Homeland receptionist Kristen Tate: Giving with love


Homeland receptionist Kristen TateWhen Kristen Tate accepted a part-time job as a Homeland receptionist in August 2022, she loved it so much that she wished it could be full-time. Two months later, a full-time position opened.

Now, Kristen is the friendly voice and smiling face greeting family, staff, and visitors from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“I just love meeting and greeting everybody,” she said. “I love the feeling they give me, and I give them in return. Good vibes bring good vibes.”

Kristen brings family ties to Homeland. An uncle and an aunt are residents. Her grandfather spent his final years here. One of her sisters, Jennifer Tate-DeFreitas, is Homeland’s Director of Nursing. They talk every day, calling each other’s extensions even though Jennifer’s office is steps away from the reception desk.

“I love it,” Kristen said. “She brought me breakfast this morning. We have breakfast. We have lunch.”

Kristen grew up in Steelton around the family business — Major H. Winfield Funeral Home, a fourth-generation family business. Her parents raised Kristen, her two sisters, two cousins, and two children her father met when he went on a death call and learned they had no one to care for them.

“My parents are beautiful, beautiful people,” Kristen said. “They love so hard. They taught us to love and to do everything with good intentions. Our intentions are never to get anything out of it, but to make sure we’re giving all that God has given us to share and bless others.”

After graduating as valedictorian from an all-girls Catholic school in Columbia, Pennsylvania, Kristen founded a hairstyling salon that is still going strong 29 years later, The Glam Spot, in Oberlin. She also attended Hampton University and Morgan State University, two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

She earned 110 credits, but after 9/11, her work and life took her away from school. She had two children, but in her second marriage, she suffered extreme domestic violence. On a February day in 2012, after a particularly savage beating, she found herself outside with the boys, ill-dressed for the bitter weather. A friend took her to the police station, where she pressed charges.

“It worked out that I’m okay, and my kids are okay,” she said.

Today, her older son, 24, is a men’s basketball coach at Harcum College. When his previous coaching job at a residential school ended with its sudden closure, he brought 15 stranded students from all over the world to Kristen’s home. They spent the summer sleeping on futons and mattresses, fed with help from generous family and friends. Most got into U.S. colleges, and all remained like family.

Kristen’s younger son, a rising senior at Bishop McDevitt High School, is involved in so many school activities that Kristen fears he needs a second page to list them on his college application.

“I pride myself on the fact that I have raised two amazing men,” she said. “God provides, always.”

As her younger son looks forward to attending an HBCU, Kristen herself is returning to school – accepted by Morgan State University. At the school she left years ago, she will finish her degree in health and human services. Helping a childless uncle navigate the social services network in his final years inspired her to want to enter the field.

“Who do people have when they don’t have anybody to stand in the gap for them?” she said.

Will she stay at Homeland when her degree is in hand?

“The social workers are all joking with me, saying, ‘We’re waiting on you to go to school so you can do this with us,’” she said.

When she’s not deep in her long workdays at Homeland and the salon, Kristen cooks dishes her grandmother taught her, travels, and enjoys family time.

“We still have Sunday dinner,” she said. “It’s all my sisters and our kids and our parents. It’s every Sunday. We don’t miss. I like family. I’m always with my family. We’re always doing something together.”

Homeland, she said, “is a well-oiled machine,” providing residents the best care.

“At this stage of people’s lives, they should have a nice, serene, beautiful atmosphere to live in,’’ she said. “Homeland provides that.”

Homeland rehabilitation: Serious fun helps long-term and short-term residents achieve their goals


Director of Rehabilitation Liza Burkey

Recently, a resident who came to Homeland successfully rehabbed after a stroke and left for independent living. A couple of months later, flowers arrived for the rehab staff, with thanks from the grateful resident.

For Director of Rehabilitation Liza Burkey, taking time to build relationships is the key to success.

“It reminded me that we do make an impact on people’s lives,” said Liza. “You get to really know some of the residents and their families.”

Homeland provides exceptional rehabilitation services through a contract with Powerback Rehabilitation (formerly Genesis). Highly trained clinicians offer physical, occupational, and speech therapy, customizing services to help long-term and short-term residents achieve their highest quality of life.

