Casino Day brings Lady Luck to Homeland

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Two cards sat on the green felt in front of Geoffrey Davenport, a seven and a nine. The next card could put him over 21, for a losing hand, but he took a chance. Geoffrey declined another card when the blackjack dealer put down a three, bringing his hand to 19.

“I’ll sit,” he said. “I lucked out. I could have easily gone over 21.”

Homeland Center welcomed spring with Casino Day, a fun-packed event for all. While some residents socialized, others found their spots at the roulette wheel, Texas hold ‘em table, blackjack table, and the ever-popular slot machines. Of course, the no-stakes play was all with funny money, but residents enjoyed pressing their luck to try winning a hand or a round. Everyone left with a fun prize.

Homeland’s Board of Managers organized Casino Day as one of their quarterly parties. The Board of Managers is Homeland’s unique, all-volunteer group of women who carry on the legacy of the 18 women from nine Harrisburg churches who founded the “Home for the Friendless” – today’s Homeland Center – in 1867. Board of Managers members help create Homeland’s renowned homelike atmosphere.

On this springlike afternoon in March, Board of Managers members transformed the Main Dining Room into a gaming room. Giant dice and cards decorated the tables and walls. Snack choices included cups of Chex Mix and gluten-free cheese puffs with Shirley Temples to drink.

The Board of Managers’ last casino event was held on a pre-pandemic afternoon in 2019. Board of Managers Chair Alicelyn Sleber believes casino afternoons are popular because they’re interactive and engaging.

“It’s colorful,” she said. “It’s conducive for interacting with other people. It’s a casual atmosphere, and nothing is expected of you. You can talk. It’s really kind of unstructured.”

At the blackjack table, Geoffrey Davenport said that he’s not a gambler. However, he once played blackjack in Arizona winning dinner for his buddies.  He loves the events that the Board of Managers and the Homeland Activities Department stage for the residents.

“They keep my mind working,” Geoffrey said. “That’s important. And I mingle with other people. Playing the games today, I just go up and down and up and down. That’s fine. You just play and have a good time.”

Resident Bonnie Clapp was putting in tokens and trying her luck at the slot machines.

“I’ve been to Atlantic City once, but I played the penny machine,” Bonnie said laughing. “And I watched all the high gamblers. That was fun.”

She can’t understand people who gamble away their winnings.

“If I won $300 or $400, I’d keep it,” she said. “I wouldn’t gamble it.”

Bonnie expressed amazement that the Board of Managers could bring in the portable slot machines and stage such a lively event.

“This is a wonderful concept,” she said. “The Board of Managers do a great job organizing parties. They really are dedicated women.”

At Homeland Center, she added, “there’s always something fun planned, and there are so many things to do. They have great activities here.”

As they left, residents chose their prizes from a table stocked by the Board of Managers with various useful and delightful items. There were Junior Mints and body lotions, Easter baskets filled with felted Easter eggs, puzzle books, and journals. Resident Carl Barna picked out small plush rabbits to give to other residents and staff, knowing they would appreciate the cute toys.

Back at the blackjack table, Geoffrey Davenport was thoroughly engaged in play.

“There’s an adage I heard years ago that you stay on 16 or 17 when that’s what your cards add up to,” he said. “You don’t want to go over 21. But I have fun playing.”

With a 10 and a five on the table in front of him, he realized he had to test that adage. He asked for one more, and the dealer turned over a king, worth 10 points, for a total of 25.

“Oh, my goodness, I lost out on that one,” Geoffrey said. “That’s okay. You have to take a risk.”

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.

The Power of Music in the Lives of Hospice Patients

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“You, my brown eyed girl.” The lyrics of “Brown Eyed Girl,” Van Morrison’s nostalgic and catchy song from 1967, is familiar to many and a portal to another time for others. For anyone growing up in the 1960s, this song and others from this era evoke memories of times with friends and the feeling of freedom that comes with youth.

Music has the power to connect us to memories hidden in the recesses of our brain and ignite energy in our mind and body. Homeland Hospice, a nonprofit hospice program that serves communities throughout Central Pennsylvania, uses a music and memory program to bring patients comfort and peace during their end-of-life journey. Through this program, volunteers work with a patient’s family to create a playlist specific to the patient’s interests.

