A look at La Jolla’s League House: Residents help one another get COVID-19 vaccines; remodel is on pause

The Social Service League of La Jolla runs the League House at 7465 Olivetas Ave.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

“It’s been a tough year,” said Social Service League of La Jolla Executive Director Darlene Disney. While that statement could be said by any number of people and institutions in La Jolla, the past year has been particularly hard for the Social Service League and the League House for low-income senior citizens it finances.

At the League House at 7465 Olivetas Ave., the rent is stable and based on income. Residency includes one meal a day, five days a week.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Social Service League was planning a renovation and an expansion of the League House. But it has had to put that project on hold.

Further, funding for the League House comes from use of the adjacent Darlington House as a wedding venue, but no events have been held onsite since March.

And though the much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccines were made available to seniors earlier this year, the League House, as an independent living facility rather than assisted living, did not have a mechanism to get shots for its residents. They were effectively on their own in getting vaccinated.

‘We’re all helping each other’

Because the League House is an independent living facility, “it is up to each resident how they want to proceed with getting vaccinated,” Disney said. As a staff, the primary job is to provide a safe environment and information to residents.

Disney said gathering spaces were shut down in response to the pandemic, meals were delivered to rooms instead of the dining room, hand sanitizer dispensers were installed and more.

“We had to get information about there, first about new protocols and safety measures that must followed, then about the vaccine availability,” she said. “I’m pleased and proud; most of them went out and got it done. It started with veterans that were able to get theirs through the VA, and then many more have gotten it through their doctors or county clinics.”

With information in hand, residents started helping one another get appointments for themselves and others, and some are even driving their fellow residents for vaccinations.

League House resident Lynne Carr said she got the first of her two shots at the Chula Vista vaccination superstation because “it was the easiest location to get a reservation at the time.” She got the reservation with the help of another League House resident.

“In the beginning it seemed difficult to figure out, but one of my neighbors had a niece who helped schedule her shot, so my neighbor told me where to go and how to do it,” Carr said. “Once I got it done, I started helping others in the building get their appointments. We’re all helping each other out.”

The retired flight attendant said she was eager to get vaccinated because “I haven’t been able to spend time with my daughter and grandson like I’d like to. I see them at a distance, but I miss hugging them and spending more than a few minutes with them here and there. And I’m looking forward to traveling. I was supposed to go on two cruises, but I’m ready to go anywhere.”

After getting his first shot at the Petco Park vaccination superstation in downtown San Diego, League House resident Sandy Burgin started driving his neighbors to their appointments. He said he conducted a service before the pandemic to drive people to doctor’s appointments and to go shopping when they don’t have a car, and he has adapted that service during the pandemic.

“I was fortunate enough to get an appointment early on and I had my first shot first thing in the morning,” he said. “It was great because I was in and out of there so fast. Now, my second shot has been rescheduled [due to shortages], so I’m disappointed. But I’m still taking people from the League House to their appointments all over the place.”

Burgin said he felt fortunate to have had an easy experience with his first vaccine shot but has heard of people waiting hours. He didn’t want seniors to endure such a wait alone.

“I have a philosophy that life is about entertaining yourself. And it’s been fun taking people to their appointments,” he said.

Remodel being reworked

In September 2019, the Social Service League announced plans to remodel and upgrade the League House, increase the number of housing units from 52 to 70 and maybe add underground parking. Part of the building is three stories tall (grandfathered in from when it was built in the 1970s), and the intent was to match the rest of the facility to that height.

La Jolla architect Paul Benton is designing the new facility and said at the time that the goal was to “get the maximum number of units and make it a masterpiece of architecture. ... We hope to make the facility more of a good neighbor, take advantage of the views, optimize the space — things like that — and be mindful of the need for an increase in housing units for seniors.”

The renovation — including upgrades to the stairs and elevator and a full tear-down and rebuilding of housing units — was spurred when pipes started breaking somewhat regularly. Noting that some of the building was constructed in the 1950s, Social Service League board members thought it was time.

Then COVID-19 hit, and with an average resident age of 82, management had to take a serious look at how to proceed.

“We do not want to bring in any vendors or outside people onsite,” Disney said. “So we are looking at taking more time to do more research. Instead of a full remodel, we’re looking at renovations and repairs. Rather than people coming into apartments, they can work on the outside. Plans are still there, but we’re evaluating how to move forward.”

Benton said, “We also look forward to restarting the project as soon as the League is ready.”

The renovation will be paid for with money raised privately, but estimates are unavailable.

Darlington House

The Social Service League acquired the next-door Darlington House in 1968 from the estate of Sybil Darlington and uses it as a revenue source. It hosts weddings, fundraisers and social events. But with no in-person gatherings allowed for most of the past year, that revenue stream dried up.

“It’s been very challenging, but we are fortunate that we applied for and secured a PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loan, which has sustained us so we can continue to provide services,” Disney said. She recently applied for a second loan.

“It has been a significant impact not being able to hold events or weddings,” she said. “But our staff person in charge of that has done a remarkable job keeping in touch with the couples and rescheduling, so we look forward to having events there again when it is safe to do so.”

Going forward

In the meantime, the Social Service League, as a nonprofit, relies on donations and fundraisers to keep going, Disney said.

“Donations are always appreciated, but this year, every dollar is impactful,” she said. “People can donate for anything. They can donate to the general fund for our use. If they have a passion for the renovation, they can give to that. Or if they just want to serve the seniors … they can determine how they want it used.”

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