Social isolation and loneliness affect approximately one-third to one-half of the older adult population, negatively impacting seniors’ physical and mental health. For 10 years, Covia has been addressing these issues through a no cost to participants friendly visitor program, now named Social Call. When it was founded, the program only provided in-person connections to people living in San Francisco. Today Social Call works to prevent isolation by connecting people across the country. To celebrate Social Call’s 10th anniversary, here are 10 things you may not know about this life-changing program:
- Social Call is one way Covia lives out its mission. Covia promotes positive aging by cultivating healthy and engaged communities with a continuum of innovative services that actively support people’s well-being. Although Covia is known primarily for its Senior Communities and Affordable Housing Communities, it also has an extensive Community Services department, including Well Connected, Market Day and Social Call. Social Call is a vital part of Covia’s mission to help people live well and age well – wherever they call home.
- Social Call is a way to create community with older adults. Director Katie Wade finds that Social Call’s visits create a sense of community that is often lost in today’s busy society. “Social Call honors our need for connection,” says Wade. Thanks to Social Call, 194 participants ranging in age from 54 to 102 have weekly one-on-one visits with a volunteer.
- A “Social Call” can be an in-person visit or a phone conversation. Phone visits eliminate the barriers of transportation and mobility, so Social Call program managers can create matches based on personalities and specific interests. Participant Illana shared “I had a really interesting conversation with Sreemoyi on Sunday. She has spent two years in the country where I was born and knows so much about my culture. Thank you for matching me with her. This seems to be the beginning of a great friendship.”
- Volunteers are carefully vetted. Whether it’s a student who wants to give back to the community or a newcomer to the area who desires a connection in the neighborhood, volunteers are screened, trained and matched with seniors living in their communities. During the training process, volunteers learn indicators of a healthy relationship and reminders about communication skills. Often, Social Call finds volunteers through word of mouth and community resources like the library or on VolunteerMatch.
- Matching seniors and volunteers is an art. Covia’s Program Managers review the list of people needing a visitor and align preferences such as age, personalities and language requirements. Volunteers and seniors meet weekly for one-on-one visits to swap stories or enjoy one another’s company. In-person visits last one to two hours and phone visits about half an hour. The nature of the visit depends on the match: discussing a variety of topics and events, sharing stories, playing cards, going out for a cup of coffee and much more.
- Social Call visits improve mental and physical health. Social connection affects health in a myriad of ways, for both volunteers and participants. One volunteer notes, “Anna has such a great sense of humor. We can talk about really heavy, painful things, and we can still have some good laughs. In fact, she left with me cracking up as we said goodbye. I feel very lucky to know Anna and have her as a friend. When I left, she said that she was suddenly feeling much improved health-wise. I must say though, I think our visits benefit me even more than they do her! Truly.”
- Reciprocation is the key. Social Call is based on the idea that the volunteer and participant both benefit from the visits, ensuring a reciprocal bond. Being present, finding appreciation for the aging process, and gaining wisdom from hours of conversation with someone older are just two of the benefits that volunteers experience. Participants and volunteers often feel energized by the visits where they can provide emotional support and impart insight or share stories. Says one Social Call volunteer: “We chat about everything under the sun. We share our memories; we laugh together and sometimes we cry a bit too. We share a deep bond. I know our talks have lifted her spirits and made my life better too.”
- All participants desire a sense of connection. Wade, a mental health therapist in her earlier career, has observed the rise in loneliness. Despite the many ways available to connect with one another, research shows that people are increasingly more lonely. Once considered a problem facing mainly older adults, Wade believes it’s clear loneliness is a society-wide problem stretching across age groups. “Both volunteers and seniors are looking for social connections and Social Call is a conduit for that,” Wade says.
- Social Call brings creativity into the conversation. Social Call is introducing creativity into visits to foster meaningful experiences. During training, volunteers learn about creative aging. Some matches choose to incorporate storytelling, painting, poetry and more into their weekly visits to promote creative exploration, which often provides a deeper connection.
- Social Call creates unexpected discoveries! You might hear of June’s experience growing up in Germany, or learn of Jerry’s leadership in LA’s alternative music scene. You might find a friend that you never would have come across in your daily life or rethink your view of aging. For 10 years, in connecting people with one another, Social Call has offered journeys of exploration and amazing discoveries. We look forward to more adventures ahead and invite you to join us!
If you’re interested in learning more about Social Call, visit us on VolunteerMatch, or call us today at 877-797-7299 for more information.
Annette Balter, Covia’s Director of Senior Resources for Contra Costa County, was recently named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise for her work in developing the Rotary Home Team program throughout the Bay Area.
Rotary Home Team sends teams of Rotarians into their community to provide free, basic home maintenance and repairs to older adults. It was created by Hays Englehart, a member of the Lamorinda Sunrise Rotary, who was inspired by the time spent with his own father going through the list of small repairs that needed to be done when Englehart came to visit.
“He’d sit there with a glass of wine and he’d be the supervisor. After my dad died, I kind of missed that. And I said, ‘There’s got to be other seniors out there that need this service. They don’t have a son or neighbor to be there. Let me check into that.’ Sure enough, there was a huge need.”
At a holiday dinner, Englehart shared his idea with his cousin, Terry Englehart, who worked for Covia (then called Episcopal Senior Communities) as the original creator of Well Connected. “I asked ‘What do you think?’ She said, ‘That’s a great idea! Let me put you in touch with some people.’ And that’s where it started.”
