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

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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

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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

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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

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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.”

ADON Latashia Simmons: Bringing joy through personal interaction

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ADON Latishia Simmons

One of Latashia Simmons’ daughters is 13 and doing well, but around age 4, she was diagnosed with cancer. That experience inspired Latashia to become a registered nurse.

“Back then, I always said that once her treatments were done, I would go to school, and that’s what I did,” Latashia says. “Now she wants to be a nurse.”

Latashia has been with Homeland for 11 years, initially as a CNA providing direct care for residents. Today she is the Assistant Director of Nursing/Clinical Liaison, working with the team to ensure quality care.

“I absolutely love it here,” she says. “There’s teamwork. I love the residents. When my daughter was sick, it was like my therapy to come into work.”

Her daughter’s time in the health care system planted the seed for Latashia to put her career in high gear.

“I was there for her emotionally and everything, but I felt so hopeless,” she says. “I wanted to be able to help people.”

She went on to earn her LPN, RN, and associate degree. Next year, she will complete her bachelor’s degree from U.S. University.

“I’ve always been a climb-up-the-ladder person,” she says, recalling her early years at a McDonald’s, moving from crew to assistant manager to manager. “That’s kind of what I do. I climb up.”

At Homeland, Latashia is a floater supporting the other Assistant Directors of Nursing, or ADONs, as they’re known. She covers their units when they go on vacation or take a leave of absence.

When COVID shut Homeland’s doors, family members especially appreciated the support that Latashia and her coworkers gave the residents.

“Everyone came together during COVID,” she says. “That brought it out more, and it’s still here.”

Most of her work concentrates on Homeland’s skilled care unit, but she also loves interacting with residents in personal care.

“Everybody knows me over there, too,” she says. “I just like chit-chatting all over the place. A lot of residents have watched me grow. They all watched me go to school. A resident from personal care came to one of my graduations.”

She likes to say that learning all she can is one of her superpowers.

“It helps me with critical thinking, and I try to apply that to my everyday workflow,’’ Latashia says. “In nursing, you learn something new every day.”

Latashia has lived in the Harrisburg area since she was 10 or 11, but in her early years, she traveled with her Air Force dad to Florida, New Mexico, Alaska, and Philadelphia.

When she’s at home, she turns down the stress levels from her busy days by reading or watching movies.

“I like a lot of sci-fi stuff like werewolves and vampires,” she says. “I like romance novels, too. I watch a lot of Hallmark Channel.”

Latashia has four children, all living at home, ranging in age from 11 to 21. The family recently bought a house in the Harrisburg area and welcomed a new puppy, a blue-eyed pit bull.

“He’s so cute,’’ she says. “I’ve always wanted to get a dog for the family. The kids all just love him.’’

Back at work, every degree and promotion Latashia has earned makes her job busier, but that’s okay.

“No matter how busy I am, I still make time for the residents,” Latashia says. “It’s important for me to feel like I made a difference.”

Alice Kirchner: At retirement, envisions a bright future for Homeland

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Retirement Party - Alice and Lynn Russek

The first time Alice Kirchner retired, it was 2009. She had no intention of slowing down, and a notice about volunteer training with the then-new Homeland Hospice piqued her interest.

“It just found a root in my soul, in my heart,” Alice says now. That attachment blossomed into her role as Homeland’s administrative assistant for strategic planning. Alice retired – again – on June 30, 2022, after eight years of helping assure that Homeland, founded in 1867, sustains its renowned excellence in care for generations to come.

“I used to joke that my job was pretty simple. Just make sure we’re positioned for success and good-quality care, and we’re properly planning for our next 155 years!”

Alice is a native of Lancaster who earned her college degree in elementary education/early childhood. She started her career in Harrisburg, advocating for the needs of children and families as a staffer for a gubernatorial special committee. Then she helped develop a groundbreaking computer literacy curriculum for Pennsylvania fourth graders. She realized that if she could learn computers, anybody could, so she went to work for IBM.

For her 30 years with IBM, spent mostly in central Pennsylvania, Alice served as marketing rep, systems engineer, manager, assistant to the local executive, and member of a worldwide team implementing internal process changes. By the time of that first retirement, she was manager of a team located throughout the U.S., Canada, and Latin America.

In her early days of volunteering with Homeland Hospice, Alice provided companionship for patients, but she also offered her portfolio of skills (including computer knowledge, of course) in the office. When she suggested that she might be open to accepting a job, she stepped into a new role of part-time bereavement coordinator.

Alice took the job while also earning her certificate in thanatology – the study of death and dying – from Hood College in Frederick, MD. Homeland Hospice was growing, and around 2014, she suggested that she could work full-time if the job were heading in that direction.

Homeland Center President/CEO Barry Ramper II had a different idea for capitalizing on Alice’s skills. In a retirement community focused on the highest levels of quality service, staff must focus on the now. Homeland needed someone who could build current capacity while also preparing for a strong future, so Alice became administrative assistant for strategic planning.

alice retirement party“When I left IBM, I thought I already had had the world’s best job,” Alice says. “I was working from home. I was working with people all around the world. It was interesting. Well, let me just say it didn’t compare to the opportunity I had with Homeland in terms of building relationships and making a difference in a very personal and tangible way with the residents, families and colleagues.”

She worked closely with the Board of Trustees and Board of Managers on Homeland policy and events, including working on the plans for Homeland HomeCare and Homeland HomeHealth, and multiple technology advances. She also found connections on a personal level, perhaps helping a resident make Facetime calls during COVID or simply strolling with them in the hallways or garden.

“I’m proud of the way we rallied together during the pandemic,” she adds. “I’m amazed at the resilience of the residents.”

In the year leading up to her retirement, two major projects neared completion – Homeland’s latest strategic plan, and planning Homeland’s adoption of electronic health system software – and Alice concluded that it was time for her second retirement.

“Don’t worry about me,” she’d tell colleagues and residents. “I’m not retiring to do nothing. I’m going to repackage this precious thing called time and passion.”

To ensure purposeful days, Alice makes plans that include travel, family, connections, purpose, and fitness. Through her longtime involvement and leadership with the Zonta Club of Harrisburg-Hershey and Zonta International, Alice helps fundraise and volunteer for organizations supporting women’s empowerment, while also advocating for an end to human trafficking and child marriage. For Greenlight Operation, she recently spent a Saturday slinging a paint brush at a home being renovated as a restoration space for women transitioning away from trafficking.

Alice gives back to causes empowering women and girls because she feels “very blessed” about her life in a close-knit family of five sisters and one brother.

Asked to describe a favorite Homeland memory, she recalls one resident who was learning to play the piano. She had once taken adult piano lessons and said yes when a 6-year-old boy asked her to play a duet for their recital. Now it was her turn to do the asking, inviting the resident to join her in playing a four-hand arrangement of “Amazing Grace” for the Homeland talent show.

alice kirchner at retirement partyCOVID canceled that event, but not the resident’s enthusiasm. Until his death, he kept practicing for the hoped-for performance.

“I loved that full circle of providing an opportunity,” Alice says. “It gave him purpose and future and focus, and he worked much harder at it than I had up to that point.”

Alice hopes she left a positive mark on Homeland. She sought out opportunities to solidify Homeland’s quality, made connections that generated good outcomes, and found the means to implement the best ideas.

“It’s been a treasure of a second career for me to have discovered Homeland,” she says. “I look forward to celebrating all of the successes that Homeland will have – I’m optimistic there will be many of them.”