Artist Margo Konetski: Tapping into creativity

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Margo Konetski didn’t initially think of herself as an artist, but as a child, “everything had doodles on it.”

Teachers would chide her for being inattentive, but now, she knows doodlers absorb learning better.

“The creativity part of our brains,” she said, “is not used enough.”

Margo is the latest artist displaying her work at Homeland through the Art Association of Harrisburg’s Community Spaces initiative. Every quarter, specially chosen AAH members hang their works in the bright Homeland Florida Room gallery for enjoyment by residents, staff, and visitors.

Konetski, a native of Lewisburg, now living in Upper Allen Township, taught school for 33 years before retiring. In her final years of teaching, she worked with Susquehanna Township School District middle schoolers with social-behavioral problems. They were bright children but were behind their peers, so they sometimes acted out to hide their embarrassment and frustration.

“They could be a challenge, but I enjoyed working with them,” she said.

She wasn’t an artist then, but she knew children learn better when teachers use a creative approach. For eighth-graders struggling with vocabulary, Konetski recruited them to help her build a game board involving pulling cards and defining the words on them. They could roll the dice and move on if they knew the correct answer.

“Being a teacher, you’re almost required to be creative,” she said. “I do believe that’s where I started as an artist. Making it fun was a great way for them to enjoy and learn it.”

Retirement gave Margo the time to step up her creative pursuits. A lover of gardening, she became a Master Gardener in 2022. Since moving to a new home recently, she has been working with a landscaper to bring variety and a non-linear look to her yard.

“I don’t like things all straight in a row,” she said. “I enjoy different colors and textures – mixing them up a little bit. The whole creativity thing touches lots of parts of your life.”

As Margo returned to art, she took Art Association of Harrisburg classes and started experimenting with different media. Her work has matured as she learns, but there have been adventures along the way. For a plein air class, Margo went to Wildwood Park, trying to capture the marshes on canvas. But pesky spotted lanternflies, refusing to cooperate with the romantic image of an artist painting in the open air, kept landing on her canvas.

She also struggled with the slope where she set up her easel, aiming for the best vantage point.

“If you could have filmed me, it would have been really funny because I was fighting the bugs,” she said with a laugh. “And I wasn’t stable on the bank. I’m sliding down the bank, with all my paints going everywhere. Next time I did plein air, I made sure I was on a stable surface.”

Margo carries a sketch pad and takes pictures, capturing beautiful scenes and intriguing architecture everywhere she goes. She recently returned from a trip to Lake Ontario in New York State with five drawings.

“The drawing is your first step,” she said. “You have to have some kind of vision.”

Her travels have taken her to picturesque places like Italy, Germany, and Norway, where her son-in-law is from.

“I like painting doors, for some reason,” she said. “In Italy, there are old-looking, interesting doors.”

Her favorite artist is French impressionist Claude Monet, for the way he seamlessly blends his lines.

“When you paint, you look at things differently,” she said. “Even if we’re watching a TV show, I’ll say to my husband, ‘Did you see that picture on the wall in that room?’ That’s what stands out to me.”

Margo has two grown children, and she and her husband have two rescue dogs, a Lhasa apso-bichon mix named Sophie and a dog named Frankie, “a little Australian terrier. He’s a little lover.”

Her Homeland exhibit is only her second showing. Two of her favorite works there, which are also popular with viewers, are small depictions of a fish and a pelican done with colored pencils.

“It’s a nice little hall space,” she said. “A lot of people travel through it, so they get to see the artwork. It’s a cool place to have your work.”

Margo doesn’t try to sell her paintings. For her, art is simply rewarding and fun.

“Painting is relaxing,” she said. “I can go downstairs and start painting, and five hours later, it’s, ‘Oh, my gosh, where did the time go?’”

Homeland Holiday Bazaar: Holly-jolly fun with shopping

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Baubles, bangles, and beads. Plus, an Avengers puzzle and candy. Who doesn’t want a cheery gift for the holidays?

Even better, it was all packaged into one-stop shopping, with the Homeland Center Board of Managers’ annual holiday bazaar. Held before Thanksgiving, it’s a chance for residents and staff to experience the joy of giving without battling the crowds in stores and malls.

The Board of Managers has held the bazaar for at least 20 years and probably many more. This year, they operated a long line of tables in the Main Dining Room. Treasures beckoned, neatly organized by theme – holiday items, kids, décor, jewelry, and linens.

In the Florida Room, a bake sale tempted shoppers with cookies, desserts, and candy-filled jars decorated for gift-giving – no wrapping required.

