The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

As our communities shelter in place, residents are finding creative solutions for staying active to manage their mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. Exercising outside is a great option. The Spring Lake Village Wellness Team has created a par course around the campus to bolster the opportunities for outdoor exercise.

“Many residents already enjoy walking the beautiful creekside path and campus perimeter. Now it will also host an opportunity for a full body workout as you walk,” says Casey Westbrook, Wellness Coordinator. The course includes 17 different stations and 36 exercises targeting all the important aspects of physical fitness for older adults: balance, strength, flexibility, coordination, agility and cardiovascular fitness.

Par courses have become increasingly popular since the first one was developed by the Swiss architect Erin Weckmenn in 1968. Par courses are exercise circuits set outdoors in a park, neighborhood or community. The exercise circuit consists of stations located in one area or spaced out along a trail, each suggesting a different exercise that can be done with little equipment. Since their invention, cities and parks around the world have developed these environmental features to promote the physical health of their communities.

“Par courses provide many health benefits,” says Westbrook. “It is already known that exercise promotes good physical, mental and emotional health, and being outside provides additional health benefits. Studies show that exercising outdoors boosts mood and reduces depression through increased Vitamin D production. Just five minutes of low to moderate intensity outdoor exercise can provide increased self-esteem. Furthermore, exercising outside enhances our connection to nature which can be especially important when we have limited access to the outdoors.”

The Spring Lake Village Par Course starts on the creekside path just outside of the Village Center, and progresses counter-clockwise around campus. Starting at the first station, residents progress by heading towards the Dell to the second station and so on. Most stations are on the often-walked perimeter trail of the campus; however, some take short detours off the trail. 

“Par courses are wonderful in that each person can make the exercises their own,” says Westbrook. Residents can start at any point. The numbers are for reference, but not a requirement for the order in which exercises must be performed. They can do the entire circuit at once, skip the stations that don’t work for them, or break up the course into pieces that can be done over a few different walks.  

With the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting our communities, Westbrook offers a few health and safety tips for using the par course whether at Spring Lake Village or in other locations:

*This post was originally published in the Spring Lake Village newsletter.

Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators (RSCs) help residents at affordable communities throughout California connect to vital services – work that is more important than ever during the COVID-19 crisis.

“RSCs have shown up to work each day from the start of this pandemic and have adapted to providing services to our most vulnerable population while maintaining strict physical distancing,” says Katherine Smith, Senior Director of Social Services. 

As programs and normal services have stalled, the continued work of RSCs ensure that older adults throughout the state can continue to receive the help and care that they need. Under normal circumstances, RSCs coordinate a wide variety of services, ranging from offering social and cultural programs within their communities to helping residents access benefit programs and medical care. During the shelter in place order, RSCs have continued connecting residents to essential services, which now includes getting access to food deliveries, masks, and hand sanitizer.

At Redwood Shores in Vallejo, RSC Jennifer Wright is working with Panera Bread to coordinate donations of unsold fresh food. “I am happy to report that with each donation we have been able to feed all of the residents,” Wright says.  

Wright also worked with the city to secure donations of laundry soap, hand soap, and canned goods. “I also got a donation of 5.5 gallon liquid hand sanitizer when hand sanitizer was sparse,” she says. “But I can’t take the credit for it all as my site has really come together as a community. We have residents who go to church together, that cook up to 20 hot meals each Saturday giving it to residents. Another resident made and donated 100 cloth masks for staff and residents!”

Esther Koc, RSC for Covia’s Presidio Gate Apartment in San Francisco, has solicited donations for face coverings for staff as well as residents. “All essential, onsite staff have been supplied with reusable face coverings since April.  All PGA residents were also supplied as of early May.” Esther is now working on securing reusable face coverings for residents at two other communities. “We cannot make people wear them but providing them and exhausting all our options allows us to say we did all we could.” 

There’s a lot of education that goes along with keeping people safe and healthy. “I find there continues to be confusion with residents about wearing masks when exiting their units,” says Koc. “Many accuse onsite staff of being infected due to us wearing them. But I continue to educate that protecting self also protects others.  We all need to do our part to keep our communities safe and well.”

RSCs provide residents with easy ways to prioritize their overall wellness as they shelter in place.  “Residents are following the shelter-in-place guidelines well, but as the time passes by, they were noticeably becoming weaker due to lack of exercise,” says Sara Choi, RSC at Vista Towers in Los Angeles.  “We have been following up with the residents to encourage them to at least walk in the hallway since Vista Tower has no garden or open space for residents to walk safely.  We provided them resources of YouTube senior exercise links and encouraged them to do some exercises using YouTube.  We also printed out simple exercises for those who do not have a smart phone or any kind of device.”