Liza became an occupational therapist in 2013, working for a nursing home in her hometown of Millersburg. There, she fell in love with skilled care and found a post, through a Powerback contract, as rehab director in a local nursing home.

When the nursing home sold, she looked into working at one of Powerback’s other contracted sites. She had heard of Homeland from other therapists she had assigned there.

“You have to see the building,” they told her. “You have to see the staff.”

At her Homeland interview, Liza felt that the Homeland leadership team was “actually asking the right questions.” How would she contribute to care plans? How could therapy help in certain situations? It was a change from other settings where therapy was a service but not a collaborative one.

“Six years ago, I transitioned here, and I haven’t looked back,” Liza said today. “We feel like we are part of Homeland. They include us in all the different things they do for staff, which makes us feel wanted and like part of the team.”

For residents, that means seamless services. Liza continues providing OT while managing the physical, speech, and occupational therapists. She also attends Homeland’s daily clinical meetings, where department directors welcome her input and solutions. When nursing leadership wondered about any education they could provide staff on further minimizing falls, Liza prepared a one-page handout on safe practices.

The goal is helping the residents reach the goals they set for themselves.

And of course, residents just want to have fun.

“We’re going to pass balloons,” said Liza. “We’re going to play basketball. We’re going to play volleyball. A couple of therapists were doing an Easter egg hunt to work on residents’ mobility and balance.”

After all, she said, people still need to play.

“As adults, we forget to play, and it’s very therapeutic,” she said. “Yes, we have to be serious and reach goals and exercise and work hard, but if we can make it fun, we get better results.”

While some residents know about and seek out the benefits of rehab, others might be shy about speaking up, or perhaps they don’t recognize the slow creep of limitations that rehab can improve. To make sure that everyone is getting the rehabilitation services that help them perform to their highest abilities, Liza reviews resident records every three months.

Even a small improvement, such as being able to get into a wheelchair, helps residents feel good about themselves and their abilities.

“Being independent in one aspect of your day can really make a difference,” Liza said.

Through Powerback, the whole team has access to research, best practices, and continuing education to ensure that residents benefit from the latest rehab developments. The therapy room is fully stocked with weights, bands, therapy putty for hand exercises, patient-specific tools, and more.

“Our therapy room is small but mighty,” Liza said. “You’d be surprised at what we can fit in there.”

Outside of work, Liza stays busy with her husband and 2-year-old son. She enjoys yoga and Zumba and golfing with her husband when possible. They live in Millersburg, and Liza’s mom lives up the street, so they are back and forth to each other’s homes for dinner.

“Homeland is a great place to be,” Liza said. “Seeing the smiles on the residents’ faces and seeing the relationships and strong bonds my staff have created with them – it’s very rewarding.”

Homeland QA CNA Supervisor Sharria Floyd: A servant leader for residents and colleagues


Homeland QA CNA Supervisor Sharria Floyd

When Sharria Floyd moved to Harrisburg, she thought she would work for the same nursing home group where she had worked in Lancaster County, where she grew up.

Then she walked into Homeland for an interview. Immediately, she thought, “I’m going to work here.”

“Everyone I came across had a smile on their face,” she said. “I’m a pretty happy person, and that was refreshing. It made me feel welcome. It made me feel I could do the same in return.”

That was 18 years ago. Today, Sharria is the Quality Assurance CNA Supervisor for the Ellenberger Unit, which cares for those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia or memory impairment. She is a trusted friend to residents, their families, and colleagues.

CNAs are the backbone of Homeland’s care teams, offering help with the daily tasks that assure quality of life. The QA CNA supervisors are team leaders upholding the exacting standards that keep residents safe, healthy, and living life to the fullest.

Sharria has been a CNA since age 17, inspired by visits to the nursing home where her mother worked as a CNA. She was hooked.

“I appreciated the wisdom I saw in the residents’ eyes,” she said. “I saw their youth and their wisdom all at the same time, and I’d wonder what their life was like. I figured there was something there to learn, and maybe I could make their days better.”