Board of Managers members donate the baked goods and new or gently used bazaar items. The Board of Managers is the unique group of women devoted to upholding Homeland’s renowned quality of life and homelike feel. Proceeds go to the activities department, which can use the funds to buy supplies or bring in top-class talent for the music and entertainment programs that residents cherish.

Joyce Thomas, a Board of Managers member for 23 years, said that members “just clean out our houses” to stock the bazaar tables.

“The residents always find some little treasure,” she said. “They love their jewelry. They love their necklaces. They love their bracelets. They’re always looking for something to give to the grandkids.”

Resident Loretta Colestock snapped up the Avengers-themed puzzle for her superhero-mad great-grandson, age 8.

“He’s just at that age to like it,” she said. “This bazaar is a neat idea. They always do great things for us. I got some jewelry, something for my grandkids, and little jars of candy for the grown kids.”

Homeland’s busy, hardworking staff get a jump on their gift shopping, too. Director of Utilization Review Lisa Browne found a priceless birthday gift for her husband with custom-made golf clubs that once belonged to a resident, the late Stanley Fabiano. Lisa loved Stan dearly for his antics and his big heart, and she knew that her husband would appreciate his Cobra and TaylorMade titanium clubs.

“These are very unique clubs,” Lisa said. “My husband’s mother lives at Homeland now, so it brings everything together. This means a lot to me because of knowing Stan for years and years and years, and I cared about him so much. It’s very special.”

The bazaar also featured felt coasters handmade in wintry designs like snowmen, berries, and trees by Board of Managers members. Member Lindy Scholl designed the coasters and led laughter-filled sessions to cut and sew the pieces.

“Lindy even made dessert for us,” said Board of Managers Secretary Cathy Leeds. “She had carrot cake and a dump cake with cherries and pineapple. We are well taken care of as a group of women.”

The Board of Managers is also selling the 2024 Lottery Calendar to add to the holiday cheer. Buyers are entered to win daily cash drawings ranging from $30 to $100. At the same time, proceeds provide financial support and additional services for Homeland Center and Homeland at Home residents, patients, and clients in need.

This year’s calendar honors the nine Harrisburg churches and their women members, two from each church, who founded Homeland in 1867 as a refuge for the widows and children of the Civil War’s dead and disabled soldiers. Their legacy lives today as Homeland Center, Homeland at Home, and the 18-member, all-women Board of Managers.

At the bazaar, resident Nancy VanKirk bought children’s books and toys to donate to the Homeland Center gift shop, where she volunteers weekly. For only 10 or 25 cents, the mint-condition coloring books, crayons, and books on construction equipment would make great gifts for other residents to share with visiting grandkids.

“When kids have a birthday or something coming up, and the grandparents can’t get out to buy anything, they look for something the kids can enjoy,” she said.

Resident Carl Barna is known for growing vegetables and herbs in Homeland Center’s Catherine Elizabeth Meikle Courtyard for the enjoyment of Homeland residents. He bought a light-up snow globe at the bazaar that played “Silent Night.”

As always, Carl decided to share the delight with his fellow residents.

“I want to have that at our table in the dining room and play it while we’re sitting there eating,” he said. “I think this bazaar is excellent.”

Homeland Center offers levels of care including personal care, memory care, skilled nursing, and rehabilitation. The outreach services of Homeland at Home provide hospice, palliative care, home health, and home care to serve the diverse and changing needs of families throughout central Pennsylvania. For more information or to arrange a tour, please call 717-221-7900.

A guiding light: Volunteer Susan Stillman’s tech expertise helps Homeland focus on care

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Volunteers come in many forms, and Homeland loves them all. They bring a helping hand to activities. They lend a listening ear.

Then there are those like Susan Stillman, behind the scenes but playing a vital role in ensuring that Homeland runs smoothly, and staff do their best for the comfort and care of residents and patients.

Susan retired in 2021 from a career in business analysis, but soon began to use her skills for Homeland, working closely with the development and marketing staff to help transform the customer relationship management (CRM) experience. With sleeker, more efficient systems, staff gets more time to create innovative programs, develop resources, and communicate directly with partners, families, and donors.

“It’s all of the things I loved about my previous job that I’m getting to do again for Homeland,” Susan said.

Susan, a native of Arlington, VA, majored in anthropology and English literature. She said with a laugh that she “was able to parlay those into a career in business analysis.” It started early in her career when she worked at a library that needed to automate its card catalog.

“They didn’t have anybody with the computer skills to do it,” she said. “I said, ‘I don’t have them, either, but I’m willing to learn.’”

