The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

During a recent webinar, Covia leadership gathered with prospective residents to give insight into management and operations at Covia. The webinar panel included Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer; Diana Jamison, Chief Financial Officer; Ron Schaefer, Chief Operating Officer; and Mary Linde, St. Paul’s Towers Executive Director. Katharine Miller of the Covia Foundation moderated the discussion.

The webinar offered prospective residents the opportunity to ask questions about what is currently going on at Covia from a leadership perspective, including COVID-19 preparation, the upcoming affiliation, and adapting to socially distanced activities. Part 1 about Covia’s response to COVID-19 is below. Part 2 about the affiliation can be found here.

Preparation

Covia has approached the COVID-19 pandemic both from a community standpoint as well as system-wide. At the community level, Mary Linde, Executive Director at St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, detailed how St. Paul’s prepared after hearing about COVID-19.

“When I first learned on January 20th that COVID-19 had hit Kirkland [Washington], we immediately brought our leadership team together to say ‘That’s two states up. How do we get ready for this migrating down here?’” Linde notes. “By January 27th, we had restricted outside visitation for travelers who had travelled out of the country to those tier 3 countries. And then progressively, through the month of February and by mid-March, we started sheltering in place.”

When California Governor Gavin Newsom shut down all but essential businesses, Linde says, “we looked at St. Paul’s Towers as though it were itself a village: What are the businesses that operate within this village, which of those are essential, and how do we carry those out safely?” She explains that initially care giving and meals were the essential businesses for St. Paul’s. With in-person dining not permitted, “we said, how do we do takeout at St. Paul’s Towers?” The team wrote guidelines for how to do safe takeout. “We set up two separate takeout staging areas in our community and we designated times for people to come at meals so we wouldn’t have crowding.”

From a system-wide perspective, Covia established a COVID-19 task force that met daily initially and now three times a week. Ron Schaefer, Covia’s Chief Operating Officer, who heads up the task force, explains that its role is to “keep in touch with the health directives that are coming from different locations and provides advisories to our communities to help the Executive Directors make sure that nothing gets by them that they need to know.” The taskforce also provides guidance around the evolving best practices for infection control and testing and ensures that each location has the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed.

Providing Connection

Even with visiting restrictions in place, prospective residents can connect with a community during this time.

“If you are interested in a particular community, we encourage you to reach out and talk to people at that community,” says Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer. Community marketing teams are all ready to do a virtual tour that meets your needs, including walking you through the community, creating a special video with your specific interests in mind, and video conferencing.

The marketing team can also connect you “with residents who are living at the community and you can talk to them,” McMullin highlights. Another great option is the community Facebook pages, which post updates and photos about what is going on. They can provide great insight into what events are taking place as well as what precautions the community is taking.

All communities have embraced new ways to stay connected, adapting programming so that residents have a full schedule of activities. Linde shares that St. Paul’s Towers is “doing a lot of activities through the in-house television, like exercises and cooking classes where they deliver ingredients to apartments and residents can follow along on the in-house channel or on Zoom.” The St. Paul’s Towers chaplain has also transitioned her programming to Zoom for book discussions and more. “We do a happy hour on Zoom every Tuesday night,” Linde notes. “It’s such a gift of connection.” St. Paul’s Towers has also created an ice cream truck complete with a signature jingle that delivers ice cream and treats to residents in their apartments. Linde says “If the residents ask for it, we are really trying to find a way to do it.”

Covia also offers connection programs that are accessible to everyone, utilized by residents in Covia communities as well as the wider public. Well Connected provides a full catalog of sessions that are available over the phone or online and are completely free. Sessions cover everything from arts and yoga to armchair travel and wellness. The current catalog of sessions is available here. For connecting one-on-one, Social Call matches older adult participants with volunteers for weekly meetings over the phone. Participants enjoy talking with others from the comfort of their home and these weekly meetings go a long way toward fostering the connections that social distancing has proven are a crucial part of wellness.

Although the challenges of responding to COVID-19 are real, Covia is still finding new and positive ways to make healthy communities, build connections, and stay engaged.

