When Pennsylvania Farm Show milkshakes suddenly became available mid-year, Homeland Center’s Activities Department didn’t waste any time buying them as a special treat for residents.
Activities coordinators Emma Lengyel and Diomaris Pumarol worked on decorating a cart they could use to distribute the milkshakes, complete with carnival music playing and banners.
“We made it into a fun presentation,’’ Lengyel said. “The residents loved it.’’
That kind of teamwork and creativity are hallmarks of Homeland Center’s Activities Department -- in the spotlight more than ever with COVID-19 limiting contact and the usual programs and entertainment. Activities staffers have forged themselves into a cohesive, supportive team focused on keeping residents engaged and connected.
“They all go above and beyond,” says Activities Director Aleisha Connors. “They don’t do something just to do it. They always do it to make an impact, and for a reason.”
Even when the Homeland doors are closed to visitors, residents have enjoyed luaus, coloring contests, and hallway bingo. In a department of veterans and newbies, there are no egos, says Pumarol. Colleagues share ideas and adapt to the interests of the residents they serve in Personal Care, Skilled Care, and the Ellenberger Unit, the home of those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
When the activity coordinators joined a Zoom call to discuss their work, they showered praise on each other.
“They were very welcoming to me when I first came, and being a new grad out of college, everyone was very helpful in helping me figure out how to be an adult,” says Kristin Oliver, one of the coordinators.
“This is an overwhelmingly kind group,” agrees Lengyel. “Everyone listens very well.”
Homeland’s pandemic-year Halloween demonstrated how the team builds upon each other in the ideas department. To cheer up the residents after the cancellation of the annual trick-or-treat night, someone had the idea to hold a parade. Someone else thought of M&M costumes. Oliver said, “Let’s wear tutus,” so Activities Coordinator Dee Smith made the tutus.
“In the end, we had a beautiful parade, bringing joy and music to the residents,” says Pumarol. “It was teamwork. Everybody did something to make it work.”
The team also includes part-timers Lateefah Battle, Tyanna Jennings, Malani Tate-Defreitas, and Tyra Bell.
As the department pulls together, teamwork translates into smiles for the residents, says Activities Coordinator Martha Morgan.
“Working with the residents has been a great treasure for myself,” she says. “A lot of times, they miss their family. When you go in and talk with them, build up their spirits and tell them that everything is going to be all right, you see a big difference.”
It’s a matter of warding off isolation, Lengyel says. “I love making them smile and laugh and just get them happy for a couple of minutes.”
Activities Coordinator Becky Devan loves sharing one-on-one time with the residents she calls “my little ladies on the first floor.”
“They just enjoy being able to sit there and talk about whatever they want to talk about,” Devan says. “And if you’ve got a snack, that’s even better.”
Teamwork gets the group through hectic days. Morning meetings turn into daily pep talks.
“We couldn’t get as far as we are now without supporting each other and helping each other,” Morgan says.
The group has received flowers and text messages from residents’ family members thanking them for paying extra attention to their loved ones during this stressful time.
Coming to work feels like spending time with friends and making them happy.
“A simple back scratch. A hug. A pat on the back. It doesn’t matter. It’s just that affection and empathy they’re all kind of starved for now,’’ Smith says. “You can see it in their face. They tell you as you leave the room, ‘I love you.’ That makes it all worthwhile to me and all of my coworkers.”