In 2010, Rotary Home Team launched in Contra Costa County. “The very first time was a cold February day. I remember it like yesterday,” says Englehart. “I was trying to guess what we would need to take with us. I took some basic hand tools and said we’d figure it out as we go. So we went, and I think we had three or four requests and the learning process started.”
Repairs can range from fixing a leaky toilet to changing smoke alarm batteries to making sure doors move freely. Annette Balter explains, “Rotary Home Team literally keeps the lights on for older adults who can’t change lightbulbs in their high ceilings! Fixing little things around the home is a unique service for people who aren’t able to do these jobs themselves any longer, and for whom the cost of hiring someone is prohibitive.”
But Englehart says, “The most interesting thing is the people, not what we’re fixing. Because half of HOME Team we’ve found is just visiting with the seniors, talking with them, learning about their friends and family and how long they’ve been there.”
From its first club, Rotary Home Team has expanded to 23 throughout California, ranging from Weaverville to Encinitas. Covia’s role is to support the 17 clubs in its service area, providing program administration, follow up, support, and outreach.
Balter has conducted outreach and made presentations to many local Rotary Clubs over the past two and a half years, expanding the program in Contra Costa County from 5 clubs to 13. But she wants to see more growth in the future. “I would love to expand the program in each of the seven Bay Area counties that Covia serves,” she says.
Balter’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by Rotary. “Our Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise presented Annette Balter our most prestigious award, a Paul Harris Fellowship, for her superior service to the Rotary Home Team cause,” says Englehart. “Annette has worked diligently with us for many years and the Home Team program has grown exponentially directly due to her efforts. The award is the highest award a Rotary Club can bestow on a Non-Rotarian and it doesn’t happen very often.”
And this growth is having a real impact. In 2017 in Contra Costa County alone, Rotary HOME Team provided 318 visits to 244 seniors. This year, with new clubs involved, Englehart says, “I’m estimating we’re visiting about 100 seniors every two months. That’s 600 a year. You do the math. That’s the kind of impact that is pretty quantifiable.”
But the impact also comes down to the individuals they serve. “Our oldest participant in the program is a 103 year old woman in Walnut Creek,” says Balter. “She calls every time we have a Rotary Home Team work day. The volunteers love visiting her!”
Englehart agrees. “I don’t tell people how to fix things. They’re supposed to know that. But here’s how we talk to our seniors. That’s why you’re going out. We want you to be able to do that. Each Rotarian that goes out there and sees that and walks away, they have that very positive feeling. We’ve done something. We didn’t just replace a battery. We really helped.”
If your Rotary club is interested in participating in Rotary Home Team, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit the Covia Rotary Home Team webpage at https://covia.org/services/rotary-home-team/ or the Rotary Home Team website at http://www.rotaryhometeam.com/.
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 email@example.com.
When the Spring Lake Village Resident Council decided to honor some of its longest serving volunteers, they saw it as another way to build community. The Volunteer Recognition program celebrates residents who have made a lasting contribution to the community’s life, many of which are unknown to newer residents.
“People who are moving in are enjoying so much being part of this community,” says Resident Council member Sharon Boschen, who moved to Spring Lake Village in 2014 and now coordinates the Volunteer Recognition program. “And of course new residents have no clue of the contributions of so many of our elders here who have helped create this community that we’re all enjoying. And so this program is an effort to build bridges between these two groups.”
So far the program had had two presentations. In February, Don Sanders, who moved to Spring Lake Village in 2005 with his wife Marilyn, was honored for his service as Resident Council president, Financial Study Group member, Fire & Disaster Committee, founder of the Conservation Committee and the Wellness Committee, and as a leader in the effort to develop the West Grove addition to Spring Lake Village. In April, Rodgers and Nancy Broomhead were recognized for their activities ranging from stocking and working at the Village Store to reading to residents in Skilled Nursing to hosting a “birthday monthly dinner orphans table” in the dining room to developing the yearly Robert Burns dinner and celebration.
“Those of us with German-Danish ancestry love being Scots for a night,” says Boschen. “It’s such a delightful presentation and just a real community builder, and you discover that you like haggis, which is a surprise.”
Honorees are nominated by the community through one of its 20-plus resident committees. “One of our suggested benchmarks is that these are people who have served in some capacity for at least ten years, someone who’s made a lasting impression on our community life.” says Resident Council president Gerry Porter, a resident since 2015. “We started out with the premise that Spring Lake Village is a community of volunteers and that we would not enjoy this wonderful place if it were not for people pitching in and doing things to make the community stronger.”
The goal of the program is to provide lasting recognition to volunteers who may no longer be as active. Similar to residents who receive a gold name tag for 20 years in the community, these recipients receive a platinum name tag that says Honored Volunteer.
“I noted when you see someone wearing that, give them thanks for helping to create this community we’re all enjoying because they have done a great thing for us,” says Boschen.
Recipients are honored during a presentation at a Resident Council meeting, each one unique to the recipient. “One of the things I noticed in the recent presentation is there is not a sound in the room when they’re going on,” says Boschen. “People are involved. They really feel good about knowing what is being offered there about these other people who may look to them just like frail elders, not shakers and movers who’ve created this beautiful community with us.”
Porter says, “It’s still an emerging program because we’ve only done two of them so far. The community here is very strong but it’s always changing with people leaving and people coming in. Trying to get people engaged in the community I’d say is one of the primary goals, as well as to recognize the people who have served so faithfully for so many years.”
“I think it’s an inspiration to us all when you see what these residents have accomplished and you know that you’re a part of this and you have a role to play here too,” says Boschen. “The audience is quiet and almost reverent as they listen to what these people have done. So they are inspirations to us. This whole process has brought an appreciation and a joy to the community.”
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.