connections, One Call at a Time, demonstrating how a gracious presence, creativity, and connection provide outcomes of health – and joy. As she experienced her first LeadingAge conference, Carroll reported, “I like the diversity of the educational sessions and find myself interested in other arenas of the senior living space.” Though she was presenting, she learned from those who attended the session as well. “LeadingAge is a different demographic from most of the aging conferences we attend. I’m always trying to understand how to break our cool community services into housing communities and got some good feedback from session attendees. Based on this, Well Connected has prioritized the strategy process around monetizing our programs in senior communities.”
Educational sessions were not the only benefit from attending the conference. Chris Dana, Covia’s VP of Information Technology, reports that “time spent with colleagues and vendors” was the best part of the event. With “a ton of new technology start-ups ‘invading’ senior living,” he expects that in future he will “spend more time on the expo floor and less time in the educational sessions.”
Covia also played a role in the social events around the meeting. As an experience sponsor for the annual LeadingAge Inclusion Reception, Covia co-hosted what LeadingAge described as “an unparalleled nightlight experience” at PARQ in the Gaslamp district. As the LeadingAge website explains, “This event pays tribute to those who have paved the way for diversity and inclusion in aging services and celebrates the work our members do every day providing high-quality supports and services for all.” Jessica McCracken, Director of Ruth’s Table, was one of the M.C.s of the Monday night event, which ran from 9:00 until midnight.
Mary Linde, Executive Director of St. Paul’s Towers, sums up the experience: “I’ve been attending LeadingAge conferences for over 20 years. My favorite part of the conference is always seeing old colleagues and making new connections. The classes are good, but the networking is the best. At this year’s conference I learned about new technology – an app to connect staff to their departments – that I thought may be useful to explore. I also was extremely proud to be part of Covia as a host of the LGBT Inclusion party…what an event, what a great company to bring people together like this. Such a celebration of life!”
Download the full Annual Report with financial reports for FY 2019 here.
Looking back over the past months, I can say with great confidence that it has been a year full of progress. Some of it came from the momentum started in 2018 by the unified Covia brand, while other aspects have resulted from a strong strategic focus and our willingness to make difficult decisions. I can proudly say that we are positioned for a future where we can help more seniors live well and age well no matter where they call home.
In February, the Covia Communities Board made the difficult decision to close one of our communities — Los Gatos Meadows. We have long had a goal to redevelop this community to better support the needs of our residents. As we began our evaluation of this long-term plan, we uncovered some safety issues at the campus that accelerated our timeline. Since arriving at the decision, our focus has been on supporting and relocating the residents and fulfilling our commitment to our staff. Soon we will begin the preliminary work of redevelopment. We are committed to staying in Los Gatos with a reimagined approach to community living.
Our year-end financial results as of March 31, 2019, show continued stability and strength as outlined in the audit results in this report. This has been further reinforced by the reaffirmation of our A- rating with a stable outlook from Fitch. Even with the one-time costs for the closure of Los Gatos Meadows, Fitch recognized the operational consistency and strength we continue to demonstrate. Their confidence is a strong signal for a bright future.
One of the important commitments we are making as we move into the future is technology. Over the past year, we have continued to implement software platforms that help us improve the services we provide. From a more efficient electronic health record system, to a new human resource information system, to a refined customer relationship management system, we have invested to create solutions for our residents and employees alike.
And it was our employees that achieved one of our greatest accomplishments this past year. We were once again named a Great Place to Work. Because this certification is based wholly on employee feedback, it says a lot about the success of the efforts we have been making. I am thrilled that our team members throughout Covia, from Support Services to every community and program, feel engaged and committed in helping us fulfill our mission. They are the heart and essence of what we do and how we can make a difference.
Expanding the number of people that we touch was also a core focus over the past year. From high occupancy at our communities to signing a management contract for Friends House, a Life Plan Community in Santa Rosa, to increasing participation in our Well Connected program and launching Well Connected Español, we are involving more seniors. Add to that Home Match launching in other geographies and making ever more shared housing matches, and the measures of progress are truly profound.
We also piloted a meaningful sustainability initiative started by our residents — CoviaGreen. The brainchild of the Green Action committee at St. Paul’s Towers, CoviaGreen involves a pledge by residents and staff to live more sustainably and consider elements of environmental justice in our community planning. The program is slated to roll out to all of our communities and programs in the coming year.
