Homeland Dietary Supervisor Jermaine Simmons: Serving up respect and passion


For Dietary Supervisor Jermaine Simmons, working at Homeland Center is more than a fulfilling job – it’s a family tradition.

He heard great things about Homeland from his grandmother, Amelia Hope, who worked in the laundry, and his aunt, Melody Flemming, a receptionist. When longtime Assistant Director of Nutritional Services Carmella “BJ” Williams needed a dishwasher, she thought about her friend Melody’s nephew, Jermaine.

Jermaine rose steadily and landed his current role as a dietary supervisor. He oversees the kitchen’s critical work – developing menus, maintaining health and cleanliness standards, and ensuring residents receive meals prepared according to their nutritional needs.

Oh, and he helps residents when they have trouble with their computers and TVs.

“Word got around,” he says of his sideline as IT fixer. “I graduated with an associate degree in digital art. They found out I was good with computers. People say, ‘Just ask Jermaine. See if he can do it.’ It’s something simple, but they make you feel like a genius.”

Jermaine says he didn’t expect to stay for long, but his strong ties to Homeland and the great atmosphere kept him here.

“When you’re doing something rewarding, you just enjoy doing it,” says the Harrisburg native, who graduated with honors from Thompson Institute, now the Kaplan Career Institute. “You don’t care how much time you spent on it. You enjoy learning.”

Homeland gave him the power to grow professionally, he says. He has learned to manage, communicate and build relationships according to people’s strengths and needs. He is continuously looking for ways to improve how things are done.

“You have to develop a process when you’re washing dishes for 200 people,” he says with a laugh. “I pass that on to everybody who comes here to get them to succeed. Even though it’s the dish room, if you take pride in what you do, you will do it efficiently.”

When Jermaine isn’t at Homeland, he enjoys playing instruments and writing songs, primarily R&B, hip-hop, and gospel. At his home studio, he teams up with other musicians to record and, putting his graphic arts skills to use, also designs logos and menus.

Jermaine met his wife, Messias, through her sister, a Homeland colleague and friend. While Homeland ultimately brought them together, their families were close, and when his aunt visited Georgia, she would stay at Messias’ mother’s house.

“It’s like our lives were intertwined when we didn’t even know each other,” he says. Today, they have “two beautiful boys,” ages 12 and 6.

“Everything is cnnected, it seemed, with my life and hers,” he says. “It’s like we’d been on separate journeys, but there were always links, like God saying, ‘You don’t know it yet, but you guys are going to be together.’”

In addition to his many other pursuits, Jermaine helps his wife run a daycare she opened two years ago. The center, named Growing Hope Child Care Center in honor of his grandmother, struggled during the pandemic, but he expects it to turn a corner soon.

For Jermaine, making sure that Homeland’s staff are cooperative, capable, and passionate about their work translates into a better quality of life for residents. At mealtime, every plate is healthy, delicious, and appealing. A dish, he says, that anyone would want to see served to their loved ones.

“How would you want someone treating your grandmother or grandfather? We make sure they are as comfortable as possible,’’ he says. “That’s how you treat the residents because this is their home. They deserve respect, just like you would want your grandmother or grandfather to receive.”

Long-time supporter Jackie Young experienced Homeland’s quality first-hand


For Jackie Young, the six months she spent in Homeland Center rehabilitating from leg surgery was a time for healing, physical therapy, and reconnecting with old acquaintances.

“The people were very nice,” she says. “One aide worked evenings, and she also had taken care of my mother a few years ago at another nursing facility. She recognized me and was very caring.’’

Jackie has a long history with Homeland. For 12 years, she served diligently on the Board of Managers, the unique group charged with maintaining Homeland’s homelike feel. She also applied her expertise as a nurse and nursing manager in discussions about creating a hospice service. Homeland Hospice, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019, has established itself as central Pennsylvania’s premier provider for end-of-life care.

Jackie says she knew as a child she wanted to be a nurse, following her mother and aunt’s footsteps.

She looked up to her mother, who shared her talents as a sort of neighborhood medical provider.

“I had three younger brothers, and with all the kids in the neighborhood, there was always somebody that needed to be fixed,” Jackie says.

Jackie grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and studied nursing at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. After working a year in the Penn operating room, she returned to northeast Pennsylvania to study nursing education at Wilkes College. She worked at the University of Colorado for a year and then returned to a hospital in Scranton.

Then fate intervened to bring her to central Pennsylvania.

“I had a day off, and a friend had an interview with the OR supervisor at Polyclinic Hospital in Harrisburg. She asked if I would drive down with her. I took the job, and she didn’t.”

That was in 1960. Jackie stayed at Polyclinic and the health care system it merged with — PinnacleHealth — for 40 years. She started in the nursing school and, by the time she retired in 2000, was director of utilization review for the system’s three hospitals.

Jackie liked Harrisburg. It was close to home, where her father was active in business and civic affairs.

“Harrisburg was just far enough away that I could be completely on my own,’’ she says. “Everybody in Scranton knew my father. Everywhere I went, people would say, ‘You’re John Young’s daughter.’”

Harrisburg also was close enough to New York City for regular trips with friends and travel clubs to see Broadway shows.

Jackie joined Homeland’s Board of Managers when a friend of her parents, the late Homeland resident Doris Coyne, and a member of the Board of Managers, suggested that it might be a good fit for her talents.