She moved to Harrisburg and joined Homeland at age 21, working in the Ellenberger Unit, where she remained. Serving residents with dementia has taught her to stay optimistic and agile because they teach her that things can change.

“Be prepared for whatever life throws at you,” she said. “I’ve learned how to adjust and still find joy and happiness in those difficult moments. If I can help the residents and their families find joy, I can do the same for myself and my children. I can look at life sunny side up.”

Around 2017, Homeland created QA CNA supervisor positions in all units. To Sharria, the fit was ideal. She continued her work with residents and families while upholding Homeland’s standards of excellence and acting as a liaison between her unit’s CNAs and leadership.

Her days are filled with training the CNAs and conducting audits to check adherence to the countless details that promise residents their dignity and safety – name labels inside their clothes, teeth brushed, eyeglasses in place, room in order, care plans followed.

Reflecting on the countless encounters that touched her, Sharria recalls one resident’s final moments of life. At her mother’s side, the resident’s daughter gratefully accepted Sharria’s offer to pray with them. Then Sharria brought them a Bible, and the daughter read scripture as her mother passed away.

“She wrote a letter thanking me for that,” Sharria said. “It’s those moments I don’t think about being acknowledged. I don’t look at it as a job. I don’t often get the time to step back and say, ‘That’s why I’m here.’”

Her own family of three “fantastic, awesome, full of energy” kids keeps her busy. Jacob, 17, is loving and kind, and a football player at Trinity High School. Lincoln, 10, is the outspoken one, with a “larger-than-life attitude.” Sharria once lost sight of him at a football game but later saw him on the TV news, cheering the team in a sea of high schoolers who took him in like a mascot. Nyla, 5, is the family dancer and singer.

“She prays for all of us,” Sharria said.

Sharria devotes her free time to Bible study and volunteering for Jesus is the Word Ministries and Harris AME Zion Church, passing out food and clothing to the homeless. At work, her faith has taught her “to continue to serve others with kindness.” That encompasses not just residents but coworkers – perhaps making a bed when she sees that someone hasn’t had a chance to get to it yet.

She spends a portion of every day encouraging her colleagues with compliments or sharing moments of prayer, which has earned her nicknames like “Preacher Girl” and “Peacemaker.” One coworker, seeing her in the hallway, called her a superstar.

Sharria remains humbled by her responsibilities. Many years after her instant connection, Homeland remains “the right place for me,” she said.

The work, too, remains her anchor, as she draws inspiration from residents.

“I loved the idea of being a CNA before I even got into it,” she said. “I feel like I need them, and they need me.”

Manager of Strategy and IT Jennifer Ross: A Homeland returnee with a passion for quality care


Jenn Ross

After leaving for six years to take the top spot at the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg, Jennifer Ross said she is happy to be back at Homeland Center and again be “a strong, supportive presence for our residents and their families.”

“I love the care and attention given here to each resident,” she said. “It’s a joyful place to come to work. This is a community here. That’s what is important to me: really doing something meaningful and impactful, enjoying the people I work with, and enjoying being with the residents.”

Since late May 2022, Jenn has been Homeland Center’s manager of strategy and IT, but in her first job with Homeland, she was assistant director of development.

Jenn is a native of Long Island, New York, who came to central Pennsylvania via Dickinson College in Carlisle. There, she studied French and sociology with a minor in fine arts history. Spending her junior year in France made her “incredibly fluent” in French, although she admits now, she could only have rudimentary conversations if a Francophone resident came to Homeland.

She credits her Dickinson liberal arts education with the ability to carve experience in various fields and return to Homeland in a different role. She calls it “the focus on being a citizen leader, on being able to apply yourself anywhere. If something has my interest or it’s something I have to focus on, I’ve learned to dive in and learn about it and be able to apply it.”

Jenn started her career in Harrisburg’s political and policy arena, working for the campaign and government relations firm of former Lieutenant Governor and Acting Governor Mark Singel. Then, for 16 years, she served as chief information officer and public policy for the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations.

She first encountered Homeland and its top-quality care when her husband’s grandmother was a resident. A good acquaintance of Jenn’s, Morton Spector, the late Homeland board chair, encouraged her to apply for her first Homeland post.

