Volunteers Janet and David Young: Giving back to Homeland


Homeland Volunteers Janet and David YoungHow hands-on is Homeland’s Board of Managers? Janet Young puts it in four words.

“We dust the Hummels.”

As in the sizeable Hummel figurine collection donated to Homeland and displayed in hallways, meeting rooms, gathering spaces, and the chapel. Recently, Board of Managers members had a dusting party.

“We were there with a paintbrush and a dust cloth, dusting every one of them,” Janet said. “When I say ‘hands-on,’ we dust.”

Janet and her husband, David Young, are stalwart Homeland volunteers. Janet has been a Board of Managers member for about nine years, currently serving as treasurer. David started a men’s discussion group to allow male residents to bond and talk about guy things.

The Board of Managers is Homeland’s unique, all-volunteer, all-women board devoted to maintaining Homeland’s renowned homelike feel. Janet joined at the suggestion of a dear friend who chaired the board.

“My father was a resident here, and I always felt they took such good care of him,” she said. “I always wanted to give back.”

Janet is a Harrisburg native, born and raised. She quickly names the food businesses once owned by her family, the Rittners — El Centro restaurant, the YWCA café, the Trailways terminal food counter, and Rittner’s Diner on Cameron Street.

“And then in the ‘60s, we were probably the biggest caterer in the area,” she said.

Janet always knew she wanted to go to college, even in the 1960s, before that was a common aspiration for women. She loved Penn State and majored in the field she had worked in all her life – hotel and restaurant management.

David also wanted to attend Penn State, but his route was more circuitous. He was born near Pittsburgh, lived in Kansas City, MO, and moved to Flourtown, Montgomery County, PA. In the Philadelphia region, he worked winter breaks for a Chestnut Hill florist, catering to upper-crust customers shopping for Christmas wreaths.

In the summer, he cleaned pools for Chestnut Hill families, including the sister of actress and real-life royalty Grace Kelly.

“I walked in one day, and there was Princess Grace,” he remembers.

At Penn State, Janet and David knew each other from around. He studied business administration and belonged to a fraternity that included scholarship athletes. She dove into campus life as a cheerleader, sorority president, student government representative, and Homecoming and Spring Week committee member. He jokes that he was tired of dating someone different every week, so he dated Janet for the last half of his senior year, “and somehow, it stuck.”

He graduated from Penn State in 1966 and served six years in the Army Reserve. While their two sons were young, the family came to Harrisburg because David wanted to work for Janet’s family business, which was transitioning into food distribution at the time. Working in sales, David’s main client was Genuardi’s, the Philly area’s legendary specialty grocer.

Today, the Youngs have been married for 55 years and have four grown grandchildren. In the fall and winter, they spend time at their condo in Naples, on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The Youngs conceived the Homeland Men’s Discussion Group as a place for male residents to chat. Led by David, the members have talked about the Civil War, World War II, and Penn State football.

“They seem to really enjoy it,” he said. “We have good conversations.”

David also joins the men’s group on excursions to local sites like the National Civil War Museum, Harrisburg Senators’ baseball games, and the Antique Automobile Club Museum in Hershey. A tour of a local Harley-Davidson dealership is in the works.

At Homeland, Janet joins in everything the Board of Managers does to maintain a warm and welcoming atmosphere – staging picnics, distributing fries from a French fry truck, preparing flower arrangements for the dining rooms, sending birthday cards to residents and staff, greeting new residents, decking the halls for the holidays, and organizing this year’s popular tea party.

“We try to make things nicer and easier and better for our residents,” she said. “We have an excellent board. We have an outstanding group of women. When you need volunteers, their hands go up.”

And, adds Janet, the staff “is outstanding. They are so committed, and they’re so lovely. They’re very polite.”

Homeland’s attentiveness to staff needs shows in its low turnover and high longevity rates.

“They take very good care of their staff here,” she said. “My father’s been gone for 13 years, and there are still people here who were taking care of him then. You don’t find that at other places.”

Homeland Center (www.homelandcenter.org) offers levels of care including personal care, memory care, skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Homeland also provides hospice, home care, home health and palliative care services 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.

Homeland resident Mike Conte: A life steeped in Harrisburg history


Homeland resident Mike ConteMike Conte came to Homeland in April. Since then, he has made friends — “lots of them.”

“They’re really nice here,” he said. “I like the people. I like how the staff caters to you.”

Mike and his wife, Betty, share a bright, corner-room personal care suite. His roots are deep in Harrisburg, where he was born and raised.

Mike’s parents were immigrants from Italy. In the 1920s, his father bought a bar and restaurant at 4th and Kelker streets in Harrisburg. Even though it was named the Keystone Restaurant, everyone knew it as Tony’s, after Mike’s dad. The owner of the business next door, Lappley’s Shoe Store, was a good friend of Tony’s who was also treasurer of Camp Curtin Bank.

“That’s where my dad got all his loans,” Mike recalls. “Everything was done on a handshake.”

Mike’s parents ran the restaurant, and Mike and his older sisters, Rose and Evelyn, helped by washing dishes or cleaning the kitchen. His father was constantly smoking a cigar. If he put it down to conduct business, he would tell the kids, “First one to find my cigar gets a quarter.”

