Before Cathy Leeds joined Homeland Center’s Board of Managers, she knew first-hand about Homeland’s quality service from the years her mother and her father-in-law lived here.
“My husband would come home from visiting his dad and say, ‘That is an amazing place,’” Cathy says. “He was very pleased.”
Today, Cathy is secretary of the Board of Managers and a mainstay in all its activities. The all-volunteer group devotes their time and talents to sustaining Homeland’s well-known home-like feel.
Cathy’s service to Homeland is just one piece in a lifetime tapestry of volunteerism to support community causes and help others at all stages of life.
Cathy grew up in northern New Jersey and studied psychology at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. She met her future husband, Dick Leeds, during her freshman year. They graduated in 1968, “right at the height of Vietnam,” and Dick’s draft number was very low, so he enlisted for Officer Candidate School.
That decision launched Dick’s 20-year career serving in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps.
“The only overseas tours we had were two in Korea, one in the ‘70s and one in the early ‘80s,” Cathy says, adding that “we had to pay to go to Europe on vacation. The Army never sent us to Europe.”
The couple settled in central Pennsylvania in 1984, choosing the area for its proximity to their aging parents, his in New York and hers in New Jersey. Cathy worked for 16 years for Capital Area Intermediate Unit as an early intervention specialist. In that role, she helped preschool-aged children overcome learning and developmental deficits on their way to kindergarten.
Helping in her community has been the constant thread in Cathy’s life, ever since her teenage days as a hospital volunteer.
“It’s always a good way to meet people.”
When her husband was in the military, she volunteered for the Red Cross and Army Community Service, the Army’s social services agency. She was active in the Junior League in Lansing, Michigan, and Harrisburg. For her church – the historic Silver Spring Presbyterian, with doors on the pews and a “wineglass” pulpit – she has been a deacon, sung in the choir, and volunteered for the Downtown Daily Bread kitchen and homeless shelter.
For 30 years, she has volunteered for Contact Helpline, the phone hotline for people needing referrals to social services or assistance. Devoting about four hours a week to calls from people in need can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding when they make a connection that bridges them over a difficult time.
“We’re trained that our callers have within themselves the ability to solve their own problems,” she says. “One of the critical things is that you can’t burden yourself with the caller’s problems. You just use active listening to try to help them see what they might need to do.”
Her volunteer work with Silver Spring Presbyterian and Homeland will cross-pollinate in spring 2022, when the church’s Reach Out and Rebuild (ROAR) Team will rehab the Homeland gazebo. Over the past decade, Cathy has joined the team for mission trips to impoverished areas of West Virginia, Florida, and Maine.
“I’m a jack of all trades, master of none,” she says with a laugh. “I love doing the chop saw. I’ve laid floors. I’ve done tile. As long as I’m told what to do, and I’m given a little instruction, I can do it.”
Cathy brings her jack-of-all-trades approach to her Homeland service as well, helping stage the board’s seasonal events, such as summer picnics and the casino night that was a huge hit with residents. She helps decorate for the holidays and, currently, serves on the financial development and long-range planning committees. It’s all supporting the board’s mission to make Homeland a genuine home for the residents.
“I love interacting with the residents,’’ she says. “We have a wonderful Board of Managers. We all work very well together and have a good time. You feel good about being at Homeland and knowing that you’re making a difference in people’s lives.”