Drew Weldon engages with Homeland residents as if he’s known them for years.
“Hi, Nancy!” he says to one. “What’s up? Going for your walk? It’s hot out. It’s going to be hot out today.”
Drew has only been working at Homeland for a few weeks but his ties to Homeland Center and his affinity with the residents run deep. He is one of four summer hires who is the child of a Homeland employee. All bring the same work ethic and attentiveness to the well-being of residents that their parents deliver every day.
Those Homeland employees and their children are Jen Parsons and Tyra Bell, Tracey and Tyanna Jennings, Jennifer and Major Defreitas and Drew and Kelly Weldon. Additionally, longer term pairs of employees of parents and children include Gina George and DeVonte Talton, Malika Green and Candace Neverson, Miranda Mills and Kiana Mills, Pam Brown and Ashley Bryan, and Felicia Wallace and Lynee Brown,
We chatted with the summer hires – Tyra, Major, Tyanna, and Drew – about the priceless lessons they learn from working at Homeland.
Tyra has been coming to Homeland for so long that she’s been called “the Homeland baby.” Her mom, Jennifer Parsons, QA-CAN, celebrated her 20th anniversary with Homeland in summer 2020, and Tyra is a 22-year-old preparing for graduate studies in community psychology at Point Park University, Pittsburgh.
“Homeland has a friendly and homey environment,” she says. “Coming here for so long and now working here, I make family connections with everyone. I love it here.”
Tyra works in activities and dietary, and doing one-on-one visits with residents, who share good stories and words of wisdom. One day, a skilled-care resident preparing for discharge beckoned Tyra over.
“She was holding my hand and saying that every time she rings her bell, I’m always the first to come check on her and make sure she has everything she needs and that I’m doing a lovely job. She said that I’m so respectful and should just keep doing what I’m doing and live life to the fullest.”
The moment made Tyra cry a little bit. “She reminded me of my grandma,” she says.
Tyra loves service work, such as a trip she took to rebuild homes in Puerto Rico, so working at Homeland “felt right because it’s what I like to do. I like to help people.”
When Tyra leaves Harrisburg in mid-August, Homeland will be on her mind.
‘I’ve only been here a short time, but I’m definitely going to miss all the residents and my coworkers, but I’ll be back to visit!”
Major, 17, worked in a restaurant job until it closed for the COVID-19 shutdown. Like his fellow summer hires, he says that Homeland employees care about and for each other as much as they care for the residents.
At Homeland, Major works in dietary, and he hears those stories of the past from residents during his one-on-one visits with them.
“They share what they did when they were younger, and how many kids they have,” he says. “We just talk or play card games.”
Major will be a senior at Central Dauphin East High School, where his favorite class is history.
“I like learning about stuff that happened in the past,” he says. “It’s good for the imagination. I could draw a picture about the way people lived back then.”
Major, whose mom is Director of Nursing Jennifer Tate-Defreitas, has worked at Homeland for more than 20 years. When he was younger, Major enjoyed volunteering at Homeland, helping with the annual summer fair, or accompanying residents on trips around town.
Today, he finds working at Homeland gratifying because he can be a help while staff is striving to protect residents from COVID-19.
“It feels good to be a part of something important like Homeland,” he says.
Tyanna plans a career in nursing, perfect for her nurturing soul. She has set her eye on pediatric nursing, but working in a continuing care retirement community has taught her valuable skills for life.
“It helps me with my people skills and communication,” she says. “I learned to listen more. Not everyone talks the same way, so you learn to be patient.”
The 17-year-old first encountered Homeland through volunteering for a school service project, but she liked it so much that she kept coming back. She didn’t need much advice from her mom, Assistant Director of Human Resources Tracey Jennings when she got a job here because she knew Homeland and its people well.
Tyanna works in the Homeland activities department, perhaps bringing residents to “Calm My Mind Tea Time,” or handing out treats from the ice cream cart.
She has lunch with her mom every day and enjoys the company of her co-workers.
“I like being around the residents, too, and hearing what they have to say.”
At 10 years old, Drew was learning construction trades from his father and grandparents – masonry, plumbing, electricity. Now 16, he’s a Homeland handyman, doing landscaping and maintenance inside and out.
No day is ever the same.
Working at Homeland has enhanced his respect for the elderly “because they’ve been through a lot more than I have.”
“You learn more and ask more questions and see how it was back then,” he says. “It makes you more mature when you talk to older people and you have a job. I like the responsibility of the job and the responsibility of taking care of people.”
He arrives at work early and is done by mid-afternoon. After every workday, the Central Dauphin High School wrestler works out at the gym for three hours.
Drew carpools to work daily with his mom, Assistant Director of Nursing Kelly Weldon. He has always known she works hard, but seeing firsthand how she handles herself and her duties has given him a new perspective.
“Working with her and seeing what she does and how much the residents love her -- it’s amazing the amount of respect they show her,” he says. “If she has a rough day at work, I get it. It’s not an easy job. Now, I give my mom 100 times more respect.”
Staff and residents throroughly enjoyed our experiences with the summer hires and we were sad to say 'good-bye' to those already back at school. At the same time we were thankful for the chance to know them and have a part in their life experience and potential futures. We wish them all the best and look forward to future visits!