From financial progress to community progress to progress for the environment, this past year has been one of commitment, engagement, and forward movement. I am grateful to the Covia staff, our leadership team, and our Boards for all that we have accomplished this year. Together we have established an incredibly strong foundation for progress and growth.
October 1st through 7th mark Active Aging Week, a weeklong celebration of living well and aging well initiated by the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA).
The term active naturally conjures up images of exercising or other physical activities, but active aging encompasses far more than just keeping oneself physically fit. The ICAA highlights seven dimensions of wellness: from physical and emotional wellness to less well known dimensions like environmental and vocational. The point of Active Aging Week is to highlight that active aging involves more than just keeping the body fit; it’s about recognizing all of the different aspects that allow one to age with purpose.
“Active aging is choosing to live life with vitality and meaning,” notes Diane Waltz, Director of Wellness at Spring Lake Village. In the hustle and bustle of life, it can be easy to forget about how important it is to consider all of the dimensions of wellness, which is what makes Active Aging Week so crucial.
Covia & Active Aging
Covia strives to support every dimension of wellness through community programs and amenities as well as community services.
Activities and classes support physical, emotional, and intellectual wellness within Covia’s Life Plan communities. Engaging exercise activities like line dancing and chair volleyball keep residents both physically and socially engaged as they exercise in a group setting. Creative classes like beading and card making allow residents to pursue their emotional wellness by creating pieces of art. Regularly updated libraries that foster engaging book clubs improve intellectual wellness alongside activities such as Brain Fitness and Brain Builders. Life Plan communities even support vocational wellness with the opportunity to volunteer for causes like Habitat for Humanity or local food banks.
Covia is also dedicated to environmental wellness through CoviaGreen, initiated by residents and staff at St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland. CoviaGreen is a committee-led program that focuses on sustainable living and environmental responsibility. This takes the form of the CoviaGreen pledge, which highlights a number of ways that residents and staff can reduce their negative impact on the environment from eating seasonal fruits and vegetables to turning off lights and appliances when not in use.
Beyond the pledge, the greater St. Paul’s Towers community has also implemented changes to promote environmental wellness. These changes include making Impossible Burgers available at all meals and adopting housekeeping programs that allow residents to forgo cleaning if it is not needed. CoviaGreen was created with the intent that it will inspire other communities to make a similar commitment to environmental responsibility.
With an Episcopal heritage, it would be easy to assume that spiritual wellness at Covia is tied directly to religion. But spiritual wellness encompasses far more than just religious practices or beliefs. Each Covia senior living community has its own chaplain who is tasked with supporting residents and staff from a myriad of religious backgrounds.
Chaplains guide the spiritual health of the community, which can take the form of religious services but more broadly supports spiritual wellness by being someone that residents can talk to for any type of spiritual help. Kevin Philips, chaplain at Canterbury Woods says, “A chaplain finds joy in nurturing the human spirit by offering kindness, connection and an empathetic ear.” Having support can be the first step in cultivating a stronger sense of spiritual wellness.
Covia Community Services are dedicated to improving social wellness in older adults. Programs like Well Connected and Social Call were created with the intent to decrease social isolation and forge connections between people that might not otherwise have had the opportunity to connect. Well Connected creates community through group sessions available over the phone that range in topic from book clubs and armchair travel to museum tours and garden talk. The program provides the opportunity to connect with others and talk or learn about a shared interest without ever stepping outside the home.
Social Call, a friendly visitor program, connects volunteers and participants for one-on-one meetings, either in person or over the phone. Participants and volunteers can discuss anything of interest as they forge bonds that combat social isolation. “Both volunteers and seniors are looking for social connections and Social Call is a conduit for that,” says Katie Wade, Director of Social Call. It’s easier to support social wellness with programs that simplify what is often the hardest part of social interaction, forging the initial connection.
It can be easy to forget about all of the different aspects of wellness that contribute to overall health. Campaigns like Active Aging Week are dedicated to bringing these different yet important pieces to the forefront where they can be examined and adopted into daily life. As Alex Gerasimov, Life Enrichment Manager, notes “Aging is normal and a part of human evolution. By staying active along the aging journey, you will feel better, look younger, and improve your overall quality of life.”
Covia aims to support all of their residents, staff, and community members so that it is easier to incorporate each dimension of wellness into daily life. Happy Active Aging Week! Here’s to aging with purpose and a wider understanding of all that makes that possible.
