Theater production mines Homeland history for stories of caring


Since 1986, Open Stage of Harrisburg has given theatrical life to stories of love, memory, conflict, and courage.

Resident Gloria Jackson says she is pleased every day to see her son Albert, who is one of Homeland’s well-known community receptionists.

Since 1867, Homeland Center has provided shelter, care, and dignity for people with stories of their own to tell.

So it was only natural that these two highly regarded institutions join forces. For the 2015 production of “Stories from Home: People Who Care,” Open Stage turned to Homeland for true stories demonstrating how a community cares for those who can’t care for themselves.

Stories from Home: People Who Care” is the fourth and final production in Open Stage’s series on how the people of Harrisburg have shaped its character and its neighborhoods. Homeland’s storied history made it an ideal subject – the tale of 18 women who, after the Civil War, raised money, donated land, worked with nine churches, and enlisted businessmen to help create a home for the many destitute widows and orphans in their midst.

“They made it happen,” says Open Stage Education Director Anne Alsedek.

Today, Homeland has grown into a continuing care community offering skilled care, personal care, a specialized dementia unit, and short-term rehabilitation. No resident whose resources are depleted has ever been asked to leave. Still, Homeland remains rooted at the spot where “The Home for the Friendless” was founded in 1867.

“It’s extraordinary,” says Alsedek. “The culture there, the environment, the atmosphere is extraordinary. All the residents can talk about is how well cared for they are and how well treated they are. They’re given freedom. They’re given autonomy. They’re quite content there. The whole place was founded on extraordinarily humane principles, and those principles have been maintained for almost 150 years.”

For “Stories from Home,” Open Stage actors interviewed eight Homeland residents and wrote their stories as monologues. One resident, Geoffrey Davenport, was born in Harrisburg to the family that owned the fondly remembered Davenport’s Restaurants. He enjoyed sharing his story with Open Stage actor Joseph Osborne, telling of his years as a restless young man who was angry until a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis finally explained why his body wouldn’t behave in a way that felt normal.

“I’m in a good place, and the people are good to me,” says resident Geoffrey Davenport.

“You would tell me something about your life and I wanted to be that way with my life, and it wasn’t that way and I didn’t know why,” said Osborne as his Davenport persona.

After years of working in restaurants and hotels, Davenport returned to Harrisburg. In 2014, he came to Homeland, where staff is attentive, the food is good, and “the right people are in the right jobs.”

“I’m okay now,” Davenport says. “I’m in a good place, and people are good to me.”

Another resident, Gloria Jackson, told actor Jennette Harrison of her life as an athletic young woman who grew up to be the mother of seven children. The diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan worked as a nursing assistant in a retirement community, making sure that younger staff took good care of residents.

After suffering a stroke, Jackson moved to an area retirement community but didn’t like it there. She moved to Homeland, where she is pleased every day to see her son Albert, who is one of Homeland’s well-known community receptionists.

“I love it,” said Harrison in her portrayal of Jackson. “I have peace of mind.”

Homeland was the perfect centerpiece for “Stories from Home” and its discussions about a community’s responsibility to care for its members.

“Homeland is about respect for other people,” says Alsedek. “It’s a model of how you are your brother’s keeper, or your sister’s keeper. You just treat people with dignity.”