Employee Spotlight: Intern Allison Lawruk helps create Homeland’s home-like feel


allison lawruk with resident

Intern Allison Lawruk helps create Homeland’s home-like feel.

What is the role of a social worker in a retirement community? At Homeland Center, Allison Lawruk has participated in family planning meetings, organized current-events discussion groups, visited residents to check on their needs, and searched for residents’ lost shoes and hats.

In short, the social worker’s role is “making sure that residents have a home that’s really a home,” says Lawruk.

“I like interacting with families as well as the residents themselves,’’ she says. “You never know what is going to come up. People come to the table with such different ideas of what should happen and what might happen, and it’s neat to come to a resolution.”

Lawruk is pursuing a master’s degree in social work from Catholic University. As an intern in Homeland’s Social Services Office, she is learning how social work applies in an elder-care setting.

Intern Allison Lawruk helps create Homeland’s home-like feel.

Lawruk was once a high school counselor whose career change was inspired by a social worker colleague who interacted with students and families in “diverse, interesting ways.” She started studying social work while living in Bethesda, MD, and continued her education online after she and her husband, Jim, moved to Camp Hill with their daughters, now 9 and 3.

At Homeland, Lawruk’s duties are as varied as she had hoped – assessing residents’ well-being, resolving any difficulties that residents encounter, and acting as a liaison between families and staff.

She even got the green light from Homeland to convene a weekly news discussion group, where residents share their views on hot topics while also making friendships. One reluctant resident accepted Lawruk’s personal invitation to attend, “and he ended up leading the conversation and brought really good insights that we wouldn’t have had. It was beneficial for him and the group, and at the end, he said he would be back next week. That’s huge because a real issue with older people is isolation.”

A variety of influences inspired Lawruk to work with seniors, including her 108-year-old grandmother living in a care facility in upstate New York. She also once worked at a women’s magazine that focused on “not getting older, even though it’s a process that all of us go through.”

Seniors, she says, shouldn’t be lumped together as one homogenous group but seen as individuals with their own stories.

allison lawruk 1

Lawruk and her husband are avid runners. She also leads a Walking with Purpose women’s group at a local Catholic church, where members discuss “ways that their Catholic faith contributes to their lives.” Her inspiration is St. Therese of Lisieux, the revered saint whose “little way” to spirituality is still celebrated today.

“If I can do small things every day and make someone’s life a little better, that’s a lot more achievable and realistic and sustaining than trying to do big things,” says Lawruk. “I’m not going to change anyone’s life, but I can make it a little better.

At Homeland, Lawruk likes the “committed and friendly” staff. Plus, the residents “are committed to their home. There’s a residents’ council, and a lot of them feel like this is their home, and they’re emotionally invested in making it better. They have really good ideas.”

After completing her master’s degree in 2018, Lawruk hopes to continue working with the elderly. Her time with Homeland has provided valuable experience in the role of social workers among seniors and their families.

“I think I’ve made a small difference,” she says, “which I’m happy with.”

Homeland Center thanks employees for their dedication and care


2017 employee appreciation pic

Honesty is “the fundamental basis of any relationship,” and all Homeland employees deliver that essential quality to residents and clients, Homeland Center President and CEO Barry S. Ramper II said at the annual Employee Appreciation Day.

“They’re looking at our eyes,” said Ramper. “They’re looking at our mannerism. They’re looking at our presentation, and they need to trust us. You are doing a phenomenal job of that, each and every one of you individually in all that you do.”

Homeland’s Employee Appreciation Day recognizes the hard work and dedication of the staff, who recently had a chance to dress down, eat a lunch of ribs and chicken served by the Board of Managers. During the annual lunch held earlier this year, employees received awards for length of service and won door prizes ranging from luggage to toaster ovens.

Before a crowd filling the main dining room, Ramper said that Homeland’s celebration of its 150th year in 2017 is “a sign of consistency, but most importantly, change.” The home founded to serve Civil War orphans and widows has, in recent years, created departments offering end-of-life care, and personal care and physician-directed health care in homes.

