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.”

Lee Moyer sprinkles history into a musical program for Homeland residents


Musician Lee Moyer, singing holiday songs for Homeland residents, added a unique twist to one familiar tune.

“You’ll recognize it. I just changed the words a little bit,” he said as he introduced his next number. “This is from 1954. I think Perry Como had a big hit.”

Then he launched into singing, “Oh, there’s no place like Homeland for the holidays.”

Lee is a popular entertainer at Homeland, brought in as much for his engaging ways with residents as for his multiple musical talents. The proprietor of Moyer’s One-Man Orchestra presents regular programs that blend the American songbook with a kind of interactive trivia about the songwriters of the 20th century and the times they lived in.

The Hershey native discovered his love for music as a youngster. His mother cultivated his interest in music and played trumpet in his high school jazz band and, as an adult, began playing at events throughout the region.

He learned to play the keyboard while first working at Marty’s Music Store in Lebanon, Pennsylvania – a store he would later own. In those early years, he realized he could play the cornet and the keyboard simultaneously. He has honed an act playing rhythm and bass on the keyboard with his left hand, while he plays the cornet – smaller and lighter than a trumpet – with his right.

His feet get in the act, too. On the Monday after Christmas, he was performing in the Homeland Chapel, sitting in front of a poinsettia display. His left foot tapped a tambourine sitting on the floor, providing seasonally appropriate jingle-bell sounds when needed. (Due to masking requirements, he could not play the cornet.)

At age 81, Lee realizes he is near the age range of the Homeland residents who love his act and the songs he performs.

“They do remember things from almost 100 years ago,” he said. He chooses songs from the 1920s through about 1980 – songs popularized with the progression of the new technology called the radio, then motion pictures, Broadway, the Big Band Era, Elvis Presley and the dawn of rock and roll.

He has been performing for nursing homes since the early 1990s. Homeland has been on his circuit most of those three decades.

“The audience is very attentive,” he said. “They’re happy to see you come. They pay attention for the whole hour.”

That attentiveness was evident on this Monday; about 16 residents happily engaged with the program. Lee provides song sheets so the residents can sing along, but with a program stocked with holiday favorites – “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – most didn’t need much prompting.

Each song was introduced with a bit of backstory and trivia. For “Silver Bells,” he said he was sharing President John F. Kennedy’s favorite Christmas song, written in 1949, “and we’ve been singing it ever since then, 72 years ago.”

“I think it’ll make it,” quipped a resident sitting in the front row.

As he introduced a song about a reindeer, Lee asked, “What was his name?”

“Rudolph!” said the audience.

Lee kept going.

“And he had a . . .”

“Red nose!” said residents.

Lee added that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” hit the airwaves was 1948, the year in which “a very famous baseball player died. He was the most famous baseball player of all time. Do you remember?”

“Babe Ruth!”

With each song, residents needed no prompting to sing along and tap their feet. They greeted the end of each song in the brisk program with enthusiastic applause. Lee figures he has developed 50 different programs that he can choose from, tailored to audiences and the season.

While the pandemic sidelined many musicians, he has been able to continue playing when conditions warrant because he is a one-man orchestra. He was well-positioned to perform solo, without the need for group rehearsals or performances.

Moyer is well-known in local music circles, playing with such groups over the years as the Lebanon Community Concert Band and the Lebanon Big Swing Band. His playing for shows with such legends as Gordon Macrae, Jonathan Winters, and Ed McMahon puts Homeland residents in the orbit of some of the entertainment greats of their lifetimes.

The theme of being with loved ones for the holidays returned with the standard, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” It became very popular in World War II, he reminded residents, when American servicemen and women were far from home. Now, he said, Homeland residents are already there.

“’I’ll Be home for Christmas’,” he said. “You’re here. Your home is Homeland.”

Homeland Center meditation sessions offer happy thoughts to banish stress


Dr. Roxane Hearn, Homeland Wellness Program Coordinator

“We’re going to the beach today,” Dr. Roxane Hearn told a group of Homeland Center residents.

Sure enough, the residents went to the beach. Mentally, at least, they wiggled their toes in warm sand.

More importantly, they created calm places for mental getaways and for replacing stressful thoughts with happy memories.

Welcome to “Calm My Mind Tea Time.” Dr. Rox, Homeland’s Employee Wellness Program Coordinator, began the meditation sessions as stress relievers for residents when the Covid-19 pandemic began uprooting cherished routines.