At home, life revolved around the neighborhood firehouse, now the Pennsylvania National Fire Museum.

“We used to know the firemen,” he said. “The police would stop there. It was like old home week. There was a baseball field where we’d play baseball all summer or go to City Island to swim in the river. I was glad I was born in that time because they were the good old days.”

After graduating from William Penn High School in 1951, Mike worked for a building contractor and then at the family restaurant until he was drafted. He spent two years in the Army, including a stretch in peacetime Korea.

“I was a cook, but they wouldn’t let me cook,” he said. “You had to work your way up to that. That’s when you were peeling potatoes by hand, 15 or 20 bags at a time.”

Not long after Mike came home, his father died, and Mike and his mother ran the restaurant. In 1957, he went to work in the furniture service center of Pomeroy’s department store, loading and unloading trucks and helping with deliveries. He worked there the rest of his career, totaling 39 years with Pomeroy’s and its successor, Bon-Ton. The work could be challenging, but Mike enjoyed the company of his coworkers and brought his sense of humor to the job.

Mike and Betty first met before he entered the service when mutual friends were getting married.

“Every Saturday night, we’d get dressed up to the nines and go to the movies,” Mike said. They’d catch two movies at different Harrisburg cinemas, enjoying Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in the golden age of Hollywood musicals.

When he returned from the service, they lost track of each other. In 1962, Mike married a woman he met on a visit with his sister, but only six years later, she died from cancer. Suddenly, Mike was a single dad to their daughter.

“Thank God my mom was still around,” Mike said. “We made her the official babysitter. ‘That’s okay with me,’ she would say.”

About seven months later, he and Betty reconnected.

“We’ve been married now 51 years,” he said.

Mike and Betty enjoyed traveling on bus trips through the United States, often in the South and New England. He has a collection of postcards from Harrisburg’s past, including all 16 firehouses, and he still loves watching old movies, especially gangster films. James Cagney and George Raft are favorites.

Now at Homeland, he keeps busy, especially enjoying the various musical activities and bingo.

Mike makes a point of not taking things too seriously.

“I make a joke out of everything,” he said. “You can’t go around being mopey all the time.”

Homeland Center (www.homelandcenter.org) offers levels of care including personal care, memory care, skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Homeland also provides hospice, home care, home health and palliative care services 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.

Homeland Unveils Tribute Medallions at a Special Ceremony in May


homeland unveiling eventHomeland unveiled its Tribute Medallions at a special ceremony held in May at Homeland Center in Uptown Harrisburg. The Tribute Medallions along with a special plaque about Homeland are displayed on the iron fence that surrounds the facility. The zinc metal medallions are a tribute to loved ones who received Homeland services as well as recognition of those who make a difference through their volunteerism and dedication to Homeland.

The event included a special blessing from Todd Carver, MDiv, BCC, Homeland Chaplain, and remarks from Noelle Valentine, MSW, LSW, Homeland’s Lead Bereavement Counselor, about Homeland’s dedication to serving families through its outreach efforts. Following the remarks, guests toured the path along the fence to see the medallions and were invited to tour Homeland Center.

“The Tribute Medallions memorialize loved ones and represent the unity of Homeland’s work,” Noelle says. “Through Homeland Center and our outreach efforts we have a special connection with the names and families associated with each medallion.”

in memory of frances shoop medallionThe Tribute Medallion initiative was launched at Homeland Hospice’s 10th Anniversary Celebration in November 2019. At the event, Luetta Romberger of Millersburg purchased two Tribute Medallions in remembrance of her husband, Stanley Romberger, and mother, Francis Shoop, who received hospice services. When Homeland began assisting the family, Stanley was living at home and Francis lived a short distance away. As his health began to decline, Stanley entered a nursing home. Francis soon followed and resided in the same nursing facility. After Stanley died in 2018, Francis moved into Luetta’s home. With the help of Homeland, Luetta cared for her mother until her passing in 2019.

“I will always appreciate the care we received from Homeland,” Luetta says. “The support was beyond my expectations.”

At the event, Luetta toured Homeland Center. Along the way, she noticed a pianist playing on the baby grand piano in the dining room. Homeland frequently invites guests to perform for residents over lunch and dinner. Luetta asked if her 13-year-old grandson Elliott could play. He returned several weeks later and entertained the residents.

For Luetta and families throughout central Pennsylvania, Homeland is personal. Through its work, Homeland has the privilege to care for families and their loved ones during their changing life circumstances. The Tribute Medallions and Homeland’s outreach efforts will continue to grow as the needs of our community evolve.

“We will continue to offer Tribute Medallions for families to memorialize their loved ones,” Noelle says. “Every name and every medallion will forever be an important part of Homeland’s history.”

Since Homeland Center began as the “Home for the Friendless,” more than 155 years ago, it has been – and will always be – a place for friends, family and the community to find respite and support. Every time someone enters Homeland, the first thing they see is a beautiful iron fence with the names of loved ones on tribute medallions. Each name has a story and is part of Homeland’s history.

For more information, visit HomelandatHome.org or HomelandCenter.org.

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.”