“We serve the generation today that lived the lifetime of greatest change, and Homeland adapted, which is why Homeland Center, Homeland Hospice, Homeland HomeHealth, and Homeland HomeCare are equal in responsibility and importance of what we do as an organization,” he said. “All of you deserve more than what you’re receiving today. All of you deserve to have what’s most important acknowledged, and that is that you have a heart. You care.”

2017 employee appreciation pic

Staffers returned the favor by taking the microphone to express their gratitude. Homeland Hospice Bereavement Counselor Brian Medkeff-Rose said the event makes him “feel like a little kid. To see all the people that for years have given themselves to caring for others is really cool. It’s a privilege. It’s an honor.”

Assistant Director of Nutritional Services Carmella Williams, a 24-year Homeland veteran, alternated between working and popping out of the kitchen to enjoy the festivities. She works another job part-time, she said, and co-workers there wish they got the same kind of recognition. Homeland residents, she added, “say that we deserve it.”

Residents Gretchen Yingst and Marie Smith enjoyed watching the event, which was filled with laughter and a few sentimental tears. Staffers are “all so nice,” said Smith. “It’s nice that they get approval. I think they appreciate it.”

Yingst added, “They’re always kind and go out of their way to help with anything.” The appreciation event “boosts their morale.”

LPN Latoni Crowder, collecting her five-year service award, gave a shout-out to her first-floor skilled-care colleagues. The people of Homeland, she said afterwards, are a “close-knit family.” On the day her son died four years before, Homeland management reached out to her and, to this day, continues providing support.

“I feel like God placed me here to be with them,” she said.

Quality Assurance Nurse Amanda Schrader said that, in a year and two weeks of working at Homeland, she had already been given increased responsibilities and the support to grow with the job. At other facilities where she has worked, administration “is not invested in staff.”

“What makes Homeland stellar is their investment in the well-being of staff, psychologically and physically,” Schrader said. “The fact that they have confidence and faith in me is huge. It’s my privilege to be here.”

Employees recognized for achieving milestones in their years of service were:

5 years

Ashley Bryan

Amber Butler

Nicol Corbin

Latoni Crowder

Jennifer Tate-DeFreitas

Joann Gartner

Antonia Gomez

Karen Jackson

Alice Kirchner

Lori McMichael

Symira McNeely

Steven Ramper

Felicia Wallace

Lisa Wills

Patricia Winters

10 years

Pamela Brown

Amy Kidd

Cecelia Lilley

Joey McCowin, Jr.

Samira Pizarro

Jermaine Simmons

Doretha Smith

Deborah Thompson

Tera Twyman

15 years

Jennifer Parsons

20 years

Antonia Matthews

Cynthia Zelko

25 years

Patricia Wilbern

Employee Spotlight: Teamwork is rewarding for activities coordinator Shari Yahner

Shari Yahner

Homeland Center Activities Coordinator Shari Yahner

Teamwork is rewarding for Activities Coordinator Shari Yahner.

With an extensive career in long-term care, Shari Yahner knew that she wanted for work for Homeland Center. When a friend told her about an opening, she was thrilled to get the job.

“The staff is so caring and wonderful,” she says. “I feel so blessed to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Yahner first came to Homeland as a part-time dietary technician in June 2016, but soon, she was working full-time, spending one day a week on nutrition and the rest as a skilled-care activities coordinator. Some days, she’s helping residents make music by distributing homemade maracas to shake while a visiting musician sings familiar songs.

Other days, she works one-on-one, playing games or helping residents color adult coloring books. She’s always searching the internet for new ideas. She brought one favorite game from home – the classic Pass the Pig, when players toss plastic pigs like dice and earn points depending on how the pigs land.

“They really enjoy it,” she says. “It doesn’t take up much room, and it’s fun. It calls for adding numbers, to keep the mind working.”

Shari Yahner with a resident

“I feel so blessed to make a difference in someone’s life,” Shari Yahner says.

Homeland’s versatile staff members don’t draw boundaries on their roles but work as a team, ensuring Homeland’s continuity of care, Yahner said.