From there, she went into tech support, training, and business analysis. Susan explains that business analysts help organizations find and incorporate the software needed to solve problems. It’s a beginning-to-end process involving research, collaboration, testing, and training.

Susan was a business analyst for about 22 years with the American Cancer Society’s Pennsylvania division, based in Hershey. She had come to southcentral Pennsylvania to escape the over-congested Washington area. During the pandemic, her job was downsized.

“I realized I didn’t have to go back to work, so I didn’t,” she said.

Susan fills her time with volunteering that’s meaningful and substantial. With Loving Care Cat Rescue (LCCR), she adopted a pair of cats and began performing volunteer technical work. Today, she manages the adoption application process, serves on the board, and provides resources that cat foster care providers need to succeed.

“With everything, I get to do to help the fosters, assist with the adoption process, and get our kitties into good homes … it’s very rewarding,” Susan said.

Searching for an additional volunteer opportunity, Susan learned about the Homeland Hospice position on volunteermatch.org. She knew she didn’t have the “emotional fortitude” to work directly with patients, but she knew data entry was in her wheelhouse.

Soon, Homeland Hospice staff learned about her professional background, and they happily accepted her offer to help adopt the new CRM system. It was a challenge. They had to unify the separate systems used by Homeland Hospice and the development and marketing departments. With Susan’s help, they found a system that meets the needs of all three operations.

“Susan has been awesome in steering us in the right direction with which system to choose, and she continues to provide support and training as we learn to use this new platform,” said Homeland director of marketing Wendy Shumaker. “It has been a very big project, and we are immensely grateful for her involvement.”

Susan helped merge three databases, run data reports that reveal fresh insights into Homeland operations, and train staff in using the new system.

“I love being able to solve problems, make people’s lives easier, and give them the tools they need to be effective,” said Susan.

The Homeland team is a pleasure to work with, she adds. She credits Homeland Hospice Volunteer Coordinator Laurie Murry with keeping volunteers engaged and training them in “the knowledge they need to support the organization.”

“She stays in touch with everybody, so regardless of your role, you always feel connected,” Susan said.

Susan also enjoys cooking global cuisine and is a regular blood platelet donor. She lives in a circa-1935 home in Susquehanna Township, which her husband is “single-handedly rebuilding,” she said.

Even amid her volunteer duties, the avid reader dives into a murder mystery daily. Susan counts Louise Penny and Margaret Maron as her favorite authors.

“I spend about an hour or two a day reading, taking advantage of the fact that I am actually retired.”

Homeland Center offers levels of care including personal care, memory care, skilled nursing, and rehabilitation. The outreach services of Homeland at Home provide hospice, palliative care, home health, and home care to serve the diverse and changing needs of families throughout central Pennsylvania. For more information or to arrange a tour, please call 717-221-7900.

Bryan Richards, Homeland maintenance: Accentuating the positive

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Bryan Richards always arrives a half hour early every morning for his 11am – 7pm shift.

“I look forward to coming to work,” he said. “I’m ready to go. I’m ready to serve.”

Bryan joined Homeland Center’s maintenance department in April 2023, quickly finding his place on the team that keeps Homeland’s rooms comfortable and livable for the residents.

Bryan calls himself a jack-of-all-trades, with diverse professional and personal experiences from nursing to Civil War reenacting. From a life that started in adversity, he has carved a philosophy of self-sufficiency, tolerance, and faith.

Bryan grew up in Johnstown, the second of six children. After his youngest sibling was born, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She died at age 31. Bryan, who had been her caregiver, was 12 years old.

By then, the family was living in Lebanon, and soon, the children went to different homes. Bryan lived in a Berks County, Bethany Childrens Home for Orphans until he was a high school junior when he went to a foster home. At 18, he left foster care to live with his godfather, a pastor who had been a father figure.

“I learned everything you could possibly learn from him – cooking, basic life skills,” Bryan said.

Early in his career, Bryan worked for Kinney’s shoes and modeled for JC Penney Catalog in advertisement. In 2005, he earned his nurse’s aide certificate and spent the next 15 years working in hospice settings.

“When you’re doing care for people and you’re around them constantly, they’re like family,” he said. “I always treated them like family, I joined their journey and they always treated me like family.”

But as Bryan will tell you, he feels everything deeply, and after a time, the challenges of hospice became too much. While deciding on his next steps, he worked at the historic Paxtang Cemetery, groundskeeping and digging graves.

“When I say I’m a jack-of-all-trades, I’ve gotten my hands dirty in many things I was willing to learn with,” he said. “I did the work with dignity and passion. I do that in all my work. I try to go above and beyond.”

