Making a trip around town special

In the business of transporting retirement-community residents, it pays to keep up with current events.

“I’m like a tour guide,” says Homeland Center Transportation Coordinator Michael Quinones. “Residents want to know what buildings are under construction and what’s happening around town.”

Michael shares such news as Harrisburg’s new federal courthouse going up near Homeland, while the residents share their memories of city history.

“We go past a building, and they say there was a bookstore there,” says the Harrisburg native. “I had no clue.”

Michael has worked in retirement communities his whole career, starting in the kitchen of a local facility. In 2003, a friend suggested he apply for an opening as a Homeland dietary aide. He got the job but never worked in the kitchen, because Homeland called and asked if he would take a maintenance position instead. It was an on-the-job learning experience. Even if he never quite gained the expertise of a famous home fix-it show host, he became adept at helping out wherever needed.

“Fixing broken wheelchairs, broken beds,” he says. “You name it; I was doing it. Hanging pictures. Painting. Scrubbing floors. Taking out trash. Every day was something different. I learned as I went along. I’m not Bob Vila, but I try.”

He held that post for about four years until asked if he would like to be a Homeland driver. With his friendly disposition, it felt like a perfect fit.

“The residents knew me,” he says. “They’re comfortable with me. Any opportunity you get, you take it. So, I took it.”

As transportation coordinator, Michael schedules trips for residents to medical appointments and shopping. He transports eyeglasses and hearing aids for repairs. He drives residents on outings to restaurants and shows.

“I like to help the residents get out for a while,” he says. “Even if it’s a doctor’s appointment, they like to be out and seeing the scenery. I like to see the residents smile.”

As they’re out and about, they “talk about everything.” Sometimes, they might be near a resident’s old neighborhood, and he’ll drive through the block while they reminisce. Most gratifying is when he takes residents to family functions where they get to see grandkids and great-grandkids.

“I try to make it as comfortable and as easy as possible,” he says.

Michael credits his parents, Carlos and Virginia Quinones, for teaching him the value of hard work. His dad is retired as chief of security for New Cumberland Army Depot. His mother is nearing retirement from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. People tell him he’s just like his mother, who has also worked part-time as an aide for the elderly.

“That’s where I get my compassion,” he says. “She wears her heart on her sleeve.”

Homeland administration provides Michael the support he needs to get his job done, even during challenging times. When he was helping care for his mother-in-law while she was dying from breast cancer in 2017, Homeland directors “were always understanding. They never told me no. They always said, ‘You do what you need to do.’ It was a lot less stress for me.”

In the summer, Michael enjoys tending his garden of tomatoes, zucchini, and squash. Those veggies get grilled during regular family cookouts. Michael’s wife of more than four years, Marlai Paxton-Quinones, wears many hats as director of economic and neighborhood development at the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg.

Michael brings his family focus to Homeland. He treats residents like grandparents, and they treat him like a grandson. Co-workers also share a family feel throughout the building. His niece works in the Homeland kitchen, and it seems that all staff are connected through family and community ties for an atmosphere where “everyone knows someone who knows someone.”

“I love working here,” he says. “It’s like a family environment, from employees to residents. It’s not like a 9-to-5 job where you just swipe the clock. Everyone knows everyone by name. It makes it a fun place to work.”

 
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