“Not only do we know the residents, but we interact with each other to make sure the quality of care is as good as it can be,” she says. “Instead of relying on agencies and contractors, Homeland is wise in using the people they have.”

With her dietary background, Yahner brings a nutritionist’s eye to Homeland’s many food-related activities. At a recent Chef’s Choice with Gill program, when residents gather in Homeland’s unique Olewine Diner to make delectable treats, the menu called for pizza bagel bites, but she helped those with difficulty chewing make little donuts, “and they really enjoyed that.”

“We have people on modified texture diets, or with disease-related illnesses, like diabetes,” she says. “I can keep an eye on those kinds of things to make sure they’re being safe while they’re having fun.”

Soon, Homeland might help Yahner learn some nursing skills, adding to her usefulness and demonstrating that Homeland “cares about the staff and helping us grow.”

“There’s a sense of caring all around, from the housekeepers to the laundry to nursing to the administrator,” she says. “It’s noticeable, and I’m so proud to be part of a team like that.”

Outside of work, Yahner enjoys walking along nature trails, reading, spending time with family and friends, and cooking especially Italian dishes or grilling chicken kabobs. Her daughter is a senior at West Chester University, studying business management and marketing.

Yahner loves hearing stories from Homeland residents. “It educates me, and it helps them reminisce,” she says. “Sometimes they’ll look at you and smile and say, ‘I love you,’ and that’s so rewarding.”

Even when she was giving manicures – “not one of my stronger suits” – she learned a lesson about Homeland teamwork when a nurse stopped to help, saying “You don’t have to be perfect at everything you do.”

“That’s the kind of care they give at Homeland,” she says. “People step in to give you a hand. The residents were laughing at us. We were like a bunch of women at the beauty parlor.”

Employee Spotlight: Nurse manager Trenisha Gray helps make Homeland a home


Nurse Manager Trenisha Gray helps make Homeland a home!

Trenisha Gray talks with a resident in skilled care at Homeland Center.

She earned her associate’s degree from Harrisburg Area Community College. She also has credits from Millersville University, with plans to re-enroll soon and finish her bachelor’s degree. In the rapidly changing world of nursing, she says she “would love to advance my knowledge.”

The best part of nursing is that “every day is totally different.”

“You learn something new every day,” she says, adding for emphasis, “Every day.” She had just learned from one patient’s experience about the testing for and causes of decreased blood flow. She even enjoys learning the extensive regulations involved in long-term care, and getting acquainted with Homeland’s procedures and policies.

Since joining Homeland, Gray has worked on sustaining the teams devoted to resident care. Homeland is special because “they make everyone feel like family. The residents and their families are incorporated in everything that we do.”

That interaction with family helps staff get to know residents better, so they can craft individualized care plans for personalized treatment and help every resident “be more comfortable and at home.”

Outside the office, Gray loves to shop, travel, and explore other cultures. Most of her close-knit family remains in Harrisburg. She talks every day with her mom and grandmom, who have taught her independence and “how to be a loving, caring woman, and always wanting to grow and do better for myself.”

As she goes about her “very, very hectic” days and helps provide for 36 people, she hopes that residents receive “the best care possible. We try to maintain their independence and allow them to enjoy these years of life. That’s always my goal.”

Employee Spotlight: Assistant Director of Development Ed Savage pursues a passion for caring


Assistant Director of Development Ed Savage pursues a passion for caring!

Ed Savage reviews the images selected for printing in a “lottery calendar,” to be sold as a Homeland fundraiser. Buyers of lottery calendars qualify for daily cash drawings throughout the year.

Savage is a history buff, particularly enamored of the Civil War, and he marvels at Homeland Center’s endurance dating from its founding in 1867 as a home for Civil War widows and orphans. That makes the 2017 gala celebrating Homeland’s 150th anniversary especially important.

“How many organizations get to this phase?” he says. “You only have one chance at this. You want to make sure it’s done right.”