For Stephanie Douglas of Carlisle, the song “Brown Eyed Girl” has a new meaning after she played the song for a hospice patient. Stephanie has volunteered with Homeland Hospice for several years. A self-described hugger, Stephanie believes human touch relieves stress and restores calm in the body. When “Brown Eyed Girl” was played, the patient’s demeanor changed.

“The tension disappeared from her face,” Stephanie says. “I could feel her lightly squeeze my hand.”

Stephanie’s patient was nonverbal. She conveyed her emotions through facial expressions and the occasional tightening of her hands. Music was a lifeline to connect her to her past. Stephanie’s patient loved musicals and would often sing and dance throughout her home during her younger years.

“We filled the playlist with musicals and her favorite songs,” Stephanie adds. “We even added holiday songs since my visits were close to Christmas.”

The music helped transport the patient’s memory to a time when illness did not exist. The stress in her face and occasional tears were replaced with lifted eyebrows and wide eyes of excitement. In addition to “Brown Eyed Girl,” holiday songs like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Up on the Housetop” changed the patient’s demeanor.

“Her face looked peaceful and her eyes grew wide with excitement,” Stephanie says. “I could see her shoulders shimmy ever so slightly.”

Hearing is widely thought to be the last sense to decline during the process of dying, making music the ideal way to connect and ease worries. Music also provides comfort to caregivers.

For Kelly Willenborg of Florida, educating people about the power of music and memory has been her professional life’s work. Kelly is a brain health gerontologist, a researcher who studies the impact of aging. Among her many accomplishments in this field, Kelly launched the Healing Jukebox to bring musical engagement to senior living homes. She also is part of the documentary “Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory” and has developed a series of questions to help guide family members when creating a unique playlist. She uses a free Spotify App for ease of use.

Kelly connected with Homeland Hospice several months ago to bring this organized and purposeful approach of music and memory to Homeland.

“Homeland is one of the first hospice organizations to use this program,” Kelly says. “I hope this is the spark to encourage people across the country to try this approach.”

While more music therapists are in need to keep up with the aging Baby Boomer Generation, the music and memory program is an easy and free approach anyone can use to care for their loved one.

For Stephanie, her experience with music and her hospice patient was a powerful lesson she used when caring for her father during his final days earlier this year. Stephanie developed a playlist of her dad’s favorite music including music from the Four Freshman.

“Music took my dad to a place of comfort,” Stephanie says. “The songs helped all of us find peace during a difficult time.”

The power of human connection brought Stephanie to Homeland as a volunteer. The opportunity to make meaningful connections and utilize new services, like music, has given her a volunteer experience like no other.

“I love my time with Homeland,” Stephanie adds. “I am thrilled to add music as another way to connect with patients.”

For more information about Homeland Hospice, call (717) 221-7890.

Homeland Resident Pino Filardo: From Italy to Pennsylvania

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World War II came directly to Pino Filardo’s childhood hometown of Catanzaro, Italy.

The beautiful capital of Calabria, known as “the City of the Two Seas,” was under siege from bombings. Even his school was bombed, but young Pino wasn’t there that day because he was home sick. Most of his family was able to escape to a nearby mountain village.

“A lot of people died, and we were very, very fortunate to get out of the city,” Pino said. “My father and oldest brother stayed in the city, and one bomb got close to where my brother was, but thank God, nothing happened.”

Pino is one of Homeland Center’s newer residents, bringing a sense of humor and stories of perseverance. He and his wife, Janet, are happy with their attentive care and his bright personal-care room overlooking the Fifth Street garden.

His journey to Homeland began with a move from his native Italy to the United States. With his artistic skills, he forged a career with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and you can even see his artwork on some iconic Pennsylvania license plates.

Pino was the third of eight children in his Mediterranean town, near the “toe” of Italy. His parents met during a pre-Lenten carnival.

His father, who owned a large stationery store, hated dictator Benito Mussolini, but he had to keep quiet to protect his family.

Pino’s birth name was Giuseppe, after St. Joseph, but that was a mouthful for a small child to pronounce, so his mother called him Giuseppino, diminutive for “Little Joe.” Soon, his family shortened it to the manageable nickname of Pino.

As a young man, he studied art in Naples for one year and then went to Rome, where an uncle lived. He emigrated from Italy at age 28 after meeting his first wife and coming to her hometown of Mt. Carmel. The adjustment to life in a quiet, coal-region town was difficult.

“I didn’t know any English at all,” he said. “The only thing I knew was ‘yes’ and ‘no.’”

But he persisted, learning English by watching TV shows.