Wellness includes staying socially connected, which is an important part of the RSCs’ role as people are unable to gather in groups. Smith notes that ending social isolation is the #1 goal of resident service coordinators, and staying physically distant is hard for the RSCs as well as the residents. “RSCs have gotten creative though. Every resident at every site is reached out to once a week. We miss our residents but do what we must to protect them.”

Choi says, “We have been periodically contacting residents via phone to check in on them to make sure they have everything they need and socialize with them so that they won’t feel lonely and isolated. Since they know us already and have a trusted relationship built up, they were feeling more comfortable talking to us.”  

“During the shelter in place, I have gotten the chance to get closer to my residents by calling them weekly,” says Wright. “Redwood Shores has really shown me that even while social distancing, we can still come together as a community, just six feet apart.”

On Tuesday, December 3rd, Covia Resident Service Coordinators Sara Choi and Chan Park were honored by the County of Los Angeles for their work in promoting and supporting falls prevention in Los Angeles County.

Choi, a Lead Resident Service Coordinator and Wellness Coordinator at Vista Towers in Los Angeles, and Park, a Resident Service Coordinator at Long Beach Lutheran Tower, were nominated by the Los Angeles Falls Prevention Coalition, an organization dedicated to reducing fall risk for older adults through education, advocacy, planning, and community action across Los Angeles County.

This year, Choi translated fall prevention training materials into Korean as well as developing informational flyers. And Park completed his training to become a Matter of Balance Facilitator, allowing him to teach the program to Korean-speaking residents at Pilgrim Towers in Los Angeles.

Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators encourage one another to get more involved in fall prevention programs as part of their role in ensuring residents remain independent and safe in their homes as long as possible. Katherine Smith, Senior Director of Social Services, first introduced Choi to the Coalition by inviting her to attend a meeting, and she’s been involved ever since. And in her turn, Choi invited Park to be trained as a Matter of Balance Facilitator.

“Falls are not part of the aging process,” says Park. Instead, people “need to be educated, take preventive measures and initiate intervention actions!” The Matter of Balance class helps seniors prevent falls before they happen, promoting a better quality of life. Through Choi and Park, Korean-speaking seniors can now participate in the program in their first language.

This recognition from Los Angeles is simply motivation to keep going, Choi and Park explain. “Being recognized was important to me because it opened another door for me as a Coalition member and as an RSC to rethink more ways to prevent falls,” says Choi. Park says, “I look forward to teaching Matter of Balance to many more Korean speaking residents next year!”

September 23rd marks not only the first day of fall but also Falls Prevention Awareness Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of falls and how to prevent them.

While adults 65 and older are at an elevated risk for falls, these are not a natural part of aging and many falls can be prevented. It is especially important to prevent falls because they pose a significant threat to the health and independence of older adults, including causing serious injuries like a traumatic brain injury or hip fracture as well as being a major cause of unintentional death. Even if a fall does not cause an injury, it can trigger a fear of falling that can result in cutting down on everyday activities and becoming weaker.

The good news is that there are a lot of easy ways to prevent falls and cut down on the anxiety surrounding a fall. Joanie Bowes-Warren, Sr. Director of Quality and Care, notes that the first step to reduce falls is to “be proactive versus reactive.” Here are some tips on how to be proactive and reduce the chance of a fall.

Exercise for Balance and Fall Prevention

One easy way to prevent a fall is to improve balance. Balance exercises are easy to learn and practice at home and many are available on the Go4Life website. Practicing balance exercises not only helps reduce the possibility of a fall, it can also reduce anxiety by being proactive about any balance issues.

Another great option is to join or start a fall prevention program. These programs are dedicated to providing fall prevention information while also raising awareness.

Talk to Your Doctor

Doctors are a great resource to prevent falls. Bowes-Warren notes that “doctors and medical professionals should look over your medications regularly to make sure that they aren’t a contributing factor.” It’s important to pay particular attention to opioid painkillers, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and sedatives.

Doctors can also help by performing annual vision tests, checking for foot pain and proper footwear, and being a great source of knowledge on what other changes can prevent falls. If necessary, they can also assist in finding the correct walking aid.

Make Your Home Safe

Preventing falls in the home can be as easy as making sure that floor space is clear and rooms are well lit. A cluttered floor increases the possibility of tripping and falling, so be sure to clear the floor and arrange furniture so there is plenty of room for walking.

Railings and grab bars can ease movement up and down the stairs as well as making it easier to move in and out of a bathtub or shower. Good lighting makes navigation easier and is especially important on stairs and in hallways. Even when at home, it can be helpful to use a cane or walker to ensure stability. It is also important to put essential items where they are easy to reach since straining for something that is out of reach can easily tip one off balance.

Make Smart Choices

A number of falls can be prevented by taking the time to make smart choices. “Be cognizant that there are a lot of fall hazards and make sure to look at your surroundings and make sure that it is safe” says Bowes-Warren.

