A Home of Hope for 155 Years: The History of Homeland


The Civil War (1861-1865) took our country through some of itsThe Civil War (1861-1865) took our country through some of its darkest days as states and families found themselves on opposite sides of the fight. When the war ended on April 9, 1865, our country had lost more than 620,000 soldiers with countless others scarred with injuries rending it impossible for them to work and provide for their families. Out of this devastation, the Home for the Friendless was formed. Today, we know the organization as Homeland Center. While its name and scope of work has changed with the times, the organization remains a home of hope for those in need.

Homeland Center resides on Sixth Street in Harrisburg. Prior to the City of Harrisburg assigning street numbers, the thoroughfare was known as Ridge Avenue because the land sat high above the Susquehanna River. Ridge Avenue was a desirable part of town, with well-kept detached houses and ample farmland.

At the start of the Civil War, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin issued a proclamation asking for 13,000 men to volunteer to serve the Union. Within three days, thousands of men converged into Harrisburg. Eighty acres of farmland on Ridge Avenue was transformed into Camp Curtin, named in honor of Governor Curtin, to serve the needs of the growing Union army.

“Harrisburg’s railroad lines made it an ideal location for moving men and supplies during the war,” says David Morrison, executive director of the Historic Harrisburg Association. “Camp Curtin played a critical role in the war as a hospital, supply depot and mustering point.”

More than 300,000 soldiers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and the regular army used Camp Curtin during the war. More military units were organized there than at any other camp in the Union.

“Soldiers traveling through Camp Curtin caused a surge in population,” David adds. “Resources, like fresh food, were in high demand.”

The Broad Street Market, which is now located on North Third Street, was built so farmers could help feed the troops. Soldiers also accessed fresh produce from the vegetable gardens grown and tended by the patients at the Harrisburg State Hospital, which opened in 1851 on a large tract of land located on Cameron and Maclay Streets.

When the Civil War ended, the Harrisburg community was at a crossroads. The demand for resources during the war propelled the industrialization of transportation via the rail and canal system as well as the construction of the nation’s first steel mill.

At the same time, the region was devastated by the loss of soldiers’ lives and the impact of the loss on the loved ones they left behind. Wives, widows, and parents struggled to provide for dependent family members without the support of deceased and disabled husbands and sons. In December of 1866, the Harrisburg Patriot called attention to “the large number of children who are daily to be seen on our streets in a ragged, forlorn condition.”

“Our community did not have a safety net of services in place,” David says. “Women and children were living in abject poverty and needed help on a large scale.”

On November 21, 1866, representatives of nine city churches concluded a shelter was needed to serve Dauphin County. The “Society for the Home for the Friendless” was formally chartered in May of 1867 and operated out of a rented house at Third and Mulberry Streets. In 1870, the Society broke ground on the original house, which still stands.

The Home for the Friendless served children (mostly girls) and elderly women for the first 40 years. The organization carried out a dual mission of providing for the health and comfort of the elderly residents as well as educating the children for future employment. The Home made expansions and improvements over the years leading up to its transformation to Homeland Center in the 1950s.

In 1955, the Home unofficially changed its name to Homeland Center to represent its philosophy on the care of its residents. Over the following years, Homeland opened its services to men, added additional wings to the original building and modernized the existing infirmary to serve as a skilled nursing unit.

Today, Homeland provides a wide array of services to the citizens of the greater Harrisburg region, including personal care services, skilled nursing care, a safe and secure environment for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as at home care and hospice services.

For all of these people, Homeland Center is what the founders intended it to be: a home. Homeland looks back to the values and idealism of the 1860s. At the same time, it looks forward to new ways of living and new ways of caring.

Homeland Center and Homeland at Home will celebrate its 155th anniversary of serving central Pennsylvania, and pay tribute to Betty Hungerford on Sunday, May 15, 2022, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Hilton Harrisburg. To learn more, visit homelandevents.org, or call Ed Savage at (717) 221-7885.


images courtesy Jeb Stuart

Music therapy at Homeland: Tuneful fun with a therapeutic purpose


The Homeland resident known as Mr. Randy had a request. He likes country music – all of it. No particular artist. Just classic country.

Music therapist Hannah Brezinski had just the thing.

“Hank Williams,” she said. “We’re going to shake to some, ‘Hey, Good Lookin’.’”

It’s Thursday afternoon in Homeland’s Ellenberger Unit, and residents are having fun while experiencing physical and cognitive therapy via their favorite songs. Music therapy is an essential part of life at Homeland, where melodies do more than bring back memories. In music therapy, every song that residents sing and instrument they play has a purpose.

“Music therapy is essentially using music to accomplish non-musical goals,” said Brezinski. “There’s a lot of intent in what we’re doing.”