“I was impressed with Doris and what she told me,” Jackie says. “When I got there and saw the place, I realized that the atmosphere was totally different than other nursing homes. The people are very caring.”

Jackie served on the Board of Managers 2006 through 2018, during which she served on the House and Grounds Committee and a term as board chair. As the board worked to maintain a welcoming, comfortable feel throughout Homeland, members redecorated resident rooms and the Main Gathering Room.

In August 2020, Jackie had surgery on her leg and went to Homeland. An immobilizer initially meant to be on her leg for four or five weeks had to stay on for three months. As a resident in Homeland’s skilled care, she regained her strength and mobility with dedicated help from Homeland’s rehabilitation services.

After six months, Jackie returned to her Harrisburg-area home. Her ties to Homeland continue through services from Homeland HomeHealth, part of the Homeland at Home continuum, which includes Homeland HomeCare and Homeland Hospice. Together, Homeland at Home extends Homeland’s excellence in medical and independent living services to people in their homes.

“The people in physical therapy and occupational therapy were marvelous,” she says. “They really pushed and got me to the point where I could come home.”

Role of Women in Homeland’s History


“Two heads are better than one,” goes the old saying. In the case of Homeland Center, residents benefit from the collective talents of not one but two boards, guiding management and staff through daily operations.

Homeland’s Board of Trustees is a traditional board, overseeing finances and business decisions. But unique to Homeland is the Board of Managers, an outgrowth of 19th century laws that has stayed relevant well into the 21st century.

In the post-Civil War years, the leading women of Harrisburg banded together and started the process of founding a “Home for the Friendless” to care for Civil War widows and orphans. However, those smart, capable women could not, under existing laws, perform such critical functions as making contracts and holding real estate.

Those duties fell to the Board of Trustees, who managed them well, while the women stayed involved through a Board of Lady Managers. As the years passed, Board of Managers members spent considerable time coming to Homeland to sew curtains, plant flowers, and take residents on shopping trips.

Even as times change, the Board of Managers has survived and thrived, contributing to Homeland’s homey atmosphere. The Board of Managers handles interior details and many day-to-day functions. This includes selecting furniture and décor, hosting events, and sponsoring activities such as the visit by a food truck delivering hot, fresh French fries, a Casino experience and a concert by the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.

Read more about Homeland’s history and our current Board of Trustees and Board of Managers.

Director of Social Services Daniqwa Buckner helps keep the ‘home’ in Homeland


As a college senior majoring in social work, Daniqwa Buckner took an internship in a hospital geriatric unit. She didn’t think the work would appeal to her.

“When I got there, I loved it,” she says. “Working with the residents, hearing their life stories, and helping on a day-to-day basis – that was so rewarding.”

A few years later, she remembered that internship when she heard about an opening at Homeland. In October 2020, she became the Director of Social Services and Coordinator of the 24-bed Ellenberger Unit, which cares for residents with advancing memory impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, or other forms of dementia.

Homeland’s singular devotion to quality of life stands out among retirement facilities, says Daniqwa. Even as pandemic restrictions closed the doors to visitors, staff “planned and planned, and planned some more” to facilitate virtual, outdoor, and window visits.

She knew of Homeland’s “stellar reputation” and its status as a 5-Star Medicare Facility before she started. Stepping inside for the first time, she was impressed by the care provided and the staff commitment to “making sure that the residents know that it’s their home.”

Daniqwa was born and raised in Harrisburg. She has always planned each phase of her life, even amid twists and turns. As a Messiah College student, she was studying social work on the way to becoming a lawyer – her childhood dream. However, when she became pregnant with her first child, her son became her primary focus.

“As a mom, you realize there are certain sacrifices you have to make,” she says. “It was very important for me to finish all my schooling before my son started school.”

She went on to earn her master’s degree in social work from Temple University, finishing as planned before her son entered kindergarten. Daniqwa says she considers her mother, Danielle, a single parent and counsellor who sometimes worked a second job, her hero professionally and personally.
The two even supported and inspired each other while they pursued master’s degrees at the same time.

“She always made it a priority to put us first,” says Daniqwa. “Seeing her do that inspired me and is the reason I continued to push myself to work in social work.”

After finishing her master’s degree, Daniqwa was an intake worker for three years at Dauphin County Children & Youth — the first person to investigate referrals. The work could be challenging, but she managed by focusing on the positives.

In the next three years, Daniqwa continued in social work, first in a nursing home and then with children at a counseling facility. When the Homeland post opened up, she saw a career opportunity and the chance for a leadership position.

Daniqwa’s husband of two years, Adrian Buckner, is vice president of fundraising for Capital Way of the United Region. They met at church, and he surprised her by proposing at a family reunion. Their family consists of Adrian’s 12-year-old son, Daniqwa’s 10-year-old son, and – arriving amid a new job and a pandemic – a baby boy who’s now a year old.

In her work, Daniqwa feels honored by the confidence that Homeland leaders have shown, “letting me know that they believe in me.” In the future, she hopes to “demonstrate those same leadership abilities I see among our management team.”

Social workers assure that excellent medical care is supplemented with a healthy dose of humanity, accounting for the patient’s thoughts and feelings.

“It’s teamwork,” she says. “It’s a holistic approach. We all play a role in making sure residents have the best outcome at this stage in their life, with a focus on their individuality, independence, and dignity.”