A walk on the beach

At first, the sessions lasted 15 minutes, but they quickly grew so popular that they are now 45 minutes long, twice weekly for first and second floor skilled care residents. Every session starts with an affirmation of gratitude, as residents repeat after Dr. Rox: “Thank you for another day.”

Before meditation begins, Dr. Rox plays an upbeat song, such as “All is Well,” by Karen Drucker. A resident suggested that Dr. Rox look up the singer, whose life-affirming messages suited the sessions. “All is well,” say the lyrics. “I can rest. I am safe. All is well.”

“I felt that was the most perfect song for the residents,” said Dr. Rox. “You can rest well knowing you’re taken care of. You’re safe here at Homeland. All is well.”

After the song, Dr. Rox opened the Simple Habit app on her phone, and the 10-minute meditation began. A man’s voice with a lilting brogue directed participants to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. The voice walked residents through a meadow, down three steps, and onto a “wonderful, golden, sandy beach.”

“You have this beach to yourself,” said the voice. “Just find a place where you can relax and let go and enjoy the experience of being on this golden, sandy beach.” Remember this place, the voice said, and when you need to be calm and centered, return to it.

Pleasant memories

After residents opened their eyes, Dr. Rox reminded them that in addition to their calm place, they can conjure up a happy place. To help residents recollect one, she played a familiar song – “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Did anyone have a happy memory to share?

One resident immediately piped up. At age 4, her parents took her to a baseball game in Chicago.

“I had a sister, but they only took me, so I had both of their attentions,” she remembered fondly. She was wearing her favorite pale blue coat but somehow left it behind. Her father, coming to the rescue, went back into the stadium to retrieve it.

When Dr. Rox looks around the room, she sees that residents love hearing each other’s stories. Sometimes, she sees secret smiles on faces, as residents recall memories that they don’t share. That’s okay, too.

Relaxed residents participating in Tea Time

“Just for that time, their mind is off the news or thinking that their loved ones can’t visit or worrying about their family getting sick or not working,” says Dr. Rox, who also is conducting Zoom meditation sessions for Homeland at Home staff. “During that time, we’re tapping into happy memories.”

This day’s session also featured Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes,” which prompted a resident to make everyone laugh with her story of a boyfriend who couldn’t dance unless he was on roller skates.

Every session ends with the playing of Celine Dion singing “God Bless America.” The anthem resonates deeply with every resident, as they all sing along.

“I feel like we have a Homeland choir,” marveled Dr. Rox at this Monday session. “I watch how it moves through you.”

Abundance of gratitude

Residents attending Tea Time say they have a lot to be grateful for.

“I am grateful for a nice clean place to live with friends that is virus free,” said Faye Dunkle.

“It’s like having family here,” said Ann Soder. “I enjoy the Story Time and Alphabet Trivia with Becky. I also am grateful for the aides who are patient with me.”

Ann added that she loves the music of Tea Time, which “puts the heart and mind in the right place.”

Vicki Fox loves “the energy in the room” that Tea Time creates. “Very calm and safe,” she noted.

The second-floor group agreed that the sessions take their minds off the stressful things going on in the world.

Every session ends with tea and Lorna Doone shortbread cookies. Before residents disperse, equipped with happy memories and calm places, Dr. Rox leads them in repeating another affirmation.

“Everything is well in this moment,” they say. “I am so blessed for everything I have. Thank you for another day.”

Reimagined activities keep Homeland residents engaged and connected


Hugs and kisses in a Covid-19 world!

At Homeland Center, residents are playing bingo, singing favorite tunes, creating fun crafts, eating pizza, and chatting with family – but not in the usual manner.

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the activities department went into high gear to keep residents safe but still able to enjoy the events and routines that sustain Homeland’s renowned home-like feel.

“It’s important that we keep our residents’ spirits up, even though they’re not able to visit their families and are not going out,” says Activities Director Aleisha Connors. “Keeping them engaged in activities has been a key part. That’s where we come in, to make sure that quality of life is maintained.”

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Homeland Center has implemented strict containment measures based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Pennsylvania departments of Health and Human Services. They include prohibiting entry to all but essential staff (with exceptions for end-of-life situations), mandatory screening of staff, and maintaining social distancing.