One of the easiest ways to prevent a fall is to take some time before standing to make sure that your feet are under you and that you are not light headed. Giving yourself the opportunity to make sure that you are ready before you stand up can both reduce anxiety and the likelihood of a fall.

If there are any tasks that require climbing a ladder or stepladder, ask for help. One resource is the Rotary Home Team, which schedules volunteers from local Rotary clubs to do minor home repairs such as changing lightbulbs, smoke alarm batteries, or other tasks.

Finally, be aware of how alcohol’s effect is different depending on age and steer away from drinking alcohol to excess.

Know Yourself

As Bowes-Warren notes “you have to know yourself.” Being aware of personal abilities and limitations is crucial to making the right adjustments to prevent a fall. These steps are a great starting point but it is important to consider them in respect to your personal situation to decide what is relevant and will provide the most help. 

Download a handout of tips and resources here.

The Village People, Spring Lake Village’s entrant in the Sonoma County Wine Country Games (commonly known as the Senior Games), won their first medal on May 31, 2019, taking third place in the bocce tournament. The team included Capt. Sue Guerra, Don Allison, Brenda and Butch Dippel, Pete Guerra, and Barbara Ware, all residents of Spring Lake Village, a Covia Life Plan Community in Santa Rosa.

The Sonoma County Wine Country Games, a program benefiting the Council on Aging, encourages healthy activity and social engagement for anyone 50+ through education, connections, and the spirited competition of sport, inspiring all to take an active role in determining the quality of their aging experience. Along with bocce, events include basketball, cycling, pickleball, tennis, volleyball and more.

In the bocce tournament, teams competed with each team playing three 50-minute games.  If teams did not finish in 50 minutes, the existing score at the time was used. At the end of the three games, four teams were eliminated from competition based on number of games won and point count.  The two remaining teams with the highest point count played each other for first and second place.  The two other remaining teams played for third place.

In the first round, The Village People beat a team from Oakmont called Varenna #2, lost to Fountaingrove (another Oakmont Team), and beat the Collectiballs, a Santa Rosa league team, giving them enough points and wins to progress to the second round. After defeating Varenna #2 a second time, the Village People squared off against the Go Getters for their chance to win the bronze medal. 

Congratulations to the Village People for their third place win!

Maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging, but Covia is making it easier for over 1,500 seniors each week across the Bay Area. Through the Market Day program, Covia Community Services provides 19 produce markets from Sonoma County to Monterey that provide seniors with fresh fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices. The markets, run primarily by senior volunteers, also offer a convivial gathering, often incorporating information, tastings and music.

Nearly 25,000 pounds of produce pass through the markets each year, 20% of it donated by local businesses and growers. More than just providing nutritious food at a reasonable price, these markets foster community by giving seniors a great reason to get together with friends. Volunteers and shoppers share conversation, enjoy coffee and pastries, and listen to music at locations ranging from senior housing communities (including Covia Affordable Communities) to senior centers and churches.

A new Market Day is opening on Thursday, May 23 at the Yu-Ai-Kai Japanese-American Community Senior Service Center, located in San Jose’s historic Japantown. The market will be open from 10:30 – 11:30 am, and will be hosted on the 4th Friday of each month.  

Market Day is one of Covia’s fastest growing Community Services programs. Two new markets opened in 2018, one at Stevenson House in Palo Alto and one at the Walnut Creek Senior Center. Two more new sites are planned in 2019:  Emerson Village in Pomona (the first Market Day site in Southern California), and Shires Memorial, which became a Covia Affordable Community in 2018. New sites are also being explored in Marin, Sonoma and Los Angeles counties.

In Marin, the Community Services team is piloting a program at Market Day in Novato, helping low-income seniors sign up for and use Cal Fresh, a benefit that helps stretch grocery dollars. Covia Community Services is exploring plans to expand this service to other locations.

Each Market Day is unique, operated by local volunteers and offering a variety of services or activities. Some offer recipes while highlighting the health benefits of certain vegetables. Others provide music from local musicians, seasonal produce tastings or an informal lunch.

Stoneman Village, an affordable senior housing community in Pittsburg, wanted to provide fresh produce to all its residents, including those who are homebound. All it took was a plan and Gail Kellough, an outstanding volunteer. Volunteers shop for and deliver bags of produce from Market Day to their neighbors who are unable to get out and shop on their own.

Says Colleen Chavez, Covia Market Day Program Director:“I never tire of seeing the positive effect of each Market Day: the joy of seniors coming together, helping one another, having access to such great produce, and being part of the community.”

This story was originally printed in Community Matters

Spiritual Care expands far beyond providing Bible studies or religious services. Spiritual wellness – one of the eight dimensions of wellness – is an important part of Covia’s mission to support well-being for the whole person.