“I learned words and how they’re pronounced day after day,” he said. I started with the numbers: one, two, three, four, five. As soon as I got to 12, I said no more.”

His first job in the U.S. was with an engineering firm, drawing warehouse designs. Someone told him that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, now the Department of Environmental Resources, had an opening for someone with artistic skills. He took his portfolio to a supervisor, who looked it over and asked, “When can you start?”

His title was “cartographic supervisor,” but his duties varied. He drew maps and designed book covers. When the state wanted to produce a “Conserve Wild Resources” license plate, Pino designed the familiar plate depicting an owl – in Italian, it’s “gufo” – sitting on an evergreen branch.

After 30 years of marriage, Pino’s wife died of cancer. In time, he enlisted with a dating service and met Janet, whom he married in 1986. For her 50th birthday, he drew adorable pictures of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Together, they visited Pino’s childhood hometown and where his father had his business.

When they first visited Homeland, Pino and Janet toured the room that is now his home. Large windows overlook the Chet Henry Memorial Pavilion and adjoining garden, with its fountain, seating, and winding path.

“I was mesmerized,” Pino said. “I said I would like to go here. The sunshine is fantastic.”

Janet agrees that the view helped convince her that Homeland was the place for Pino. Plus, she was impressed with Homeland’s excellence in medical care.

“Our doctor said this is the best place in the whole area for total care,” she said. “We like this little cozy room.”

Pino added: “They are so nice. They treat me like I was here 10 years.”

Homeland Social Workers Make the Puzzle Pieces Fit

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What do social workers do? At Homeland, they help families navigate the complexities that are often involved with caregiving.

“The hard work shouldn’t be on the family,” said Homeland social worker Amanda Williams. “They should just be coming to visit their loved ones. They shouldn’t have to worry about the other stuff. The hard work should be on us.”

March is Social Work Month, a time to recognize social workers and their dedication to serving as advocates to those in need. Homeland Center’s social work office is led by Director of Social Services Daniqwa Buckner and her assistant director Amanda. Together, they ensure residents and families feel at home.

Daniqwa joined Homeland in October 2020. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Messiah University and her master’s from Temple University.

Amanda knew from childhood when her parents struggled to find care for her ailing grandmother that she wanted a career in social work. Originally from Souderton, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Elizabethtown College and her master’s from Marywood University.

Daniqwa and Amanda describe social workers as connectors. They meet with residents when they first come to Homeland, whether for a long-term or short-term rehab stay. Navigating the system means linking residents with people and resources inside Homeland — dietitians, therapists, unit managers, and activities. The introductions provide assurance that needs are taken care of and that there’s always someone to turn to.

Amanda is often the social worker helping residents who come to Homeland for short-term rehab stays. When they are discharged, she puts together the puzzle pieces of home health care, therapy and insurance, working longstanding connections with Homeland at Home and other providers in the community to ensure a safe and productive transition.

“Whatever comes next, we want them to have the best quality of life,” said Amanda.

Strong communication skills are essential in social work. Amanda makes it clear to families that she wants to know about a resident’s needs “in the moment” when they can be addressed quickly and efficiently.

Social workers are also detail-oriented multitaskers, attuned to subtle changes and differing needs. At Homeland, they are key team members, reviewing residents’ daily well-being. They work with assistant directors of nursing, admissions, quality assurance and activities, and therapy. Constant communication with unit managers creates a “buddy system” that keeps everything focused.

“There are multiple components to every resident,” said Daniqwa. “There’s no black and white. There are gray areas, so you have to think out of the box and be flexible to make it a full picture.”

Social Work Month, sponsored by the National Association of Social Work, is a time for recognizing the hard work of social workers and their role “beside the families, fighting the battle,” in Daniqwa’s words. They are highly educated professionals who must earn 30 credit hours of continuing education every two years to maintain licensure.

Those credits keep social workers updated on the latest research in elder care. Their knowledge of dementia and behaviors equips them to educate families about changes a loved one may experience.

In one recent case, the wife of a new resident was struggling to understand her husband’s dementia diagnosis. Daniqwa helped guide her through getting to know the new person he had become.

“We helped her understand that it’s not him, it’s the disease,” said Daniqwa. “She told us that the education we provided helped create some ease in her.”

The care social workers provide for the families of Homeland residents and patients brings comfort directly to the residents and patients.

“They’re more relaxed because their family members are relaxed,” said Amanda.

Guitar Fields

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