Homeland resident Tommi Paynter: A life of service and love


As a hospice medical assistant, Tommi Paynter saw the best in people. She recalls a family in the all-white town of Gloucester, New Jersey, where most residents “would not appreciate a Black person coming into their town.”

“This woman and her family were so sweet,” she says. “Her daughter, she would always cook something and say, ‘This is for you to take home for your dinner.’”

Today, Tommi is living in Homeland Center’s Skilled Care, receiving excellent care and enjoying all the activities available. Her can-do spirit, positive outlook, and determination in the face of obstacles shine through as she talks about a life lived in service to others and always surrounded by family.

Thomasene “Tommi” Paynter was born in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, the second of nine children and named after her father, Thomas, who was a steelworker. Tommi’s mother was a preschool teacher and the one who taught her to be strong and resilient.

“My mother was my best friend,” she says. “I wasn’t the best kid. I wasn’t the worst kid, but I had good parents, hard-working parents.”

The kids got in trouble sometimes, climbing out windows and jumping off roofs. There was the time a brother watched plumbers working in the well and decided that he would climb down there himself.

They were also a musical family, playing instruments together. Tommi’s mother played the piano, and Tommi played piano and flute. She didn’t enjoy her piano lessons, given by a mean teacher who wielded a ruler to enforce correct hand positions.

What she loved was singing. Tommi and her four sisters formed a quintet, the Joy Gospel Singers. They toured churches all around the region. As an alto, Tommi loved singing harmony. Her solo hymn was “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

After earning her GED, Tommi went to technical school to become a medical assistant. She found her calling working in a New Jersey hospice.

“Hospice patients, they know that they’re at the end of their life, and they appreciate what you do for them,” she says. “Whatever you do for them, they give you back far more.”

She thinks for a moment about the things that hospice patients taught her.

“Patience,” she says. “You learn that you can’t take for granted anything in life. Everything that happens is a gift from God. It was gratifying to work with them.”

She was a trustee of her church, and daily prayer helped her deal with the inevitable grief.

Through it all, she was a single mother raising three sons. Tommi’s journey with hospice patients came to an abrupt halt the day her face felt numb.

“They say a doctor or a nurse is the worst patient,” she says. “I had symptoms, but I said it was something else.”

Those symptoms signaled an oncoming stroke, and more followed. Doctors told one of her sons that she wouldn’t survive. She couldn’t speak, feed herself, or write her name using her beautiful handwriting.

“I couldn’t talk and I couldn’t write, but I could pray,” she says. “I sent prayer from my heart to God’s ear.” She knows that angels exist because God sent one that stayed by her side.

She climbed back with the help of speech therapy, physical therapy, “all kinds of therapy.” Thoughts of her six grandchildren inspired her to commit fully to recovery. Her oldest grandson, Christopher, would sit by her bedside and read to her.

She has now seen all six grandchildren graduate from high school, and three are still in college. “I just want to be here for them,” she says.

One of Tommi’s sons found Homeland through a friend who works there.

“It’s been a very nice place to live,” she says. “Everybody has treated me well.” She likes to stay active, so she gets involved in as many activities as she can. She enjoys Homeland’s musical programs. In her room are pictures on the wall that she has painted at Homeland’s art classes – and yet, before her stroke, she had never painted.

“That’s one of the things the Lord enabled me to do,” she says. “Since I don’t have money to leave my kids, I plan to do one painting for each of my sons.”

Homeland Center Assistant Director of Activities Bethany Traxler: Always there for residents


Even at her busiest, Bethany Traxler intuitively knows when it’s time to slow down and give a Homeland resident a listening ear.

“It’s natural to readjust yourself at that moment,” says the Homeland Center Assistant Director of Activities. “You can be so caught up in the hustle and bustle, but there is something that naturally stops you and makes you reset and refocus on their needs. Our goal is to be resident-focused – their health, their well-being, their safety. Ultimately, that comes first.”

Bethany joined Homeland Center in February 2021, but it was not her first encounter with the Homeland family. For the previous four and a half years, she worked for Homeland at Home, which oversees the continuum of services offered through Homeland HomeHealth, Homeland HomeCare, and Homeland Hospice.

With Homeland Center’s Activities department, she is responsible for various oversight duties, including scheduling entertainers, producing a weekly calendar, helping with the gift shop, and filing regulatory compliance documentation.

“I jump in and help as needed,” she says. “I’m here to be part of the team.”

Activities, Bethany believes, “truly enhance the residents’ quality of life. We have something every day that keeps them engaged.”

