Homeland’s Tracey Jennings brings out the ‘human’ in HR


Tracey JenningsTracey Jennings, Homeland Center’s assistant director of human resources, says she’s always been a people person.

“I like people, whether they’re young or old,” says Tracey, who worked with prekindergarten program Head Start for three years before coming to Homeland. “I get along with everybody.”

Tracey came to Homeland in 2013 after talking to Homeland HR Director Nicol Crosson Brown, who Tracey first met when she was starting her human resources career at a Harrisburg-area retirement community.

“It gives me a great feeling to be helpful,” says Tracey, who started as HR assistant and became assistant director in 2016.

Tracey’s role is crucial to Homeland’s sustaining its CMS Five-Star Skilled Nursing Care Facility rating, Medicare’s highest citation for excellence. Her job is even more challenging given the organization’s growth with the development of Homeland Hospice, Homeland HomeHealth, and Homeland HomeCare, providing a full spectrum of care in residential and home settings.

It’s Tracey’s job to make sure all files are thorough and up to date when Medicare inspectors arrive. They’re looking for careful management of employee background checks, licensing, and immunizations.

“When I came in, it was already a five-star facility, which was great,” she says. “I try to hold up my end of the bargain, every year, so there are no deficiencies, and we haven’t had any at all.”

Under Nicol Crosson Brown, the Homeland HR department has developed an unusual approach to employee well-being. While it’s the typical HR office where employees submit leave requests and various types of disciplines are issued, it’s also a comfortable place where they’ll find a listening ear.

Tracey says the approach allows staff to leave the outside world behind and focus on their work, ready to provide for anything that residents need. It also contributes to longevity and low turnover among staff who see HR as a trusted resource and partner.

Outside of Homeland, Tracey’s life revolves around family and church. She is Harrisburg born and raised, attending the historic Wesley Union AME Zion Church since age 13. Today, she is the Director of Children, developing opportunities that introduce children to the value of Christian living, the value of service such as helping to feed the homeless, preparing care packages and chemo kits for children in the hospital, collecting items for children in the shelters and foster care, among many other activities.

Tracey has two daughters, ages 16 and 15, and one son, 13. Her eldest daughter plays basketball at Harrisburg High School, and her son plays football and basketball. Her middle daughter, Tyanna, is a familiar face at Homeland as a devoted volunteer. She sits with residents, helps with crafts activities, and lends a helping hand wherever it’s needed, such as bagging candy for residents to distribute to visiting children during Homeland’s annual Halloween party. The experience will be valuable as Tyanna is considering a career in nursing, says Tracey.

When mother and daughter attended Homeland’s 2018 volunteer recognition dinner, Tyanna thought she was merely there to help, but Tracey knew a secret. Four special awards were announced, and Tyanna heard her name.

“She was shocked,” says the proud mom.

Being a part of Homeland’s 151-year tradition of excellence is important to Tracey.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.’’

Homeland resident Lynda Vinton: A life of smiles and teaching


Lynda VintonLynda Vinton’s father often missed school to help support his family. One day, he knocked on the door of his one-room schoolhouse and asked to take the sixth-grade exam.

“No point in you taking it,” the teacher shot back. “You’ll not pass it anyway.”

To this day, Lynda bristles at the thought.

“That upsets me every time I tell the story,” she says. “It’s one of the reasons I became a teacher.”

It’s also a story of sweet comeuppance because Lynda’s father told the teacher that he would succeed one day – and he did. As a young man, he and his wife bought a small grocery store in the northwestern Pennsylvania town of Grove City. He learned how to cut meat and expanded the business by adding a butcher shop.

“They kept that store until I graduated from college,” Lynda says, adding with a laugh, “and then I guess they figured out I wasn’t going to cost them any more money, so they gave it up.”

Life revolved around the family’s Presbyterian church. When she was a teen, a fellow churchgoer named Bob Vinton asked if she would join him on the youth group’s hayride. They began enjoying movies together, catching the 7 p.m. show at one of the town’s theaters, and walking to the second show at the other.

“I think we thought we were boyfriend and girlfriend, but we never talked about it,” she says now. “We both enjoyed movies very much.”

Their favorite? Lynda doesn’t hesitate.

“Gone with the Wind,” she says. “Our daughter’s name is Tara.”

She vividly remembers a Saturday in their first apartment, cleaning the gloomy, uncarpeted place. Bob opened their copy of Gone with the Wind and started reading.

“Best gift he ever gave me,” she says. “That weekend, he read the entire book. Out loud. With all the expressions. By the end, he was really getting tired.”

Before they married, both went to college. Lynda wanted to travel farther from home, so she graduated from Muskingum College, now Muskingum University (and alma mater of astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn), in Ohio.

“I graduated in June, and we married in August,” she says.

It was the beginning of teaching careers for both. Bob taught high school French. She always taught kindergarten, first grade, or second grade. She enjoyed introducing young children, especially those from deprived homes, to the joys of learning. She exposed them to books and would eat lunch in her classroom so they could come in and read.

