When Julie Wilhite’s mother arrived at Homeland Center, the family continued a tradition of Wednesday night get-togethers. The first time they were setting up for dinner in the Homeland solarium, a group of residents and their visiting daughters said hello and offered a table.
“I already knew Homeland was a good place, and I knew my mom would be taken care of, but at that point, I thought, ‘These families are so welcoming,’” Julie says.
So, when Homeland approached her about serving on the Board of Managers, Julie’s response was an enthusiastic yes.
Julie always knew about Homeland’s reputation as central Pennsylvania’s premier continuing care retirement community. Her mom’s move to Homeland in December 2018 confirmed that belief, reinforced by Homeland’s active efforts to shield residents from COVID-19 while also keeping them active and engaged.
Though Homeland has had to restrict in-person visits because of the pandemic, every day Julie and her sister, Jan, call their mother and talk about her latest activities. Whether it’s morning devotions with Pastor Dann Caldwell or a socially distanced round of Bingo, Julie and Jan always have plenty to talk about with their mom.
“The activities group has done an incredible job,” she says. “The nursing staff is wonderful.”
Julie joined the Board of Managers in September 2019; she serves on the Nominating and Bylaws Committee and helps plan events. Just before the quarantine, she helped present the lively and colorful sock-hop themed winter party, complete with Elvis Presley impersonator and Homeland staffers wearing poodle skirts.
“It warms your heart to see the smiles on the faces of the residents and how much fun the staff has interacting with them,” she says. “It brings such joy to everyone.”
The Board of Managers is one half of Homeland’s unique dual governance structure. While the Board of Trustees guides policy and financial affairs, the Board of Managers offers the touches that give Homeland its renowned home-like feel.
Volunteering has a special place in Julie’s life. For 31 years, she has volunteered for the Ronald McDonald House, the home-away-from-home for families of patients at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital in Hershey. Julie loves the support that families offer each other and the respite the house provides for families who are, at the end of the day, “exhausted mentally and physically.
She likes that volunteering for Homeland connects her with the other end of the age spectrum. Julie joined the Board of Managers, in part, because she has always believed that the elderly are special people.
“I enjoy engaging in conversation with the residents,” she says. “We become friends.”
Members of the Board of Managers “are very dedicated and hardworking,” she adds. “They want a lot of good things for the residents of Homeland.”
While they can’t enter the building during the quarantine, they have found ways to support residents and staff. They arrange fresh flowers for residents’ rooms, send birthday cards to residents, and provide snacks and write notes of support to staffers.
“We keep positive,” says Julie. “My motto is, ‘Better days ahead.’”
Julie is a retired dental assistant who hasn’t let retirement slow her down. In 2002, she and her husband founded All-American Supply House, a business selling specialty advertising, promotional items and printed apparel. She also was such a good customer of Annabel’s, a Susquehanna Township boutique, that the owner offered her a job. Working there part-time is her “feel-good job.”
“People always feel better when they’re wearing something new and look awesome in it,” she says.
Julie was first married at age 21. Her husband, Kevin Smith, died from cancer in 1995.
“Through faith, family and friends, you get through the hardest times of your life,” she says. “I was blessed to find love again. I married Ted Wilhite 17 years ago.”
Together, they travel to visit his kids, and they entertain.
“Getting together with family and friends is as good as it gets,” Julie believes. And since her mother moved to Homeland and she joined the Board of Managers, her extended family has grown to include Homeland’s residents and their loved ones.
“You become family,” she says. “The family here becomes your family, also. It’s a good thing.”