Now that her time is her own again, Toni Crowder promises to resume bringing liver and onions to Homeland. She used to bring it for lunch once a month, a dish her kids hate but some colleagues love.
“I’ve kind of been slacking, because of school,” she says with a laugh.
For more than two years, Toni has pursued her registered nursing associate degree. She once thought it was beyond her reach, but through persistence and family tragedy, she persevered.
Toni’s studies, supported by Homeland’s tuition reimbursement program, have sharpened her nursing skills. The things she learned in school influence the daily care she provides.
Nursing has been Toni’s dream since age 7. She lived in Harrisburg with her parents and three siblings. Her mom ran a corner store; her father, retired from the Army, worked at New Cumberland Army Depot. She remembers seeing a neighbor she knew as Miss Portia get off the bus in her nurse’s uniform and knew she wanted to help others in the same way.
She joined Homeland as an LPN in 2011. When asked in her job interview why Homeland should hire her, she didn’t give the standard description of her skills and experience. She simply asked that they give her a chance. She was unemployed at the time, the mom of four kids, and she knew she could prove herself.
“My mom said, ‘If you want to be a nurse, you have to treat people like you want to be treated,’” Toni says. Toni brings that lesson to the residents of Homeland Center’s first-floor skilled nursing unit every day.
“I give all the residents the same love, care, hugs, kisses,” she says. “Putting a smile on their faces – to me, that’s nursing.”
When Toni walked the stage to accept her diploma and receive her RN pin from Harrisburg Area Community College, her Homeland colleagues were there.
“I have a great set of co-workers,” she says. “I’m so thankful for them. We work together as a unit. They’re more than just my friends and co-workers. They’re my family.”
Her co-workers also were a source of strength when the unthinkable happened.
Toni’s son, Rahsan Crowder, a student at Lackawanna College in Scranton, was shot and killed in 2013 by a young man he barely knew. The support from Homeland, only two years into her time here, “was amazing.”
“They sent their condolences,” she says. “They called me on the phone. They texted me. They made sure I was okay. When I truly needed someone, they were there for me.” She feels so “truly blessed” to work at Homeland that she tells her supervisors, “I’m never quitting. You’re going to have to fire me. That’s the only way I’m leaving.”
In a way, her son’s death spurred her decision to return to school. She had thought school was behind her, but she realized she had to seize the opportunity.
“I dedicated these two-and-a-half years to him,” she says. “I want to keep his dream going.” He was an aspiring football coach, and a foundation she is starting in his memory will help other families, perhaps paying midget football registration fees, or providing holiday meals.
“He always wanted to give back to the community,” she says.
Outside of work, Toni loves spending time with her three adult daughters, plus nephews, nieces, and cousins. She cooks for family gatherings. She travels. She vacations in Myrtle Beach, where her mother came from – all with family.
She has worked at larger retirement communities, but she likes the personalization of Homeland.
“I still enjoy coming to the job seven years from the day I first came,” she says. “That’s how I know this was meant for me. God placed me here, and this was where I was supposed to be at this point in my life. I’m thankful for being able to work with a great group of people.”