He then did maintenance for a Lebanon County nursing home before joining Homeland. Here, his primary duties include caring for residents’ rooms. There are TVs to repair, light bulbs to replace, and pictures to hang.

“You do things like that, and they just think the world of you,” he said. “I love to serve people. I’m a people person. It makes you feel good that you did something nice for somebody, and they appreciate it.”

It’s a fun and welcoming work atmosphere, he adds. Everyone pitches in.

Outside of work, Bryan is just as busy. He and his partner live in a circa-1900 home in Steelton filled with antiques. He does woodworking gardening and plays with their two adorable fur baby poodle mixes, Aspen and Kali.

“I just love it,” he said. “I’m an old soul.”

His roots in reenacting began when he was 19 years old and saw a troop of Civil War reenactors – now called “living historians” – in a parade.

“History is important, so we’re not doomed to repeat it,” he said. “A lot of times, we do, but we try not to. They don’t teach our kids what the Civil War is about anymore. That’s where we come in and educate them, and they think it’s interesting.”

Today, he belongs to the 93rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which one of his distant relatives had fought in during the Civil War. He currently is an active member of the Sons of The Union Veterans Of the Civil War.  He didn’t know initially that his great-great-grandfather, Steven Lance, served in the 28th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. And many numerous relatives.

Not only that, but he had a relative that fought in the battle of Cedar Creek, which today is the only battlefield where reenactors may skirmish on the original grounds. Bryan attends the annual reenactment there, sensing the ghosts of the past all around.

“You can feel the emotion,” he said. “I would get that feeling, and the chills. I would close my eyes and try to envision what they would have felt. It’s an emotional time.”

Bryan also bakes apple pies and peach cobblers. His sisters always ask him to make the pierogies he learned from his mother.

“I used to sit in the kitchen and watch her, and that’s how I learned,” he said.

His mother’s example has reminded him, throughout life, to “do something for yourself.”

“Move on, because my mother would want us to do that and be productive members of society,” he said.

Bryan doesn’t retire for another 21 years, but he hopes to make Homeland his “home away from home” for the rest of his career.

“It’s a small nonprofit. It’s family,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody around here. Most importantly, it’s about the people who live here. They deserve our respect because they’ve lived their lives.”

Homeland resident Mary Robinson: A blessed life

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Ask Mary Robinson one of her favorite gospel songs, and she’s happy to sing it for you.

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” Mary sings from her home in Homeland’s Skilled Care. Her daughter, Delphine Walker, sings harmony.

Mary believes that God brought her to Homeland, where she is a regular presence at activities and a beloved friend to many.

“I know she’s getting well taken care of,” Delphine said. “The people love her, and she loves them.”

From her bright room filled with family photos, Mary reflects on a life devoted to family and God, serving her church and being a mom to all.

Mary was born in Philadelphia, the oldest of nine children. Her father was a World War I veteran and worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps. She enjoyed attending church, including Sunday services that stretched into the afternoon. It’s where she learned to play the piano – self-taught, without lessons.

Mary’s mother was busy raising the kids, with considerable help from Mary. Her mom would say, “I don’t have to worry about anything while Mary is there because she takes care of everything.”

And Mary would think, “As soon as I get to 18, I’m going to get out of here.” Then again, those early responsibilities nurtured her growth into a reliable adult.

At age 18, she did exactly as planned: Mary married Jamaican immigrant George Robinson – and then introduced her mother to her new son-in-law.

“My mother really loved my husband,” Mary said. “He was a good man. He was a good father.”

In 1949, Mary and George left Philadelphia for Harrisburg. She didn’t consider it a culture shock.

“I liked Harrisburg because it was smaller,” she said. “Philadelphia was nice, but it’s a big city.”

George worked for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as an auditor. Mary devoted herself to their four kids, volunteering for everything from helping with Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to chaperoning school trips.

“They kept me busy, going all the time,” Mary said. “They would volunteer me for things sometimes. They didn’t even ask me, but they knew I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun.”

Everyone at school knew her mom, Delphine said.

“She was ‘Mom’ to everybody,” Delphine recalls. “We didn’t mind sharing.” Her parents included the kids in everything, she adds. There were country drives, outings for ice cream, excursions to watch planes taking off, or visits to museums.

“All the other kids used to say, ‘Where are you going? Ask your mom if we can go with you,’” Delphine said with a laugh. “There wasn’t a whole lot that we had, but we felt rich just because of the love and support they gave us. They were always looking for ways to enrich our lives that, now when we think about it, made us what we are today.”

