Homeland resident Bernice Shaffer: Always looking on the sunny side


Homeland resident Bernice Shaffer

Bernice Shaffer once lived in a nursing home where the food was dreadful. Then she came to Homeland Center, where she says her first meal and all the others that followed were wonderful.

“Chicken and waffles,” she remembers. “I like it here.”

Bernice arrived at Homeland during the pandemic and has made a home in her bright skilled-care corner room. Despite many decades of health challenges, she maintains a positive outlook and enjoys the care provided by Homeland staff and devoted family.

Bernice grew up near the small York County town of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, in the even smaller village of Clear Spring.

“All it had was a store, a hotel, a garage, and a sawmill,” she said. When she was around 12, the family moved to the nearby hamlet of Braggtown.

“All that had was a store,” she said. “A little grocery store.”

Her father worked at the Mechanicsburg Navy Depot, starting as a tank mechanic during World War II, and her mother worked in a local shoe factory. After Bernice graduated from high school, she followed in her mother’s footsteps, so to speak, with a shoe-factory job.

From there, Bernice always worked hard, no matter the challenge. When her three children were young, she was a single mother without support. She and her mother–a young widow after the untimely death of Bernice’s father from a heart attack–worked to support the kids.

“It was rough, but I didn’t feel defeat,” Bernice said. “I just wanted to be a parent. Things don’t always work out the way you want them to.”

Bernice did clerical work for the state, worked in manufacturing, and handled items in a Town & Country store warehouse.

“I was so glad one day when they told me I could do underwear because they were down on the lower shelving,” she said with a laugh.

Finally, she landed at Erie Insurance, supporting the sales staff. She worked there for 35 years before retiring. At 41, she feared losing her job after a heart attack put her in recovery for several months, but her employer assured her that her job was waiting.

After a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Bernice acquired a service dog named Levi. The day she met the black Lab, they walked around the room together. Then she sat down.

“And the minute I sat down, he came over and laid his head on my feet,” she said. “They said, ‘Well, this is a match for sure. He wants you.’”

Levi, who lived to be 14 years old, “was wonderful,” Bernice said.

“I got a saddle on him with a handle, and he’d help me walk. If I dropped something, he’d pick it up and give it to me,’’ she said. “He would get the telephone for me sometimes. Everybody in the family loved him. He was like a human.”

Levi even came to the office, settling on a cushion made by Bernice’s daughter. Co-workers would take Levi outside for walks and to chase tennis balls.

At Homeland, Bernice still enjoys the food–the chicken sandwiches and chicken pot pie are favorites–and getting her lovely salt-and-pepper hair done weekly at the Homeland beauty salon.

The Philadelphia Eagles fan enjoys sparring with staff who root for rival teams. One nurse started the 2022 season by predicting that her Steelers would crush the Eagles. Then the Eagles kept winning while the Steelers struggled.

“I said, ‘Now what do you think?’” Bernice said. “She said, ‘Now I’m worried.’”

It’s just part of the support network she enjoys at Homeland.

“I get along with most everybody,” she said. “They help me whenever I need something.”