The therapy uses familiar songs to provide motivation and encourage engagement. Cognitive goals might include recalling lyrics or listening for a specific letter in the lyrics. Instruments for playing along promote physical functions such as gripping the hands or crossing the body’s midline with the arms.

In this weekly session, about a dozen residents gathered in the Ellenberger common area while Brezinski played selections including “My Favorite Things,” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and “Music, Music, Music.” When she played “All Shook Up” – by what is probably Homeland’s favorite artist, Elvis Presley – residents enthusiastically joined in.

One resident wearing a vibrant pink blouse couldn’t get enough of the palm-sized egg shakers that Brezinski distributed, holding one in each hand and shaking in time to the music with every song.

Because music taps into both hemispheres of the brain, residents who have challenges communicating by other means find themselves singing along. The science of music therapy dates to its use for pain management for recuperating soldiers during World War II. Using it to promote cognitive and physical goals dates started about 20 years ago.

Homeland embraced its benefits early and has contracted since 2013 with WB Music Therapy to provide services from therapists certified by the national Certification Board for Music Therapists.

Whether in individual or group sessions, Homeland residents get personalized attention to their needs. Brezinski, a music therapist with a degree from Ohio University, learns about them, their needs, and their pleasures through family and staff.

Songs often are pulled from when residents were age 18 to 35, she said.

“That’s when really big things happen,’’ Brezinski said. “You graduated high school and went to a prom. You got married. You had children. Some songs will take you right back to that place.”

But Brezinski also avoids stereotyping the residents according to eras in music history.

“One woman was 93, and she only wanted to listen to Hall & Oates from the ‘80s,” she said. “I had a resident who asked for Lady Gaga.”

Trained music therapists learn to assess the needs of residents in the moment, said Kristyn Beeman, founder of WB Music Therapy.

“You have a resident who’s not necessarily able to communicate what they are interested in effectively,” she said. “That’s where we’re able to assess their facial expressions and physical cues. Reading that body language helps us know what’s working and what feels good to them.”

Homeland has been wonderful to work with, Brezinski and Beeman agree.

“It’s been crazy these last two years, and the staff has been very willing to work with us to make sure that the residents are getting seen when they can,’’ she said. “It entailed either adapting to telehealth sessions or being able to do this in person and figuring out what kind of instruments we can bring.”

Trained music therapists build a tremendous repertoire of tunes. Sometimes, just the right song makes all the difference. Brezinski remembers a Valentine’s Day when one Homeland resident who would typically isolate in the back of the room suddenly perked up when Brezinski played Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.”

“I saw her just light up and start to sing, and her body posture opened up, and from then on, she was like a different person,” Brezinski said. “That’s an example of someone who hears a song that they connect with. Being able to see that change from start to finish was awesome.”

Homeland Financial Assistant Sonia Miralda: Decimal points make a difference


Attention to detail is a hallmark of Homeland’s excellence, and it starts in the finance office.

“A number, a letter, a point, or a dot somewhere can mean a mistake in the information,” said Sonia Miralda, a Homeland financial assistant. “You need to have that on your mind when you send something out. You need to have the correct information.”

While residents experience attentive care, they and their families enjoy peace of mind knowing that the financial wheels are turning smoothly.

Miralda was working at another area nursing home when two former co-workers who had joined Homeland approached her about an opening.

“I applied, and everything has been awesome,” she said. Her job includes accounts payable, paying Homeland at Home invoices, sending bills to cover residents’ therapies, ensuring that residents and their families get copies to keep track.

In an office where changes come every day, teamwork is Miralda’s favorite part of the job.

“I can come with a question to any team member, and I will get a correct answer,” she said. “It’s always a time for growing, always knowing something new. I am not afraid to go to anyone when I’m in doubt about anything.”

Miralda likes to laugh with her colleagues, too. They sometimes “take 10 minutes to sit down and think of new ways to do things. When we’re eating lunch, we’re always talking about how we can be better.”

Even though Miralda is not a frontline staffer, she enjoys interacting with Homeland residents. When the pandemic first shut down communal dining, she delivered breakfast to residents’ rooms.

“It was a change, of course, but it was delightful to go and help and take their meals and discuss things like what they were eating,” she said. “I never miss the opportunity to visit with residents.”

Residents are always eager to ask Miralda about her home country of Honduras.
“They want to know where I’m from and what’s different about it,” she said. “I guess I’m a pot of knowledge for them. I’m happy to talk to all of them. It seems like something different for them, and their interest is special to me.”

Miralda’s American journey started when she was 19. On vacation to the U.S. in 1986, she realized she wanted to stay. She found a sponsor family, living and traveling with them while learning the language. She loves the U.S. for its freedom and safety.
“You can speak your mind, and some people will like it and some will not, but that is their business,” she said. “I do appreciate that very much here.”

