Homeland Resident Recalls Life of Family and Friends as She Nears 100th Birthday

Sara Slothower with Janet and Tom

Sara Slothower (R) with daughter Janet and son Tom.

Strong bonds with family and friends are a common theme in Sara Slothower’s life. Loving and supportive parents shaped her childhood, and brought her to Harrisburg where she met her husband and raised her family. Friendships formed through her volunteer work ultimately brought her to Homeland Center where she has lived for the past three years. In October, Sara will celebrate her 100th birthday.

Sara grew up in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, a small town close to Pittsburgh. She was the eldest of four children and fondly remembers attending a small country school and playing baseball in her youth.

“I had wonderful parents,” Sara recalls. “We loved swimming and having picnics in the summer.”

Her fondest memories are her family’s annual visits to Kennywood, a popular amusement park.

“I rode the merry-go-round and ate ice cream all day,” Sara remembers. “It was the highlight of my summer.”

At 17, Sara moved to Harrisburg after her father took on a new job. She completed her senior year at John Harris High School, now known as Harrisburg High School. Sara remembers the challenges of adapting to an urban school after growing up in the country.

“My father often reminded me of the opportunities available at a larger school,” Sara adds. “I struggled to adjust until I met my husband Wilbur.”

Sara Slothower with Richard

Sara’s son Richard

Sara and Wilbur Slothower

After marrying, Sara and Wilbur moved to Paxtang where they raised their children Janet, Tom and Richard.

Like her childhood, Sara loved summers with her husband and children. The family owned a cottage in Stoney Creek. Wilbur would spend weekends at the cottage and return to work while Sara and her children enjoyed the outdoors.

When her children were in school, Sara went to work at Sear’s Service Center and then Feller’s Store in Harrisburg.

Sara’s love of people led her to volunteering at Dauphin Manor. For 15 years, she volunteered at the gift shop and helped plan birthday parties for the residents. Sara enjoyed selecting the perfect cakes and making gifts to ensure residents felt special on their birthday.

While volunteering, Sara met Barry Ramper II, now Homeland Center President and CEO. At the time, Barry was Administrator of Dauphin Manor. Sara and Barry became friends and stayed in touch over the years.

In 1997, Sara’s beloved Wilbur died. She lived independently for years, always making important life decisions with confidence. At 95, she decided to stop driving and at 97 chose to move to Homeland. Knowing Barry made the transition easy.

At Homeland, Sara enjoys playing bingo, pokeno and the occasional game of pinochle. Her most cherished time is spent with her daughter, Janet, and son, Tom. Her son Richard lives in Georgia, but makes regular calls to stay in touch. In addition to her children, Sara has four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

Sara SlothowerThis spring, Sara and Barry were featured on billboards for Homeland Center. For Mother’s Day, Tom drove his mother around Harrisburg to see the billboards. Sara proudly displays the photo used on the billboards in her room.

As she approaches her 100th birthday, Sara is grateful for a life filled with family and friends.

From her years of planning birthday parties for her children and the residents of Dauphin Manor, Sara knows what she wants for her 100th birthday celebration.

“Carrot cake with cream cheese icing and vanilla ice cream,” Sara says with a smile. “Cake with my family would be a perfect birthday.”

Homeland Center has a 150-year tradition of caring for residents like family. Today, 145 residents call it home. Located in Dauphin County, Homeland is a five-star skilled nursing and deficiency free personal care facility. Homeland offers a continuum of care that includes Personal CareSkilled CareRehabilitation Services and Homeland at Home services including Hospice, HomeCare and HomeHealth.

Since opening its doors in 1867, Homeland has served thousands of individuals and families in the Central Pennsylvania community.

Crafts in Ellenberger: Residents with dementia take pride in their creations

Taqiyya Muhammad with resident

Taqiyya Muhammad, artist and instructor, guiding another creative experience.

“Alright, Miss Betty,” says instructor Taqiyya Muhammad. “I think I need your help again.”

Miss Betty has mastered her job by now. She slides a glue stick down a strip of orange construction paper, concentrating on getting it just so. Taqiyya takes the glued end and adheres it to the inside of a roll of brown construction paper, and together, teacher and Homeland resident make a pumpkin.

This is the crafts class in Ellenberger Unit, which provides care for those with advancing memory impairment and is part of Homeland Center’s continuum of care. That also includes Personal CareSkilled CareRehabilitation Services and Homeland at Home services of Hospice, HomeCare and HomeHealth. Ellenberger activities are tailored to the varying needs of the 24 residents, encouraging interaction, expression, and skill-building.

It’s all in a safe, supportive setting designed to promote continued independence and personalized care. The focal point is Ellenberger’s solarium designed specifically for the tactile and sensory needs of dementia patients. Residents feel the sun through the glass walls and listen to the gentle stream of the water feature, all amid tranquil greenery specifically chosen to be safe and non-poisonous in case of accidental ingestion.

In Ellenberger’s cheery dining room, Taqiyya Muhammad teaches two weekly classes, one in crafts and the other in painting. She enjoys teaching the residents, who are “youthful despite their years on earth. They’re witty.”

Through art, “they learn to complete a work and follow through,” says Taqiyya. “They work with their hands, which helps promote mobility. And they just have fun.”

Art therapy offers a range of benefits for people with dementia, studies show. It engages the brain, triggers memories, encourages social interaction, and enhances communications.

Taqiyya typically plumbs Pinterest for ideas, seeking projects that can be completed in an hour while offering stimulation and a sense of accomplishment. In painting class, residents might paint a flower or a flamingo, with help from Taqiyya, and then find it on the Ellenberger dining room’s art wall.

