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.”