Bethany’s mother, a career nurse, now working as a clinical liaison with Homeland at Home, introduced Bethany to the health care field. For many years, Bethany was a certified nurse assistant, enjoying the hands-on care and serving as an outlet for people who need companionship and compassion.

In her Homeland journey, Bethany started in August 2016 with Homeland HomeCare, which provides individualized care plans to help patients stay safely at home. Very shortly, she was elevated to community liaison for Homeland at Home. She was responsible for outreach to doctors, nursing facilities, and the public to raise awareness of Homeland at Home’s high-quality continuum of care.

“I always felt you need to have a relationship with trust built into it,” she says. “You have to provide consistency to your prospects.”
Once those relationships generated referrals, Bethany had the confidence of knowing that Homeland at Home delivered on its promises of compassionate, personalized care.

“You hear a lot of compliments,” she says. “People say, ‘Thank you to the nurse who came in,’ or ‘Thank you for providing the aide who came an extra day.’ Small accommodations make a big difference.”

She also volunteered monthly at Homeland Center, becoming familiar with the operation and the people. Volunteering made the transition from Homeland at Home to Homeland Center feel organic.

“Any time I would think about the transition, I felt at peace about it,” she says. “It felt natural because I’m still part of Homeland no matter which entity I’m in.”

With her career goal of remaining in health care in some form, the change made sense. Bethany is studying for an associate degree in marketing from Central Penn College and then plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in health care administration.

Bethany commutes to and from her home in Lewistown and serves with her husband, a volunteer firefighter, on the fire company’s board of directors. They also share two cats named after favorite “Friends” characters: a gray, white, and orange tabby named Phoebe and Chandler, a long-haired gray.

They enjoy spending days off with family – his and hers. She is very close to her grandparents. Bethany’s father is their next-door neighbor and landlord. Her husband’s father is their church pastor.

Bethany says Homeland Center’s seamless teamwork and can-do attitude assures residents a wonderful experience.

“I hope that residents find peace in knowing that we are there to serve them and that we are doing our best to make them feel as comfortable as possible,” Bethany says. “It’s their home. It’s not our home. We’re the guests.”

LaToya Howard: Pursuing Her Passion and Keeping Homeland Residents Safe


What is that clinking sound?

LaToya Howard is testing a Homeland visitor for COVID-19. She directs the visitor to a screening room to have their temperature taken and where facemasks and shields are available. Then comes that clinking sound.

“That is the timer,” LaToya explains. “When I test, we set the timer for 15 minutes. At the end of that 15 minutes, we know what the result is.”

LaToya is one of the first faces – masked, of course – that many visitors and staff see when they come to Homeland. As COVID-19 precautions took effect in early 2020, LaToya assumed the detail-oriented job of conducting and coordinating testing.

When LaToya joined Homeland in 2019, she brought more than 20 years of experience in Pennsylvania within senior living. She has been a certified medication technician for 24 years. In her roles, she has developed care plans, supervised med techs, compiled quarterly and monthly reports for regulators, supported admissions, and conducted evaluations.

She grew up in York, where her aunt was the director of nursing at a local senior living community. LaToya’s aunt offered her a position at her facility, and it was a perfect fit.

“It’s where my passion is,” she says. “I definitely love what I do.”

In 2016, LaToya moved to the Harrisburg area with her husband, who serves in the Army Reserves and as an officer at a local prison. She joined Homeland as a medication technician in Personal Care in July 2019.

In April 2020, LaToya was asked to manage the COVID-19 screening, delivering those ubiquitous questionnaires asking visitors about recent health history and contacts with possibly infected people. Then she became a tester, checking staff and visitors for any symptoms and currently assists in compiling information for reports.

LaToya, assisted by Malani Tate-DeFreitas and Zadia McCullough, routinely test between 200 and 240 people a week.

“You have to be able to multi-task, that’s for sure,” says LaToya. “You have to pay close attention to details.”

People skills are her strong point.

“I love being able to help people,” she says. “It’s just my nature.”

At Homeland, she has found role models in several longer-term employees. Just watching them at work teaches her about delivering hands-on care with compassion.

“It’s nice to have people to look up to and one day follow in their footsteps,” LaToya says. “They teach me so much along the way. I really look up to them and respect their work and commitment very much.”

The professional attitude of Homeland’s staff resonates in the lives of residents, who benefit from all that support and collaboration. Homeland is one of the best places where she has worked, says LaToya.

“Everybody knows their job.’’ she says. “Everyone helps everyone. Everybody’s a team player.”

“I just love being able to help people and know that when I leave at the end of the day, I’ve helped them the best I can and gave them 110 percent.”