Stored neatly in boxes and ready for delivery, school supplies fill a corner of Tracey Jennings’ office.
“Altogether, we have about 30 bookbags,” Jennings said. “We have a ton of spiral notebooks. Looseleaf paper, crayons, pencils, highlighters, pencil cases, folders, erasers.”
Why is a retirement community loading up on the basics of back-to-school?
It’s all part of Homeland’s Community Outreach, tapping into employees’ generosity and filling needs that help local families thrive. This fall, the back-to-school donation drive assures much-needed school supplies for the students of Hamilton Elementary School, a few blocks south of Homeland.
Community Outreach is the brainchild of Jennings, Homeland’s assistant director of human resources and a devoted community volunteer through her church. Around 2019, she approached her boss, Director of Human Resources and Corporate Compliance Nicol M. Brown, with her idea for community outreach that generates team building and spreads Homeland love. Brown loved the idea, as did Homeland President and CEO Barry Ramper II.
COVID put the effort on hold, but now, Jennings is leading two or three drives a year. Each raises awareness of often-overlooked needs in the community. One drive brought a flood of duffel bags into Jennings’ office, all intended for foster children and youth.
“As foster kids move around, it’s known that they transport their things in trash bags,” Jennings said. “It’s a dignity issue, so they can have something nice to put their items in when they’re going from foster home to foster home or foster care facility.”
When she announces each drive, Jennings suggests places to find new and affordable items, with Walmart, Target, and Amazon being the stores of choice.
“Amazon is so perfect because they can deliver them directly to work,” she said.
This fall’s back-to-school drive benefits the students of one school in Harrisburg School District, a Title I district where every family qualifies for free meals. Studies show that students with basic supplies at the start of the school year are better prepared, more likely to participate in class, have higher self-esteem, and show more interest in learning.
Teachers say that when their students have the right supplies, the classroom learning environment is more equitable, the focus remains on learning, and they can offer a wider variety of projects and assignments for students to dive into, such as artwork and science fairs.
Unfortunately, parents struggling to pay for food and household bills might be forced to skimp on school supplies.
“Not everyone can afford supplies, or parents maybe can’t afford to supply all they need,” Jennings said. “Students come to school not prepared. This is the school’s opportunity to identify those students and provide them with what they need to succeed.”
Homeland employees love the drives: “They’re really encouraging and supportive.”
Homeland Director of Utilization Review Lisa Browne feels fortunate to donate and participate in the drives.
“I just want to do what I can,” she said. “I’m very blessed and want to help as much as I can.”
Outreach “means the world” to Homeland, recalling its roots in community service, Browne said.
“Homeland was started over 156 years ago as a building that primarily helped the orphans and the widows of the Civil War,” she said. “To go into the future as a skilled nursing facility and provider of personal care while including kids and the families in the neighborhood is a wonderful thing.”
Up next, a holiday drive offering another new spin on a traditional effort. Jennings is planning a spice drive, collecting cinnamon, garlic powder, onion powder, sage, and all the other spices that bring flavor to the table.
As any grocery shopper knows, spices are expensive, and families struggling to buy groceries often skip them and resort to unhealthy fats and sugars to add flavor. A spice drive brings zest to family meals – and to the gatherings that occur around them.
“A lot of the food banks in the area have food, but they don’t have anything to give the people to spice up their food,” Jennings said.
Jennings thanks every Homeland employee who joins in extending Homeland’s renowned care to families in the community.
“Homeland is, of course, well known,” she said. “This adds a special touch to everything.”
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.