“I did that!” they’ll say. Ellenberger Activity Coordinator Aleisha Connors created the colorful gallery.

“Arts and crafts are wonderful,” Aleisha says. “I love how the residents are engaged. It’s a sensory activity for them.”

All the benefits of art therapy were on display in a recent afternoon crafts class. Taqiyya pulled orange, brown, and green construction paper from her supplies, preparing to direct residents in making pumpkins. First, they rolled squares of the brown paper into a base.

“Like a toilet paper roll,” says a resident named Bob.

“Like a toilet paper roll,” agrees Taqiyya.

Then the residents got to glue strips of the orange paper in half-circles, making their pumpkins come to life. While most did as instructed, gluing the strips first, Bob glued the inside of the tube in one fell swoop.

“Oh, Mr. Bob, that’s a good idea,” Taqiyya told him. “I like that system you have going on over there.” His years of working as an electrician were evident, as he methodically glued strip after strip to the tube, making the fullest pumpkin in the patch.

When a resident began singing the Guys and Dolls tune “A Bushel and a Peck,” the other residents joined in. They smiled as their pumpkins took shape. Aleisha asked a resident named Barb, “If we’re making a pumpkin, what season are we going to be in?”

“Fall,” Barb said. Barb was thoroughly enjoying the activity. She compared her pumpkin to Aleisha’s, which was having trouble staying upright.

“My pumpkin stands all by itself,” Barb said.

Taqiyya offers a different craft every week. Residents have painted rocks and played a bumblebees-vs.-ladybugs version of tic-tac-toe. They have created flowers from plastic bottles, and “painted” stained glass with markers on foil. They put their handprints in plaster molds. They once made cubes from sticky notes as holders for battery-operated candles they could put on their dressers.

“I try to liven it up a bit,” Taqiyya says. “Sometimes, we get sophisticated. Around Christmastime, we painted on coffee mugs and stuffed them with treats they’re allowed to have.”

When residents are new to Ellenberger, Taqiyya tries to encourage them to attend.

As the hour ended, each pumpkin got its final touch – a green stem. Barb looked at her creation with pride.

“Look how perfect it is,” she said.

Homeland Center CNA Rebeccah DeVan: Bringing a family feel to Ellenberger dementia unit

Rebeccah DeVan

Lead CNA Rebeccah DeVan enjoying a moment in the Ellenberger conservatory.

Rebeccah DeVan’s grandfather, in declining health, called his home care aides “featherweights.”

“Honey,” he’d tell them. “I don’t want to get you fired, but go get my grandbaby.”

That was Rebeccah’s introduction to nursing, helping care for her grandparents in their later years. She realized she enjoyed caring for others. Employed by an insurance company, she needed to get out of the cubicle and “talk to some real people, and not just on the phone.” She trained through the Tri-County OIC Adult Learning Center in Harrisburg and took her first CNA job at Homeland.

“I can say I’ve been blessed to start at Homeland,” she says. “You definitely realize the quality of care here.”

Rebeccah is a lead CNA in Homeland Center’s 24-bed Ellenberger Unit, which treats those with advancing memory impairment. The unit is part of Homeland’s continuum of care that includes Personal Care, Skilled Care, Rehabilitation Services and Homeland at Home services including Hospice, HomeCare and HomeHealth.

Rebeccah learned her approach to nursing from one of her grandmothers, her “granny,” a registered nurse at the former Pennsylvania State Hospital. Granny’s words still ring in her ears: “You treat others how you want them to treat you. Remember that could be me there.”

As lead CNA, Rebeccah provides care for residents and also trains new CNAs in their duties and expectations.

Growing up in Harrisburg with five siblings, Rebeccah was part of a large, extended family, with grandparents, aunts, and uncles all within walking distance. Friday night fish fries were drop-in affairs featuring her mom’s homemade fresh flounder stuffed with crab, coleslaw on the side.

Her life continues to revolve around her family of five children and three grandchildren, including a newborn granddaughter. When her 5-year-old grandson plays football, she is “definitely one of the grannies running along the sidelines.”

She has another family at Homeland, not just colleagues but residents she deems grannies, aunts, and cousins. Deb Kivler, whose husband Herb is an Ellenberger “cousin,” was enjoying the Ellenberger solarium when Rebeccah came by. Deb says she appreciates the familial care Rebeccah provides.

“She is so thoughtful and takes such good care of everyone,” says Deb. “We just love her.”

In Ellenberger, Rebeccah sees her role as organizer and peacemaker. The other CNAs say she’s “always in Mom mode.”

“I want everyone to communicate and be respectful,” she says. “I’m big on respect. If we can’t respect each other, then it’s not going to be smooth. Respect will take you much further than trying to be nasty.”

Working in dementia care requires constant adaptation to ever-changing circumstances, and Rebeccah wouldn’t have it any other way.

She first worked at Homeland from 2003 to 2009. Then she worked in other settings for several years, but she had trouble convincing management to meet the high standards she knew from Homeland. That’s where she recognized that, even without such supports as adequate supplies for the nursing staff, she loved the work she was doing.

“My heart is with the dementia unit,” she says. “I can honestly say I enjoy it.”

Her path wound its way back to Homeland in December 2015.

“Everybody at Homeland cares, from the top on down,” she says. “I look at it as a family. Everyone plays a role in the family.”

Ellenberger is the right size for getting to know the residents, and all colleagues share her passion for caregiving.

“I like that everyone here is concerned about residents’ well-being,” Rebeccah says. “I like being hands-on, and I need to work in a place where everybody enjoys their job just as much as I do. You can feel the concern and the love.”