When she was in high school, Emma Lengyel was passionate about making people laugh.
“I was in every play and musical,” she said. “I also enjoyed writing and art.”
Today, Emma still makes people laugh, bringing a note of cheer to the days of Homeland residents in her vital role as assistant director of activities.
Emma grew up in the Lancaster area, where her mother was a retirement-home aide, and her father worked in auto body repairs. In those years, she would visit the residents where her mom worked, sometimes even bringing her pet rabbit on a leash.
She continued her creative ways by earning her bachelor’s degree in art therapy from Marywood University in Scranton.
Early in her career, Emma worked in retail, but in college, she realized she wanted a job helping others, so she worked in group housing for adults with mental illnesses. After graduating, she returned to Lancaster and “got a little gig caring for a 93-year-old while her family was at work.”
“I really enjoyed talking to her and finding things to keep us busy all day,” Emma said.
That experience provided the spark of inspiration that led to working as an evening shift activity aide on an advanced dementia unit at a Harrisburg-area retirement community.
“There, I learned how to use my creativity to keep residents entertained and how to adapt and be flexible in a rapidly changing environment.”
Emma joined Homeland in 2020, seeking an opportunity for career growth. It feels full circle from those days of taking her pet rabbit on nursing home visits.
Her duties include behind-the-scenes planning and prep work for Homeland’s robust array of activities. She creates calendars, books entertainment, and orders supplies, but she also gets the fun of running programs whenever she can.
“Each day is different,” she said. “Sometimes I work at a computer all day, and the next, I'm dancing in a shark costume with a bubble machine. The best part of the job is spending time with the residents and making them smile.”
Her colleagues help keep the job light.
“We have a great activities team,” she said. “Each of us has different abilities and skills that enable us to support one another and stay devoted to the residents.”
Just like in high school, she enjoys laughing at work and creating a fun environment. Halloween and the holidays are her favorite times of the year when she gets out her boxes of themed outfits and accessories.
“I will take any excuse to get dressed up and decorate,” she said.
Emma remembers the challenging days of COVID lockdowns. She ensured residents could still play bingo, knowing how important it was to them, even though hallway games left her with a sore throat from shouting numbers through an N95 mask.
During the height of the pandemic, she spent little time with family or friends and didn’t even hug her own parents for a whole year. She and the activities team knew that residents felt the same loneliness, so they visited whenever possible.
“Just spending five minutes talking or holding someone's hand became so significant,” Emma said. “It was a kind of mutually beneficial relationship.”
At Homeland, Emma has had the good fortune of developing “actual, meaningful” workplace relationships, and she calls the residents her friends.
“You spend so much time with them throughout the day and learn so much about their lives and life in general that you can't help but care for them like friends,” she said. “Working with the residents at Homeland has taught me to open up my heart more.”