Under these circumstances, residents can no longer enjoy the musicians, family visits, and social gatherings that brighten their days, but that doesn’t mean the activities take a rest. Here’s some of what’s going on at Homeland:

  • Hallway bingo: From their doorways, residents play their bingo cards. Staff pull numbers and call them up and down the hallways.
  • Ice cream cart: An ice cream cart makes rounds in the hallways and features ice cream sandwiches, Nutty Buddy cones, Twin Pops, and frozen bananas. The cart, decorated in colorful pictures of ice cream treats, even plays the familiar jangly tunes of a classic Mr. Frosty ice cream truck.
  • Masked sing-along: Homeland residents love their sing-alongs. For the modified version, they maintain social distancing and wear face masks, even as they sing along to favorite tunes such as “You Are My Sunshine” or a cherished hymn with words they know by heart.
  • Gratitude meditation: Employee Wellness Program Coordinator and Health Psychologist Dr. Roxane Hearn leads residents in meditation sessions to calm their minds and focus on thankfulness. “The residents absolutely love it,” says Aleisha.

Personal Care resident, Gladys Mumper, enjoying a sweet treat – delivered to her home!

Additionally, Homeland recently purchased 35 Pizza Hut pizzas and distributed them to residents who miss their usual lunch outings.


Restricted family visits can be the most challenging burden, but with the help of Homeland activities staff and their tablet computers, residents are delighted to connect electronically.

“Not all of them are familiar with this new technology, but when we have group chats and FaceTime with family members, they’re so excited,” says Activities Coordinator Dee Smith. “They even see their great-grandchildren and family pets. It’s a real highlight – you can see it in our residents’ faces.”

The overall goal is to maintain a sense of normalcy.

“We try to keep our residents engaged with interesting activities to help them focus on what we are doing instead thinking about not seeing their family,” says Dee.

The revamped activities require redesigned logistics. Residents are staying within their units, no longer congregating in the same common areas. Each activity coordinator is assigned to a different space, aided by reassigned Homeland at Home Hospice liaisons who can’t go into the field during the shutdown.

Staff also work hard to keep up their own spirits.

“What the residents see on the staffs’ faces is how they’re going to feel,” Aleisha says. “I’ve been telling my staff we have to keep calm and keep doing what we’re doing.”

Dee praises Aleisha as a director who “digs in and helps” with all the activities underway during long days at work. Aleisha appreciates Dee’s talent at keeping residents involved and engaged. They both admire the work of Homeland’s social work staff in assuring that residents stay sharp mentally.

“This is such a good environment to work in,” says Aleisha. “Everyone is committed to coming together for our residents.’’

Homeland’s renovated Beauty Shop makes residents feel good


Newly renovated hair salon at Homeland Center

The brightened colors and spiffed-up décor of Homeland’s newly refurbished Beauty Shop impressed resident Vicki Fox, who was getting her hair done.

“It’s beautiful,” Vicki said.

Homeland’s Board of Managers has been methodically upgrading public spaces recently. The Main Dining Room got new curtains and artwork. The Florida Room got a new aquarium and valances.

Now, they have tackled the salon, a favorite spot of residents. The Board of Managers is the unique, all-volunteer group devoted to the stewardship of Homeland’s renowned home-like feel. Working with a modest budget, the group of women – descendants in spirit of the 18 women who founded Homeland as a “Home for the Friendless” after the Civil War – stages lively events, interacts with residents, and keeps public and private spaces feeling comfortable and welcoming.

The beauty parlor was established in 1953 by Homeland benefactor and Board of Manager, Katherine S. Kunkel, and is believed to be the first-of-its-kind in a long-term care facility.

Renovating the salon became a project after Board of Managers members and some residents realized that the last renovation dated to the 1990s. The upgrades were simple but impactful. The walls got a fresh coat of cream-colored paint. New chairs in a cheery cerulean blue are, like the old chairs, adaptable to the needs of elderly clients. Bigger shampoo bowls, in a sleek black, mean less water splashing around. The old floor gave way to a crisp faux wood in cream and gray tones.

The renovations were done “piece by piece” over weekends, said stylist Felicia Wallace, who has worked in the salon for 12 years.

“I know it’s not bigger, but it’s funny how things will make a space seem so much larger,” she said.

New beach-themed prints hang on one wall and in the restroom, but the feature that has everyone talking is the mural on the back wall depicting a walkway through the dunes, opening to a sandy beach and soothing ocean waves.

“I had a resident ask me if I thought it was the Pacific or the Atlantic Ocean,” said Felicia.

Polly Myers, resident and Felicia Wallace, stylist.

Definitely the Atlantic, said resident Polly Myers, sitting at Felicia’s station with her hair freshly styled. Polly said the mural reminded her of family vacations at the New Jersey shore.

Wallace and fellow stylist Charity McCrae provided input that kept the renovations in line with their workplace needs. While Polly was getting her hair done, Board of Managers members Barbara Cleeland and Catherine N. Rauth asked about hanging a mirror over the desk, where an old hutch once occupied the wall, but Charity doubted that the salon needed another mirror, so the two Board of Managers put their heads together to consider other options.