“Some of my kids turned out to be good students,” she says. She taught for a total of about 35 years, while she and Bob raised two children, a son and daughter who now have children and grandchildren of their own.

After Bob died, Lynda’s children, both of whom live around Harrisburg, told her about a lovely continuing care community in their area. Lynda, who came to Homeland in January 2018, remembers her first sight of Homeland’s Main Dining Room.

“Oh my gosh,” she said. “This is like a hotel. It’s gorgeous.”

Her bright Homeland suite commemorates a life lived with family. Wedding photos are organized in a neat array. On another wall, Lynda points out a skillfully painted still life. Bob took an art class and painted an image of flowers picked from his carefully tended garden but never showed the work to Lynda. She found it stashed in the furnace room – their home’s repository for “all our junk.” He argued that he didn’t do a very good job, but she knew a good picture when she saw one.

“I went to a framer, and they raved about it,” she says. “I walked back in and said, ‘Here’s your ugly picture.’”

At Homeland, Lynda loves playing bingo, listening to visiting musicians, and walking in the lush garden of the Catherine Elizabeth Meikle Courtyard.

“Homeland is beautiful,’’ she says, “I’ve never seen so many people so happy at their job. Everybody smiles.”

Homeland for the holidays: Events offer love, joy, and light


Christmas treeAs homes throughout the land glow with holiday traditions, Homeland does the same, ringing with the joys of the season and hopes for peace.

Traditional favorites provide opportunities for gatherings among family and friends. A new celebration of Hanukkah and a commemoration of Kristallnacht bring Jewish traditions into the halls of Homeland, with lessons for people of all faiths.

The season kicks off with a holiday bazaar and bake sale in the newly redecorated Main Dining Room and cheery Florida room. The bazaar, a longtime tradition, features a white elephant and bake sales organized by the Homeland Center Board of Managers.

The bazaar features distinctive, high-quality items donated by Board of Managers members and friends of Homeland, giving residents a chance to shop in-house for gifts for loved ones and holiday décor for their rooms and doors. Cookies and other holiday treats also make ideal gifts for residents to share, while they bring back memories of baking traditions at home.

“We like to interact with the residents, and they know us,” said Susan Batista, the former chair of the Board of Managers. “The holiday bazaar is exclusively for them and for staff, giving them a chance to do some shopping, relive memories, and maybe take home a treasure.”

The Board of Managers is a unique Homeland institution, carrying on the legacy and vision of Homeland’s founders – the women who worked to create a safe, comfortable home for the widows and orphans of the Civil War. Today’s Board of Managers takes on responsibility for instilling Homeland with its famous home-like feel by overseeing décor and organizing parties.

In recent years, the Board of Managers started decorating and hanging holiday wreaths throughout the corridors, augmenting the work of staff, who hang wreaths in each unit. The wreaths add a touch of green to all the spaces and extend a welcome to all visitors.

In the alcove across from the chapel, another tradition continues with installation of Homeland’s Hummel Nativity set. Several years ago, Batista started setting it up at the request of Lou Hepschmidt, longtime resident and benefactor who donated her extensive Hummel figurines collection to Homeland. The figurines and plates are on permanent display in the Homeland Gathering Room, and now, the Nativity scene shines in Lou’s memory, since her death in 2017.

Capping the season is Homeland’s highly anticipated holiday party in mid-December. Residents host friends and family for music, meal, and merriment. In every unit, guests and residents enjoy a buffet cooked with love by Homeland staff.

Music sounds in every unit, from the jazz of Harrisburg’s renowned Stephenson Twins to the Celtic harp of Mary-Kate Spring. In the Main Dining Room, pianist Marc Lubbers will tinkle the keys of Homeland’s Steinway grand; the rockabilly of Quentin Jones will entertain residents in the Ellenberger memory care unit.

This year, the Homeland community holds an 80th-anniversary memorial for Kristallnacht, the night in November 1938 when Nazis throughout Germany murdered Jews and destroyed synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses. The week after Homeland’s Kristallnacht commemoration, the community reconvenes for a celebration of Hanukkah, the holiday when Jews celebrate the light that good deeds can bring into the world.

For residents of the Jewish faith and all others committed to freedom of worship and other cherished freedoms, the events commemorate “the times of ‘shadow and night’ during Kristallnacht, followed by the ‘love and light’ of Hanukkah,” said Homeland Hospice chaplain Rev. Dann Caldwell.

Working with Jewish and Christian residents, Caldwell initiated the twin events as recognition of the need to address intolerance as it occurs, bring the Jewish traditions of the home to Homeland, and educate the entire community on the lessons of Hanukkah.

The array of holiday events helps Homeland residents give expression to the love they feel for family and friends, and their hopes for peace and joy.

“The holidays are a special time at Homeland,” said President and CEO Barry Ramper II. “For staff, especially, it’s a time to express the gratitude we feel in the presence of residents. Our residents share their wisdom and their trust, and that is the greatest gift we can ask for.”