Over a decade ago, long before COVID-19 would drastically alter our world, Covia developed a resource to promote social engagement among older adults and combat loneliness and social isolation. That program, Well Connected, is now a nationwide social connection and lifelong learning program that is free and open to all older adults — not just Covia residents or its affiliates.

“The program was initially designed for low-income, extremely isolated, frail older adults who needed more engagement,” says Tracy Powell, Covia’s Vice President of Community Services. “It was a lovely but small support system rooted in engagement and volunteerism,” she notes, initially offering 10 free one-hour classes per week. Over the last few years, the programming has grown “in sophistication and audience.” Participants, who currently come from 46 states, can now choose from over 80 classes and groups that are offered every single week. The programs vary from support groups to topical discussions to interactive courses, all available by phone or online.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Well Connected participation has skyrocketed. Prior to the social distancing and quarantining requirements brought about by the crisis, Well Connected had about 2,000 participants. Then, in the first two weeks of April alone, 200 new participants joined — a 10 percent increase in just two weeks after 10 years of operation. Since the onset of COVID-19, Well Connected has had a total of 685 new participants. Now staff are getting calls from other senior living operators interested in enrolling their residents.

“There has been a huge increase in terms of enrollment and interest,” Powell says. “There have been 50 to 75 organizations so far just through the end of May that have contacted us and asked if they can join and find out more about what’s involved in virtual programming.”

Social Call, another Covia Community Services program, matches individuals for one-on-one social connections. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, many of these friendly visits were conducted in person based on shared interests and geographic proximity. Now, Social Call happens entirely by phone, lifting the geographic limitations and significantly expanding the possibilities for connections based on interests and compatibility — especially since the program has seen a huge increase in volunteers as well as participants.

Another project that Covia has spearheaded in response to COVID-19 is “Enduring Inspiration,” a worldwide call for art made by older adults. The program was developed in partnership with Ruth’s Table, an arts center named in honor of the internationally-known artist Ruth Asawa that is a part of Covia’s Bethany Center affordable housing community in San Francisco.

Seniors around the world are encouraged to make any kind of art and send it in — a recipe, a collage, a painting, a drawing, or anything else that can be easily mailed — for a juried exhibit that will be held at the freestanding gallery space at Bethany Center once it is safe to do so. Covia is also developing art packets and embroidery kits to send out to seniors in their communities so they can create their own art.

“At the heart of it, this is all very central to our mission as an organization: building community wherever people are,” says Ron Schaefer, Covia’s Chief Operating Officer. “These programs help bring people together and create connections.”

*This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of Community Matters

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.

Holy Days

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 coviaconnections@covia.org. 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.

Every day

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. 

Social distancing may mean that we can’t be physically close but there are still plenty of ways to connect with each other and the outside world while staying safe at home. Technology can keep us connected to our family and current events but there are also ways to create new social connections during this time. Programs like Social Call, Well Connected, and Ruth’s Table provide opportunities to join insightful discussions, connect one on one, and experience art all while sheltering in place.

 

Connect One on One

Social Call pairs older adult participants with volunteers for one on one conversations. Matches meet for 30 minutes every week over the phone. It’s a great opportunity to meet someone new and it’s “a tangible way to alleviate pain in our world,” says Social Call Director Katie Wade.

Matches connect over their shared interests or backgrounds and often teach each other new things. “I’ve learned about delighting in the present,” says one Social Call volunteer, while another notes that “I always learn beneficial things from my match – especially relating to growing flowers.”

Social Call is actively seeking volunteers and participants and it’s easy to get started. Individuals interested in volunteering can get started on VolunteerMatch and older adults looking to participate can get in touch by calling (877) 797-7299 or emailing coviaconnections@covia.org.

 

Join a New Community

Looking for an inclusive community where you can participate in caring conversations, learn new things, and even travel to different countries without leaving your home? Well Connected offers easily accessible sessions over the phone that range from writing groups and guided meditation to armchair travel and museums at home. Amber Carroll, Well Connected Director, notes “COVID-19 or not, these programs provide a unique opportunity to connect with others from the comfort of home.”

Well Connected sessions are free and available in both English and Spanish. Check out what sessions are currently being offered in the Well Connected and Well Connected Español catalogs. Enrolling is as easy as calling (877) 797-7299.