If you are considering moving to a Senior Living Community – but not just yet – there’s another option available to you: joining a waiting list.
Too often, people start looking for senior living options after a need arises, leaving them scrambling for the first available option, even if it isn’t what they truly want. You may be thinking that a move to a Life Plan Community is something that will happen 2, 3, 5 or more years down the line. It’s still worth taking steps now so that when the time comes, you’ll get what you want.
Of course visiting in person is an important part of the process. Each community has a different personality. Getting to know a community, asking your questions, and meeting other residents makes it more likely you will choose a place that feels like home.
But if you’ve come to the event, taken the tour, and still think it’s not the right time to move, joining the community’s waiting list gives you the chance to consider the pros and cons while reserving your place for the residence you want.
“A waiting list is a terrific opportunity to secure your future plans without a large commitment of time or money,” says Linda McMenamin, Covia’s Senior Director of Sales and Marketing. “Often people will join wait lists at multiple communities to ensure they have options in the event their needs change and they are ready to make a move.”
Joining a waiting list at the community – or communities – of your choice has other benefits as well.
- Reduce anxiety: “Most people benefit from being on a list because the opportunity to move often coincides with changes in health, lifestyle or living situation,” McMenamin notes. You no longer need to worry whether you have a place in line when you are ready to move. With most of the preliminary paperwork completed, you know you’re pre-approved.
- Take your time: “Being on the waiting list allows you the freedom to explore your options at your own pace, without time constraints or pressure to make a decision,” says McMenamin. You can use the time you are on the waiting list to think through what’s important to you and to put other parts of your plan in place.
- Build connections: As a waiting list member you will be invited to special events, allowing you to get to know a community even better. “Often times wait list members can join the fitness center, attend activities and join residents and future neighbors for meals,” McMenamin observes. When you do move in, it will be a much more familiar place that’s a lot easier to call home.
- Priority access: When an apartment opens up that matches your preference, we’ll call to let you know. Our waiting list applicants receive priority for any new inventory. “Having that plan in place gives you the flexibility to say yes when you are ready to make a move,” says McMenamin.
- No obligation: Just because you’re on the waiting list doesn’t mean you are required to move in. “There’s no risk and the financial cost is usually very minimal,” says McMenamin. If you decide a community isn’t for you, your fee is fully refundable.
If you do decide to put down a deposit, be sure to ask how long the waiting list is for the home style you’d like, and what the expected waiting time is. Many times, larger homes have longer waiting lists, which may affect your plans. Talk with your senior living counselor about your plans and timeline and they will do their best to accommodate you.
Some communities may have a limit on the number of times you can turn down an apartment offered to you without losing your place on the waiting list. Although you are not obligated to accept a home presented to you, this may mean that eventually you won’t be the first person called.
But when you do get the call for the home you want, at the time you want it, you can feel comfort and confidence knowing the plan you’ve put in place is working as you hoped.
Inspired by their passion for protecting the environment for future generations, members of St. Paul’s Towers’ Green Action Committee created CoviaGreen, a program focused on sustainable living and environmental responsibility.
The program is centered around the CoviaGreen pledge, which offers residents a number of ways that they can reduce their negative impact on the environment. Pledge items fall into four categories: Waste & Energy Reduction, Materials & Products, Culture & Community, and Water & Food. The choice options allow pledge signers to choose which items are the most relevant to their particular situation. The most popular action items among residents included turning off lights and appliances when not in use, eating more seasonal fruits and vegetables, and learning how to recycle in their community.
CoviaGreen extends beyond the residents and into the St. Paul’s Community with changes in dining and environmental services. In the dining room, Impossible Burgers are now available at every meal and staff are introducing new vegetarian and plant-based proteins. Elsewhere in the community, housekeeping has adopted a program where residents can put out laminated cards to indicate that for that week, linens don’t need to be changed or showers don’t need to be cleaned.
Staff are also encouraged to sign the pledge. Resident Service Manager Jaclyn Carenbauer who, along with the Green Action Committee, has been a driving force for the program, has integrated the pledge into her daily life by biking to and from work. “The program is a great way to bring our community together and to help the environment,” she notes.
Beyond the pledge, Carenbauer commented that CoviaGreen’s main goal is education, explaining that it’s often easy to understand that composting or recycling is important without fully realizing how to go about it. “I didn’t compost before I started this. It’s not popular where I’m from and I thought that if you just put food in the garbage, it would compost,” she says. CoviaGreen provides more information on how everyone can reduce their impact, which can be especially helpful for “people who thought recycling was enough.”