A drape in contemporary blue and green florals covers the salon’s glass door. The fabric matches the new valances hanging in the adjoining Florida Room, for a nice continuity between the two busy spaces.

That was intentional, said Barbara. The salon “just needed a little tender loving care. It got it finally.” And as for the residents, “They love it.”

Earlier that morning, Felicia had suggested that Polly arrive for her appointment a little early, perhaps around 11:15. Polly showed up at 10:30. She is a former Board of Managers member who believes that the salon and the styling skill of its hairdressers are vital to well-being – her own and that of her fellow residents.

Felicia sees that pride in her clients. The renovations “mean a lot because they like coming here. They love to look good, and it makes them feel good.”

Creative spark: Homeland residents’ artworks bring cheer to sick children


Homeland residents' artowrkAfter Homeland resident Joanna Kaisin colored an intricate scene of sun and leaves in green, yellow, and orange, she chose purple for the border.

“It’s a happy color,” she said.

A “spark of creativity” surged through Homeland Center for September’s National Assisted Living Week. The 2019 theme, “A Spark of Creativity,” recognized the potential for personal care residents, staff, and families to unleash their inner artists and find such benefits as improving cognitive and sensory-motor functions, building self-esteem, and reducing stress.

Homeland Center embraced the theme with an array of creative ventures, bringing new ideas to its weekly art classes and introducing an initiative that benefits hospitalized children.

On a Saturday morning, residents gathered in the Homeland solarium to decorate bags for Caitlin’s Smiles. The organization is named after Caitlin Hornung, a Harrisburg-area girl who spent the last years of her short life in and out of hospitals, getting treatment for a malignant brain tumor.

Young Caitlin’s spirit never wavered, and she found her greatest joy in creating art. After her death in 2000, her mother, Cheryl Hornung vowed to bring the same relief from pain and fear to hospitalized children. Today, Caitlin’s Smiles recruits an army of volunteers to prepare craft kits for children and teens. They are distributed to hospitals throughout Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and other states.

Those craft kits are packaged in “Bags of Smiles” that start out as plain white but are decorated with love by caring individuals. That’s where Homeland residents enter the picture. Every other Saturday, they are now decorating bags that will deliver cheer to a hospitalized child somewhere.

The opportunity to brighten the day of a sick child gives residents new purpose and a feeling of contributing, says Homeland Activities Assistant Lateefah Battle.

“When you tell them about Caitlin’s Smiles and give them a bag to decorate, it brings out more of their energy,” she says. “They say, ‘We’re doing it for the children.’”

Homeland residents' artworkResident Ann Soder agrees that her bag was sending best wishes to a sick child somewhere.

“It’s a good project for us to do, that children have cancer, and maybe we can bring some brightness into their day and show that we care for them,” she says. “Our wishes for them is to keep up their treatments, and we pray that you will be well.”

Ann started by pasting her bag with stickers declaring “Think happy, be happy,” and “Good things take time.” Then she picked up a blue marker and drew a kite flying in the air.

“Well, somewhat of a kite,” she said. While the residents might disparage their artistic talents, they love pouring their hearts into their imaginative works. Homeland staff and volunteers provide the encouragement residents need to nurture their creative instincts.

Earlier in National Assisted Living Week, a weekly art class offered a new idea – the chance to contribute to a mural. Under the direction of art instructor Taqiyya Muhammad, residents colored inspirational sayings – “Believe you can, & you will,” “You are amazing” – intended to hang as a mural-style grouping in Homeland’s popular Main Gathering Room.

At that session in Homeland’s Lick Library, resident Joanna Kasian says she’s not a good artist. “I would put eyes, probably on each finger I draw,” she says. But that doesn’t stop her from bringing her inspirational motto – “Believe in yourself” – to life with yellows and greens and purples.

Homeland residents enjoy their artistic endeavors, says Muhammad.

Homeland residents' artwork“They do amazing work in art class, our little hour,” she says. “It seems like it goes by so fast.” Some are so enthusiastic about their pieces that, “depending on how intricate or how detailed they want to make it, they say they’ll come back and finish it next week.”

Resident Gloria Mineur also admits that she has no artistic ability, but she’s pleased with her efforts at adding colorful details to a drawing declaring “Love One Another.”

Mary Graves appreciated what she and her fellow Homeland residents were accomplishing. She decorated her bag with a yellow sunflower, sprouting from a pot bejeweled with sparkly stickers.

“The kids will like that,” she says.