For print only.

“Connecting after COVID” symposium to be held Thursday

Program hosted by Rossmoor Counseling Services to focus on civility, compassion and candor

By Mike Wood

Staff writer

(Wednesday, Nov. 30): The harsh realities and ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic require quite an unpacking effort, particularly when it comes to human relations.

Strides are being made within Rossmoor, where efforts have been ongoing to address civility issues within the community.

An important part of that discussion comes Thursday, Dec. 1, when residents can take part in “Connecting after COVID: Civility, Compassion and Candor,” a symposium presented by Rossmoor Counseling Services in the Fireside Room starting at 11 a.m.

Counseling Services Manager Penny Reed put together this program, addressing topics that dovetail with efforts by the GRF Civility Task Force.

“I’m hoping with this event, what we will be able to do is help people to touch into acknowledgement and validation of what we are holding and why does it feel so hard,” she said. “Once we can acknowledge that, sometimes we can give ourselves a break and allow ourselves to be less than perfect.”

Residents can register as late as Wednesday night by voicemail, and walk-ins are welcome, Reed said. Those interested can contact Rossmoor Counseling Services at 1-925-988-7750 or

Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., science director of the Greater Good Science Center based at UC Berkeley, will be guest speaker. Simon-Thomas’ expertise is on the neuroscience and psychology of compassion, kindness, gratitude and other prosocial skills that bolster human happiness, the center’s website explains.

After the talk by Simon-Thomas, Counseling Services clinicians will lead a small-groups breakout session to gather follow-up questions for group discussion.

“Rossmoor residents have the most dynamic Q&A sessions and breakout sessions of any lectures I’ve ever seen,” Reed said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what new information comes out.”

On the heels of all the changes and difficulties wrought by the pandemic, re-emerging into society has its own obstacles.

“With COVID, we have all been through a huge transition, and now we are being asked to make another, by rejoining the world,” Reed said. Even with a positive transition, there can be unexpected feelings, she added.

“Everyone is holding so much already, so much of their own grief and anxiety, that when something doesn’t go their way, it’s like the last straw, even if it is something very minor,” Reed said.

Seniors experienced trauma from the pandemic’s onset, as they repeatedly heard that their age group was most at risk of serious illness and death if they caught COVID, Reed said. Indeed, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown a drastic increase in the number of U.S. deaths starting with the 50 to 64 age group and progressing with older age groups.

Even though vaccines do reduce chances for severe illness, hospitalizations or death, that threat lingers.

“To sit with that level of vulnerability, I think really shook up our folks here,” Reed said.

The shutting down of activities added to the toll. For extended periods, residents could not see their grandchildren or take part in club gatherings.

“Clubs got shut down; some are fighting their way back, and some didn’t make it,” she said. “There’s a loss of community, because maybe that’s the club that you were in. There’s a tremendous amount of grief still being experienced, and maybe not being talked about.”

Task Force Chair Ted Bentley said the inability to do activities they love within Rossmoor was a source of anger for some residents.

“Some of that anger was taken out in different ways,” said Bentley, who also sits on the GRF Board. “To be locked up here in a society that has been so fun, to have that taken away for two years was a big deal.”

Having this opportunity on Thursday to listen and share as a group should be beneficial.

“It’s so validating to see that you are not alone, and that is kind of the idea behind this, is to have an experiential event,” Reed said.

This will put a spotlight on topics that the Task Force has focused on.

“It’s bringing to light the effect of COVID on human nature and how that affects us,” said GRF Board Vice President Leanne Hamaji, who drew up the Task Force charter and sits on that board.

She has seen improvement since the civility topic was first discussed by the Board and GRF CEO Tim O’Keefe, leading to the Task Force’s creation earlier this year. She said that in the aftermath of the April death of Curtis Gunn, who was killed by a suspected drunk driver while walking on Tice Creek Drive, she noticed residents driving more carefully.

Hamaji recalled a pivotal conversation with Reed at an end-of-2021 luncheon about issues that sprang up from COVID, a conversation that pushed human interactions to the forefront.

“This is so perfectly right in line with what the Task Force hopes to do,” Hamaji said. “I’m so thankful that she is putting this on. This is something I feel is important.”

Bentley is looking at organizations like the Community Association Institute, an international membership organization that strives to build better communities. First Mutual, in which Bentley resides, has begun working with the CAI, which has developed techniques like a civility pledge.

“We cannot fix the world, but we can possibly steer Rossmoor to be more civil with one another,” Bentley said.

Reed has been invited to the Task Force’s Dec. 6 meeting to discuss the symposium. Efforts toward attaining a more positive world, at least within Rossmoor, will continue.

“I think there are little movements all over the place to tap into our compassion for one another,” Reed said. “Because honestly, I think we are tired of being angry.”