Development offices stay fresh by always dreaming up new ideas, Savage believes. Homeland is in the midst of its “$20 million by 2020” initiative – meant to raise funds to assure Homeland’s renowned benevolent care will be available to future residents. Savage is part of “a truly committed’’ team tasked with reaching the goal – a team that includes that includes members of the volunteer Board of Trustees and Board of Managers.

“We’ve been encouraged to think creatively,” he notes. “It’s nice to work for folks who have a real feel for the organization.”

Growing up in Brooklyn, Savage learned to appreciate diverse cultures and people. His parents were both educators who taught him to value learning, and his father is a longtime sports referee. His all-male Catholic High School instilled in him a spiritual foundation and a sense of social justice.

His wife, Kathy, a psychometrician, is passionate about empowering women through martial arts and teaches and practices in four disciplines, holding a second-degree black belt in Jung Sim Do.  He bonds with his three sons, ages 21, 18 and 13, over their athletic pursuits, and he and his youngest son enjoy excursions to the region’s charming towns, sometimes letting the car guide the way.

Development, Savage says, “is about storytelling,’’ and Homeland “has a great story to tell.” Though Homeland is steeped in history, it stays relevant by keeping pace with changing needs, such as the recent creation of Homeland Hospice, Homeland HomeCare, and Homeland HomeHealth.

Sometimes, the development office will get a note from someone thanking them for the excellent, compassionate care that Homeland has provided a loved one. “It makes you stop for a second and say this is why we do what we do,” Savage says. And then he repeats, “This is why we do what we do.”

Employee Spotlight: Gillian Lawrence focused on helping others


Gillian Lawrence is focused on helping others.

Whether she’s on the job or volunteering in the community, Gillian Lawrence is always doing good for others.

Homeland Center Activities Assistant Gillian Lawrence, left, enjoys a visit with residents Rosie Massaro and Ethel Boyer

“I’m very passionate about helping people, especially individuals who are not able to help themselves,” she says.

Lawrence is Homeland’s Activities Assistant, becoming a full-time employee in July 2016 after working part-time for two years. The Harrisburg native left the area as a teenager, attending high school in Providence, Rhode Island. After graduating, she returned to Harrisburg to help care for her older sister, who was battling pancreatic cancer and eventually succumbed to the disease.

She stayed in the city, building a close relationship with her sister’s five children. She studied early childhood education for a while, but her career trajectory changed when her mother suggested she apply for a job at Hamilton Health Center, the Harrisburg-based community health care provider. As HIV/AIDS educator, counselor, and case manager, she realized she could “give a little bit of hope to people in a devastating situation.”

“As soon as I started working in it, I found my niche,” she says now. “I didn’t want to be a nurse, but I noticed that I liked the education, awareness, and prevention side of health care.”

Now at Homeland, Lawrence’s goal is finding new ways to help residents enjoy their days and stay active. For the morning exercise class, she introduced kickball, and by the second day, residents were kicking the ball to each other like soccer pros.

“We’re giving them hope that there are still things to learn and that they’re able to do,” she says. “They like new things. They like new activities. I like to help make them happy in that moment or that day, if I can.”

Lawrence gets her ideas for activities from many sources, including the residents themselves. “One of the residents said they like to bowl,” she says, hinting at a future possibility.

With support from her husband, Marcellus Sumpter, Lawrence earned her associate’s degree in health care administration from University of Phoenix and is pursuing her bachelor’s degree from Central Penn College, majoring in health care management and minoring in business. Her athletically inclined 16- and 10-year-old sons and 5-year-old daughter keep her busy. So does volunteering to help the city Parks and Recreation department and LOOP BNG, a youth-activities organization, hold summer and after-school events for kids.

“The children in our city have so much potential,” she says. “A lot of them are talented, and there is a lack of programing for them. Kids need a positive outlet. They need people to pay attention to them.”

Lawrence gives 100 percent to her job at Homeland because “everyone’s like a family here.” And like her, Homeland is committed to the city of Harrisburg. “They could be anywhere, but you know what? They’re right here,” she says.

Lawrence was raised by a single mother, Carol Mitchell. Her mom, she knows, taught her to keep her priorities straight. “She taught me to put God first in all that you do,” she says.