She misses her family and calls her mother in Honduras daily. She enjoys telling people about the ideal weather of her native country, but she saw her move to America as an adventure.

Miralda and her husband of 35 years, Pablo, moved to central Pennsylvania from the Washington, D.C. area when they were expecting their first child, a son who is now 24 years old. Her husband, an electrical engineer for a Carlisle machine products company, is the home handyman. Miralda is famous for her potato salad but always ready to try something new and create unique flavors.

She said she appreciates the level of communications from Homeland management at work – something she didn’t experience with her previous employer. She has told her husband that if they ever move, they will have to find a home between their jobs because she isn’t about to leave Homeland.

“I am so happy here,” she said. “I’m not willing to look for another job. I’m as comfortable as can be.”

Homeland resident Pat Wise: A life fully lived


Caring for family is important to Pat Wise, whether it was helping to look after her siblings, her own daughter and granddaughter, or children at the residential Milton Hershey School.

Pat and her first husband, Robert Samuel Townsley, moved from where they grew up in Huntingdon County to Hershey in 1958 and spent more than a decade as house parents at the school. When Robert’s father died, they returned home, buying the family farm.

“We had a nice time,” said Pat of life with Robert, who died in 1972. “It was a nice few years.”

Recently Pat and her daughter, Lisa Myers, talked about a life rich and well-lived. Pat now lives in Homeland’s Ellenberger Unit, enjoying the activities and the attentive care. Her daughter, Lisa Myers, appreciates the small size of the dementia-care wing and the responsiveness of the staff.

Pat was born in Kistler and raised in Mt. Union. Her father worked in one of the brickyards where many of the area’s men worked. She had an older sister and brother and a younger sister named Sandra, who died from sleeping sickness at age 3. The loss weighed on Pat, who was only a couple of years older and had always wanted a sister.

She had fun with her good friends, but there were always chores, especially after her father died from silicosis – caused by breathing in particulates in the brickyard – when Pat was about 12 years old.

In 1948, Pat married Robert, who she knew from school. He had served in World War II in a highly secure area, interpreting messages. During their time at the Milton Hershey School, they lived in three houses where students – all boys in those days – also resided.

Robert would take the “barn boys” to care for the school’s dairy cattle. Pat would oversee the “house boys,” ensuring they did the cleaning, cooking, and laundry every day. They had fun, too, playing baseball, making jack-o-lanterns at Halloween, visiting Hersheypark, and skating in the Hersheypark Arena.

One of those boys was Anthony Colistra, who grew up to be superintendent of Cumberland Valley School District and, from 2009 to 2013, president of Milton Hershey School.

When they moved back to Huntingdon County, they purchased the family farm and an adjoining property. Together with their son and daughter, Pat and Robert had about 250 acres. In addition to working the farm, Robert took a job at a sneaker factory. Pat worked at a sewing factory, making men’s suits.

Pat enjoyed sewing and knitting – skills she learned from her mother, a meticulous seamstress.

“I had all handmade clothes,” Pat said. “She was really good. When I was little, I thought it was terrible, but really, I was lucky.”

In 1972, Robert died from multiple myeloma. A year later, a friend introduced Pat to a widower named Jay Robert Wise, who everyone called Bob. They married in 1974 and were together for 43 years until he died in 2017.

When Lisa was growing up, her mother taught her how to cook – “cakes from scratch, and the icing,” Lisa recalls. “She would have amazing birthday parties. She could draw really well. She always helped me with my art projects.”

After Lisa got married, she and her husband were working parents, and Pat was “a huge help,” Lisa says. “If my daughter was sick, Mom would swoop in. She would always come and help clean and cook and get groceries. I had a huge support system.”

Pat came to Homeland in February 2021. It came highly recommended, Lisa said, adding she is very pleased with the decision.

“They love her there,” Lisa says. “She’s doing really well.”

Lisa appreciates the intimacy of the Ellenberger Unit. At any time, she can get in touch with staff or Director Daniqwa Buckner – “She’s amazing,” Lisa says – and get a quick response.

“It’s a beautiful facility,’’ Lisa said. “People work really hard there. It’s a good place. I like that I can call or text [the staff] and get a response. We’ve been very fortunate.”

Homeland’s 155th Anniversary Celebration Honoring Betty Hungerford Join Us for An Event Like No Other


An anniversary like no other honoring a woman like no other calls for a celebration like no other. Homeland Center will celebrate its 155th anniversary of serving central Pennsylvania, and pay tribute to Betty Hungerford on Sunday, May 15, 2022, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Hilton Harrisburg. This event, produced in grand, theatric style will be one for the history books.

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