She stayed for almost two years and left “with regrets,” but at the time, she also chaired the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg board and felt called to step in as CEO when her predecessor announced an unexpected retirement.

In her six years there, she counts accomplishments and partnerships that included leading the federation through COVID, confronting anti-Semitism by expanding ties to the interfaith community, and strengthening emergency management at a time when Jewish institutions were threatened.

Jenn now brings all that experience back to Homeland, filling the post held by Alice Kirchner before her retirement. Immediately, Jenn continued a project to implement an electronic medical records program, one of many initiatives to leverage modern technology to maintain Homeland’s standards of excellence.

“Especially in a time when for-profits are purchasing a lot of nonprofit homes, I want to do everything in my power to ensure we stay secure and continue our strong passion and mission to provide quality care for the residents,” she said. “This is their home, and we want to make sure it’s a place they love living in.”

In December, Jenn joined Homeland Chaplain Dann Caldwell in leading a menorah lighting and Hannukah service, complete with latkes – a nostalgic treat for Jewish residents and an enlightening event for non-Jews.

“Judaism is clearly a central part of my life,” Jenn said. “I like to enrich the lives of our Jewish residents when I can.”

Outside of work, Jenn and her husband, software programmer Michael Ross, enjoy traveling, including a long-awaited, once-postponed Caribbean cruise they took this year. She chairs Beth El Temple’s social action committee and is chairing Harrisburg’s annual Freedom Seder, an interfaith celebration of Passover that this year is themed “United Against Hate.”

“One thing I value and appreciate at Homeland Center is the great diversity,” she said. “We have numerous African American females in leadership positions, and it makes me proud to work here.”

Jenn loves Homeland’s Board of Directors and unique Board of Managers, the all-women group dedicated to maintaining a homelike atmosphere for the residents. All contribute to “so many amazing things we do at Homeland Center that make us unique and special and allow us to be the strong organization we are,” she said.

She also continues to marvel at the Homeland team.

“Everyone keeps incredibly busy from every department,’’ she said. “We wouldn’t be as successful as we are if people weren’t bringing their passion and best selves to Homeland every day. It’s an honor to work with everyone here.”

Homeland Chef Manager George Shum: Listening to residents


Homeland Chef Manager George Shum

With his decades in food service, George Shum has learned that the small details make a big difference.

“We ensure our plates are preheated to keep the food warm,” said Homeland Center’s chef manager. “It’s simple but important.”

George joined Homeland in the spring of 2022, bringing his listening and management skills to the complex job of planning, ordering, inventorying, and scheduling that makes every meal served to residents possible.

At Homeland, kitchen staff takes good care of residents and personalizes their meals – something George hasn’t always seen at other nursing communities.

“If they want turkey and Swiss cheese on rye bread, we’ll make it for them as long as we have the ingredients,” he said. “This is something residents can look forward to.”

George’s journey in food service took him from a restaurant in East Side Manhattan to Richmond, Virginia, to Baltimore, and finally to York, where he worked for a chain restaurant and a nursing home food contractor. He has owned restaurants and managed kitchens. He is so skilled on the grill — keeping more than two dozen orders on track — that a coworker once called him “a beast.”

“I can’t teach you that,” he said. “I just go with it.”

George’s father was a chef, and when George was 10, he announced to the family that he would make a lunch of sweet and sour pork, but it didn’t go as well as he had hoped.

“The pork was uncooked,” he said with a laugh. “The middle was raw.”

He has learned to jump in wherever he’s needed.

“I never shy from doing dishes,” he said. “You have to lead by example. If I don’t want to do the dishes, it sends a message that it’s not a good thing. By the end of the day, I’m always drenched with soap.”

At Homeland, George joins the resident council meetings, taking note of suggestions and ideas for maintaining Homeland’s high standards in dining.

“At the most recent meeting, they said the meat is juicy and tender,” he said. “Everything is going well.”

