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San Rafael’s Vivalon poised to open new campus (Marin IJ)

Posted on Category Press Coverage


The Bread and Roses Holiday Swing Chorus performs holidays tunes in Jackson’s Cafe at Vivalon during the organization’s holiday luncheon in San Rafael, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023. Vivalon will have a new cafe at its downtown campus. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

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After years of preparation, Vivalon, the San Rafael nonprofit that serves older residents and people with disabilities, is set to open its new “healthy aging campus.”

The building, which is at Third and Brooks streets in downtown San Rafael, cost $57 million to build. Vivalon’s old building near the transit center will close.

The first two floors of the new space, scheduled to open on Jan. 2, hold a medical clinic, exercise rooms, classrooms, an auditorium and a café aimed at promoting healthy aging.

“The whole goal is aging in place,” said Anne Grey, chief executive officer of Vivalon, which used to be called Whistlestop.

The café, located on the second floor, will offer meals in partnership with Community Action Marin, a nonprofit focused on social services. The food will be prepared by the organization’s cooks and brought to the cafe’s warming kitchen, where volunteers will serve it.

Stephanie McNally, chief programs officer for Vivalon, said it did not want to build a full commercial kitchen because it wanted to leave more space for activities.

“We wanted the café space to be bigger because really, along with the nutrition goals of the organization, social connection is our mission,” McNally said.

Erin Hawkins, a vice president at Community Action Marin, said the organization is excited about the partnership because it supports the nonprofit’s mission to provide advocacy, support and resources to the community.

“A partnership like this that’s population-specific — and direct work where we are quite literally serving clients, what they like, what they want, with something as tangible as food — is just a really joyful opportunity,” Hawkins said.

Additionally, the organization will be able to continue to feed seniors with nutrient-rich food from its local farm. Hawkins said food insecurity is the second greatest need in the county, behind housing.

“Food security continues to be a huge challenge in this county, and so the ability to provide nutritious, healthy and, in the case of Vivialon, low-cost meals is CAM meeting its mission of responding to community needs,” Hawkins said.

McNally said the overall goal of Vivalon is to keep older residents connected to communities and socially engaged. Marin County has the oldest population in the Bay Area, according to census data, and social isolation can be detrimental to health.

“For us, it’s really about bringing people together,” McNally said. “We’re really working hard to bring people safely in for that social connection as well as eating healthy. It’s a very affordable meal, and it’s engaging with our staff and volunteers, with each other and hopefully with some of the other opportunities and classes on campus.”

The café will serve lunch only for now, but Vivalon and CAM plan to expand the food services and hours later in the year. The meals will range between $8 for Vivalon members and $15 for non-members. The café will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays.

A game area next to the café will have activities like mahjong and a chess club led by a 17-year-old. Cooking and nutrition classes will also be taught in the space, according to McNally.

The top four floors consist of studio and one-bedroom apartments for 66 residents in Section 8 housing. All are 62 or older, and 10 were previously homeless.

One of the major themes of the campus is to continue learning and exploring, according to staff. Teachers, some hired by Vivalon and others volunteers, will offer instruction in exercise, art and other subjects.

The exercise room, equipped with spring-loaded floors that are easier on joints, is a site for classes in improving balance and preventing falls. The offerings also include Zumba, yoga, table tennis and hula hoops.

McNally also highlighted the energy of the Friday afternoon pingpong club.

“Anywhere you sit in the building you can hear them cheer and it’s just so joyful,” she said.

Yuki Sakamoto, Grace Severtson and Angela Du join hands while singing along with a holiday concert in Jackson’s Cafe at Vivalon in San Rafael, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

An art room has a wall of windows with a view of Mount Tamalpais.

“I can’t imagine a more beautiful setting to acquire enrichment,” Grey said.

Grey said the nonprofit still needs to raise $2.5 million to cover the costs of the new campus. While the building will officially open in January, a ceremonial opening is scheduled for Feb. 9.

McNally said she is excited to open Vivalon’s doors to not just those who know about its programs and the current members, but also those who might not be aware of the amenities and benefits.

“I think the healthy aging part really is about building those strong relationships that improve not only the physical health but also your emotional and mental wellbeing and sort of bringing that all together in one place,” McNally said.

Volunteer Lizzie Hannon serves latke during a holiday celebration in Jackson’s Cafe at Vivalon in San Rafael, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

Used with permission by the Marin Independent Journal.
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