 

Send a Card

In addition to staying connected over the phone or online, Social Call and Well Connected are currently creating snail mail connections as well. Both programs are looking for volunteers who are willing to send cards to brighten participants’ mailboxes. It’s as easy as having a handful of postcards and a pen. Volunteers have been sharing everything from a quick note of encouragement to sketches of what they have been doing while social distancing.

Interested in sending a card? Check out VolunteerMatch to get started.

 

Visit a Museum Virtually

Ruth’s Table is an art space and gallery in the Mission District of San Francisco that hosts exhibits and art programming. Though in-person art programming and classes are currently closed to keep the community safe, Ruth’s Table is offering a virtual tour of their current exhibition Echoes of the New Vision through Well Connected on March 25th from 11am to 12pm PST.

Curator Hanna Regev will provide an in-depth tour of the exhibit and the facilitator will include verbal descriptions for those with low vision. Explore how Bauhaus ideas have impacted photography and photo-based art from the comfort of your home over the phone or through your computer. To learn more and register, email contact@ruthstable.org

 

Staying Connected

During this time, it is important to remember all of the ways that we are connected even when we are physically distant. Reaching out to someone that you care about or creating a new connection can be a great way to remind oneself that though we’re all staying in our personal spaces, we’re still participating in the same shared world.

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.

Kevin Gerber

 

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.

Environmental Wellness

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.

Spiritual Wellness

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.

Social 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.

Redefine Active

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.

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! Between September 15th and October 15th, America celebrates Hispanic heritage and all that those with Hispanic roots have contributed to our nation. Mexico’s Independence Day, paired with the anniversary of independence for multiple Latin American countries on September 15th, kicks off this month long celebration. (Mexican Independence is often mistakenly believed to be Cinco de Mayo, and not the actual date: September 16th.)

Hispanic Heritage Month is especially important as an opportunity to recognize Hispanic older adults, who currently constitute 8 percent of the older population nationwide, one-quarter of them living in California.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Covia is celebrating Well Connected Español, our community service program that supports Spanish speaking older adults. Well Connected offers phone-based and online activities for older adults anywhere in the US and with Well Connected Español, these offerings also promote Hispanic heritage and arts. Sessions like Lotería, Encuentrame en la Cocina (Find Me in the Kitchen), and Poesía de Otros Tiempos (Poetry from Other Times) allow participants to partake in games and conversations tied to their Latinx roots.

Poesía de Otros Tiempos celebrates Spanish poetry through the work of Gil Saenz while inviting participants to bring their own poems to share. As the session’s description highlights, the group is centered on poetry’s ability to heal the body and soul while also being challenging and inspiring. By choosing a Hispanic poet, the session discusses poetry that will distinctly connect to its participants’ experience.

Lotería, on the other hand, translates a popular Mexican game to a form that can connect people over the phone. Lotería, also called Mexican bingo, is similar to American Bingo except that participants mark off images on a grid instead of numbers. Like with bingo, images are called once and participants can win depending on completing a predetermined pattern on their board. An exciting aspect of Lotería is that it’s a fun game that is fully functional over the phone, making it a perfect session for Well Connected Español. Join Lotería during their next session on September 25th at 4:00pm PDT by calling (877) 400-5867 and requesting your free Lotería card.

Beyond these sessions that specifically address Hispanic heritage, the entire Well Connected Español catalog provides opportunities to connect with older adults that speak Spanish and every session is tailored to address Hispanic culture and roots.

This month provides the opportunity to not only celebrate Hispanic culture but also to reflect on its impact on our country, community, and personal lives. Michael Cueva, Well Connected Español Administrative Coordinator, notes, “As we enter Hispanic Heritage Month, I am thankful to my community for making me who I am. I thank my parents who struggled very hard, leaving their homeland to come to the U.S., where they worked very hard to give my sisters and me the life and opportunities we have today. I am proud of being Latino and of having the opportunity to give back to my community.”

Over the next 30 days, consider how you can celebrate Hispanic culture and its positive impact on all of our lives and follow along on the Well Connected Español and Covia Facebook pages for further celebrations.

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.”