The goal of Covia’s spiritual care programs is to enhance the quality of life of every person by building and deepening community, encouraging meaningful connections, supporting people through the grieving process, and providing resources for a purposeful life at any age or stage.

Each Covia Life Plan and Multi-level community has a chaplain who is available to support those of all faiths or none. Rabbi Meredith Cahn, Chaplain at St. Paul’s Towers, explains, “My job as a chaplain is to help people in their spiritual work—dealing with the emotional and spiritual aspects of aging and loss, dealing with relationship that might be challenging, with forgiveness, or even coping with the way the world is right now. I am there to be present at moments of joy and sorrow and in between.”

Covia strives to provide an environment that fosters spiritual well-being for residents, their families and for Covia’s staff. Covia’s guiding principles are deeply informed by basic values of spiritual well-being, including the concepts of welcome, inclusion, social justice and grace; treating one another with respect, civility and dignity; embracing individuality and diversity; and serving with integrity.

Spiritual Care programs and services at Covia do not seek to proselytize or convert, but to support and respect all in their beliefs or traditions. Chaplain Jacquie Robb at Spring Lake Village says, “Most residents have no idea what a chaplain does, so there is usually some hesitation to seeing me. I want them to acclimate to my presence and assure them I’m not ‘selling’ anything. In my mind I hold the idea of a village vicar who is most often a friend but with the added benefit of being able to share matters in confidence, free from judgment.”

The Chaplains work closely with their Life Enrichment department to provide a wide range of programs meeting a variety of spiritual needs. For example, at St. Paul’s Towers, “We have non-denominational ‘sacred time’ on Monday mornings, integrating residents from all floors as well as staff; we have a weekly meeting to discuss the events of the world—to be able to mourn or celebrate or holler or vent about Charlottesville (and the racism and antisemitism it spotlighted), #MeToo, climate change, et cetera. We have just started a widow and widower’s grief group to help residents who have lost their partner. And we have groups on spiritually healthy aging.” Other communities have had programs such as a group discussion on Handel’s Messiah, the Blessing of the Animals on the Feast of St. Francis, a celebration of the Solstice, meditation groups, and much more – including, yes, Bible study! In addition, religious services are available for those from a range of traditions.

It’s not only the communities that offer Spiritual Care programs. Well Connected also offers many opportunities for participants from around the country to meet for support, reflection, meditation, a daily gratitude group, and other spiritual care programs through their phone- or online-based programs. Once each session, Laura Darling, Senior Director of Communication and Spiritual Care, offers a memorial service so that participants can commemorate Well Connected members who have died – an event that is powerful, even for those who have never met. “I’m consistently moved by the way community is built through Well Connected,” says Darling. “It doesn’t matter that they have never met face to face. The relationships among the participants are strong and real, and it’s important that they get a chance to remember and celebrate their friends.”

Above all, Spiritual Care is grounded in kindness and compassion. “Spiritual care provides individual support to people going through their own challenges feeling the love and care they need,” says Rabbi Meredith.

“Spiritual care encompasses so much more than religion and religious services. It encompasses people’s hopes and dreams, their desire for good connections and for a life of meaning. It can help people deal with the real challenges of aging and loss, in a language that meets people where they are.”

Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa is hosting its 4th annual Wellness Games the week of September 24-28.

Held during International Active Aging Week, the Wellness Games celebrate all dimensions of wellness, including social, emotional, intellectual, physical, occupational, environmental, spiritual, and financial wellness.

According to Spring Lake Village Director of Wellness Diane Waltz, “Wellness is an expanded idea of health and means more than the absence of disease. It is much more than being in good physical health, exercising regularly, and eating right. True wellness is determined by the decisions one makes about how to live life with vitality and meaning.”

Each year’s Wellness Games include a wide array of activities such as a walk-a-thon, treasure hunt, table tennis tournament, sing-a-long, bird walk, brain fitness challenges, poetry readings, and the ever-popular SLV’s Got Talent Show. Participants can win points for an activity in any of the eight dimensions of wellness. For example, they can get physical wellness points for going for a walk; earn emotional wellness points by smiling five times a day; collect intellectual wellness points by reading the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle; gain social wellness points by playing bridge with a friend; or add environmental points by recycling.

The games are open to residents and staff across the community. Residents and staff are randomly assigned to one of six color teams. Participants are notified of their color team assignment the week before the games begin and given a team color button or bracelet to wear throughout the week. The team getting the most points receives a team photo and color team recognition on the Wellness Games Plaque displayed in the Montgomery Center for a year.

But everyone benefits from Wellness Week as it builds relationships and community throughout Spring Lake Village. And it’s fun. Waltz says, “I love that it brings residents across all levels of care and employees across all departments together for a week of fun activities that promote all dimensions of wellness.”

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 plau@covia.org.