Along with encouraging the St. Paul’s Towers community to sign the pledge, the Green Action Committee is updating signage within the community, including posted reminders for residents to bring their own coffee mugs to the coffee bar and signs to highlight what is in season in the dining area. Future goals for the program include trips to tour a waste management facility and showing relevant documentaries on movie nights.
Although St. Paul’s Towers is currently the only community implementing CoviaGreen, the hope is that other Covia communities will be inspired to adopt the program in the future and make a similar commitment to environmental responsibility.
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.”
Each year, Covia sends candidates to LeadingAge California’s EMERGE program to build and develop their capacity for leadership and to help them network with other leaders in the Aging Services field. This May, Rosa Torres, Human Resources Manager for Los Gatos Meadows, and Cammille Lo-Li, Regional Social Services Manager for Covia Affordable Communities, are graduating as members of the class of 2019, and Maggie Youssef, Health Care Administrator at St. Paul’s Towers, will join the class of 2020.
“EMERGE is a year-long program to help candidates reach their potential in their organization to successfully lead innovative programming within their organizations,” explains Jerry Brown, Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, who helped establish the statewide program and has served as a coach for the past four years.
Brown explains that EMERGE fellows “can be any level of employee. It doesn’t have to be a CEO. It can be a maintenance person or a nurse, which I think is the wonderful thing about it. The supervisor sees the value that you have as a leader – that you can be a leader, not necessarily in the current job you have, but for the organization in some way.”
Lo-li first heard about the program while working at another organization in 2011. “I got that opportunity back then when I was first on the job as a Resident Service Coordinator. But I put it on hold and things kept holding me back [from participating]. So I’m glad that as soon as I was employed by Covia, I got a call saying, ‘Hey, Cammille, we want you to participate.’”
Youssef explains, “I applied for the EMERGE program so that I can professionally grow as a leader, build long lasting professional relationships with other leaders from other organizations and network with other fellow EMERGE members.” For Youssef, “Although I’ve worked in the Long term Care industry the last 25 years, I believe that there is so much more to learn. It is an ever evolving industry. The EMERGE program can help me improve on the skills I already possess and develop other skills I need to become a better leader in the industry.”
Participants in the program meet in person four times a year, participating in site visits at LeadingAge California member communities. They read and discuss four books on leadership development, and participate in monthly team calls between sessions. Each participant also creates an Action Learning Plan, or ALP, to apply what they have learned and bring it back to their workplace.
“It’s a training to help you lead, but it’s not only that,” says Torres. “I feel that this year has helped me to understand people in all their diversity, how to deal with them, how to communicate, how to address employees properly.”
Torres’ ALP involved building a more inclusive culture in her community. “The first thing I did was instead of saying ‘Staff Meeting,’ I changed it to ‘Team Meeting.’ And you know, believe it or not, that Team word made a big difference for some employees. I had people from the Environmental Services department tell me that this was the first time that somebody saw them as part of a team.”
Lo-li is developing a social work mentorship program “by shadowing current employees in different positions, getting their interest in the aging services field.”
The ALPs are not just theoretical projects, but actually get carried out and have an impact on the participants’ organizations. A previous EMERGE fellow implemented Covia’s comprehensive, organization-wide online Accounts Payable system as her ALP.
In addition to what participants bring back to their organizations, “I got really good friends and I appreciate the training because of that,” says Torres. “You learn a lot of things about yourself, about your job, about the people around you.”
As a coach, Brown says, “I like hearing everybody’s personal stories. I like seeing the best practices when we go visit sites. There’s some really wonderful programs out there, innovative things. Covia has some of the most innovative programs within the whole membership of LeadingAge California. We should be very proud of that.”
“I’m really glad that Covia continues to support the program and that Cammille and Rosa both were able to get through the program this year and graduate, and I hope that they encourage others to do so too,” says Brown. “We have to remember that it’s not a cheap program. You are getting the support of your supervisor because you’re not at work. Other people have to fill in for you while you’re away. And so Covia’s really making an investment in your leadership, allowing this education. You’re being honored, I would say.”
“I wish that every employee, every colleague would get to attend, just to get the experience of it,” says Lo-li. “It’s an adventure ride.”