The church continued to play a central role in family life. Mary played piano, sang, and taught Sunday school. George was an elder. During services, the kids sat by themselves in a pew. Usually, they behaved well, and if they did start to act up, their mom, sitting at the piano, would stop it with just a glance over her shoulder.

Even after their kids were grown, Mary and George adopted and raised a niece. They were married for 64 years until his death 10 years ago. Mary came to Homeland in November 2021. Knowing of Homeland’s reputation for excellence, the family felt there was only one place for her, and a room opened at just the right time.

Mary hangs a calendar of Homeland activities on her wall and attends nearly everything offered, from music programs to weekly Bible study.

“I love this place,” Mary said. “People are very friendly, and everybody is nice. Whatever I need, they’re right there.”

She can even practice on the chapel piano when she wants to, maybe playing and singing another favorite hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

“God has blessed me,” Mary said. “I’m very thankful. I’m very blessed. God is the love of my life. He’s first in my life and then my family. I enjoyed my life and family and felt like I was the queen.”

“They call her the queen here, too,” Delphine adds.

Mary nods. “They sure do.”

A people person: Homeland Director of Personal Care and Director HomeCare embodies trust

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When Jennifer Murray gives tours to potential personal care residents and their families, she shares Homeland Center’s amazing 156-year history of devotion to the community.

“We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “A lot of times, people like our homey feel. It’s cozy and comfortable here. When I’m doing tours, everyone stops and says hello, and that makes visitors feel welcome. It’s all genuine. That’s how it is all the time around here.”

Jen’s role has expanded since she first joined Homeland in 2016. With a career in nursing – the only thing she ever wanted to do – and 11 years in administration, she stepped in as Director of Personal Care in 2017.

Now, she is in the dual role of Director of Personal Care and Director of HomeCare. Like the Homeland Center personal care staff, the CNAs of Homeland HomeCare help clients through their daily tasks, ensuring they take their medications, eat right, and get any help needed with bathing, dressing, or other needs.

Maintaining Homeland’s stellar reputation for quality across a new front isn’t hard because the foundation of quality “was already there,” Jen said.

“The staff we have in place are exceptional in HomeCare and Personal Care,” she said. “The HomeCare clients absolutely love their caregivers. They care. They get involved. They will let us know if something seems wrong. Their relationships with families are so good that the families will often call the caregiver to tell them that a loved one has been hospitalized before they call the HomeCare office. That’s the level of trust they have in the staff.”

Speaking of trust, Jen is the person you’ve seen in Homeland Center’s television commercials. She is proud to raise awareness of Homeland’s exceptional care, whether at Homeland Center or in clients’ homes.

Her dual role lets her give inquiring callers more options – perhaps letting them know about home care if a loved one isn’t ready for a facility or pointing out available personal care suites for someone who can no longer live at home.

Once in Homeland, residents flourish. Jen works closely with the maintenance department, housekeeping department, and the dietary staff to uphold living and dining standards. She also collaborates regularly with the activities department, cooking up a roster of fun that keeps residents engaged. For Assisted Living Week 2023, Homeland held a fashion show, and residents’ family members got in the spirit, wearing everything from a Rosie the Riveter costume to Hawaiian shirts and leis.

“I love that our families get so involved,” said Jen. “If we invite them to things, tons of family members show up. I’ve never worked anywhere else where families were so involved. Our staff love the residents so much that it’s not work to do special things for them.”

Outside of Homeland, Jen and her husband enjoy traveling to regional sights such as the Poconos, Niagara Falls, and the Finger Lakes. A Florida fishing trip her husband dreams of, postponed by COVID, is back on for next year.

Jen also loves to cook, and she carries on her childhood tradition of Sunday dinners with family, including her daughter and son, who recently returned home from military service.

With her love of decorating, she also brings seasonal cheer to her office in Homeland’s original 19th-century building. Fall décor includes pumpkin figurines and a plaque saying, “I love fall most of all.”

“Fall is my favorite season,” she said. “I like the cooler weather. I love everything pumpkin spice. I just love all of the smells and colors of fall.”

Jen can say, with complete honesty, that work is fun. She carries on the Homeland tradition of treating staff respectfully, recognizing that they have family and obligations outside of work. In turn, the staff focuses on the residents’ needs.

It all comes back to that word — trust.

“Our families trust that their loved ones are going to get the care they need,” she said.

“I’ve had people come up to me and just say, ‘Trust,’ because they hear me say it in the commercials. People see our name, and that’s what they will think of,” Jen said. “You want to have someplace where you can trust the staff and know your loved ones will be cared for. It’s part of Homeland’s legacy.”