Meal planning and execution for a retirement community always require the dual skills of listening and adjusting. If a resident misses her sugar-free ice cream, George makes sure to put in an order. When one resident shared that the fried fish tasted overly salty, George noticed that the breading was the culprit. He diluted the breading with a 50/50 split of corn meal, and the result was a big hit.

“I try to make it a point to acknowledge people when I see them,” he said. “I always try to put myself into their place. Treat others how you want to be treated. Give them a little bit of dignity. Give them respect. Joke with them. I think that’s important.”

George and his family immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong when he was 12. He knew English, although getting used to the spoken rather than the written word took time. In college, he trained as a civil engineer but, amid an oil crisis, couldn’t find work in that field.

Today, he indulges in his passion for building and tinkering by working on classic cars. Currently, he has a smooth-running, six-cylinder 2002 Subaru – an inexpensive purchase that has sucked up thousands of dollars in parts — and a diesel 1985 Mercedes-Benz 300. He has also restored other Subarus to sell or give to his sons.

George has four grown children – two daughters, two sons, none of whom cook – and one granddaughter. He and his wife, a middle school art teacher in Baltimore, live in Dallastown.

He is happy to be working at Homeland.

“This is the first time I worked for a nonprofit organization, and I see the difference in how they treat the residents,” he said. “It’s really nice.”

Assistant Director of Activities Emma Lengyel: Having fun with friends


Assistant Director of Activities Emma Lengyel

When she was in high school, Emma Lengyel was passionate about making people laugh.

“I was in every play and musical,” she said. “I also enjoyed writing and art.”

Today, Emma still makes people laugh, bringing a note of cheer to the days of Homeland residents in her vital role as assistant director of activities.

Emma grew up in the Lancaster area, where her mother was a retirement-home aide, and her father worked in auto body repairs. In those years, she would visit the residents where her mom worked, sometimes even bringing her pet rabbit on a leash.

She continued her creative ways by earning her bachelor’s degree in art therapy from Marywood University in Scranton.

Early in her career, Emma worked in retail, but in college, she realized she wanted a job helping others, so she worked in group housing for adults with mental illnesses. After graduating, she returned to Lancaster and “got a little gig caring for a 93-year-old while her family was at work.”

“I really enjoyed talking to her and finding things to keep us busy all day,” Emma said.

That experience provided the spark of inspiration that led to working as an evening shift activity aide on an advanced dementia unit at a Harrisburg-area retirement community.

“There, I learned how to use my creativity to keep residents entertained and how to adapt and be flexible in a rapidly changing environment.”

Emma joined Homeland in 2020, seeking an opportunity for career growth. It feels full circle from those days of taking her pet rabbit on nursing home visits.

Her duties include behind-the-scenes planning and prep work for Homeland’s robust array of activities. She creates calendars, books entertainment, and orders supplies, but she also gets the fun of running programs whenever she can.

“Each day is different,” she said. “Sometimes I work at a computer all day, and the next, I’m dancing in a shark costume with a bubble machine. The best part of the job is spending time with the residents and making them smile.”

Her colleagues help keep the job light.

“We have a great activities team,” she said. “Each of us has different abilities and skills that enable us to support one another and stay devoted to the residents.”

Just like in high school, she enjoys laughing at work and creating a fun environment. Halloween and the holidays are her favorite times of the year when she gets out her boxes of themed outfits and accessories.

“I will take any excuse to get dressed up and decorate,” she said.

Emma remembers the challenging days of COVID lockdowns. She ensured residents could still play bingo, knowing how important it was to them, even though hallway games left her with a sore throat from shouting numbers through an N95 mask.

During the height of the pandemic, she spent little time with family or friends and didn’t even hug her own parents for a whole year. She and the activities team knew that residents felt the same loneliness, so they visited whenever possible.

“Just spending five minutes talking or holding someone’s hand became so significant,” Emma said. “It was a kind of mutually beneficial relationship.”

At Homeland, Emma has had the good fortune of developing “actual, meaningful” workplace relationships, and she calls the residents her friends.

“You spend so much time with them throughout the day and learn so much about their lives and life in general that you can’t help but care for them like friends,” she said. “Working with the residents at Homeland has taught me to open up my heart more.”